Hyphen magazine - Asian American arts, culture, and politics

The Science of Racism: Radiolab's Treatment of Hmong Experience

photo courtesy of author


On September 24, NPR show Radiolab aired a 25-minute segment on Yellow Rain. In the 1960s, most Hmong had sided with America in a secret war against the Pathet Lao and its allies. More than 100,000 Hmong died in this conflict, and when American troops pulled out, the rest were left to face brutal repercussions. Those who survived the perilous journey to Thailand carried horrific stories of an ongoing genocide, among them accounts of chemical warfare. Their stories provoked a scientific controversy that still hasn't been resolved. In its podcast, Radiolab set out to find the "fact of the matter." Yet its relentless badgering of Hmong refugee Eng Yang and his niece, award-winning author and activist Kao Kalia Yang, provoked an outcry among its listeners, and its ongoing callous, racist handling of the issue has since been criticized in several places, including Hyphen. When Hyphen's R.J. Lozada reached out to Kao Kalia Yang, she graciously agreed to share her side of the story for the first time. What follows are her words, and those of her uncle.


I was pregnant. 

In early spring, a dear friend of mine, noted Hmong scholar and historian Paul Hillmer, contacted me to see if I knew anyone who would be willing to speak to Radiolab, an NPR show with 1.8 million listeners worldwide. On April 26, 2012, I received an email from Pat Walters, a producer at Radiolab, saying the show was looking for the Hmong perspective on Yellow Rain for a podcast. Pat wrote, “I’d love to speak with your uncle. And no, I don’t have a single specific question; I’d be delighted to hear him speak at length.” There were two New Yorker stories on Yellow Rain, and neither of them contained a Hmong voice, so Radiolab wanted to do better, to include Hmong experience. This seemed like an important opportunity to give the adults in my life a voice to share stories of what happened to them after the Americans left the jungles of Laos in 1975. I asked Uncle Eng to see if he would be interested. He was. I agreed to serve as interpreter. Before the date of the interview with Pat and Robert Krulwich, one of the show’s main hosts, I wrote Pat to ensure that the Radiolab team would respect my uncle’s story, his perspective, and the Hmong experience. I asked for questions. Pat submitted questions about Yellow Rain.

On the date of the interview, Wednesday May 16, 2012, at 10 in the morning, Marisa Helms (a Minnesota-based sound producer sent by Radiolab), my husband, and I met with Uncle Eng’s family at their house in Brooklyn Center. In customary Hmong tradition, my uncle had laid out a feast of fruits and fruit drinks from the local Asian grocery store. He had risen early, went through old notebooks where he’d documented in Lao, Thai, Hmong, and a smattering of French and English, recollections of Hmong history, gathered thoughts, and written down facts of the time. The phone lines were connected to WNYC studios.

Pat and Robert introduced themselves and asked us for our introductions. The questions began. They wanted to know where my uncle was during the war, what happened after the Americans left, why the Hmong ran into the jungles, what happened in the jungles, what was his experience of Yellow Rain. Uncle Eng responded to each question. The questions took a turn. The interview became an interrogation. A Harvard scientist said the Yellow Rain Hmong people experienced was nothing more than bee defecation. 

My uncle explained Hmong knowledge of the bees in the mountains of Laos, said we had harvested honey for centuries, and explained that the chemical attacks were strategic; they happened far away from established bee colonies, they happened where there were heavy concentrations of Hmong.  Robert grew increasingly harsh, “Did you, with your own eyes, see the yellow powder fall from the airplanes?” My uncle said that there were planes flying all the time and bombs being dropped, day and night. Hmong people did not wait around to look up as bombs fell. We came out in the aftermath to survey the damage. He said what he saw, “Animals dying, yellow that could eat through leaves, grass, yellow that could kill people -- the likes of which bee poop has never done.”

My uncle explained that he was serving as documenter of the Hmong experience for the Thai government, a country that helped us during the genocide. With his radio and notebooks, he journeyed to the sites where the attacks had happened, watched with his eyes what had happened to the Hmong, knew that what was happening to the Hmong were not the result of dysentery, lack of food, the environment we had been living in or its natural conditions. Robert crossed the line. He said that what my uncle was saying was “hearsay.” 

I had been trying valiantly to interpret everything my uncle was saying, carry meaning across the chasm of English and Hmong, but I could no longer listen to Robert’s harsh dismissal of my uncle’s experience. After two hours, I cried,

"My uncle says for the last twenty years he didn’t know that anyone was interested in the deaths of the Hmong people. He agreed to do this interview because you were interested. What happened to the Hmong happened, and the world has been uninterested for the last twenty years. He agreed because you were interested. That the story would be heard and the Hmong deaths would be documented and recognized. That’s why he agreed to the interview, that the Hmong heart is broken and our leaders have been silenced, and what we know has been questioned again and again is not a surprise to him, or to me. I agreed to the interview for the same reason, that Radiolab was interested in the Hmong story, that they were interested in documenting the deaths that happened. There was so much that was not told. Everybody knows that chemical warfare was being used. How do you create bombs if not with chemicals? We can play the semantics game, we can, but I’m not interested, my uncle is not interested. We have lost too much heart, and too many people in the process. I, I think the interview is done.”

Before we hung up the phone, I asked for copies of the full interview. Robert told me that I would need a court order. I offered resources I have on Yellow Rain, news articles and medical texts that a doctor from Columbia University had sent my way, resources that would offer Radiolab a fuller perspective of the situation in Laos and the conditions of the Hmong exposed to the chemicals. My uncle gave Marisa a copy of a DVD he had recorded of a Hmong woman named Pa Ma, speaking of her experiences in the jungles of Laos after the Americans left, so that the Radiolab team would understand the fullness of what happened to the Hmong. After we hung up the phone, there was silence from the Radiolab team. 

On May 18, I emailed Pat:

"I can't say that the experience of the interview was pleasant, but it is over now. I've had a day and some hours into the night to think about the content of the interview. My heart hurts for what transpired. Our dead will not rise into life. The bombs fell. The yellow powder covered the leaves and the grass, and the people suffered and died. We can only speak to what we experienced, what we saw.” I followed up on my offer of resources, “I said that I had old newspaper clippings that a doctor from Columbia sent me. I do not want it aired that I offered material I did not follow up on. If you want them, let me know. I will make photocopies and send. If you've no time to look through them before the completion of your show, then please also let me know so I don't waste more heart in the effort."

On May 21, Pat wrote back, “I’m editing our piece now and I will certainly send it to you when it’s finished. Unfortunately, I don’t think time will allow me to review the articles you mentioned.” He ended the email with a request for me to listen to an attached song to identify whether it was Hmong or not.

On August 3, 2012, my husband and I went in for our first ultrasound. Our baby was 19 weeks old.  The black screen flickered to life. I saw a baby huddled in a ball, feet planted on either side, face turned away. The room was very silent. I prodded my baby to move. I thought the volume hadn’t been turned on. The technician was quiet. She did her measurements. She left the room. The monitor was on. I tapped my belly, asked my baby to move, so I could see if it was a boy or a girl. Two doctors came into the room. The younger one held onto my feet. The older one said, “I’m sorry to tell you. Your baby is dead.” On August 4, after 26 hours of induced labor, listening to the cries of mothers in pain and then the cries of babies being born, I gave birth to a little boy, six inches long, head swollen with liquid, eyes closed, and his mouth open like a little bird.

On August 6 my cell phone rang. It was Pat, and he wanted me to call in to an automated line at Radiolab reading the credits for the segment in Hmong. I told him I had just lost my baby. I told him I didn’t want to. He said, “If you feel better, you can call in.” I didn’t feel better.

On September 24, 2012, Radiolab aired their Yellow Rain segment in an episode titled “The Fact of the Matter.” Everybody in the show had a name, a profession, institutional affiliation except Eng Yang, who was identified as “Hmong guy,” and me, “his niece.” The fact that I am an award-winning writer was ignored. The fact that my uncle was an official radio man and documenter of the Hmong experience to the Thai government during the war was absent. In the interview, the Hmong knowledge of bees or the mountains of Laos were completely edited out. 

The aired story goes something like this: Hmong people say they were exposed to Yellow Rain, one Harvard scientist and ex-CIA American man believe that’s hogwash; Ronald Reagan used Yellow Rain and Hmong testimony to blame the Soviets for chemical warfare and thus justified America's own production of chemical warfare. Uncle Eng and I were featured as the Hmong people who were unwilling to accept the “Truth.” My cry at the end was interpreted by Robert as an effort to “monopolize” the story. They leave a moment of silence. Then the team talks about how we may have shown them how war causes pain, how Reagan’s justification for chemical warfare was a hugely important issue to the world -- if not for “the woman” -- because clearly she doesn’t care. There was no acknowledgement that Agent Orange and other chemicals had long been produced by the US government and used in Southeast Asia. The team left no room for science that questioned their own aims. Instead, they chose to end the show with hushed laughter. 

The day after the show aired, critical feedback began streaming in on the Radiolab website. People from around the world began questioning the segment, particularly Robert’s interrogation of a man who survived a genocidal regime. My cry had awakened something that was “painful,” and made people “uncomfortable.” Pat wrote me to ask me to write a public response to the show so Radiolab could publish it in the wake of the critical response and the concern of its audience. I wrote one.  My response was,

There is a great imbalance of power at play. From the get-go you got to ask the questions. I sent an email inquiring about the direction the interview would go, where you were headed -- expressing to you my concern about the treatment of my uncle and the respect with which his story deserves. You never responded to the email. I have it and I can forward it to you if you'd like. During the course of the interview, my uncle spent a long time explaining Hmong knowledge of bees in the mountains of Laos, not the hills of Thailand, but the mountains of Laos. You all edited it out. Robert Krulwich has the gall to say that I "monopolize" -- he who gets to ask the questions, has control over editing, and in the end: the final word. Only an imperialist white man can say that to a woman of color and call it objectivity or science. I am not lost on the fact that I am the only female voice in that story, and in the end, that it is my uncle and I who cry...as you all laugh on.

Pat did not publish my response. 

Instead, on September 26, Jad Abumrad, the other main host of Radiolab, wrote a public letter offering more “context” to the Yellow Rain segment. There was no mention of the fact that they did not take up my offer to look at additional resources that would complicate their assumptions. My friend Paul Hillmer had offered academic research by another Ivy-league scientist that called into question the Harvard professor’s conclusions, which the team had refused to look at. Jad wrote about journalism and integrity and how Radiolab stands by Robert’s “robust” approach to Truth, the “science” of the matter. 

Radiolab went into the original podcast and altered it. In Jad’s words, he “inserted a line in the story that puts our ending conversation in a bit more context.” 

Many Radiolab listeners used the Jad response as a platform to dialogue and critique the show further. 

On September 30, Robert wrote a response to address concerns about the Yellow Rain segment. He wrote, "My intent is to question, listen, and explore.” He apologized for the “harshness” of his tone. He stated,

In this segment, our subject was President Reagan's 1982 announcement that he believed the Soviets had manufactured chemical weapons and were using them on Hmong people in Laos -- and a subsequent announcement by scientists at Harvard and Yale that the President was wrong, that the so-called ‘weapons’ were not weapons at all, but bees relieving themselves in the forest. While there had been previous accounts of this controversy, very few journalists had asked the Hmong refugees hiding in that forest what happened, what they'd seen. That's why we wanted to speak with Mr. Yang and his niece, Ms. Yang.

Robert did not mention the research they did not look at. He did not mention the Hmong knowledge of bees. He did not mention the racism at work, the privileging of Western education over indigenous knowledge, or the fact that he is a white man in power calling from the safety of Time, his class, and popular position -- to brand the Hmong experience of chemical warfare one founded on ignorance. 

The tides of audience response shifted. Whereas the majority of listeners were “uncomfortable” with what transpired, and had called fervently for apologies to be issued to Uncle Eng and the Hmong community, some of them were beginning to say, “Robert is a journalist in search of truth.” Others wrote, “At least the Hmong story was heard.” Few questioned the fullness of what had transpired; many took the “research” of Radiolab to be thorough and comprehensive, despite the fact that sound research by respected scholars and scientists believing that Yellow Rain was a chemical agent used against the Hmong was not discussed or investigated. Dr. C.J. Mirocha, the scientist who conducted the first tests on Yellow Rain samples and found toxins, and whose work has never been scientifically refuted, was not interviewed. The work of researchers who argued against Meselson’s bee dung theory was also never mentioned.

On October 3, my husband and I had a spirit releasing ceremony for Baby Jules. The day was cold. The wind bit hard. The ground was dry without the autumn rains. We buried the memory box from the hospital beneath a tall tree, much older than us, an old tree on a small island. We wrote letters to Baby Jules on pink balloons and released them into the sky. I wrote, “Baby Jules, there is no need to be scared. You have been so brave already.”

On October 7, I received an email from Dean Cappello, the Chief Content Officer at WNYC, notifying me that Radiolab had once more “amended” the Yellow Rain podcast so that Robert could apologize at the end, specifically to Uncle Eng for the harshness of his tone and to me for saying that I was trying to “monopolize” the conversation. I listened to the doctored version. In addition to Robert’s apologies -- which completely failed to acknowledge the dismissal of our voices and the racism that transpired/s -- Radiolab had simply re-contextualized their position, taken out the laughter at the end, and “cleaned” away incriminating evidence. 

On October 8, I wrote Mr. Cappello back:

Dear Mr. Cappello,

Thank you for writing me directly. I appreciate the gesture. When I lived in New York for several years, I became a fan of your radio station, and grew to believe in the work you all do there in furthering understanding.

I just listened to the amended podcast this morning. I am struck by how many times a podcast on truth can (be) doctored, to protect itself. I don't know how much you are aware of in regards to this matter, but I believe there are certain things you should know very directly from me:

My uncle and I were contacted by Radiolab because they said they wanted to know the Hmong experience of Yellow Rain. Ronald Reagan and American politics were not at all mentioned in any of the correspondences between me and Radiolab. For the show to say that we were not "ambushed" and that they have been completely honest with us from the beginning is a falsehood.

Before the interview, I wrote Pat specifically to tell him that I wanted to make sure Radiolab would respect what my uncle had to share about the Hmong experience of Yellow Rain.

During the course of the entire, unedited interview -- which I really hope that you have listened to -- Pat and Robert dismissed my uncle's experiences again and again for two hours, thus in the edited version: you hear me cry. Robert argues this was because my uncle and I got angry and couldn't buy the "truth" of what the scientists were saying, but that is not what happened.

During the interview, I told Pat and Robert that I had additional resources about what happened in Laos, that complicate the "bee crap" theory, and that I would be happy to share them. After the interview, despite the fact that it left us feeling horribly, I honored my words and wrote Pat offering the additional resources. Pat wrote back saying that Radiolab didn't have enough time.

When the show aired, I was distraught to hear all that had been edited out: particularly, my uncle's deep knowledge of bees and the mountains of Laos, as well as his official role as documenter for the Thai government on with the Hmong during this time. As well, I was shocked to hear my uncle reduced to "Hmong guy" and me to "his niece" while everyone else on the show was introduced with their titles and official affiliations. This, amongst other aspects of this show, showed a side of Radiolab and a clear privileging of Western knowledge that was far from the truth.

After the show aired, as criticism appeared on their site, Pat wrote me asking me for a public statement of how I received the show. I did so and he refused to publish it, instead Jad's further "contextualization" was put up. Not only was this disrespectful but it was a complete dismissal of my voice on the matter. *I reiterate what I wrote to Pat, only a white man can say a woman of color is trying to "monopolize" a conversation he has full power of in the asking of questions, the editing, and the contextualizing and dares to call it "objectivity" and science.

My uncle and I agreed to an interview on the Hmong experience of Yellow Rain. We spoke honestly and authentically from where we were positioned. We did not try to convince anybody of what we lived through, merely, we wanted to share it. Our treatment by Radiolab has been humiliating and hurtful not only during the interview, the editing process, and the airing of the original podcast, but in the continued public letters by Jad and Robert to their audience, and revisions to the original segment -- that continue to dismiss the validity of our voices and perspectives, and in fact, silences them.

While I will not presume to know the intentions of the hosts, I am responding to you very directly about what transpired, and what they continue to do. While I respect the work of journalism, I believe that journalistic integrity was lost in the ways Radiolab handled my uncle and the Hmong story.

I appreciate what you have to say about the role of journalism and the fact that many of your colleagues are now interested in pursuing more of the Hmong story. I have a proposition for you: that one of your colleagues do a story on the Hmong experience of what happened in Laos after the Americans left, a story that will respect the Hmong voices, and redeem all of our faith in good journalism that transcends cultures and revives history so that our shared realities become more whole. I am happy to help in any way I can. I cannot afford to give in to cynicism.

For Radiolab specifically, my uncle has put together a small message in English for the many listeners who have responded to him compassionately and kindly. I want Radiolab to air his message to their audiences, so that his voice can be heard and his message of love and human rights can be delivered. It is short, and it is a clear reflection of where he is positioned in all of this...as he has said to me throughout this whole travesty, "Me Naib, bullets didn't kill me, so how can words uttered on airwaves I cannot see hurt me?" -- even as he suffers before me.

I await your response to this email.

There has yet to be a response.

I am no longer pregnant. I am no longer scared. I, like my baby, have been so brave already.


Introduction by Hyphen columnist Kirti Kamboj

[10/30/2012 UPDATE: Please join us at 18 Million Rising, to tell NPR that what happened is unacceptable, and Radiolab's dismissal of the Hmong experience must be addressed.]


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James wrote 2 years 16 weeks ago

Accusations are overblown!

RadioLab did everything they could to present their information, as well as the history of the Hmong people, in the context of this segment. Accusations of racism are totally out of line, suspect, and should be looked at with suspicion!

I will continue to listen to, as well as support RadioLab.

Steven wrote 2 years 20 weeks ago

My personal view of the events as well as I can percieve

In my opinion, one that is detached from any level of pain that has been experienced by your uncle, is one I try to keep as transparent and separate from personal bias. But I will admit me simply posting in response to this, in it's nature, is already on a level of bias. But I digress.

My intention of this comment is to completely agree that Krulwich did indeed go about his questioning in the end with a large amount of disrespect for your Uncle's emotional trauma with the experiences he and his family has gone through. With that being said though, it was done with the original intention that the interview was planed from the get go with searching for a level of "truth" and the final question of physically seeing a plane does 100% account for hearsay. Now with me stating my opinion on that, I also do not claim or belittle the emotions and trauma. It saddens my heart that anything of this nature could ever happen to anyone. But when one is to look at a situation with scientific clarity, emotion must be detached, especially when the consequences could lead to justification to produce chemical weapons on U.S. soil, or anywhere for that mater, in defense. Never once was it said that these questions were being pushed due to a belief that your uncle was un-knowledgeable. I can see that a perception of this can be bestowed on the situation, but that is all on a personal assumption on your level. Regardless of the fact that Krulwich was not stating otherwise, doesn't change the fact that this was a lot of assumptions on your party's end. and to expect for more satisfying apologies for self assumptions of that degree is something I find hard to understand, personally. But as I have stated from the get go, I have no such experiences and just simply wanted to put my perspective into play.

Laura Blosser wrote 2 years 24 weeks ago


Re-read the second full paragraph. Kalia says she was in contact with Pat Walters, a producer at RadioLab. PAT, NOT JAD.

It doesn't seem like she had much contact with Jad through the process, as far as I can tell.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 25 weeks ago

The Truth

I completely agree with Kalia, the comments were harsh and hurtful. The rude words that Rob had stated about kalia and her uncle about hearsay and monopolizing was completely irrational because they had all the power to edit the interview and they asked the questions. I agree that the truth will be the truth regardless if uncle Eng was standing in the middle of the chemical droppings or not. I’m torn by Radiolab’s lack of interest. They claim they didn’t have time to look at the sources Kailia offered. This goes back on their words about looking for the truth; if one is looking for the truth they should not be bais and welcome any evidence, sources and items that may bring out the truth. Radiolab denied the evidence from Chemical weapons expert Matt Meselson and biologist Thomas Seeley who analyzed the chemicals the hmong brought and said they were harmful. The Hmong people have witnessed death of starvations and it did not compare to the filth that was left after the chemical droppings. If RL questions Mr. Eng about seeing an airplane dropping chemicals and if he didn’t then it wasn’t chemicals being dropped. That could easily be turned around and you can ask if Mr. Eng saw bees flying over, if he didn’t then that too is not valid as a result of the yellow stuff left behind. Yes some researchers have gone out to see the bee poop droppings, but even so if they claim that happens once a year, then how do they explain the constant “bee pooping” that kept killing the hmong? It’s clear that it wasn’t the yellow bee pooping the hmong were seeing. Maybe it was yellow bee pooping that was left but that does not solve the problem of why so many hmong deaths were loss, the heartaches we all have to go through. Atleast RL could acknowledge the truth of what Mr, Eng saw. The truth is the truth and many americans can’t handle their failure in helping the hmong when the hmong helped them.Many people search for the truth, but go into researching not realizing how biased they are already about a topic, and how opinionated they are already along with their subjective questions. RL should look over their values and relive them fully with the truth.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 25 weeks ago

Saddness for the Hmong

After hearing this podcast it has amazed me. Just because the Hmong people are not educated and use to be jungle people does NOT mean they do not know what happened. Personally, I think that people who had lived through the life of yellow rain would know much more then people who are doing studies or who did studies. And bee-poop? really? It saddens me how people view the Hmong people. Kao Kalia is right, they came to her wanting to know more. Whatever his name was at the end, his apology did not sound sincere. Others may argue that Kao Kalia and Mr. Eng Yang couldn't accept the truth. But the question is what is the Truth? Scientist? Or people who lived through the lives? This podcast just saddened. You can tell that they edited this podcast also because sometimes they had Kao Kalia translating the wrong part sometimes. This was not a good edit if they were trying to make the interview sound "not as bad" Radiolab.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 26 weeks ago

Please respond me if you know the answer

I have listened to the story and the interviewee (Kalia Yang) respond but there is one question still unanswered for me and that is why the story had been aired by Radiolab and what was their goal and did they achieve it or not ?

Anonymous wrote 2 years 28 weeks ago


WRONG NAME: Jad Abumrad is the name of the co-host of Radiolab ... not Pat. This entire column uses the wrong name! She never once learned the real name of the person she was so mad at? Surely Jad signed his emails and spoke his name to her and her uncle at some point in all of this. Can we get that corrected in this post? Thank you.

AB wrote 2 years 34 weeks ago


Was her miscarriage due to Agent Orange? Have there been any studies on miscarriage and Hmong born in Laos/Thailand?

Reason wrote 2 years 36 weeks ago

Initially very concerned but after listening to the podcast...

I'm an occasional Radio Lab listener and came across this recently. This was one of the podcasts I had missed several months ago and after reading the post and comments I was initially very concerned with the accusations directed at RL. However, I took the time to listen to the entirety of that episode and now have to say that your accusations here are largely unfounded.

"That the story would be heard and the Hmong deaths would be documented and recognized. That’s why he agreed to the interview, that the Hmong heart is broken and our leaders have been silenced, and what we know has been questioned again and again is not a surprise to him, or to me. I agreed to the interview for the same reason, that Radiolab was interested in the Hmong story, that they were interested in documenting the deaths that happened."

And Radiolab certainly did that. They prefaced the interview with the historical context to the awful violence, played your heartfelt description of the atrocities that occurred, and never for a moment questioned that people were violently murdered. What Krulwich asked about specifically was whether your uncle saw planes dumping yellow powder. You immediately took that as doubt over whether violence had happened and unreasonably accused him of trivializing what happened by asking about that detail. Yes it was difficult if not impossible for victims of violence to have paid attention to fine details during the middle of AN attack. But it is unclear why you made this statement when what your uncle was describing the scene of dead livestock covered in yellow powder in the aftermath (not immediately during) whatever might have caused their deaths. And since the livestock had clearly already been dead for some time, it seems you were conflating the general sense of urgency during OTHER times of violence with this particular narrative/evidence being presented during the interview. Were bullets whizzing by and shells exploding all over during the time he had witnessed the dead livestock covered in yellow powder? Or did he experience these situations separately? The sequence of events was not made clear and Krulwich's inquiry about this led to your scathing accusation that he was inconsiderate.

Whether yellow substance was a chemical weapon or not does not challenge the fact that people were killed. Nor does it say your uncle's memories are invalid. The animals and people he saw suffering could have been affected by another weapon, chemical or otherwise, that was deployed before the bees started migrating. Maybe the yellow substance was indeed a chemical weapon. Either way, Krulwich's question about it was in no way doubting whether your uncle was telling the truth about whether people died. I understand this is a tough subject to talk about, but I also have to understand that you put RadioLab in a terrible position the moment you started accusing them of denying that any violence had occurred. The moment you stepped over that line was the moment RL could have justifiably developed reservations about your own credibility; they might have included more of the audio you allege they left out (including your credentials and your uncle's credentials) had you not made such an accusation over calm rational question about the facts and blown up the rest of the interview. I would have given your concerns about "racism" here significantly more weight had you refrained from crossing that line. Yes, it is a terrible subject to recount, but that's not an excuse to suddenly accuse someone of being "racist" or glib about genocide.

As for all the comments here about institutional racism, note that it is also due in part to the subaltern's lack of active participation in calm, rational discussions within the scientific community and other communities for that matter. Blowing up with emotion while failing to address the rational questions at hand do a disservice to the people who are not heard. Increase their participation, and you will eventually have more awareness of narratives you once thought were kept out by "institutional gatekeepers".

I will continue to listen to RadioLab because they do a lot good work to present stories that are otherwise not discussed or heard elsewhere. And I would encourage you to continue to present your story and your uncle's narrative with the corroborating research and turn your bitterness towards RL into motivation to pursue a rigorous investigation into the truth.

Luke wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago


US poured "yellow rain" in the jungle in its "scorch and scratch" military campaign. USSR sold T-2 Mycotoxin to Vietnam, in the intent to "wipe out" traitors and friends of the red devil Americans. Look at the war refugee exodus in Southeast Asia, the death were left to rot in the jungle and the sick were plenty. Refugees, particularly the Hmong, were documented and treated accordingly before they left to the United States and other countries of the world. I'm confident the UN and US have various medical documents on this subject in SE Asia. For truth or lie, look at the evidences.

Also, can someone follow the "chemical" trail? how much the US government bought toxin chemicals from chemical companies from 1965 to 1975? I bet you the Pentagon and these chemical companies have tons of secret information.

Mr Yang and Ms Yang vs Radiolab is not a fair fight.

Jack wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

Why it is racist.

Short and simple. They were belittle because who they are, their experience where being disregarded and consider false because they are uneducated jungle people who don't know what is actually happening, which ironically they aren't. It was not about scientific evidence versus personal experience. That just a rationale used to make people feel better.

Jonathan wrote 2 years 40 weeks ago

Yellow Rain

I have to say, after listening to the Radiolab podcast, reading the responses by both Ms. Yang & Radiolab, I have become extremely educated on a subject I was never aware about.

After reading through a lot of comments, it seems as though more and more people support her and her uncle's story, which is a great thing for the Hmong people. It's an unfortunate way to have her uncle's story told,, but in the end, the effect and the outpour may have done more to bring about the truth.

Fred wrote 2 years 41 weeks ago


Food for thought.
I think the loss of the baby, though very sad, needlessly and (I hope unintentionally) clouds the issue at stake and should not have been included in this article.
I think that it is a very dangerous thing to draw a gulf between non-white experience and science. This risks perpetuating the 'uncultured savage' stereotype.
Science is not racist. It can be insensitive, inappropriate, even plain wrong, but to say science is a white man thing is to condemn everyone else to ignorance and backwardness: itself a racist point of view.
I am very disturbed by the editing of the podcast, as opposed to a clear apology or retraction. This is not the way to correct a journalistic mistake, if you believe you have made one. And if you edit like this, you are conceding a mistake.
I generally love Radiolab and I do not believe they should stop challenging 'belief' with 'show me the proof', even if it hurts those whose beliefs are tested.
However in this case I think they probably didn't realise the offense they were causing until too late, and I'm sure in retrospect they would be a lot more respectful.

Aaron wrote 2 years 41 weeks ago


More perspective on the Radiolab piece and "Yellow Rain":


Anonymous wrote 2 years 41 weeks ago

Journalistic Fraud

The thing is, the mistake Radiolab made was taking the New Yorker article and the Harvard study as Gospel, and discounting the statements made by Kalia and Eng. And in my opinion, when Eng said straight out that he knew about bee droppings, and that this wasn't it, that should have either stopped the RL report in its tracks, or drastically changed the tone and direction of the piece. You can hear Eng say this very thing in the recorded podcast itself, but what you don't hear is when Kalia translates those words to English. That was cut out (deliberately in my opinion). Deliberate edits of information for the purpose of telling a predetermined story is what those in the business call "journalistic fraud." It is no different than creationists who pick and choose scientific information to shoot holes in evolution because they want holes shot in it. Truth be damned.

The fact is the Harvard study could very well have been faulty. If this toxin was Sarin or something like it, traces would have broken down long before samples made it to the lab. And since those sample came from the jungle, they would of course have pollen on them. Everything did. And frankly, there's no shortage of New Yorker hatchet pieces on Reagan. Their editors still hold a grudge to this day.

Radiolab took the story of the genocide of the Hmong and one of the weapons used against them, and turned it into a puff piece through misleading editing and deliberate story modeling.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 41 weeks ago

thank you

thank you for this beautiful response. i am late finding it but i listened to the radiolab story when it aired, and was shocked and horrified all the while. i remember saying to my partner, "are these motherfuckers for real?" i thought their non-apology at the end made things even worse. i am sorry that you had to endure this and hope that radiolab will be made to pay in some way. thank you for sharing your story with us - i learned so much from listening to you and your uncle.

John wrote 2 years 43 weeks ago

Response to Bryan Hollar #17

You are an idiot. Your comment shows proof that you are. To say chemical weapons were not the cause of thousands of Hmong death, instead it was Bee Poop, is idiotically stupid. If you truly believe in what you commented then I have a beachhouse in the midwest awaiting for you.

David Shih wrote 2 years 43 weeks ago

More Privilege

RadioLab to Eng Yang: "I know better than you what really happened to your body."

Some commenters to Kalia Yang: "I know better than you what really happened to your body."

Pao Yang wrote 2 years 43 weeks ago

In response to SuJin

SuJin you clearly missed the mark on this one, the same way Robert Krulwich missed the mark with his interview.

Juxtaposing the Radiolab incident and the miscarriage was a way for her to show how 2 very difficult truths occurred (the death of her child, and the mistreatment and injustice with which Robert and Radiolab treated Uncle Eng and Kao Kalia Yang), and how she handled them accordingly.

I found this blog to be spot on about why Kao Kalia Yang's response mentioned her miscarriage.

You'd do well to read between the lines next time instead of taking everything at face value, because that's what Radiolab seems to expect of its viewers--to never challenge anything they (Radiolab) offer but to simply accept it all as truth.


Jamie Vue wrote 2 years 43 weeks ago

The Boundaries of Science

It's easy for a white person to only use one angle of approach (science) to resolve the "Yellow Rain" debate. A Hmong person may give testimony to what was witness as well as digest reasonable evidence disputing their claims in a well-informed manner. A person of color has more advantages in that they are able to find validity in both truths without discrediting the other--mainly because they have the cognizant ability to share those experiences and see the possibility of scientific discoveries that may add or subtract to the story. Storytelling has long been frowned upon as a source of truth because of the lack of records, experiments, or evidence to prove accountability. However, what is scientific knowledge without the act of storytelling? Many personal accounts lead to the discovery of new knowledge--whether it disputes it or gives credence to it. As a second generation Hmong individual, I had no prior knowledge pertaining to the "Yellow Rain" debate; which, I think gives me an advantage to see validity on both sides. Although, I must admit that I am entangled with emotions over the issue; it does not cloud my judgement in gleaning some significance of Radio Lab's portrayal and production of Kalia Yang and Uncle Eng's narrative. Keep in mind that your truth may not be my truth, and my truth may not be yours. However, would it not be more wholesome and complete were we to include all perspectives on such a controversial topic? I think the possibilities would open doors to a person who is able to use science and empirical evidence as modes of discovering different truths; and then using those different truths to understand the implications surrounding the debate. It does not matter who is right or wrong in the situation, but how the discovery process of handled. Kalia Yang was merely sharing Uncle Eng's experiences as he experienced it and in return, discovered that there are reports that it may have been "bee poop." However, Uncle Eng's side of the story--whether true or not--has enriched my life in ways that science is not able to. Had I not heard about it, I would not have known that "Yellow rain" existed as a part of the Hmong experience in the war and that it could either be a chemical warfare or "bee poop." Either way you look at it, it still resorts back to the fact that people died from it. So, let's share our opinions, perspectives, and factual beliefs--but let's not disrespect, dismiss, and discredit either argument. I don't see Kalia Yang refuting the "bee poop" theory. I simply see her responding to a need of adding another important element to the debate. My interest is not surrounding the "Yellow rain" debate. Rather, I'm more concerned now with how Radio Lab handled the production of this segment. There's a time and place for interrogation and humiliation and then there's a place where we share our knowledge in order to understand each other--both are ways to enrich and inform ourselves in more broadly and full developed ways .

LTE wrote 2 years 43 weeks ago


It's a "universal experience" in the life of a racial minority, if you talk about the ways racism has directly impacted your life, that you will invariably be accused by progressive, well-intentioned white liberals of bringing up the race card.

They will then proceed, with the best of intentions, to enlighten you on what racism truly is and how it has truly impacted your life (all things that they are, of course, infinitely more qualified to judge than you are). They will tell you that what you have experienced could not possibly be what you call it. They will go on to say that, instead of poisoning rational discourse by such crude, irrational attacks, you should instead take a moment to consider just how lucky you are to be getting any attention at all, and be grateful for it."
You really jumped the shark on this one. Why do you presume to know his experience or intent better than him?
Keep in mind your posts have been written on the basis of how could you people understand what we went through?

Iris B. wrote 2 years 43 weeks ago

Thoughtful, powerful. Shame on Radiolab.

I am ashamed that Radiolab would conveniently edit out your and your uncle's perspective. I am upset that this radio program does not acknowledge their preferred vantage point (whether you want to view it racially or not), even upon amending the podcast.

I have listened to a few other Radiolab episodes prior to finding your post. My impression was that there is a single emotional note they like to strike, and that -- through, frankly, unnecessarily confusing editing and sonic overlap -- they complicate simple facts (e.g., a story earlier this summer about genetic mutations).

In this case, they simplify a multitude of Hmong perspectives -- still pained -- in favor of an indifferent, sterile shrug.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 43 weeks ago


And why was your stillborn important to your story? Why would you even include that? Sympathy card? To me it invalidated your whole article, and instead of reading it as an event of racism that happened against you, it became woe is me.

Delux wrote 2 years 44 weeks ago

so what i am really struck by here?

is the sheer number of people who have had zero interest in hyphen or the issues it covers up to now, who have nevertheless felt compelled to comment solely on this article. Specfically, to let Kalia and the rest of the asian community whose space this is know that its bad, wrong, and somehow generally mean for them to bring up racism as an issue.

Just because some of these radiolab fans feel discomfort with racism being brought up here? Doesnt mean racism doesnt actually exist in this situation. People of color have to deal with racism in every aspect of their lives, whether outsiders acknowledge it or not.

Kirti Kamboj wrote 2 years 43 weeks ago

This is a very good point!

This is a very good point! Quite a peculiar logic seems to rule in these situations -- that until outsiders privileged by racial hierarchies (i.e., people who've never directly experienced racism) come to a enlightened consensus that what we experience is, actually, racism, we cannot be so insistent on calling it such, and doing so might even make us the real racists.

People who believe this are probably also die-hard fans of Catch-22.

Eric Ruthford wrote 2 years 44 weeks ago

Over-use of the race card

It is a universal experience in the life of a journalist, that if you write about race, you will be accused of racism. My own experience as a reporter writing about an Asian-American youth conference in Seattle 10 years ago. I interviewed five or six children, and then wrote the following 12-inch article (all the editor would allow).


The next day the kids wrote me to tell me I was racist for my failure to include all the other stuff they told me.

While I think it was a mismatch for a generally cheerful show like Radiolab to take on such an emotional and controversial topic, this is not racism. Having an interview that doesn't go the way you want it is not racism.

You should also consider the usual journalist's alternative to dealing with something complex and controversial, which is to walk away from it and do an easier, simpler and cheaper story. Here, the story of the Hmong is mentioned, not as the center of the story, and can lead a listener to more research.

Kirti Kamboj wrote 2 years 44 weeks ago

It's a "universal experience"

It's a "universal experience" in the life of a racial minority, if you talk about the ways racism has directly impacted your life, that you will invariably be accused by progressive, well-intentioned white liberals of bringing up the race card.

They will then proceed, with the best of intentions, to enlighten you on what racism truly is and how it has truly impacted your life (all things that they are, of course, infinitely more qualified to judge than you are). They will tell you that what you have experienced could not possibly be what you call it. They will go on to say that, instead of poisoning rational discourse by such crude, irrational attacks, you should instead take a moment to consider just how lucky you are to be getting any attention at all, and be grateful for it.

Bryan Hollar wrote 2 years 44 weeks ago

Addressing Kirti Kamboj's Response

Eugenics is a perfectly apt example within the context of my argument because it was an utterly non-imperical view that merely clothed bigotry with the trappings of scientific parlance and method. Just as young-earth creationists write peer-reviewed papers in attempt to further a plainly non-scientific view, eugenicists of the early 20th century created a "scientific" discipline that had literally no authentic data to confirm its veracity. The point being that you can dress anything and everything in this world as somehow being confirmed by science, but if the data isn't there, well then that's the end of the story.

So yes, there is something more pernicious and duplicitous on display when scientific parlance is used to justify the old "I believe it is so it must be so" way of engaging with the world. But aside from intent, how is this different from saying "I saw yellow rain so therefore yellow rain exists?"

In closing, I need a word for the following phenomenon: you misunderstand my point, and your first reaction is to deride said point as being "ridiculous" even though you wholly misunderstood the point in the first place. I just ask because if that word exists, it would have been useful for describing Kirti Kamboj response.

Kirti Kamboj wrote 2 years 43 weeks ago

After reading and considering

After reading and considering your reaction to my previous comment, I want to apologize for its exceeding glibness.

It wasn't my intention to make you feel uncomfortable or dismissed? And looking back, I agree that my tone was oddly dismissive, which isn't acceptable, especially when talking to those who seem unused to their views being forcefully challenged.

On reflection, I think that the crux of our disagreement lies in the fact that you have a definition of empirical evidence that contradicts the standard definition? ("In scientific use the term empirical refers to the gathering of data using only evidence that is observable by the senses or in some cases using calibrated scientific instruments.") The Hmong directly observed the effects of chemical weapons. "Uncle Eng" was tasked with collecting the observations of the Hmong by the government of Thailand -- in other words, officially tasked with gathering this empirical evidence. In the interview, "Uncle Eng" stated: "I saw with my own eyes bee pollen on the leaves eating through holes. With my own eyes I saw pollen that could kill grass, could kill leaves, could kill trees."

Yet instead of arguing (a) this particular sort of empirical evidence is unreliable, vague, or somehow biased, (b) it is insufficient to support the theory of chemical weapons use, or (c) it is directly contradicted by overwhelming empirical evidence that suggests otherwise -- instead of arguing along these lines (I would've disagreed with you, but would've seen where you were coming from), you categorically stated that there was "no emperical evidence for this assertion". It was a concept of empiricism different from what I was taught by my parents (both are scientists with PhDs from Western universities, since this seems important in your context) and at my (Western) university (one of my degrees is in statistics), different from any I've read about. And yet you position your view of "empericism" and "authentic data" as the unarguable standard? Trying to reconcile this caused an unfortunate moment of cognitive dissonance in my mind (a moment that hasn't ended, even more unfortunately).

You did this while positioning yourself as the defender of Western science and empiricism, and furthermore compared thousands of direct observations of the effects of chemical weapons, thousands of recorded data points, with belief in God, UFO sightings, fundamentalist Islam, eugenics, and young-earth creationism? This exacerbated my sense of cognitive dissonance!

You also contrasted Western academic canon with eugenicism, when the science of eugenics developed out of Western academic canon, and in the first half of the 20th century, was considered part of Western academic canon, with its most enthusiastic proponents being mainstream Western scientists and the well-educated Western elite (Francis Galton, Ernst Haeckel, Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt, John Maynard Keynes, Linus Pauling, Herbert Spencer, John D. Rockefeller, I could keep going on all day)? Needless to say, by this time I had no idea what to make of your context, and forcefully questioned it, because I care deeply about getting these facts right.

So, yes, based on these things, I suspected you of, at the least being farcical, and at the worst being a troll. I genuinely and regretfully apologize if you were hurt by my dismissive tone, and my unfortunate use of the word "ridiculous" (you are completely right, what is and isn't ridiculous depends on the context, and yours is completely different). It was not my intention to offend you in any way; my intention was to question and explore, and get to the facts of the matter. But looking back, I admit that I was insensitive, and should have listened harder.

But that said, if I did inadvertently offend you -- engaging further would probably only lead to you being more so, because you seem to keep saying things that are factually wrong, and then insist that they aren't when looked at from your context, which is unlike any I've ever come across, including the mainstream Western academic context that I often critique for its bias, and that you position yourself in. I don't know what to make of it?

So I'm going to bow out of this discussion, and again, apologize for any negative feelings I might've inadvertently caused by being insensitively glib. And in the future, I'll try and present facts more gently and with more consideration.

David Shih wrote 2 years 44 weeks ago

One Definition of Racism

Let me begin by saying that I believe that there is a clear and important relationship between racism and the production and handling of the RadioLab “Yellow Rain” segment. I’ll add that if you don’t believe the same, then I have no pretensions of convincing you otherwise. We simply disagree over the definition of racism. However, if you are undecided, then I hope that my perspective will prove persuasive.

I understand racism as “a system of advantage based on race.” In the US, that advantage is accorded to people who have come to be known as white. We can even measure the extent of the advantage by studying certain social metrics: life expectancy, educational attainment, net worth, rates of incarceration, etc. In other words, we can measure racism. Again, we may disagree over the definition, but at least you now know why I believe that racism is a system.

If racism is a system, then there are elements that operate within it. One way to think about these elements is as “racial projects.” Racial projects redistribute resources along racial lines. They can be as basic as laughing at a racist joke or as large and complex as the war in Vietnam. The “Yellow Rain” segment falls somewhere in between. Some racial projects become especially powerful when they are authorized within social institutions such as, well, the mass media.

The “Yellow Rain” segment is a racial project that maintains the status quo of the system of racism. It redistributed resources along racial lines. Not many people can honestly say that the Yangs occupied the locus of prestige and authority in the segment. RadioLab minimized Eng Yang’s perspective and the perspectives of the Hmong affected by chemical warfare. It did nothing to dismantle the negative racial stereotypes of Southeast Asians in general. The inclusion of casual talk of “backwater” tribes and the exclusion of Eng Yang’s expertise (smaller racial projects themselves) may have even strengthened the stereotypes.

If we can agree that the “Yellow Rain” segment did nothing to change negative racial stereotypes in our society, then perhaps we can agree that it did nothing to interrupt the system of racism. Thus I think it is fair to call the segment racist—but only if we have the same definition of racism. However, doing so may not be very productive. This is because the adjective “racist” has a hard time shaking its connotation of hate even though all it is doing is describing a particular kind of racial project, one that maintains or strengthens the system of racism. Kalia Yang’s essay and all of the supportive comments on it are also racial projects but of a different kind. What is asking RadioLab for equal time if not asking for the redistribution of resources along racial lines?

Anonymous wrote 2 years 44 weeks ago

response to bryan

Yang's side includes empiricism, too. See: Yang's mention of published research that was not considered in the Radiolab piece, especially that by Dr. Mirocha. Here's a hit of empiricism for you: there is no actual conclusion as to where Yellow Rain came from. There is evidence missing and, as of yet, no certainty about how Yellow Rain was produced. Analysis of raw, --empirical-- data has been contested. Just take a look at the Wikipedia article on Yellow Rain. It chronicles the debate and shows you just how many holes there are in the data. Yang's point is that the Hmong side of the data was ignored, glossed over, handled dismissively. It's not that the white U.S. folks have the empirical data vs. the Hmong with their personal experience.

And, by the way, personal experience actually can count as empirical data. Empirical data actually means information acquired by observation using any of the 5 senses, which is what Eng Yang provided the Radiolab interviewers with.

Emily Haymond wrote 2 years 44 weeks ago

You have to admit, she

You have to admit, she obviously experienced it as racist. To her, the reason why she and her uncle were not treated with respect was racism. Doesn't that matter, that she experienced it that way? Who are we to argue with her experience? Gosh, that's what she's saying all along. Just hear my experience...just let my voice be heard. You don't have to believe it. Why would we bother to argue with her point by point?? It is enough to let her voice and her experience be heard!!

Chantal wrote 2 years 44 weeks ago

What is your definition of racism?

For the people here who are saying that this act is not racist, in ways like "Not racism, more like horrible lack of empathy" or "Using a term like racism out of context in an attempt to stir up more outrage or garner more sympathy is just as offensive as misusing the term holocaust or genocide.," may I ask you what exactly is your definition of racism? What is the context it should be used in?

Bryan Hollar wrote 2 years 44 weeks ago

Conflicts Between Empericism and Perception

First off, the content of the radiolab segment in question here is a near perfect exeplification of one of modernity's greatest hindrances: the conflict between empericism and individual perception. Uncle Eng "knows" that chemical weapons were used on his people in the post-Vietnam War era because of personal experience and a community narrative that confirms the objective truth of yellow rain. Jad and Robert "know" that there were no chemical weapons used on the Hmong people in the post-Vietnam War era because there is no emperical evidence for this assertion. And so the question becomes that of persuasiveness, do you the listener and reader find yourself more compelled to believe a passionately recounted first hand description or that of research that is conducted in a scientifically methodological manner? Do you believe in God because you "feel" sure that there is some sort of extra-physical force of order within the Universe, or do you reject the existence of God because again, it's an assertion for which there is no emperical evidence. Ghosts? UFO Sightings? The quote of Ms. Yang's that demonstrates this divide quite well is when she says that Robert and Jad engage in "the privileging of Western education over indigenous knowledge." If most readers of this article could agree to privilege the core-tenets of the western, academic canon over say, those of fundamentalist Islam and eugenicism, why not privilege it over a particular group's interpretation of a historical event that has no corroborating evidence aside from
personal experience?

Which leads me to my other point. Accusing Radiolab of racism in this instance is hysteria-driven and a purely ad-hominem attack. I wish that I could convey how much damage is done to meaningful causes through the lexical adoption and casual usage of words like 'racist,' 'sexist', 'classist' etc. From the mouth of a far left ideologue, they generally seem to mean 'bad' and 'does not comport with my analysis.'

Kirti Kamboj wrote 2 years 44 weeks ago

.....do you seriously believe everything you just wrote?

Others have already responded to some of your points. I would add two things.

(1) It is telling that so many people, like you, like Radiolab, keep trying to frame this as a conflict between empiricism/logic/science and indigenous backwardness/emotion. And in your case, what I find particularly ironic is that, to drive your point home, one of the things you are contrasting (contrasting!) this empiricism based on "western, academic canon" against is eugenics.

(2) It is similarly telling that so many people, like you, like Radiolab, seek to so absolutely reject Kao Kalia Yang's account. She presents her side of the story, and she is a senseless, hysterical, selfishly short-sighted woman. You, and Krulwich, and so many others, dismiss her and her perspective sweepingly on these grounds (and in your case, claiming she made a purely ad-hominem attack while casting her as hysteria-driven was, again, a particularly ironic touch), and you are rational, logical, sensible men of science, and to even suggest otherwise could very well permit her and people like her to cause, hm, exactly what does it cause in your perspective? The downfall of Western civilization as we know it, leaving the superstitious natives and dangerous fundamentalists and eugenicists (sorry, but this will never stop being utterly ridiculous) to claim the field?

And you wish you could convey the damage that is done in these cases?

Perhaps, just perhaps, you should instead try and listen to exactly what is being said, and consider why it is being said? Perhaps, just perhaps, you should instead try and consider exactly what it is that makes it so easy for you and others to so sweepingly dismiss it?

But then again, this is probably a too ridiculous and far-left ideological notion to be given any credence, especially since no empirical, rational person wants to have the downfall of Western civilization and eugenics on their conscience.

Ong wrote 2 years 44 weeks ago

In Response to Sven comment #14

Are you so cynical as to think a woman would calculatingly use the death of her unborn baby to inspire sympathy for herself? You sound like Krulwich when he interpreted her emotional reaction as an attempt to manipulate. Both backhandedly brushing off her emotional response to the situation and insinuating she has selfish intentions. She was not trying to insinuate that Radiolab was a contributing factor in anyway to her miscarriage. Most people understand that when you lose a child you somehow have to try to come to peace with what's happened. Her piece let's you know this incident is not insignificant.To Radiolab it was an interview gone wrong that's probably caused them some headache and at most regret for their reputation. But for Kalia and her uncle Eng it hit close to home.

kateholt wrote 2 years 44 weeks ago

So sorry for your and your

So sorry for your and your husbands loss. Also for your uncle's and your experience with NPR. I hope you and he will write more about those times, also about the Hmong experience in the US. It is a valuable history.

mena wrote 2 years 44 weeks ago

Not racism, more like horrible lack of empathy IMO

I just wanted to say that I cried with you when I heard you on the radio.

Due to my own experiences, I think it's very easy for uninvolved people to talk about traumatic events in a cold and dismissive way. I also think this comes from a place of privilege. People who haven't had these experiences often think they can have opinions and sometimes even tell you their opinions are more valid, because they see things objectively. But this is not true. Part of the reason wars and genocide are important in our history is the huge emotional impact they have on the population. You can't study or analyse events like these without taking feelings into account. If war and genocide did not create trauma and psychological wounds, they wouldn't be nearly as relevant as they are.

Your interviewers may have had a scientific reason to do what they did. But they forgot empathy. Even before hearing you react, I felt they were using your suffering to prove their completely unrelated point. This is the kind of behavior that feeds the stereotype of the cold, calculating scientist.

I am not sure it was racism, though. I think the issues here are a massive lack of empathy and tact, not to mention dishonesty, because they should have told you what the purpose of the interview was.

sophi wrote 2 years 44 weeks ago


A reporter was an insensitive jerk who came to a story with an angle and some preconceived notions (how's that for novelty?) - and then spun the story in post-production to give it the slant . . . and that's racist because . . . the interviewer is caucasian and the interviewee is asian?

Using a term like racism out of context in an attempt to stir up more outrage or garner more sympathy is just as offensive as misusing the term holocaust or genocide.

Nancy wrote 2 years 44 weeks ago

@ Oliver

She did not blame anyone for her miscarriage. As a writer and as a women who had to endure such an emotional and horrific ordeal, she was putting into perspective her emotions at the time. As someone who had a miscarriage myself, it helps to talk about it. The pain is real.

LTE wrote 2 years 44 weeks ago

One more thing

I had meant to mention this in my last post. While the interview did not meet Ms Yang's satisfaction, it is not an all is lost situation.
Radiolab did the broadcast and keeps a podcast available. They did include a discussion of the interview and story. More know about the situation after that broadcast than before. More know about the Hmong after the broadcast than before. Uncle Eng has created a record that says this event did occur.
Someone "out there" who hears the story from someone's else's mouth may recall the Radiolab report and may investigate further.
Many investigations are conducted from the most inauspicious of starts.

Kirti Kamboj wrote 2 years 44 weeks ago

apologies for technical glitch

We seem to have had a technical glitch that lost some comments. If you submitted a comment in the past few hours, and it's still not up, please resubmit? I'm reposting one on behalf of KJ:

KJ wrote 50 min 10 sec ago
It's Possible to Be Fair to Both Sides

It seems to me that in the original interview, Kalia was reacting to the way in which the interview was conducted and the surprising lack of empathy shown by the interviewer. It seems odd that Radiolab would invite a survivor of genocide to speak about his first-person experience with the main intent to discredit his memories and experiences.

But what bothers me is the final product and what followed the release of the story. Radiolab crafted the story in such a way that Robert was allowed to contextualize Kalia's final reaction in relation to his personal experience as a journalist. He said her reaction "wasn't fair" and that she was trying to monopolize the story. That's quite a claim, since Radiolab specifically invited the Yangs onto the show and asked them to present their side of the story. And, in fact, Kalia didn't challenge their right to do the story. She challenged what she perceived to be their dismissive attitude toward her uncle's experience. As she states in her own piece, "We spoke honestly and authentically from where we were positioned. We did not try to convince anybody of what we lived through, merely, we wanted to share it. "

And here is where I think the power dynamic matters. Radiolab set the stage beforehand with its invitation and the decision on what critical lens to bring to the story. They also had editorial control afterward, determining what stayed in or was removed (or updated). They got to determine what sources and evidence counted as "legitimate" (academic work supporting the bee theory) and which did not (articles and first-hand accounts and academic work supporting the yellow rain theory). Yet they have reacted to the questions from viewers and to Kalia's negative response as if she had equal control over the content of the podcast and how she and her uncle were depicted-- as if she is, in fact, trying to monopolize the story.

The Yangs did not write to Radiolab and say, "Interview us. We have definitive proof that Yellow Rain existed." Radiolab made the decision to put their first-person account up against an academic study and see which one might be found wanting. Radiolab also gave Robert the opportunity to frame Kalia's initial reaction as manipulative, as if she were somehow a surrogate for the Reagan administration and not a niece trying to do justice by her uncle's lived experience. Look carefully at the questions Robert sent to Kalia beforehand and it is easy to understand why she and her uncle assumed that the interview would be an exploration (and therefore a validation) of his experiences, regardless of whether Radiolab thought Yellow Rain existed: What happened after the Americans left? Was your village attacked? At what point did you first hear about the yellow rain? Where did the name yellow rain come from? How does one say yellow rain in Hmong? Did you see it yourself? What did it look like?" But stated aggressively, these questions can easily seems like a challenge or a critique. I don't find is surprising, therefore, that the Yangs felt unprepared or that the interview felt like an attempt to invalidate what Mr. Yang had lived through. Tone is hard to intuit, especially in email, so Robert may have assumed they knew he was looking for evidence worthy of scrutiny while they believed he was looking for a first-hand account of the Hmong experience during those years.

But the thing that truly bothers me is that even in apology, Radiolab maintains that it is defending the journalistic search for "truth." ("What we attempted to do was to examine the Yellow Rain story in the context of what constitutes truth.") If that is the case, then they should have done one of two things:

A) Looked at the academic arguments on both sides of the debate and interviewed officials from the Reagan administration who support the Yellow Rain theory as well as professionals who refute it. In this instance, the story is about government narratives versus scientific narratives.

B) Framed the story around the uncomfortable gap between what scientists discover through research and what people experience, illustrating the complications, nuances and consequences of this gap.

If they had gone with approach one, then they could still have interviewed Mr. Yang, but about his professional experience documenting the Hmong experience. If they had gone with approach B, then they might have been more sensible to the fact that they were interviewing a real human being about a very real, very emotional and very traumatic episode in his life.

Radiolab needs to more fully own their aplogy and acknowledge that this was not a facebook spat between friends. This was a professional account that exploited one man's personal experience to make what they believed was a profound point about the nature of truth. It wasn't profound; it was a platitude and not nearly as worthy as a more compassionate profile of Mr. Yang might have been.
AJ wrote 2 years 44 weeks ago

Reply to eM

I didn't say such a scenario could not exist. Certainly it could. I'm just saying that you and I are not in a position to identify it.

Lily wrote 2 years 44 weeks ago

Thank you

Thank you for taking the time to write this. It is really important to hear the whole story behind the manipulated version. I'm sorry it was such a painful experience. If there is any way I can help-- I would love to start a petition?-- please let me know. Best, lily

LTE wrote 2 years 44 weeks ago

Congratulations Ms Yang

I do not think anyone has fired up this board like you have.
Regarding Kirti Kamjob's comments:
"than the racism/sexism/etc being called out and critiqued."
When racism becomes an everyday everything event, it evolves into meaninglessness. The race hobbyist ends up marginalizing the very thing they hope to stop.
"in drawing attention to the many affects of underlying hierarchies (not just of racism, but through intersectionality,"
I think you bumped up against the real issue. The host had to choose between a man who literally walked out of the jungle vs men with big expensive lab equipment.
In the dynamic of the Post 1970's Liberal/Progressive world, credentials mean a lot and the more degrees the more infallible the degree holder becomes. Real world experience is nice, but the guy with the PhD simply can not be wrong. Add Harvard to the mix and you have infallibility the Pope himself could not hope to attain.
You drop a case of beer on your foot, you say damn that hurts. If a professor from a name school writes a 20 page paper on it, it certainly must be so. Despite more than abundant evidence to the contrary, the experts are never wrong.
The hosts sounded more suited to doing a Hollywood red carpet story than a thoughtful expose on the Hmong. The story should have been given more time considering the very serious charges of genocide. Back ground on the Hmong, their work with the United States and events that followed should have been more detailed. 20 minutes was simply not enough to do the issue justice.
For those who moan about evidence, if you ever have false charges placed against you, you will learn to love evidence that exonerates you. The Hmong lodged serious charges against Vietnam, solid evidence is needed to support that claim. What does work in their favor is unless suffering mass delusion large groups of people do not make up such charges.
As for "ism's" they'll always be around though the players change and the issues become musical chairs.. During the great Chick-Fil-A dust up, it was most amusing to see a Chinese-American mayor practicing exclusion, A study of human history shows one thing, nothing ever really changes.

Mina wrote 2 years 44 weeks ago

radiolab response

Here's a pretty detailed response from RadioLab. Sounds like Kalia might have gotten a couple things wrong?


Kirti Kamboj wrote 2 years 44 weeks ago

Also, this post from Matthew

Also, this post from Matthew Salesses is an incisive critique of Radiolab's response, as well as good overview of the MPR comments. 

Kirti Kamboj wrote 2 years 44 weeks ago

a reaction to one of Mr. Capello's points

Thanks for linking to this, Mina. I'd be very interested to hear what people have to say in response.

My initial, extremely glib reaction: Radiolab needs to hire better PR people!

My much longer reaction to one of Mr. Capello's points:

In part three of his rebuttal, responding to "the accusation that Radiolab refuses the statement submitted by Kalia Yang", Dean Capello writes:

"Kalia initially sent Pat a very kind email. The email praises Pat for the powerful balancing of perspectives.

A day later, when the team asked her permission to run her response, she declined and followed up with a very different response. Our team evaluated her criticisms openly and honestly.

And Robert's public apology was a response to her note.

The comments section of the website reflected a wide range of viewpoints, including, within days, comments posted by Kalia's husband that voiced her concerns."

Four questions this raises in my head:

(1) How do some of Kalia's sentiments being echoed by her husband in some comments, at all refute the accusation that Radiolab refused to publish Yang's criticism of their segment? People can say whatever they want in the comments to this article, and as long as the comments aren't outrageously homophobic, racist, etc, they'll be allowed through. That is a completely different thing than Hyphen putting up their statements in an article, and that Mr. Capello is conflating the two is disingenuous at best.

(2) I'm not going to touch on the accuracy of Mr. Capello's portrayal of Ms. Yang's initial email, both because I haven't read it, and I don't find it relevant. (Others are, of course, more than free to disagree with me on this point, and address it directly.) What I will touch on, because I find it immensely intriguing, is this. Robert Krulwich's multiple clarifications and justifications have all been published, put on the podcast, edited and put on the podcast again, etcetc.

When offered the same platform, Ms. Yang sends a response that, as can be seen in her article above, talks incisively about the underlying power imbalances that come to play in the podcast. This response is never published because initially she sent Pat "a very kind email". Yet how is her initial communication being more positive, enough to disqualify her later criticism from being valid?

Listening to Radiolab's Yellow Rain podcast, it seemed to me that the show was alarmingly backwards on both race and gender issues. For one thing, it doesn't take a PhD scientist, or several months of reviewing academic papers, to know that one of the most pervasive and damaging stereotypes in our society is that of women being naturally irrational, emotional, conniving, indecisive, manipulative, etc. Sometimes all it takes is turning on the TV, and realizing how disproportionately few women occupy positions of authority.

Radiolab's editing of the Yellow Rain story, and Mr. Krulwich's dismissal of Ms. Yang's perspective as an emotionally manipulative attempt to wrest control of said story, among other things, seemed to draw upon and resonate with such sexist undercurrents. Yet it seems that instead of realizing this, Radiolab is seeking to once again justify it, and in doing so drawing upon some of those same undercurrents.

(3) A corollary to the point above: Instead of putting up Ms. Yang's words, Radiolab chose to put up Mr. Krulwich's reaction to her words. And they're using the fact that they've done this... to support their arguments that they haven't neglected her viewpoint, haven't deemed Mr. Krulwich's thoughts and reactions and truths more important and valid at every turn, that they've always been fair and balanced in presenting all viewpoints to their listeners without prejudice.

I find it rather remarkable that we're presented with contrary evidence here that manages to so thoroughly contradict itself and support the opposing viewpoint.

(4) This is a very obvious point, but Mr. Capello at least seems to have missed it, so: that Radiolab generously offers to post a statement by an interviewee that praises the show, yet is totally unwilling when the interviewee submits something critical instead -- does not say very good things about the show and its open-mindedness and receptiveness to criticism!

There's a lot to unpack in Mr. Cappello's rebuttal, and this comment has already become rather long. I might come back later if I have time, and I hope that others will also step in and air their opinions.

Mayna wrote 2 years 44 weeks ago

Hello All

This is truly an interesting article. However, I would suggest that "racism" probably was not the correct term that should have been used. I am a bit annoyed by all these commenter who are attempting to include all their "research", or overly trying to prove another point. Please, if you disagree, just simply say so, no need for the attempt of startling more drama. Everyone should simply understand that, although you may view Radiolab higher than a day-to-day radio station. At the end of the day, they are still a radio station. How can they survive, if they do not create drama? How can they stand out from all other stations if all they do is stick to the "truth"? So how about, everyone, leave your "past experience, belief, and support" aside and when you make a judgement....let only right then and there impact. If you are a supporter of Radiolab, put aside your "love and past experience with their radio station". If you are from the Hmong community, do not allow yourself to immediately react just because you are "Hmong" and see the word "racism". All readers of this article, sit back and think it thoroughly before making a fool out of yourself. Overall, I am Hmong and I would like to state again that "racism" really was not the correct term to have been used. I would label their characteristics as ignorance and negligence. If America would stop living by the code of "where's your proof?" and "where's the scientific record?" for every damn thing, then they could start appreciating HISTORY a bit more. Everyone will have a different story to tell. Line 5 people up and allow them to witness a death, they'll all come out with different stories. They shouldn't be judge upon or accused of lies. You "seek" for their help, you "asked" for their viewpoint. What they experience is what "THEY" experience. No scientific testing or person will ever know what that person went through, what that person witness. The world should just respect that.

Have a great day World, let's all lessen the drama for one day :)

SK wrote 2 years 44 weeks ago

re: Racism in effect, not intent

For the past thirty years or so, since the notion of systemic oppression has been developed, it has been common to claim that various forms of racial targeting take place regardless of the intentions of the aggressors.

Or rather, we need to replace the language of "aggressors" and "targets," since these terms imply willful abuse. The can be replaced with the less accusatory language of "privileged" and "oppressed."

It is only a small step to then say that racism takes place in effect, not intent. However, what are we to make of this unintentional racism?

In fact, the concept is extremely unhelpful and dubious in it's construction. I'm reminded of a thoughtful article by Judith Butler (http://www.lrb.co.uk/v25/n16/judith-butler/no-its-not-anti-semitic) which points out a certain resentful moralizing in saying that criticisms of Israel are anti-Semitic in effect if not in intention.

Basically, she points out that the only way to make a claim of anti-Semitic effects is to pre-suppose anti-Semitic intentions.

The same thing happens when we say that an action is racist in effect if not in intention. It is a closeted way of accusing someone of racist intentions without risking the open combat that goes from a blame.

Ironically, the racist-in-effect line of reasoning does exactly the same thing it is trying to resist in supposedly White, imperial knowledges. The imperial discourse subsumes and ignores all voices by assuming itself to have a closer relation to Truth than those other voices have. However, the claim that one can be racist in effect but not intent does the same thing. That is, it takes a given action or utterance in situation, determines the action to be racist and thereby dismisses whatever actual intention the author of the action or utterance had.

At base, the racism-in-effect line of reasoning is a rhetorical drone strike. It allows the accuser attack an opponent without risking a similar attack in turn.

The racism-in-effect line of reasoning is ultimately parasitical on the practices it denounces and thereby reinforces it's terms. That is, it maintains race as the only relevant set of power relations. In so doing, it avoids the considerably more difficult but more productive task of trying to create a new discourse that goes beyond the power-swapping of the race debate.

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