Emil Guillermo: The Slants' Simon Tam speaks candidly on PODCAST: "The cure for hate speech isn't censorship...let communities decide, not government."
July 10, 2017 6:58 PM
It's been a big summer for Simon Tam, musician and founder of the Slants, now trademarked, reappropriated, and unanimously affirmed by the Supreme Court.
He also got married recently in his native state of California, so there's been much to celebrate.
And yet it seems there still some who aren't cheering his nearly eight-year-long battle to trademark his band's name and use the disparaging term "slant."
People of color remain divided since the Slants' victory is certain to allow for the Washington NFL team to continue using its disparaging name.
Tam told Emil Amok's Takeout, he's aware of that and it bothers him.
"It makes my skin crawl, it's terrible," Tam said. But he ultimately feels the decision was a win for all, protecting vulnerable communities who have had no say in the trademark process until this case. "Our identities were used against us," said Tam, who feels it will now be up to the marketplace and our own communities to say what's inappropriate, rather than the government.
"The cure of hate speech is not censorship," said Tam, who believes that the First Amendment allows for a deeper and more nuanced approach than simply to say some words are good, and others are bad.
In recent reports, some Asian American legal groups like NAPABA and AAAJ have criticized the Supreme Court decision. (AALDEF and other Asian American groups joined the ACLU amicus brief
and supported the Slants.) But Tam has held steady and rejects the "slippery slope" notion of critics who believe that an avalanche of hate speech will result from the decision. In an open letter to his critics
, Tam sees the decision as advancing legit reappropriation.
"In fact, now communities can be equipped to protect their own rights and prevent villainous characters from profiting and misleading people with these same terms," Tam wrote.
In his open letter, Tam cited the case of Heeb, a Jewish publication on pop culture, granted the registration for their magazine, but when they applied for the exact same mark in the categories of t-shirts and events, were denied for "disparagement."
As Tam points out, it meant when a group of Holocaust deniers sent harassing communications to subscribers, inviting them to Heeb Events, the organization was unable to stop them. "Had Heeb not been wrongly denied a registration, they would have been able to get a cease and desist order. This case now allows a just procedure against other people wrongly profiting from racial slurs or countering the work done by reappropriation."
Tam concludes: "Laws, like words, are not always inherently harmful. It depends on how they are used. It is like a sharp blade: in the hands of an enemy, it can inflict pain and suffering. However, in the hands of a surgeon, it can provide healing. The law I fought against was a large sword used by the government to haphazardly target "disparaging" language, but the collateral damage was on the free speech rights of those who need protected expression the most. Like other broad policies around access and rights (be it stop and frisk or voter ID laws), there was a disparate impact on the marginalized."
That logic may still not satisfy those conflicted by the decision, especially when it leads to a result like affirming the use of the Washington NFL team's slur.
But the bottom line is still the First Amendment, which Tam is busy expressing in the studio on the follow up to the group's last EP, "The Band Who Must Not Be Named."
The new disc will definitely be named, eponymously, the group's first ever under its proud SCOTUS affirmed banner. For Tam, in the name of the broader Asian American community, it was worth it.
Hear Simon on Emil Amok's Takeout
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Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator.
The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF's views or policies.
Emil Guillermo: Oh no, "Hawaii Five-0" and what it means to all of us
July 6, 2017 4:18 PM
When I first heard about Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park leaving "Hawaii Five-0," I couldn't believe it.
The stars of the long-running TV crime procedural based in the 50th state simply asked for pay equity. They got the cold shoulder instead. Their exit leaves CBS with what it deserves. Hawaii Five-nothing.
(photo by Loren Javier)
I'm not watching a show with zero Asian American stars going into the eighth season.
Really, how do you just let your top Asian American cast members on a TV show set in the nation's most Asian American state just pick up and leave?
It's easy if you don't value diversity. Or to be more specific, equality.
Here's the deal the white co-stars get that the Asian American stars don't. More pay. And a cut of the series profits. As if the white stars are the draw that carried the whole show.
I don't even know who the co-stars Alex O'Loughlin and Scott Caan are.
Frankly, I couldn't pick them out in a line at a Panda Express.
But, of course, CBS Television Studios, the show's producers, wouldn't budge.
And this is in a show that I would say was equally Kim's and Park's.
All this proves is Asian American leverage in showbiz remains zero. Unless you're married to the boss like Julie Chen, who has climbed to the top on the shoulders of "Big Brother." But for the majority of Asian Americans who appear on the glassy side of the camera, the message is pretty clear. Just be happy to get SAG/AFTRA scale. Know your place. Don't overreach. You're the hired help.
As my old friend Guy Aoki of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans told Hollywood Reporter
, "the racial hierarchy established in the original 1968-1980 series remained intact in the 2010 reboot: Two white stars on top, two Asian/Pacific Islander stars on the bottom."
It's sad that at this time in history, in what should be a vehicle for Asian Americans. this is how Asian American stars are treated.
If you can just let a guy like Kim, arguably one of the top male Asian American stars in Hollywood, just leave, that's a major message to someone like me who wants to be the next Victor Wong. Or Amy Hill.
Despite all the window dressing and Asian American stars you can point to, showbiz remains as racist now as it ever was.
I'm particularly depressed by this after coming off a short run at the San Diego Fringe Festival with my one-man show, "Amok Monologues."
My one good review made it worthwhile.
Still, I'm a journalist and storyteller by trade. I combined the theater at this juncture in my life because I studied acting and drama a long time ago when I was in college and in grad school.
Back then, I even thought about going into acting. But when the only Filipinos I saw played beach boys and drivers, I thought better of my stereotype.
In fact, the best role I ever got was playing the white guy in black theater. But then maybe that's because my college roommate was the director and he owed it to me.
I realized early on that it wouldn't happen for me in showbiz unless I write my own stories. But for me, the urgency of journalism outweighed the lure of show business. I felt the facts needed to be established before I felt comfortable telling stories on stage.
That meant turning to journalism to tell our stories, even with hairspray and makeup, as I did when starting in TV.
I thought TV would provide the right balance between showbiz and journalism. At KXAS in Dallas, I worked with Scott Pelley. (Would he have ended up like me had his name been Pellicito?) At KRON-TV in San Francisco, I worked with some of the most talented folks in the business.
Oddly, my career climbed to its furthest point the more people couldn't see me--- in radio, where I could sound as white as anyone.
But my life in the media shows, you still can't escape what Aoki calls that "racial hierarchy." Whites still control. And if being Asian American is important, or being deracinated sounds hideous to you, you're out of luck.
Some make the compromise anyway, and hang on. Temporarily. But it catches up to you. You are who you are. And that can be a factor in how far you go in media.
Maybe there are enough Asian American anchors around (predominantly women), so you can debate me and insist that things are changing. But that may be all show. If salaries were revealed, like in the "Hawaii Five-0" situation, I bet we're still being lowballed.
So what does it mean to everyone else not in showbiz or journalism? Plenty. If you don't play in the ensemble, or play the lead in fake TV life, don't think you'll get a fair shot in real life quite as easily.
TV helps create the stereotypical reality. When we don't show up in the image-making machinery of our culture, it's much harder to show up anywhere. Did CBS care that Hawaii was the most Asian state in the nation?
When a show can get away with dumping its key Asian stars just like that, it will surely embolden those in other industries.
Gains don't come without a challenge. For as long as necessary. Look at American history. And look at the current backslide on major issues from affirmative action to voting rights.
"Hawaii Five-0" is TV giving us a reality check, just when we thought we had made some progress. I mean, more than 50 years after the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act, you'd figure we would get a break on things that are pretend. But somewhere on top of the heap, someone has made a decision. Paying two Asian American actors what they're worth isn't good business. So Kim and Park are gone. The white fantasy of "Hawaii Five-0" lives on.
In the meantime, I'm not watching a Kim-less, Park-less 5-0.
I encourage you to do the same, and to support Asian American actors, producers, and writers in their projects.
And I'm doing what others are doing these days. Writing my own stuff. Telling my own stories. It seems to be the only way to beat the racial hierarchy of Hollywood.