Text Review: The Karate Kid (2010)

For this assignment I chose to write about the 2010 version of the Karate Kid. In this film, Tre (played by Jaden Smith) moves to Beijing from Detroit with his mother. Tre initially has a very difficult time adjusting to the new culture and is the victim of significant bullying. One day after being bullied, he is rescued by Mr. Han (Jackie Chan) who teaches him how karate and acts as a father figure of sorts. Mr. Han helps Tre to adjust culturally and teaches him many life lessons in respect, discipline, and control.

I really like this film, and I think that it does a great job addressing the ‘othering’ that one may experience when they migrate. The injustice that Tre is experiencing here is not necessarily systemic, as he is experiencing injustice at the personal level that may contribute to a larger system of injustice. He is bullied because of his differences; when he moved to Beijing he did not yet speak Mandarin, and he did not yet have the skills valued by the people living there (this film specifically explores karate). His values and ideology also contrasted to those of the people living in Beijing. All of this resulted in the injustice that Tre experienced.

When speaking of the migrating group in this film (Tre and his mother), it is interesting to see the way that the film perpetuated this idea that Tre should have to conform directly to the standards of the non-migrating group. Tre was, in general, not accepted when he initially moved to Beijing. He experienced ‘othering’ as a result of his cultural differences. Throughout the film, Tre learns to fit in and begins to become more and more like the non-migrating group. He is taught the skills and ideology of the non-migrating group by Mr. Han, and by the end of the film he is accepted into his new home. In this way, the film is suggesting that the migrating group should shed parts of themselves and conform to the culture of the non-migrating group.

“Yo is this racist?” Op-Ed

“No, I mean where are you really from?”

This is a line that makes me cringe in discomfort every time someone says it, which is far too often. Why? It is such a seemingly innocent question; it suggests that the person asking it is interested in the heritage and culture of the person being asked. However, it is important to note that the phrasing of this question implies that the person being asked has already given an answer: Pennsylvania, California, Indiana, or some other unmemorable place in the United States. The person asking must have used stereotypes, ethnicity, race, etc. to decide that the answer given is unsatisfactory.

So what, right? Why should it matter that someone used context clues to assume that another person’s family recently migrated to America? For one, it implies an “American race”. More specifically, it implies that Americans should be white. It implies that the “correct” American is a distant descendant of a western European. This is problematic on two accounts: it disregards the fact that white Americans are themselves migrants (or descendants of migrants), and it also perpetuates Native American erasure. It is also important to take a closer look at the racial tension and xenophobia that is active in America and, therefore, the way that racial profiling in this way is loaded.

We, as a country, have just emerged from the presidency of Donald Trump. Regardless, of anyone’s opinion of him, he is very clearly one of the most internationally xenophobic presidents of modern America. He tweeted constantly about the “criminals” crossing the US-Mexico border. He incited fear that Americans will lose their jobs to these migrants. He developed a large part of his campaign on “building a wall” to protect Americans from illegal immigrants. While I wish that this sentiment could fall into the idea of a “single story”, that Trump was the only person who felt this way, he gained a large following based on this ideology and, thus, this mindset of xenophobia resonated with many Americans.

Many Americans also harbor an international xenophobia towards middle easterners. I, personally, grew up hearing a lot of hate directed towards middle easterners. I vividly remember in third grade, after Osama Bin Laden was killed, that my teacher held a celebration. She read the newspapers out loud, and let students sing songs about his death. While Bin Laden was an awful man, and his actions were irredeemable, hatred towards him quickly turned into hatred towards middle easterners in general. People around me had a difficult time separating fundamentalist violence from the general Islamic population, and I hear cries to ban the religion and prohibit immigration from Islamic countries. Once I was talking to a man and he referred to Muslims as “dirty people”. He described them as “barely human”. It was then, when I was in eighth grade, that I realized just how alive xenophobia is in America. I also would like to note that this man aspired to become a cop, someone responsible for protecting the public who hated a group of Americans based solely on their religion.

A third group of people who have suffered an increase in hate crimes recently are Asian Americans. Former president Trump referred to coronavirus as the “Chinese disease”, and there has been an increase in violence targeted towards Asian Americans. This increase in violence reflects the growing sense of xenophobia in America, as well as an increase in racial tension.

But all of this may seem off topic from my original claim: what does any of this have to do with an innocently asked question? When someone introduces themselves as an American, claims that they are from Ohio, or Pennsylvania or wherever, they have defined their identity. If they wish to share information about their ethnicity or race then they will do so, separately, when they feel it is appropriate or relevant. The other person should never demand that some other, more “satisfactory” answer be given, as this is a form of “othering” that brings negative attention to the difference between the two individuals.

By negative attention, I am referring to the way that a statement like this uses stereotypes, race, and ethnicity to highlight an assumption that the other person must not be American. Furthermore, as has been demonstrated, there is a certain xenophobic weight carried within the statement as there is a large hateful and internationally xenophobic movement in America. By bringing attention to someone’s race, religion, ethnicity, etc. without them initiating the conversation and wanting to talk about it can make a person very uncomfortable, especially given the current negative ideology that many Americans currently hold regarding migrants.

Next I think that it is important to analyze the irony in the statement, specifically in the way that it is primarily asked to people of color. White people did not inhabit the Americas until the 1400s, and it took much longer for there to be a significant white population in the United States. So, who was here before the white man? Native Americans. I find it unnerving how the white population moved in and claimed the continent as their own. “Manifest Destiny” and “Ancient Right to the Land” are explicitly racist ideas that describe the white population as divinely enhanced, with an unspoken claim to what is now the United States.

The way that this population claimed their “Ancient Right” is somehow even more disturbing than the mindset itself. The Native Americans that were not killed by the disease and infection that was imported from Europe were forced from their territory by this new population. The most deadly and devastating migration of anyone into the United States thus far was the original wave of white elitists who ravaged the Natives and took the land for their own. This original migration was one of terror, disease, and brutality, yet these original migrants are implicitly still held to some high esteem.

American history fails to improve after this original sin; the American South began a forced migration of Africans and turned them into slaved. As is commonly understood in the United States, these slaves were brutally mistreated, and the effects of slavery continue to be felt. After the abolishment of slavery, which was obtained at the cost of a bloody civil war, the United States remained legally segregated until the mid-twentieth century. However, even though it is no longer legal, the scaffolding of this segregation remains in place today. Take Columbus public schooling for instance, Columbus City Schools is the only predominantly black school district in the area, and it is grossly overpopulated and underfunded in comparison to the white, suburban school districts mere blocks away. So why are black Americans, Americans who have suffered endlessly at the hand of the United States, not considered the image of an American?

All of this lays the backdrop for why I find the question, “Where are you really from” so distasteful. It implies some image of a native-born American, which is very ironically a white person. This question implicitly reinforces this idea, and exalts the single most destructive group of migrants, the white population, as the “natural” American. Furthermore, it neglects the to acknowledge that if anyone should be tagged with the title of “natural” American, it should be the Native American who was dismissed as a voiceless subaltern of sorts. Or, perhaps, the title should be given the black American population, who have faced countless challenges posed by the white American population, and still struggle to achieve some form of equality.

In addition, asking the question in this way, expectantly demanding some “satisfying” answer, contributes to the “othering” currently afflicting migrants in this country. This question takes the power away from the individual to define themselves in whatever way they see appropriate. It implies that the individual could not possible be American, there must be something in their identity that differentiates them from the white population. I find it important to note here that in saying this it is not my intention to take the power away from an individual’s culture and identity, in fact my intention is the opposite. The power of one’s identity should be reliant only on themselves. If they wish to identify themselves as American, that identity should not be questioned. If they wish to identify themselves in some other way, that should be equally respected. The important idea here is that the individual retains power over their own identity, and that the image of a “true” American should not be though of as exclusively white. The United States has a diverse history, some of it incredibly shameful and disturbing. The disturbing parts should be acknowledged and amended, and the beautiful parts should be celebrated.

I have once heard of America as being the melting pot. In many ways, this metaphor is problematic as it implies that migration to America requires the ‘shedding’ of one’s other identities. Perhaps a better metaphor is like the sand, countless individuals with their own story and identity that make up the image of America. Do not be the person asking, “where are you really from?” Do not be the person implying that white Americans are true Americans. Fully respect that one’s identity is determined solely by themselves.

Diary of Systemic Injustice Showcase: A Public Education that Perpetuates Xenophobia

A Public Education that Perpetuates Xenophobia

Sam Coogle

         Sexual orientation and gender identity are two very complex pieces of one’s identity. A child does not begin to develop awareness of their own gender until they are at least three, and their conception of gender and sexuality typically develops through late adolescence, ages 17-19 (Kar et al.). By the time a child has learned to acknowledge their own gender and sexual orientation, there are generally already ideas instilled within them regarding what the ‘normal’ sexuality/gender identity for them is. These ideas stem from several sources: religion, media, public school. The systemic injustice that I will explore here is the way that public school curriculums impede on a child’s understanding of their own sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as the way that this same education can perpetuate xenophobia and a lack of understanding.

Sex education in the United States is pitiful in many ways, one of these being its lack of sexual orientation inclusivity. Of the fifty states in America, only nine require that sex education be sexual orientation inclusive while five require that the sex education discourages any sexual orientation that is not heterosexual (“America’s Sex Education”). These five states often do so by connecting HIV directly to homosexuality. While HIV should be a discussion within sex education, I find it sickening that it is being used as a tool to discourage homosexuality. By focusing the conversation on homosexuality instead of sexual health, these states are “othering” the LGBT community and invalidating the existence of sexual orientation within one’s identity. They are implying that sexuality is a choice, and that choosing to be homosexual increases your risk of AIDs.

Figure 1: A chart displaying the topics required in sex education for each of the fifty states. Notice the topics regarding Sexual Orientation. Graphic is from “America’s Sex Education”. Higher quality image can be found on this website.

Beyond the basic understanding of one’s sexual orientation and gender identity that is being deprived of children in health class, public schools should also be teaching the history of the fight for LGBT rights. In fact, only four states in America currently require that LGBT history be taught in public schools: California, New Jersey, Colorado, and Illinois (Schwartz). I have personally heard people make comments about LGBT pride, questioning the validity of celebrating one’s sexuality. I have always found this incredibly disturbing as it undermines the fight for rights that has continued through our lifetime (such as gay marriage becoming legal only in 2016). It is an indicator of the failure of public education to adequately teach the struggles and triumphs of the LGBT community over the past century.


Figure 2: A map showing which states restrict faculty from discussing LGBT issues. Note that this is referring to human rights issues and not just sexual education. This map is from “Like Walking Through a Hailstorm”.

I believe that the way public schools “shield” their students from education regarding the LGBT community is a form of de Beauvoir’s idea of “othering”. By refusing to teach on the LGBT community, or even by discouraging homosexual behavior, these schools set children up to lack an understanding of their peers who belong to this community. Furthermore, the kids within this community are taught from a young age to be the other; they become submissive to the one and often begin to hate their identity.


Works Cited

“America’s Sex Education: How We Are Failing Our Students – Nursing@USC.” USC, 1 Dec. 2020, nursing.usc.edu/blog/americas-sex-education/.

Kar, Sujita Kumar, et al. “Understanding Normal Development of Adolescent Sexuality: A Bumpy Ride.” Journal of Human Reproductive Sciences, Medknow Publications & Media Pvt Ltd, 2015, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4477452/.

“‘Like Walking Through a Hailstorm.’” Human Rights Watch, 27 May 2020, www.hrw.org/report/2016/12/08/walking-through-hailstorm/discrimination-against-lgbt-youth-us-schools.

Schwartz, Sarah. “Four States Now Require Schools to Teach LGBT History.” Education Week, Education Week, 8 Dec. 2020, www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/four-states-now-require-schools-to-teach-lgbt-history/2019/08.



Context Presentation: Persepolis

Marjane Satrapi wrote Persepolis as a graphic novel describing her experience growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. She explores the unrest preceding the revolution, events during the revolution, and the state of the country after the revolution. Much of the novel is told from the view point of Satrapi, meaning many of the events, especially early in the revolution, are presented through the eyes of an innocent child who doesn’t quite understand what’s happening. One of these events that struck me was the Rex Cinema fire, so I will be exploring exactly what happened on that awful day, who was responsible, and how it impacted the growing tension in Iran during this context presentation. I think that this will help to give a better idea of the confusion and fear that Satrapi and her family were experiencing.

It was 1978, the country of Iran was divided and tensions were high. The Rex Cinema, in Abadan, was playing a movie titled “Gavaznha”. According to Roblin, “The film reflected the economic despair of many Iranians, and its depictions of police violence had barely escaped government censors.” (Roblin). Four men locked the doors of the lobby, and set the cinema, filled with 700 people, on fire. 370-430 people died in the theater, with only 320 escaping. The fire department arrived late and could not put the fire out for six hours. The attack was blamed on the Marxist/Islamic radicals by the Iranian government, but the revolutionaries believed that the SAVAK (the Shah’s secret police) carried out the act of terrorism.

Even while there was confusion as to who was at fault, the act ignited a new, strong wave of revolution among the people, and it ultimately fueled the removal of the Shah and the beginning of the Islamic State. It was not until years later, in 1980, that the culprit came forward and confessed. His name was Hossein Takbalizadeh, and he was an Islamic radical who, with his friends, carried out the act of terror as an attack against the cinema, which he viewed as a symbol of “western decadence” (Roblin). The event was awful. I believe that it helps to show the confusion within the revolution, and perhaps shines light on why Satrapi criticizes both the Shah and the Islamic State that followed the Shah.

Roblin, Sebastien. “In 1978, Four Terrorists Burned 420 Movie-Goers Alive in Iran.” The National Interest, The Center for the National Interest, 14 Dec. 2019, nationalinterest.org/blog/buzz/1978-four-terrorists-burned-420-movie-goers-alive-iran-105082.