Monthly Archives: July 2008

Congress Apologizes for Slavery and Jim Crow Segregation

In an earlier post, I wrote about how the Australian government has issued an official apology to their native aborigine population over the historical and systematic practice of forcibly separating aborigine children from their parents and subsequently trying to raise and socialize them as Whites.

That post also included a news story describing Senator Sam Brownback’s (R-Neb) introduction of legislation that would officially apologize to the Native American Indian population over our country’s systematic discrimination of them over the decades and centuries.

Along the same lines, as MSNBC reports, the House of Representatives has just passed legislation that officially apologizes to African Americans for the history of slavery and Jim Crow segregation:

The resolution, passed by voice vote, was the work of Tennessee Democrat Steve Cohen, the only white lawmaker to represent a majority black district. Cohen faces a formidable black challenger in a primary face-off next week.

Congress has issued apologies before — to Japanese-Americans for their internment during World War II and to native Hawaiians for the overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom in 1893. In 2005, the Senate apologized for failing to pass anti-lynching laws.

Five states have issued apologies for slavery, but past proposals in Congress have stalled, partly over concerns that an apology would lead to demands for reparations — payment for damages. The Cohen resolution does not mention reparations. It does commit the House to rectifying “the lingering consequences of the misdeeds committed against African-Americans under slavery and Jim Crow.”

It says that Africans forced into slavery “were brutalized, humiliated, dehumanized and subjected to the indignity of being stripped of their names and heritage” and that black Americans today continue to suffer from the consequences of slavery and Jim Crow laws that fostered discrimination and segregation.

My first reaction is — to echo Jay Leno’s comments in his monologue yesterday — wow, it’s not a moment too soon! What’s it been — a 150 years now? It’s a good thing they did this right away, so that there wouldn’t be any lingering problems or bad feelings, right?

More seriously, as I wrote in that earlier post, I commend the House for taking this courageous, albeit largely symbolic step. As I and many other human beings can attest to, one of the hardest things to do in any kind of relationship is to apologize.

In fact, there seems to be an inverse relationship between the severity of the wrong committed and the likelihood that the perpetrator will apologize for it. With that in mind, Rep. Cohen and all those who voted in favor of the resolution have earned my gratitude.

I will also point out that this apology actually seem to go against the larger trend in American society in which many Americans (particular White Americans) increasingly see the U.S. as a “colorblind” society in which racial minorities are perceived to be equal to Whites in terms of their socioeconomic opportunities. This mindset is reflected in recent opinion surveys which seem to show a lingering divide between Whites and Blacks over various social issues and perceptions about American society.

As I’ve written before about this colorblind trend, in theory, the motivation to be colorblind is very noble — treating people equally without regard to their skin color, race/ethnicity, or national origin. The problem is that this individual-level motivation is not reinforced at the institutional level, where people of color are still disproportionately underrepresented in positions of power and in fact, still encounter many forms of discrimination and inequality.

It is worth noting that as quoted from the MSNBC article above, the apology resolution explicitly acknowledges this ongoing inequality. In other words, it seems that at least in this case, Congress actually seems to know more than what many Americans would probably give them credit for.

With that in mind, my hope that our government can once again lead the way in facilitating a more racially equal society has been rekindled — for now.

Consequences of Changing Racial Composition of Cities

In case you were not already familiar, the term “White Flight” refers to the phenomenon of White residents leaving central urban areas of major cities and moving into suburbs or even farther. This process began after World War II and coincided with the birth of suburbanization.

Unfortunately, White flight is also associated with the systematic segregation and “ghettoization” of people of color in these same central urban areas. That is, a combination of unequal government policies, discriminatory lending practices, and unethical real estate agents led to a vast majority of the Black population being prevented from joining the suburbanization movement and instead, were left behind isolated in neglected and marginalized central cities.

However, things apparently are changing. As the Wall Street Journal reports, in recent years, demographers and city planners have noticed that in many metropolitan areas, White flight has slowed considerably and in many of these cities, has actually been reversed. That is, because of increased investment and development (some would call it gentrification) of downtown areas, many Whites are returning to the central cities. However, this slow reversal of White flight has led to some unanticipated consequences for people of color:

Between 2000 and 2006, eight of the 50 largest cities, including Boston, Seattle and San Francisco, saw the proportion of whites increase, according to Census figures. The previous decade, only three cities saw increases.

The changing racial mix is stirring up quarrels over class and culture. Beloved institutions in traditionally black communities — minority-owned restaurants, book stores — are losing the customers who supported them for decades. As neighborhoods grow more multicultural, conflicts over home prices, taxes and education are opening a new chapter in American race relations. . . .

In recent years, minority middle-class families, particularly African-Americans, have been moving to the suburbs in greater numbers. At the same time, Hispanic immigrants (who poured into cities from the 1970s through the 1990s) are now increasingly bypassing cities for suburbs and rural areas, seeking jobs on farms and in meat-packing plants.

Cities have spent a decade tidying up parks and converting decaying factories into retail and living space. That has attracted young professionals and empty-nesters, many of them white.

The article goes on to mention a few more interesting points. First is that as middle-class Blacks leave the central cities, those who are left are predominantly lower-income and as a result, the tax base gets smaller as well, further reinforcing and perpetuating poverty.

Second is that as White residents slowly return to the central cities, some tensions with residents of color have risen. Such tensions may initially be based on class differences (i.e., most returning Whites are middle class or affluent) while resident of color are more likely to be working class), but inevitably, it leads to racial overtones.

For example, the article mentions that in New York City, a group of White parents proposed creating a new, separate school inside Public School 84. Not surprisingly, a large number of minority parents saw this proposal as blatant racial segregation, since the proposed new school would presumably consist almost entirely of White students.

From a sociological point of view, this trend of reversing White flight is most interesting because it represents an 180 degree turn of a long-established and momentous process that has taken decades to occur, has resulted in significant social changes and inequalities, and has still not ended entirely.

With that in mind and at least on the surface, we should be thankful for its reversal. However, as the article points out, the return of Whites to central cities has led to a different set of problems and tensions, many of them rather unexpected.

It just goes to show that race relations is not a simple equation that can be solved easily. Instead, it is a dynamic and fluid mix of historical and contemporary factors that operates on many levels and can have multiple and contradictory outcomes. In other words, we as sociologists have our work cut out for us here.

Congratulations to Evelyn Nakano Glenn

I would like to pass along an enthusiastic congratulations to Professor Evenlyn Nakano Glenn (Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley), who has just been elected as President-Elect of the American Sociological Association.

Prof. Evelyn Nakano Glenn, UC Berkeley Ethnic Studies and new President of the American Sociological Assn.

Professor Nakano Glenn has been a true pioneer in the fields of Sociology, Ethnic Studies, and Asian American Studies. She has written numerous articles and well-respected and often-referenced books, such as Issei, Nisei, Warbride: Three Generations of Japanese American Women in Domestic Service and Unequal Freedom: How Race and Gender Shaped American Citizenship and Labor.

Professor Nakano Glenn becomes the first Asian American to be elected President of the American Sociological Association. This is a very big deal and a well-earned achievement on her part. Even though I do not know Professor Nakano Glenn well personally, I certainly have used and referenced her work in my research and respect her immensely for her distinguished career and long list of accomplishments.

While it’s nice to have Asian Americans serving as role models in very public and high-profile occupations as entertainers, politicians, and professional athletes, on an everyday basis, it’s people like Professor Nakano Glenn who do the same kind of work that I do that have the most direct influence and inspiration for me as an Asian American sociologist.

Congratulations, Professor Nakano Glenn!

The New Yorker’s Obama Cover

I’m sure all of you have seen it by now — The New Yorker’s July 21, 2008 cover featuring Barack Obama and his wife Michelle, for an article entitled, “The Politics of Fear”:

The New Yorker's cover cartoon of Barack and Michelle Obama

I’m sure you’ve also heard and seen the controversy that the cover has sparked. As a pragmatist, I can understand the Obama campaign’s negative reaction to the cover — even though it and the associated article satirizes the persistent and ignorant rumor that Obama is secretly an undercover fundamental Muslim terrorist, images are more powerful than words, and they fear that such an “in your face” image will only legitimize such a rumor.

But on the other hand, as a person of color who has dealt with stereotypes and racial ignorance for my entire life, I think the cover is brilliant. Mona Eltahawy actually captures my reaction and thoughts on the cover just about perfectly:

What was it but stupidity that left so many Americans gullible to right-wing “accusations” that Obama was that turban-wearing, Osama Bin Laden-loving Muslim on the magazine’s cover, bumping fists with his militant, rifle-toting wife Michelle as the American flag burned in their fireplace? . . .

This Muslim, at least, was relieved to see the stupidity lampooned so starkly. But as soon as I began to revel in the caricature, a little dismayed hand wringing began.

Because now the very people who were offended by right-wing accusations about Obama were acting offended by a cartoon lampooning those very same right-wing machinations. It is as if America has gone mad, or worse, gone brainless.

At a dinner-table conversation in Mumbai a couple of weeks ago, Sanjay – an architect and businessman – turned to me quite earnestly to proclaim, “Americans are inherently stupid. How do you live with them?”

Then Manique, a Sri Lankan woman, joined the conversation to tell us that during a visit to the United States a few years ago, someone actually asked her if they had bread in Sri Lanka. I asked her, half-jokingly, if it was the same American who asked my dad at an Athens hotel over dinner years ago whether we had fruit in Egypt.

More than just shocked amusement, these incidents show why all of us would vote for Obama if we could. He would never ask us if we had bread or fruit in our countries.

Obama is much like us.

He has travelled. He has lived abroad. He has family in several countries. He has a different script for what an American is. He is an American who is comfortable as a citizen of the world.This is what makes the right-wing, “secret Muslim” accusations and the stupid gullibility surrounding them all the more ludicrous and imperative to lampoon – just as Blitt does in the New Yorker.

Those howls of “offensive” and “tasteless” flung at the New Yorker suggest to me Blitt’s ability to lampoon not just the right wing but even some on the left who have promoted fears about Obama.

Wasn’t it Hillary Clinton’s campaign that leaked pictures of Obama in Somali traditional garb looking just like that crazy figure on the cover of the New Yorker? And didn’t Clinton herself suggest that white, working-class America wouldn’t vote for black, hyper-educated Obama?

Wasn’t it The New York Times which published an op-ed by a right-wing commentator that was ignorant and embarrassing: It claimed that Obama wasn’t Muslim enough and would be hunted by Muslims because he had abandoned the faith of his father – an atheist, by the way.

Just as we were amused at how confounded Americans are that we, too, have bread and fruit in our countries, the Obamas confound because they don’t fit within simplistic boxes meant to keep them securely in their place. They’re not at all the black stereotype, and it seems to scare the hell out of some Americans. . . .

[The New Yorker cartoon] touches on a fear of the world changing much too fast for many Americans to keep up. It ridicules an America that is being left behind, grappling with quaint notions of Muslims in regulation turban and white robe and militantly angry black women. And whether other countries have bread or fruit.

We, the children of a post-colonial world, don’t fear an Obama Planet. It has been our world for a long time. We’re happy finally to see the growing success of one of our own.

Mona Eltahawy is absolutely right — whether Americans like it or not, the world and American society are changing. With this in mind, if gullible Americans — and some liberals — don’t adapt, they will get left in the dust.

Data on Graduate Degrees by Racial Group

Barack Obama’s candidacy for President has, for better and for worse, increasingly prompted us as a society to honestly examine issues of race/ethnicity, discrimination, and racism. In the world of higher education where I work, one issue that continues to vex faculty and administrators is the relative lack of underrepresented minority groups as doctoral recipients and faculty.

With that in mind, Diverse Issues in Higher Education has just released data on the distribution of higher education degrees by type and racial/ethnic group. The article’s tables are a little difficult to quickly interpret, but as the authors note, the news tends to be good for Asian Americans, but not quite so good for Latinos and African Americans:

In prior year Top 100 analyses, we have noted how the representation of African-Americans and Hispanics tends to decline with increasing degree levels. The first two charts of this analysis show that this is still the case with one notable exception.

African-Americans compose roughly 12 percent of the U.S. population and are represented among associate degree recipients at this same level. The level of African-American representation declines to just over 9 percent for bachelor’s degree recipients but increases to over 10 percent among master’s degree recipients. The downward trend is then notable in the first professional (7 percent) and doctoral degrees (6.1 percent).

Hispanics show the consistent downward trend we’ve noted in past years, ranging from just under 12 percent among associate degree recipients to just over 3 percent for doctoral degree recipients. . . .

Asian Americans have a much different pattern of representation. They are found in lowest proportion among associate degree recipients (5 percent), in slightly higher proportion among master’s and doctoral degree recipients (6 percent and 5.7 percent, respectively), higher still among bachelor’s degree recipients (7 percent), and then significantly higher among first professional degree recipients (13 percent).

There’s much more data to digest in the full report, but the gist of the results show that we need to pay close attention to the unique and specific needs and issues of each racial/ethnic group if we are to make the institution of higher education more equitable and just for Americans of all backgrounds.

Specifically, African Americans and Latinos are still disproportionately underrepresented as bachelor’s, master’s, professional, and doctorate degree recipients. And while Asian Americans are overrepresented in these categories, the data also shows that most of these recipients are international Asian students, as opposed to U.S.-born or raised Asian Americans.

As we move forward into the 21st century and as American society becomes increasingly globalized and integrated into the international community, one of our most important social institutions — higher education — needs to do a better job at reflecting these face of our nation and world.

Michael Chang’s Significance to Asian Americans

As many of you already know, one area in which Asian Americans have slowly been achieving success and popularity is professional sports. Although many athletes from Asia such as Ichiro and Yao Ming have become superstars, only a few Asian American athletes have climbed to the top of their sports. For members of Generation X like me, one of the earlier such star Asian American athletes was professional tennis player Michael Chang.

Michael Chang turned pro while still a teenager and most famously, in 1989 dramatically beat the heavily-favored and #1 ranked men’s player Ivan Lendl to become champion of the French Open. In the fourth set of that match, Chang experienced severe leg cramps that would have led most players to quit. But Chang doggedly persevered and used unorthodox tactics such as hitting “moon balls” and underhand serves to disrupt Lendl’s timing, finally winning the match in five sets.

Chang was never as flashy or a media superstar like his modern Asian/Asian American contemporaries such as Ichiro, Yao Ming, or Michelle Wie, let alone like his main tennis rival at the time, Andre Agassi. Instead, through his athletic talent, numerous charity work for the sport and the Asian American community, and his quiet but confident demeanor off the court, Chang focused on “walking the walk,” rather than just “talking the talk.” In other words, his actions spoke for themselves.

This past weekend, Michael Chang was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. In addition to summarizing his career, the ESPN article links his achievements as a Chinese American to China’s hosting of the Summer Olympics later this summer and how Chang’s 1989 French Open win took place during the Tiananmen Square uprising.

But for me personally, Michael Chang’s significance goes far beyond that. At a time when Asian Americans were still firmly associated with being computer nerds (the “Long Duk Dong” stereotype), Michael Chang quietly but firmly showed American society that we could be equally accomplished in other professionals and pursuits as well. He was a role model to many young Asian American males like myself, who finally saw a successful professional athlete who looked like us.

I will also associate Michael Chang with one particular moment in my life — the moment in which I changed from being a quiet and passive young American just looking to fit in, into a proud and angry young Asian American who finally became tired of being the target of racism and was now going to stand up and resist.

That moment came in the early 1990s as I was nearing the end of my college career. I was just beginning to become “re-ethnicized” after switching my major from pre-med to political science with a minor in sociology. After taking my first sociology course in race and ethnicity, I was finally learning the true history and nature of American race relations and the inequalities and injustices that groups of color such as Asian American had and continue to face.

At that time, I also became more aware of prejudice and discrimination perpetrated against Asian Americans like myself and many of my White friends were taken aback by my new “militant” and “angry” attitude. This situation finally came to a head one day as my roommates and friends and I were sitting around our apartment watching TV.

A commercial came on that featured Michael Chang endorsing the Discover credit card, if I recall correctly. At the end of the commercial, one of my roommates, a White male named Owen, just casually remarked, “So the nip has sold out, I guess,” a derogatory reference to Michael Chang.

Upon hearing that comment, something in me snapped. I immediately became enraged and yelled back, “F*** you, Owen! Is that what you think of me? Am I just a f***ing nip to you?!?

Owen sheepishly apologized by saying, “Oh sorry, C.N.” Clearly, he considered me to be invisible, literally and figuratively. The room immediately became silent and the other four or so people in the room (all of them White) all lowered their heads, hoping that things would calm down. But I was still furious and was ready to escalate the situation by physically confronting Owen.

In the end, I decided to leave the apartment and go for a walk to clear my head and calm my anger. As I was walking around the apartment complex, I vowed that I was never going to sit by and quietly take that kind of prejudice — that kind of racism ever again. When I returned to the apartment about 30 minutes later, everyone had left and from that point on, my relationship with them changed forever — for the better.

While there were many significant moments in my personal and intellectual development during that time, that was definitely the turning point in my personal identity as a Vietnamese American, an Asian American, and a person of color.

Thank you Michael, for your quiet but firm dignity and determination to define yourself, rather than letting others do it for you, and for serving as a pioneer and a role model for all Asian Americans.

Miscellaneous Links #3

Here are some more links out that have come my way relating to Asians or Asian Americans. As always, links to other sites are provided for informational purposes and do not necessarily imply an endorsement of their contents:

  • Ted Koppel’s Series on China Entitled “The People’s Republic of Capitalism” on the Discovery Channel (July 9-14 at 10pm ET/PT)
    http://www.youtube.com/user/DiscoveryChannel12
  • Vietnamese Workers Abroad: A Rights Watch
    http://vietnameseworkersabroad.wordpress.com/
  • Focus Group Study on Asian and Latino Americans in Massachusetts
    UMass Boston’s Institute for Asian American Studies is looking for potential participants in a focus group that will be looking at factors that influence career choices for Asian Americans. It’s specifically focused on 1.5 – 2nd generation Asian American and Latino graduate students in Massachusetts.

    The pilot study involves filling out a brief questionnaire and a two-hour focus group in the Boston area. Participants will receive a stipend of $50. The time table for this focus group is some time in August. Most likely the exact date and time will be determined based on the most number of participants who are available.

    I was hoping you all might happen to know particular graduate students who would be interested in participating. Also maybe you could forward this information along to any graduate student listservs you are on. For all further inquiries regarding participation in the study, you can have those who are interested contact us at: iaasfocusgroup@gmail.com.

    Sincerely,
    Nate

  • Announcement about Asian American Art Project
    Hello, my name is Mykim Dang and I am a film and visual arts student at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. I am developing a project for my Senior Honors Thesis and am contacting you in an effort to locate project participants.

    As a first generation Vietnamese-American citizen and practicing visual artist, I am working with issues of identity and identity formation, particularly within the postcolonial and postmodern discourse. I would like to engage with other Vietnamese-Americans across the country to gain a deeper understanding of our collective identity in the modern world. I feel that this is a unique way for Vietnamese Americans to connect with one another.

    The main objectives of this process are to better understand the contemporary Vietnamese-American identity, to explore the relationship between artist and viewer, and to recoup art as a reflection of the human spirit. It will provide a necessary outlet and voice for those involved and will prove to be an equally exciting and enlightening opportunity for all those who participate.

    My thesis project is a mixed-media installation comprised of three parts: a text-based component, a hand-drawn component and a photographic component.

    I am asking anyone who wishes to participate to send me a written description of him or herself and a photograph that they feel best represents him or herself. Based only on the written description, I will create a hand-drawn portrait of each subjects. The text, portrait and photo will be displayed side-by-side, reflecting and refracting one another through visual and verbal associations.

    If you have any further questions or would like to be involved in this project please feel free to contact me. I can provide a detailed project description, a step-by-step instruction guide for participants, and a release form designating voluntary participation in this project. I look forward to hearing from you, thank you so much for your time.

    Sincerely,
    Mykim Dang
    mkdang@gmail.com

New Book: Myth of the Model Minority

As American society in general and Asian Americans in particular continue to evolve in the increasingly globalized and transnational 21st century, it becomes even more important to understand the unique details that are included within both collective categories.

With that in mind and following up on my recent post about differences among Asian Americans when it comes to education, a new book entitled The Myth of the Model Minority: Asian Americans Facing Racism written by Rosalind Chou and Joe Feagin promises to be a very useful and enlightening resource on the Asian American experience:

In this pathbreaking book sociologists Rosalind Chou and Joe Feagin examine, for the first time in depth, racial stereotyping and discrimination daily faced by Asian Americans long viewed by whites as the “model minority.” Drawing on more than 40 field interviews across the country, they examine the everyday lives of Asian Americans in numerous different national origin groups.

Their data contrast sharply with white-honed, especially media, depictions of racially untroubled Asian American success. Many hypocritical whites make sure that Asian Americans know their racially inferior “place” in U.S. society so that Asian people live lives constantly oppressed and stressed by white racism.

The authors explore numerous instances of white-imposed discrimination faced by Asian Americans in a variety of settings, from elementary schools to college settings, to employment, to restaurants and other public accommodations.

The responses of Asian Americans to the U.S. racial hierarchy and its rationalizing racist framing are traced—with some Asian Americans choosing to conform aggressively to whiteness and others choosing to resist actively the imposition of the U.S. brand of anti-Asian oppression.

This book destroys any naïve notion that Asian Americans are universally “favored” by whites and have an easy time adapting to life in this still racist society.

I have not read the book yet and I have to admit that I do not know Rosalind Chou’s work very well, but I am a huge admirer of Dr. Feagin and respect him and his work immensely.

Therefore, but I have no doubt that this book will be a very enlightening and useful resource for faculty, students, and anybody else who seeks to understand what it means to be an Asian American in 21st century American society.

Is Criticism Against Japan’s Whaling Unfair?

I’ve written before about almost universal criticism against Japan’s continuing program of hunting whales in defiance of international conventions. However, as National Geographic points out, Japan is not the only country that continues to hunt whales.

Specifically, both Norway and Iceland hunt whales as well, in much the same way that Japan does — for commercial, not “scientific” reasons and in defiance of international agreements. Therefore, we have to ask the question, why is Japan singled out for international criticism when few also mention Norway and Iceland’s whaling activities?

Japan is the “head of the zombie and needs to be cut off,” said Willie Mackenzie, oceans campaigner for Greenpeace U.K. “It’s very, very clear that, internationally, Japan is behind the drive towards commercial whaling.” . . .

Yet Norway and Iceland also have substantial whaling programs—and do so not under the auspices of research but commercially, flouting IWC rules that have banned such activities since 1986.

“Japanese people feel that, yes, maybe there is a little bit of racism in the way in which we are considered in comparison with the way Norway or other whaling nations are treated,” said Noriko Hama, a professor of economics at Doshisha University in Kyoto. . . .

According to IWC figures, Japanese ships killed 866 whales in the 2006-2007 season, a haul that included minke, fin, sei, and sperm whales—the most of any nation. Norway placed second with a total catch of 545 whales. . . .

Norway and Iceland confine whaling to coastal regions inside their own waters, but Japan is the only nation that still exploits Antarctic seas, now an internationally recognized sanctuary for whales.

The article points out that much of the scorn directed at Japan is focused not just on their actual whaling activities but also on Japan’s political maneuvers to try to block or reverse international agreements on whaling limits.

It is disappointing that Japan continues to support whaling and I can see that they seem to be compounding the antagonism against them by trying to use their influence in a heavy-handed way. At the same time, I also find it a little disturbing that virtually all of the criticism against whaling is directed at Japan, with little mention of Norway and Iceland.

Unfortunately, this is a tough issue to disaggregate. It’s similar to criticism against China’s human rights abuses and its occupation of Tibet — are China’s critics genuinely concerned about Tibet and human rights, or are they just using these issues as the basis to express their anti-Chinese prejudice?

In the same way, Japan certainly deserves criticism for its whaling activities and defiant actions. But their critics also need to be fair and at the least, explain clearly why European countries such as Norway and Iceland don’t receive nearly the same level of condemnation.