There’s an element of this rage at bad teachers that’s hard to talk about, and so it’s often avoided: the dismaying truth that we don’t know how to educate poor inner-city and rural kids in this country. In particular, we don’t know how to educate African-American boys, who, according to the Schott Foundation for Public Education, graduate high school at rates no better than fifty-nine per cent. Yet if students from poor families persistently fail to score well, if they fail to finish high school in sufficient numbers, and if those who graduate are unable, in many cases, to finish college, teachers alone can hardly be at fault. Neither the schools nor the teachers created the children or the society around them: the schools and the teachers must do their best with the kids they are given.
By the time kids from poor families of all races enter kindergarten, they are often significantly behind wealthier children in vocabulary, knowledge, and cognitive skills. Of course, good teachers can help—particularly that single teacher who takes a kid in hand and turns him around. But, in recent years, teachers have been held responsible for things that may often be beyond their powers to change. They are being assaulted because they can be assaulted. The real problem is persistent poverty.
Illustration I did for a review of AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire, about hackers in the 80′s technology boom. HCF is old computer command which sends the code into an inescapable loop forcing you to either shut down or let it overheat, kind of a metaphor for the times, so I of course decided to show them as the program and have them glitching out in pixels.
In May of 2013, the Stanford University neurosurgical resident Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic lung cancer. He was thirty-six years old. In his two remaining years—he died in March of 2015—he continued his medical training, became the father to a baby girl, and wrote beautifully about his experience facing mortality as a doctor and a patient. In this excerpt from his posthumously published memoir, “When Breath Becomes Air,” which is out on January 12th, from Random House, Kalanithi writes about his last day practicing medicine.
In 1928, an Indian immigrant named Vaishno Das Bagai rented a room in San Jose, turned on the gas, and ended his life. He was thirty-seven. He had come to San Francisco thirteen years earlier with his wife and two children, “dreaming and hoping to make this land my own.” A dapper man, he learned English, wore three-piece suits, became a naturalized citizen, and opened a general store and import business on Fillmore Street, in San Francisco. But when Bagai tried to move his family into a home in Berkeley, the neighbors locked up the house, and the Bagais had to turn their luggage trucks back.
Then, in 1923, Bagai found himself snared by anti-Asian laws: the Supreme Court ruled that South Asians, because they were not white, could not become naturalized citizens of the United States. Bagai was stripped of his status. Under the California Alien Land Law, of 1913—a piece of racist legislation designed to deter Asians from encroaching on white businesses and farms—losing that status also meant losing his property and his business. The next blow came when he tried to visit India. The United States government advised him to apply for a British passport.
According to Erika Lee’s “The Making of Asian America,” published to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the Immigration and Nationality Act, signed into law on October 3, 1965, this swarm of circumstances undid Bagai. In the room in San Jose, he left a suicide note addressed, in an act of protest, to the San Francisco Examiner. The paper published it under the headline “Here’s Letter to the World from Suicide.” “What have I made of myself and my children?” Bagai wrote. “We cannot exercise our rights. Humility and insults, who is responsible for all this? Me and the American government. Obstacles this way, blockades that way, and bridges burnt behind.”
Bagai could have been speaking for the mass of Asian-Americans—Chinese, Japanese, Indians, Koreans, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Hmong, and Filipinos—who escaped colonialism or economic hardship at home only to encounter a country rancid with racism. Racism, as Lee shows, was the unifying factor in the Asian-American experience, bringing together twenty-three distinct immigrant groups, from very different parts of the world. It determined the jobs that Asians were able to acquire, the sizes of their families, and their self-esteem in America. If Asian America exists, it is because of systemic racism.
A few weeks ago, Donald Trump climbed a stage and crassly mimicked a Japanese (or was it a Chinese?) accent, in supposed admiration of the old stereotype that the Japanese are soulless, rapacious businessmen. This was just after Jeb Bush defended his use of the term “anchor babies” by saying that it was “more related to Asian people” than to Latinos. In September, the F.B.I. finally dropped all charges against Dr. Xi Xiaoxing, a Chinese-American physicist at Temple University arrested, in May, for passing on sensitive superconductor technology to China. The F.B.I. had claimed it had blueprints of the technology, but when independent experts examined the blueprints, they found that they weren’t for the device in question. “I don’t expect them to understand everything I do,” Xi told the Times. “But the fact that they don’t consult with experts and then charge me? Put my family through all this? Damage my reputation? They shouldn’t do this. This is not a joke. This is not a game.”
These are just a few recent stories, of course, but they stand in for many others. Asian-Americans are still regarded as “other” by many of their fellow-citizens. And yet one finds among some Asian-Americans a reluctance to call out racist acts, in part because of their supposed privilege in comparison with other minority groups. Meanwhile, much of the history of Asians in America, a history that now spans nearly half a millennium, has been forgotten.
‘THE ONE HUNDREDS’ And ‘YOWSIE’ For The New Yorker
Illustrations I did for the New Yorker about Twyla Tharp’s 50th
anniversary and highlighting her works Yowsie and the One Hundreds. Only
the One Hundreds piece was published because of the changing focus of
“Hamilton” asks us to think about the nature of heroism in a democracy, with the message that it is the least-heroic-seeming actions that are often the most truly so. “Dying is easy; living is hard,” Washington sings to Hamilton, whom he asks to leave the battlefield to become his secretary, and Washington then demonstrates that the most important attribute of a democratic leader is the readiness to surrender power even when he could still exercise it effectively. One of the nicest ironies of this great musical is that the hero is a man of enormous capacity, who sublimates his heroic capacity into the difficult but hard and necessary business of building systems and institutions that can, in every sense, promote the general welfare. We have often had stories about clerks who became heroes; this is, in tune with our time, the story of a hero who became a clerk—or, at least, a Cabinet minister. The same might be said of becoming a President. It is a still-nicer irony of our time that a work of the most extravagant creative audacity has given us a more sober sense of the actual than almost any other.