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A My Word urging the governor to sign the bill that bans shark fin soup Shark Fin Ban in PHOTO ARCHIVES Calif. State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Frnacisco, shows a bowl of shark finsoup during a news conference to oppose a bill to ban the sale ofshark fin soup, in San Francisco's Chinatown, Monday, Feb. 14, 2011. A Chinese-American My Word writer, however, argues that Gov. Brown should sign the bill. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

The word tradition has been tossed around quite a bit lately. It has been used as a crutch, it has been used as an excuse, it has been used as justification, but most disturbing, it has been used as a distraction and diversion.

Using the term in its real sense though, traditionally, Chinese people do not like to waste and they especially do not waste when it comes to food.

Anyone who has been to dim sum can attest to this. We offer things like tripe, pigs' knuckles and chicken feet. Nothing is wasted. Absolutely nothing.

This is what makes the tradition argument in support of shark-fin soup so ludicrous. The demand for shark fin drives the practice of shark finning, which is arguably one of the most wasteful practices in which mankind has ever engaged.

What is particularly offensive to me, both as a Chinese-American and as a reasonable person, is the use of cultural sensitivity as a distraction, and the use of fear as a tool to incite people toward opposition.

Fear is a powerful tool and has been used for political, personal and financial gain by infamous figures throughout history.

Whether it's the threat of economic collapse, xenophobia, or political or cultural oppression, fear has been used to beguile unwary citizens into tacit and active participation in some of the most horrific campaigns in history, including widespread genocide.

By suggesting to people (in this case, Chinese-Americans) that they are the target of a racial affront, it's natural that they will want to react negatively.


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This exploitation of fear is truly the only reason why some otherwise uninformed Chinese-Americans choose to oppose a shark-fin ban.

In reality, 70 percent of Chinese-Americans in California support a legislative ban on shark fins, according to a poll conducted by Fairbanks Maslin and commissioned by the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

That poll was conducted before Assembly Bill 376 was even introduced, so now that people know more about this bill and are aware of the issues surrounding the shark-fin trade, that number would most certainly be higher.

As far as the discrimination argument is concerned, common sense reflects the legal definition of discrimination, particularly with regard to law and established practice.

AB376 is not discriminatory because it does not affect Chinese or Chinese-Americans as a class. AB376 merely asks to prohibit the trade and consumption of a luxury product. That more Chinese-Americans consume shark fin than other ethnicities does not give a delicacy protected status. Moreover, only some Chinese-Americans consume shark fin, not the average Chinese-American, and certainly not on a regular basis.

Prominent Chinese-American and Asian-American civil rights leaders also support the ban, and find offensive the use of cultural discrimination as an argument in opposition; doing so trivializes civil rights matters of real significance, and crying wolf is not a game to play here.

The need to ban shark fins is clear. They will disappear from California shelves in the not-to-distant future; let's not wait until that happens because we've run out of sharks.

For the sake of the oceans, our planet and our future, we hope that Gov. Jerry Brown sees past the grousing of special interests and signs AB376 into law.

Christopher Chin is executive director of the Center for Oceanic Awareness, Research, and Education, based in Oakland.