Monthly Archives: April 2009

Accussations of Communism Among Vietnamese Americans

Almost 35 years after the end of the Viet Nam War, anti-communist sentiments are still strong and loud in the Vietnamese American community. I’ve written about incidents in which anything that can be interpreted as even vaguely sympathetic of the communist regime in Viet Nam results in someone or some organization accused of being communist. I’ve also written a more detailed chapter of anti-communism among Vietnamese Americans in a book titled Anti-Communist Minorities in the U.S.: Political Activism of Ethnic Refugees, coming out in June 2009.

In a new twist in this ongoing legacy of the Viet Nam War, as reported in the Vietnamese language newspaper Nguoi Viet Tay Bac and reprinted by New America Media, a Vietnamese American accused of being communist has just won a lawsuit against other Vietnamese Americans for slander:

Those outside the Vietnamese community may see the defendants’ accusations of communist sympathies as modern day McCarthyism. But in this case, both the defendants and plaintiffs have fought against actual communists during the Second Indochina War.

All those interviewed invoked a word commonly used among the Vietnamese émigré community to describe the act of accusing someone of communist sympathies: chụp mũ. As this trial brought to light, chụp mũ is a widespread practice among Vietnamese community leaders. However, it is very rare for a person who has been chụp mũ to sue his/her accusers.

“Many people in our community have been chụp mũ, but they don’t dare go to court,” the plaintiff Duc Tan said. “Everyone wants to forget or to make amends instead of going to court. But we couldn’t tolerate it any longer. We had to take a stand, to file a lawsuit.” . . .

Also real are the fears of becoming vulnerable to chụp mũ if one decides to be a leader in the Vietnamese community activities. Duc Tan said one of the reasons he decided to sue was because he saw that “young people were scared to take part in community organizing, weary of the politics around chụp mũ.” . . .

The defense lawyer said that his clients were exercising their freedom of speech. . . . The prosecutor Gregory Rhodes said the defendants “presented their opinions as statement of facts.” “This wasn’t just defamation,” said Rhodes. “These were downright lies and for the defendants to do this was so callous and extremely sad for the whole community.”

As I describe in my chapter mentioned above and as any Vietnamese American can attest to, politics and community activism is a contact sport in the Vietnamese American community. Sentiments, loyalties, and accusations can fly indiscriminately and can turn on a dime. As another example of this ethnic turmoil, San Jose Councilwoman Madison Nguyen recently defeated attempts by a group of Vietnamese American constituents to recall her, many of whom enthusiastically supported her election several years prior.

I find it ironic that, in my academic research and my personal experiences, the Vietnamese American community seems to have both some of the highest levels of ethnic solidarity among all Asian American ethnic groups, but as incidents like these illustrate, some of the deepest and most volatile divisions and differences as well. If nothing else, these divisions among Vietnamese Americans obliterates the stereotype that all Vietnamese Americans, let alone all Asian Americans, are the same.

On this specific issue of individual freedoms, my opinion has always been that Vietnamese Americans certainly have rights to freedom of expression. Their experiences as refugees of a costly and controversial war that ultimately cast out of their homeland are very real, have left many emotional and physical scars, and it is understandable that many have strong emotions associated with communism as a result.

At the same time, there is a limit to such expressions. As the saying goes, “With freedom comes responsibility.” As citizens of the U.S., Vietnamese Americans should remember that verbal criticisms and mass demonstrations are perfectly legitimate expressions of dissent, but threats and acts of violence are not, nor are defamation and slander. The laws of this country are clear and there are no exceptions, regardless of how angry one feels or one’s level of past suffering.

New Attempt at Immigration Reform

President Obama’s first 100 days in office have certainly been momentous and ambitious. While most of his attention has been focused on the economy and the recession, he and his administration are still planning major initiatives in the near future on other policy issues. As many observers point out, this includes the always controversial issue of immigration reform:

Mr. Obama will frame the new effort — likely to rouse passions on all sides of the highly divisive issue — as “policy reform that controls immigration and makes it an orderly system,” said the official, Cecilia Muñoz, deputy assistant to the president and director of intergovernmental affairs in the White House.

Mr. Obama plans to speak publicly about the issue in May, administration officials said, and over the summer he will convene working groups, including lawmakers from both parties and a range of immigration groups, to begin discussing possible legislation for as early as this fall. Some White House officials said that immigration would not take precedence over the health care and energy proposals that Mr. Obama has identified as priorities. But the timetable is consistent with pledges Mr. Obama made to Hispanic groups in last year’s campaign.

He said then that comprehensive immigration legislation, including a plan to make legal status possible for an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants, would be a priority in his first year in office. Latino voters turned out strongly for Mr. Obama in the election. . . . But with the economy seriously ailing, advocates on different sides of the debate said that immigration could become a polarizing issue for Mr. Obama in a year when he has many other major battles to fight.

Opponents, mainly Republicans, say they will seek to mobilize popular outrage against any effort to legalize unauthorized immigrant workers while so many Americans are out of jobs. Democratic legislative aides said that opening a full-fledged debate this year on immigration, particularly with health care as a looming priority, could weigh down the president’s domestic agenda.

In preparation for intensifying the national debate about immigration reform and as the New York Times reports later, the policy positions are starting to come together, as illustrated by a major agreement between the country’s two largest labor unions on forming a united position on how to deal with the millions of undocumented immigrants in the country:

John Sweeney, president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., and Joe T. Hansen, a leader of the rival Change to Win federation, will present the outlines of their new position on Tuesday in Washington. In 2007, when Congress last considered comprehensive immigration legislation, the two groups could not agree on a common approach. That legislation failed.

The accord endorses legalizing the status of illegal immigrants already in the United States and opposes any large new program for employers to bring in temporary immigrant workers, officials of both federations said. . . .

But while the compromise repaired one fissure in the coalition that has favored broad immigration legislation, it appeared to open another. An official from the United States Chamber of Commerce said Monday that the business community remained committed to a significant guest-worker program. . . .

In the new accord, the A.F.L.-C.I.O. and Change to Win have called for managing future immigration of workers through a national commission. The commission would determine how many permanent and temporary foreign workers should be admitted each year based on demand in American labor markets. Union officials are confident that the result would reduce worker immigration during times of high unemployment like the present.

Also this past week, the well-respected and non-partisan Pew Research Center released a new report entitled “A Portrait of Unauthorized Immigrants in the United States.”

Based on March 2008 data collected by the Census Bureau, the Pew Hispanic Center estimates that unauthorized immigrants are 4% of the nation’s population and 5.4% of its workforce. Their children, both those who are unauthorized immigrants themselves and those who are U.S. citizens, make up 6.8% of the students enrolled in the nation’s elementary and secondary schools.

About three-quarters (76%) of the nation’s unauthorized immigrant population are Hispanics. The majority of undocumented immigrants (59%) are from Mexico, numbering 7 million. Significant regional sources of unauthorized immigrants include Asia (11%), Central America (11%), South America (7%), the Caribbean (4%) and the Middle East (less than 2%). . . .

They are especially likely to hold low-skilled jobs and their share of some of those occupations has grown. In 2008, 17% of construction workers were undocumented, an increase from 10% in 2003. One in four farmworkers is an unauthorized immigrant. . . . The 2007 median household income of unauthorized immigrants was $36,000, well below the $50,000 median household income for U.S.-born residents. In contrast to other immigrants, undocumented immigrants do not attain markedly higher incomes the longer they live in the United States.

The Pew report does not take a political position in regard to undocumented immigration and instead, as good social science should do, provides anyone who is interested with valid, reliable, and objective information and data to more accurately support whatever position they have on the issue.

However, my colleagues at Racism Review make a compelling argument that the data in the Pew report supports the position that legalizing the status of undocumented immigrants benefits us all. As one example, supporters of the DREAM Act that Congress is currently considering argue that legalizing the status of undocumented immigrants and letting them to pursue a college education will allow them to earn more money over their lifetime, which will ultimately result in them paying more taxes at all levels.

As I’ve recently written about, it’s shaping up to be another fierce battle between those who take an “deportation only” approach versus those who see the bigger picture and advocate “comprehensive reform.” I just hope that within this debate that opponents of legalization for undocumented immigrants refrain from demonizing and dehumanizing the people involved and instead, see the issue as an institutional and structural one, more so than an individual-level one.

Presuming that President Obama and his administration follow through on their plans to put the issue of immigration reform on the front burner of American politics, there will be plenty to say about this issue in the coming months.

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Update: Shortly after I published this post, the swine flu began making headlines all around the world, particularly here in the U.S. Since it apparently originated in Mexico, unfortunately but predictably, we are now seeing a racist backlash against Mexico and Mexicans, as described by MSNBC:

“No contact anywhere with an illegal alien!” conservative talk show host Michael Savage advised his U.S. listeners this week on how to avoid the swine flu. “And that starts in the restaurants” where he said, you “don’t know if they wipe their behinds with their hands!” And Thursday, Boston talk radio host Jay Severin was suspended after calling Mexican immigrants “criminalians” during a discussion of swine flu and saying that emergency rooms had become “essentially condos for Mexicans.”

That’s tepid compared to some of the xenophobic reactions spreading like an emerging virus across the Internet. “This disgusting blight is because MEXICANS ARE PIGS!” an anonymous poster ranted on the “prison planet” forum, part of radio host and columnist Alex Jones’ Web site. There is even talk of conspiracy. Savage speculated that terrorists are using Mexican immigrants as walking germ warfare weapons. “It would be easy,” he said, “to bring an altered virus into Mexico, put it in the general population, and have them march across the border.”

The Tata Nano: India’s People Car is Here

For those who follow the automotive industry, you may have heard about Tata Motors — India’s biggest automaker. Corresponding with the political and economic rise of India in general in the past decade or so, Tata Motors is also emerging as a major international automaker. As one example, in 2008, it purchased the Jaguar and Land Rover luxury car businesses from Ford Motor Company.

Another reason Tata Motors has been making the news is that last year, it created a sensation when it announced that it would mass-produce a car for emerging countries called the Nano that would sell for about US$2,000, making it the cheapest new car available in the world. Speculation was rampant that it was technically and financially impossible, or that the final product would be nothing more than a rickshaw with bumpers.

Well, Tata’s Nano is finally here and as Edmunds Motor News reports, it is a real, legitimate car that in many ways, is a technical marvel:

The 2009 Tata Nano has the hopes and dreams of all India riding upon its tiny fenders. With a starting price of only $2,000, the Nano has been built to provide affordable all-weather transportation to those who might have never before been able to afford a car. . . .

When you see the 2009 Tata Nano in person, the first shock — other than its incredibly low price — is that the car looks, well, exactly like a car! . . . Media reports have run rampant with rumors that the Nano’s body is plastic, the chassis is glued together, or that the motor is powered by a hamster in a wheel. None of these are true. In fact, the Nano is remarkably simple in terms of how it’s built.

The body and chassis are constructed of steel; only the bumpers are plastic. Traditional spot-welding is used to fabricate the car. Computer-aided design has helped the engineers trim weight from the body and chassis. . . . The Nano has obviously been built to a price. But . . . Tata Motors didn’t skimp when it came to adding a little style. . . .

During a mix of city and highway driving, the Nano will average around 47 mpg. . . . Surprisingly, the engine emits only 101 g/km of CO2 emissions on the European driving cycle, which puts the Nano among the cleanest cars on sale anywhere. . . . The Nano’s cabin is remarkably quiet considering the car’s cost constraints. At top speed, the hum from the engine is never excessive or annoying. . . .

So the Nano is pretty clever in the way it saves costs. You expect this. But you might not expect how fun the Nano is to drive.

From an environmental point of view, many have questioned the wisdom of adding millions of Nanos onto India’s already-crowded streets and the pollution it’s bound to cause. As someone who is trying to consciously reduce my carbon impact on my environment, I would say that’s a fair question to ask. At this point, I only point out that in terms of pollution levels and resource consumption in proportion to its population, India is still significantly behind the U.S. and other industrialized nations, who pollute and consume many times more than India per capita.

Other people would probably also point out that at this point and in its current form, the Nano is not suitable for the American market. True, but we need to remember that it was never intended for the U.S. Instead, it was designed to provide reliable, inexpensive, all-weather transportation for average families in developing nations. And that’s where I detect the first hints of ethnocentrism regarding the criticisms about the Nano.

That is, much of this initial skepticism and criticism reminded me of when Tata Motors was in the process of purchasing the Jaguar and Land Rover brands from Ford. Back then, and similar to what people said regarding the Nano, many people in the automotive establishment and elsewhere questioned the ability and even appropriateness of Tata to buy and properly maintain such prestigious brands.

As I wrote back then, it seemed to me that much of controversy revolved around the fact that Tata Motors was owned by Indians, not Americans, Europeans, or Whites. As such, I hypothesized that many did not think it was “right” for prestigious British car brands like Jaguar and Land Rover and their overwhelming White workers to be owned and controlled by non-Whites from a developing country. As it turns out, Jaguar and Land Rover are doing just fine these days (or at least as well as most brands in this recession).

Similarly, much of the skepticism and criticism about the Nano also strikes me as a little ethnocentric, premised on the idea and stereotype of India and Indian companies as backward, undeveloped, and inferior. Certainly, not everything is perfect in India and it still faces many political and economic difficulties as it continues to modernize, just like China does and “developed” countries like the U.S. did when they were at this stage in their history.

But make no mistake about it, India’s emergence as a major global economic power is real as is the emergence of the Indian American community in the U.S. In fact, already-developed countries such as Japan are looking to India as a model to help them improve their educational institutions.

The point is, India’s technological and industrial potential is for real and it would be a mistake to underestimate what India and Indian companies are capable of doing.

Questioning the ‘American’ in Asian American

I previously wrote about the evolution of the American identity and how in the context of American society becoming more diverse and globalized, we as Asian Americans now have the opportunity to use our transnational cultural ties and networks to make meaningful contributions to moving American society and its economy forward into the 21st century. In other words, our “foreignness” may finally be seen as an asset, rather than a liability.

Having said that, I also recognize that there are still “traditional” beliefs about what it means to be an American that we need to overcome and persistent stereotypes about our Asian identity and loyalty to the U.S. that we still need to dispel once and for all. This week, we saw three examples on this kind of “traditional” assumptions about our community and questions about the validity of the “American” part of our identity as Asian Americans.

The first example involves Lori Phanachone, a Laotian American high school student in Des Moines Iowa, who refused to take an English fluency test, arguing that as an Honors student for several years and one who speaks perfect English, the test is insulting, demeaning, and discriminatory. She was initially suspended by her school district and her National Honor Society membership was revoked. Earlier this week, after a lawsuit threat by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), the Iowa school district finally relented, reclassified Lori as an English proficient student, will waive the test requirement, and reinstate her National Honor Society membership:

Lori Phanachone, a senior who ranks seventh in her class of about 119 and has a 3.9 grade point average, refused to take the English Language Development Assessment several times last month, saying the test was demeaning and racist. Previously, the school district’s curriculum coordinator, Lori Porsche, said taking the test was mandatory for Phanachone because she indicated on her school registration that English was not the first language spoken in her home.

Her parents are Laotian and still speak little English. Phanachone, who was born in California and lived in upstate New York before moving to Storm Lake with her family in 2006, said she has never been enrolled in any English Language Learning or English as a Second Language program.

In the second example in which Asian Americans were questioned on their American identity, as the Houston Chronicle reports, Texas state Republican representative Betty Brown recently urged Asian Americans to change their names to “simpler,” more Americanized names that would be “easier for Americans to deal with”:

A North Texas legislator during House testimony on voter identification legislation said Asian-descent voters should adopt names that are “easier for Americans to deal with.” The comments caused the Texas Democratic Party on Wednesday to demand an apology from state Rep. Betty Brown, R-Terrell. But a spokesman for Brown said her comments were only an attempt to overcome problems with identifying Asian names for voting purposes. . . .

“Rather than everyone here having to learn Chinese — I understand it’s a rather difficult language — do you think that it would behoove you and your citizens to adopt a name that we could deal with more readily here?” Brown said. Brown later told [Organization of Chinese Americans representative Ramsey] Ko: “Can’t you see that this is something that would make it a lot easier for you and the people who are poll workers if you could adopt a name just for identification purposes that’s easier for Americans to deal with?”

Finally, the third example involved an incident that unfortunately, too many Asian Americans (especially students) are familiar with. As described in a newly-created Facebook group, this particular example occurred at Tufts University in Boston:

There was a bias incident involving members of the Korean Students Association (KSA) that took place in the early morning hours on Thursday, April 9, in Lewis Hall Lounge, while the club members were practicing for their culture show.

At approximately 1:45AM, a white freshman male living in Lewis Hall approached five male members who were practicing their dance. He had been drinking at a bar prior to arriving at Lewis Hall. He insisted several times that the KSA members teach him the moves to their dance and was repeatedly asked to stop. Despite this request, he continued to molest the dancers, imitating the dance moves and declaring, “This is the gayest shit I’ve ever done.”

The KSA members then asked him to leave, to which he responded, “Fuck you. Fuck you, I could take all of you. I’ll kill you all.” He then threatened to get his fraternity brothers to help him retaliate. At this point, he began to physically harass the dancers, spitting at one member and shoving another one of the guys. An altercation ensued during which the freshman ripped two shirts and inflicted minor cuts to a member’s forehead. In order to restrain him, the KSA members pinned him to the floor and put him into a headlock, at which point the freshman mentioned that he could not breathe and the person holding him down immediately let go.

At this moment, the freshman’s friend and his girlfriend, who watched from the side, stepped in to take him away. When he got up, he started cursing “Fuck you, fuck you” and spitting at the dancers again. As he was being dragged away, he shouted, “Fuck you all, you fucking chinks, go back to China! Go back to your fucking country, you don’t belong in this country.”

His friends took him to the bathroom, where he could be heard repeatedly shouting, “If I see them again, I will fuck them all.” The fight was reported to an RA, who wrote and sent in a bias incident report. According to the RA, submitted within the report was testimony from his girlfriend supporting the fact that her boyfriend initiated the altercation.

In all three incidents, the assumption is pretty clear — that because we may happen to speak a language other than English at home (even though we are still completely fluent in English), or because we don’t have Anglicized “American” names like Smith or Jones, or because we don’t want to indulge the whims of a drunken frat guy, that we as Asian Americans are not real or legitimate Americans. Instead, we’re considered foreigners, outsiders, and troublemakers who make unreasonable demands.

Beyond the sheer ignorance and ethnocentric beliefs fundamentally embedded in these assumptions, what the Iowa school district, Rep. Brown, and the drunken frat guy all fail to see is that contrary to the stereotype that we are intent from being separate from mainstream society, our history and experiences consistently show that we’ve been trying to integrate into mainstream American society all along. In these three cases, it involved using our bilingual skills to help ease our parents into American culture, trying to make sure voting records are correct so that we can participate in the American democratic process, and putting on a performance that bridges Asia and America.

But as with previous incidents and examples over the past 150 years or so since the first Asians immigrated to the U.S. in large numbers, even as we attempt to become Americans and integrate into mainstream American society, we are questioned, challenged, and prevented from doing so time and time again by those who consciously or unconsciously believe that only one group qualifies to be a “real” American — Whites.

Unfortunately, as these three recent incidents demonstrate, this kind of ignorant, narrow-minded, and short-sighted thinking is still with us today and still confronts us as Americans of Asian descent.

Race, Gender & Rampage

IMG_6439Understanding the two rampage shootings in the news recently requires a grasp of the way race and gender are implicated in both cases (Creative Commons License photo credit: ankarino).

On April 3, In Binghamton, NY a Vietnamese immigrant,  Jiverly Linh Phat Wong — (or Voong) — blocked the back exit of a civic community center where immigrants attended English-language classes and shot 13 people to death before killing himself.  On April 4, Richard Poplawski shot and killed three Pittsburgh, PA police officers  – and injured two others – during a standoff that lasted nearly four hours.  Understanding race and gender is crucial here given that one of these is about anti-Asian discrimination, the other is about antisemitism and white supremacy, and both are about masculinity.

Rampage & Race: Reacting to Anti-Asian Discrimination

Understanding what happened in Binghamton requires understanding the way anti-Asian discrimination operates in the U.S.  Many people don’t even realize that there is such a thing as anti-Asian discrimination, so perhaps it’s best to start with a recent example, such as the truly asinine remarks of Rep. Betty Brown (R-Texas). On Tuesday (April 7), Brown said that Asian Americans should consider changing their name to make it “easier for Americans to deal with.” Brown has resisted efforts to apologize for her remarks.   This sort of comment might be offensive enough from an ordinary citizen, but coming from an elected official with legislative power to implement her racist ideas is alarming and indicative of the kind of discrimination that Asian Americans routinely face.  This sort of discrimination takes a toll.

In the opening chapter of The Myth of the Model Minority, authors Chou and Feagin highlight the many costs of anti-Asian racism on mental health:

Few researchers have probed Asian American mental health data in any depth. One mid-2000s study of Korean, Chinese, and Japanese immigrant youth examined acculturation to the core culture, but only briefly noted that some of these youth experienced substantial “cultural stress, such as being caught between two cultures, feeling alienated from both cultures, and having interpersonal conflicts with whites.”47 Another study examined only Korean male immigrants and found some negative impact on mental health from early years of adjustment and some mental “stagnation” a decade so after immigration. Yet the researchers offered little explanation for the findings. One recent study of U.S. teenagers found that among various racial groups Asian American youth had by far the highest incidence of teenage depression, yet the report on this research did not even assess the importance of this striking finding.48

In the modest statistical analysis that exists, Asian American statistics on suicide and alcoholism stand out. Elderly Chinese American women have a suicide rate ten times that of their elderly white counterparts. While Asian American students are only 17 percent of the Cornell University student body, they make up fully half of all completed suicides there.

Despite the high-profile cases of Asians and Asian-Americans involved in violent crimes, such as the Binghamton and Virginia Tech cases, the majority of Asian-Americans tend to hold in their rage over discrimination, part of what is responsible for the highest suicide rates of all racial groups in the U.S.

Andrew Lam, author of  Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora, writes at New American Media, that:

Whenever a minority commits a heinous crime, it seems to beckon us in the media to search beyond an individual motive for a cultural one.

Yet, there is a certain level of hypocrisy in this, as Lam points out, because there is very little analysis of American culture when these crimes make news.

If the Asian shame-based culture is still prominent, keeping its citizens in line and well behaved, it is the gun culture in America that is most conspicuous. It is there on TV and video games and the Internet and the silver screen, and it is the most accessible language for the tongue-tied. For them the gun –- be it in video games or at the practicing range — speaks volumes.

So, for instance, when a white man commits one of these rampage killings, there’s very little analysis of the dominant white culture in most of the mainstream news reports about the event. The incident in Pittsburgh is a case in point.

Rampage & Race: Acting on Antisemitism & White Supremacy

Several press reports have noted that Richard Poplawski, the shooter in the Pittsburgh case, held virulently antisemitic views and frequented conspiracy-theory websites such as Alex Jones’ Infowars. CNN refers to him as a white supremacist who believes that Jews control American media, financial institutions and government and that federal authorities plan to confiscate guns owned lawfully by American citizens, based on ADL reports about Poplawki’s postings at Don Black’s Stormfront.

Mainstream press accounts like the one from CNN tend to represent Poplawski as a “nutcase,” without offering any sort of analysis of how his views might be shared by other whites.  David Weigel, of The Washington Independent, does make this connection between mainstream white culture and incidents like the Pittsburgh shooting.   He writes that after spending the weekend attending the Knob Creek Machine Gun Shoot in Kentucky where all manner of Third Reich memorabilia was available for sale, that he is not surprised by Poplawski’s beliefs. Weigel also calls out conservative talk show host Glenn Beck for fanning the flames of conspiracy theorists with rants like this one.

Gender & Rampage: Enacting Violent Masculinity

Unfortunately, what almost no one in the mainstream press or the blogosphere has pointed out about the recent shootings is the connection to gender, and specifically, to a particulalry violent form of masculinity.   Harvard sociologist Katherine Newman and colleagues in their 2004 book, Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings, observe the following about the relationship of rampage shooters in their study to violent masculinity:

“The shooters appear to be working from widely available cultural scripts that glorify violent masculinity.    …. The shooting solves two problems at once:  it provides them the ‘exit’ they are seeking and it overturns the social hiearchy, establishing once and for all that they are…’gutsy and daring,’ not ‘weak and slow-witted.’  The problem is they didn’t just fail at popularity — they failed at the very specific task of ‘manhood,’ or at least they felt that way.  The solutions to this failure are popularized in the media in violent song lyrics, movies, and video games.  But the overall script of violent masculinity is omnipresent.  ‘Men’ handle their own problems.   They don’t talk; they act.  They fight back.  And above all, ‘men’ must never let others push them around.” (Newman, et al., 2004: 269).

While the Binghamton and Pittsburgh incidents did not take place within the context of schools, as did the incidents that Newman and colleagues studied, there are some real similarities between them with regard to violent masculinity.   The stance that Wong adopted for his pose with the guns he later used for murder and suicide evokes the cool pose of violent masculinity that is glorified in any number of mainstream American movies, music and television.    Poplawski’s former girlfriend filed for a domestic abuse protection order against him because he dragged her by the hair across the floor and threatened to kill her.   Both Wong and Poplawski seem to have internalized, and eventually acted on, a violent version of masculinity in which they “handled” their problems in a way that reaffirmed their manhood – at least in their own minds.   And, given the ways that becoming a “real man” in U.S. society is tied to the economic success and the role of “breadwinner” for the family, the continued economic decline suggests even more of these kinds of violent rampages by men who are unable to earn a living.

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Shooting rampages like the ones in Binghamton and Pittsburgh are becoming more common here in the U.S.   As Nickie Wild writing at Sociology Lens explains, this may be part of a “super anomie,” in which the gap between what one wants to achieve and what seems possible widens (or seems insurmountable) and then violence increases.  Others have pointed to the shooting incidents as indications that U.S. gun laws need re-thinking, and this is truly the case.   Yet, to really understand what’s behind these sorts of rampage shootings, we must have a more complex understanding of the ways race and gender are intricately woven into the fabric of these violent incidents.

The post Race, Gender & Rampage appeared first on racismreview.com.

Creating an Arab and Middle Eastern Racial Category

Next month is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and inevitably, many people wonder exactly who or which ethnic groups are included in the category of “Asian Pacific American.” Specifically, several have asked me whether Arab and Middle Eastern Americans should be included. This is a complicated question to be sure and the short answer is technically (i.e., from the Census Bureau and federal government’s definition), they are considered White, not Asian.

However, as the Los Angeles Times reports, several in the Arab and Middle Eastern American community don’t consider themselves White (and certainly aren’t always treated as if they’re White) nor Asian. Instead, they are tying to create a new racial definition that more accurately represents their history, characteristics, and experiences:

Nicole Salame, 19, was filling out an application to UCLA last year when she got to the question about race and ethnicity. She thought a mistake had been made. . . . Her Lebanese-born mother told her Arabs are considered white, but Salame didn’t believe her. Her high school counselor told her the same thing. . . . For years the federal government has classified Arab Americans and Middle Easterners as white. But confusion and disagreement have led some students to check “Asian” or “African,” depending on what part of the Middle East they came from. Some, like Salame, simply marked “Other.”

Now several UCLA student groups — including Arabs, Iranians, Afghanis and Armenians — have launched a campaign to add a Middle Eastern category, with various subgroups, to the University of California admissions application. They hope to emulate the Asian Pacific Coalition’s “Count Me In” campaign, which a few years ago successfully lobbied for the inclusion of 23 ethnic categories on the UC application, including Hmong, Pakistani, Native Hawaiian and Samoan.

The UCLA students said having their own ethnic designation goes beyond self-identity and has real implications for the larger Arab and Middle Eastern communities.

The article points out that in past decades, those of Arab and Middle Eastern descent fought to be legally and officially designated as White, which was formalized by the Census in 1970. However, in the context of recent demographic, political, and cultural trends, Arab and Middle Eastern Americans now are more inclined to identify as a separate racial/ethnic group, one that better reflects the uniqueness of their community:

UCLA junior Shawn Gabrill said he has more in common with other children of immigrants than with those whose parents were born in this country.

“I feel like when I put down ‘white’ on an application, they assume my parents finished high school, went to college and that English was my first language,” the 20-year-old English major said. “And none of these things describe me.”

Gabrill, the son of Jordanian and Egyptian parents, said he had difficulties with the college application but, because he was seen as white, he wasn’t identified as someone who needed extra help from high school counselors.

“So it’s kind of like we’re in between. We’re not white, but we’re not as disadvantaged as the other groups so we don’t get any of that aid,” he said. “So we’re kind of invisible in that way.”

Of course, the usual criticism from more “traditional” Americans is that such an effort to create a new racial category will only divide our country further and would make it harder to unite everyone under a universal “American” identity. The problem with that argument is that first, based on our country’s history and still embedded in most of our social institutions, a universal “American” identity has usually meant being White. Therefore, in denying Arab and Middle Eastern Americans their own identity amounts to another misguided “colorblind” approach that ignores the historical legacies and contemporary realities of American racial history.

The second problem with this colorblind argument is that it flies in the face of real and significant demographic changes taking place all around us, and the political and cultural shifts that result from such changes. As I’ve consistently written about, being “American” in the 21st century is more than just a sense of patriotic loyalty. That’s part of it, but it also includes making real contributions to America’s political, economic, and cultural future in the face of globalization, financial crises, and the changing political landscape around the world.

With that in mind, just like Asian Americans, Arab and Middle Eastern Americans are poised to use their transnational cultural ties to bridge the gaps that currently divide the U.S. from other religions and countries. If the U.S. is to retain its “superpower” status and level of influence around the world, trying to impose American ideals and models of government or economy will not work any longer and in fact, will only hasten our country’s decline.

Instead, as the Obama administration has recognized, we need to embrace these global trends and build more mutually-respectful connections, relationships, and networks with countries and religions around the world, particular in Asia and the Middle East. Although it’s too late to be officially implemented in the 2010 census, one step in that process is to support the efforts of Arab and Middle Eastern Americans to create their own racial category that reflects their unique history, experiences, and resources that they can contribute in helping us forge a new American identity here in the U.S. and around the world.

Trying to Understand the Binghampton Tragedy

I’m sure you have heard by now about the tragedy in Binghampton, New York this past week, when Jiverly Wong (a Vietnamese American of Chinese ancestry) shot and killed 14 people at the American Civic Association immigrant assistance center, then shot himself. I join others in offering my sincere condolences to the family of those killed and to all affected by these shocking events.

In trying to understand this tragedy from a sociological point of view, I am reminded of just how similar this latest incident of violence is to the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007, when troubled Korean American student Seung-Hui Cho killed 33 students and professors before killing himself. Both cases involved a lone gunman who was personally very troubled and perhaps even mentally ill, who felt ridiculed and demeaned by others around him, and who had trouble fitting into mainstream American society.

And of course, both the killers were Asian American.

Inevitably, there will be those who will generalize these and other incidents that involved violence and murder committed by other Americans of Asian descent that have made the news in recent years, and conclude that Asian Americans are inherently socially awkward, emotionally and mentally unstable or inferior, and/or prone to violence. In fact, I felt the same kind of dread that I felt back in 2007 when I heard that the shooter in the Binghampton murders was identified as being of Asian descent.

Let’s put that unfortunate and misguided generalization to rest right now — as the official FBI statistics show, in 2007, in cases where the race/ethnicity of murder offenders is known, those classified as “Other” (the category that includes Asian Americans) represent only 2% of all murder offenders (keeping in mind that Asian Americans comprise 5% of the total U.S. population). More generally, research consistently shows that immigrants actually have lower crime rates than their U.S.-born counterparts (see Reid et al., (2005), “The Immigration-Crime Relationship.” Social Science Research 34:757-780).

Back to more realistic issues, from a sociological point of view, the most interesting difference between the Virginia Tech and Binghampton shootings is the race/ethnicity of the victims. At Virginia Tech, almost all of the victims were White and U.S.-born, whereas here in the Binghampton case, almost all of the victims were non-White and immigrants. Does this mean anything — is this difference significant?

Immigration (both undocumented and legal) is still a very hotly-debated and controversial issue in our society these days, and I’m sure there are some Americans who — consciously or unconsciously — downplay the significance of these Binghampton murder victims by rationalizing that as immigrants, they weren’t “real” or “legitimate” Americans anyway and that therefore, their lives are somehow devalued.

But I hypothesize that the overwhelming majority of Americans do not distinguish between the racial/ethnic identities of the murder victims and that as victims of a senseless tragedy, there is no distinction based on any status.

Ultimately, I actually think that it is this kind of unity of compassion regarding the victims of such tragedies that can serve to bring all Americans closer together. That is, as Americans and as human beings, we can hopefully all share in sympathizing with the families of these senseless shootings. Further, again as Americans, we probably also share the same worries about how the current economic recession will affect our lives and our future, a factor that, along with his apparent mental issues, may have contributed to pushing Jiverly Wong over the edge when he lost his job a few months ago.

In other words, even though we don’t contemplate shooting people after losing our jobs, many of us share the same worries when it comes to how we will pay our bills and save for our children’s future in these tough financial times. Through these kinds of difficulties, a few may unfortunately snap like Wong did, but many more will remember the humanity in us all and the need to help and support others like us so that we can all come out better in the end, like these examples below show us.

More Support for Comprehensive Immigration Reform

You don’t need me to tell you that undocumented immigration is one of the most controversial and emotional issues in American society today. It is an issue that cuts across and divides members within a particular racial, ethnic, or cultural group. In fact, some of the most heated arguments that I’ve had about undocumented immigration has been with other Asian Americans.

Many critics of undocumented immigrants argue that the only realistic or effective solution is mass deportation of the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants currently in the country. Scholars call this approach the “enforcement only” approach. On the other hand, others believe that in order to “cure the disease” rather than simply treating the symptoms is through the “comprehensive reform” approach.

Such proposals include securing points of entry at the border and criminal punishment for the most dangerous undocumented immigrants but just as important, emphasizes ways to deal with the undeniable need for immigrant labor within the U.S. economy, settling the status of the undocumented immigrants already in the country in a fair and humane way, working with sending countries on policies that reduce the push their citizens feel to come to the U.S.

Many Americans might assume that law enforcement officials around the country, particularly in the border states of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, are more likely to support the “enforcement only” proposals. But as Seth Hoy at the Immigration Policy Center writes in their blog Immigration Impacts, many in the law enforcement community are pleading for comprehensive reform:

In a recent Washington Post editorial, Phoenix Police Chief Jack Harris asserts that focusing his attention on real criminals rather than economic migrants has not only lowered the city’s crime rate, it has also enabled police to maintain a closer relationship with the communities they serve. For Harris, who likened border enforcement to bailing an ocean with a thimble, “the answer is not in Phoenix. The answer is in Washington.”

Don’t give me 50 more officers to deal with the symptoms. Rather, give me comprehensive immigration reform that controls the borders, provides for whatever seasonal immigration the nation wants, and one way or another settles the status of the 12 million who are here illegally — 55 percent of whom have been here at least eight years. For those whose profession it is, law enforcement sometimes seems like bailing an ocean with a thimble.

No one disagrees that violence, drug cartels and human smuggling on the border are real problems that warrant real and sensible solutions, but conflating drug smugglers with economic migrants is not effective or helpful. Effective border enforcement needs to be carried out in consultation with border communities—communities whose resources are currently being diverted from arresting actual violent criminals to “chasing bus boys around the desert.”

Most state and local police departments will tell you that in order to do their jobs effectively, they rely on community policing policies which encourage immigrants to step out of the shadows, report crimes and access police protection. According to the Major Cities Chiefs Association, a committee made up of police chiefs from across the country, cooperation from the immigrant community keeps crime rates lower.

Without assurances that contact with the police would not result in purely civil immigration enforcement action, the hard won trust, communication and cooperation from the immigrant community would disappear…Such a divide between the local police and immigrant groups would result in increased crime against immigrants and in the broader community, create a class of silent victims and eliminate the potential for assistance from immigrants in solving crimes or preventing future terroristic acts.

Certainly, the debate about the best way to address the undocumented immigration issue will continue. Nonetheless, I think the opinions of law enforcement officials on how they would like to see our government best address the issue carries a lot of weight.

On a lighter and not-quite-related note, Jon Stewart from The Daily Show recently had a brief video segment on patrolling the border, embedded below.