As I and many other scholars have written, Asian Americans are frequently portrayed as the “model minority” — a group of Americans who have worked to overcome difficulties in our way in order to achieve socioeconomic success, who have quietly persevered to get ahead in American society rather than resorting to political confrontation, and therefore, stand as examples for other racial minority groups to follow and emulate. As I’ve also summarized in my linked article above, there are numerous problems with this characterization, such as the blanket assumption that all Asian Americans are successful and no longer experience any form of racial discrimination.

But what about the assertion within this model minority image that Asian Americans have worked extremely hard to achieve success? Isn’t that true?

The short answer is, of course. Throughout this site and blog, I’ve described the various ways in which Asian Americans (individually and collectively) have indeed used hard work, patience, and determination to overcome various barriers in our way in order to achieve our goals in various pursuits of life and professional fields, such as political power, education and academics, professional sports, high-tech entrepreneurship, the entertainment industry, and corporate leadership, to name just a few examples. With this in mind, Asian Americans should absolutely be recognized and congratulated for our hard work.

In fact, a recent op-ed column in the New York Times from Nicholas Kristoff highlights this idea of Asian American success based on hard work and determination, rather than inherent cultural traits such as intelligence:

One large study followed a group of Chinese-Americans who initially did slightly worse on the verbal portion of I.Q. tests than other Americans and the same on math portions. But beginning in grade school, the Chinese outperformed their peers, apparently because they worked harder. The Chinese-Americans were only half as likely as other children to repeat a grade in school, and by high school they were doing much better than European-Americans with the same I.Q. . . .

A common thread among these three groups may be an emphasis on diligence or education, perhaps linked in part to an immigrant drive. Jews and Chinese have a particularly strong tradition of respect for scholarship . . . the larger lesson is a very empowering one: success depends less on intellectual endowment than on perseverance and drive.

Having said that, we also need to recognize that the dynamics of political, economic, and cultural success are more complicated than just hard work. First, Asian Americans benefit in many ways from our“honorary White” status. This refers to how Asian Americans are situated below Whites in the U.S.’s racial hierarchy and that based on our levels of socioeconomic success — and to put it bluntly, our relatively light-colored skin — are slightly more socially accepted from the White majority than other (darker skinned) racial minorities such as Blacks and many Latinos. This idea is similar to the “middleman minority” theory that Asian Americans serve as a buffer zone that insulates the White majority from Blacks and Latinos.

Second, the drive to work hard ultimately has its limits. Along with the stories with happy endings that I mentioned earlier, the drive for success unfortunately can become obsessive, counterproductive, and even tragic. Some examples of the pressures of working hard gone wrong include high rates of mental illness, cheating scandals, eating disorders, intentionally breaking up families, domestic violence and even murder, and suicides.

The take-home message is that, by all means we should celebrate and encourage the hard work within the Asian American community that has resulted in many forms of success and accomplishment. We as Asian Americans should rightfully feel proud and inspired by all the historical and contemporary examples in which we’ve used our individual and collective resources and determination to overcome the barriers in our way on the road to achieving our goals.

At the same time, we also need to understand that not all racial/ethnic groups have the same circumstances and that these historical and contemporary characteristics lead to different challenges that each group faces. Secondly, the push for hard work can and has gone too far at times and when it does, can lead to disastrous consequences.

In the end, I hope that just as many of our cultural traditions teach us, Asian Americans should strive to achieve balance with these different elements of determination and reflexivity in our lives.

In a recent post titled “The Degrees of Immigrant Bashing,” I described various ways in which the recession has led to increased anti-immigrant hostility, leading to blatantly offensive comments from public officials, acts of violence and hate crimes, and misguided federal regulations. As a follow up, blogger Michelle Waslin at Immigration Impact writes that, perhaps ironically, the recession seems to have resulted in fewer anti-immigrant proposals and legislation being passed this year at the local and state levels:

According to the Progressive States Network (PSN), budget deficits have meant that states are unwilling to pass legislation with a cost attached. Immigration is less of a wedge issue in 2009—that is, politicians seem less willing to push anti-immigrant platforms because candidates who did so in the 2008 elections lost.

PSN also reports that anti-immigrant legislators have been marginalized in 2009. Bills introduced by Texas State Rep. Leo Berman, a notorious anti-immigrant voice, got no traction, even from within his own party. No votes were taken on any of his 9 anti-immigrant bills. In Arizona, State Senator Russell Pearce has had little success with his anti-immigrant agenda this year. An Arizona Republic editorial criticized Pearce for devoting time and energy to immigrant-bashing instead of doing the real work that needs to be done on the state budget. Even Prince William County, Virginia Executive Corey Stewart—well known for his anti-immigrant rhetoric—has backed down, acknowledging that problems other than immigration deserve more attention. . . .

It is clear that vehement anti-immigrant legislation is not as fashionable as in past years. These measures have proven to be too expensive and ineffective, Americans care more about real solutions than scapegoating and rhetoric, and anti-immigrant politicians have not been successful on election day.

It’s encouraging to see that most politicians (apparently on both sides of the ideological divide) recognize that indeed, there are many more important issues these days than demonizing and dehumanizing immigrants, legal and undocumented. I also believe that many of them also understand that in this current recession, immigrants — again legal or undocumented — can make significant contributions to the American economy if given the chance.

That is, while many immigrants are disproportionately affected by these tough economic times, if they’re allowed to stay in the U.S., many are more than willing spend their income to help support local businesses, pay federal income and social security taxes, and state sales and gas taxes, to name just a few examples. This is especially true in immigrant-heavy states and cities such as California and Texas, that are being hit especially hard during the recession.

In other words, at a time when our country is struggling, we need everybody to pitch in and help out, regardless of their race, ethnicity, skin color, or immigrant status.

It’s a well known and documented fact that in almost all Asian cultures, boys are systematically valued more than girls. Based on centuries of institutionalized patriarchy and traditional cultural practices, most Asian families would rather have children who are boys than girls. This gender bias is one of the reasons why an overwhelming majority of children given up for adoption in Asian countries are girls. This bias has also led to growing gender imbalances in many Asian countries, with some analysts predicting that such a gender imbalance may evolve into a threat to national security as this overpopulation of males become adults.

Here in the U.S., we might think that things are different among Asian Americans. That is, being a part of American society and within its social norms of gender equality, Asian Americans would have more “modern” views about the value of boys and girls so that there would not be any kind of systematic preference of one gender over another when it comes to our children. However, as the New York Times reports, recent Census data shows that at least among Indian Americans, Chinese Americans, and Korean Americans, there is a notable gender imbalance among their children in which boys are much more common than girls:

In general, more boys than girls are born in the United States, by a ratio of 1.05 to 1. But among American families of Chinese, Korean and Indian descent, the likelihood of having a boy increased to 1.17 to 1 if the first child was a girl, according to the Columbia economists. If the first two children were girls, the ratio for a third child was 1.51 to 1 — or about 50 percent greater — in favor of boys. . . .

Demographers say the statistical deviation among Asian-American families is significant, and they believe it reflects not only a preference for male children, but a growing tendency for these families to embrace sex-selection techniques, like in vitro fertilization and sperm sorting, or abortion. . . .

Dr. Norbert Gleicher, medical director of the Center for Human Reproduction, a fertility and sex-selection clinic in New York and Chicago, said that from his experience, people were more inclined to want female children, except for Asians and Middle Easterners. . . . The Fertility Institutes, which does not offer abortions, has unabashedly advertised its services in Indian- and Chinese-language newspapers in the United States. . . .

Efforts by clinics to appeal to Indian families in the United States provoked criticism and some community introspection in 2001. Some newspapers and magazines that ran advertisements promoting the clinics, which offered sex-selection procedures, expressed regret at the perpetuation of what critics regard as a misogynistic practice.

Graph of gender imbalance among some Asian American ethnic groups

This emerging gender imbalance and “son-biased” sex ratio (illustrated in the accompanying New York Times graphic on the right) seems to reflect one fundamental point — that many Asian Americans still have very direct and strong family and cultural connections to their ancestral country. These traditional cultural ties can manifest themselves directly in the form of Asian immigrants still having the “son is superior” mentality that leads them to favor having boys more than girls.

Or, as the New York Times article also mentions, the other way that these traditional cultural ties become exemplified can be that even younger Asian American immigrant couples accept the U.S.’s norms of gender equality, various pressures from family, relatives, or friends in their ancestral Asian country lead them to favor boys over girls. As one example of this, perhaps couples in this situation have parents in the home country who will only give inheritance to male descendants and not female ones.

Ultimately, these demographic patterns (at least among Indian Americans, Chinese Americans, and Korean Americans) show us that the connections between Asia and America run deeper than just geographic distance.

That said, we should also recognize that this article and research studies that provide the basis of these demographic trends all note that these findings seem to be limited to Asian immigrant couples in which both spouses are foreign-born. In other words, there does not seem to be any data or evidence that this trend exists among Asian American couples in which both spouses are U.S.-born.

This last point goes to show just how powerful a force American assimilation is in the lives of most Asian Americans.

Racial hatred and the extremist ideas behind White supremacy are not new. As my friend and fellow sociologist Rory McVeigh writes in his new book The Rise of the Ku Klux Klan: Right-Wing Movements and National Politics, hate groups come in all forms, sizes, and levels of formal organization and have played a role in American race relations for over a century.

However, with the election of Barack Obama as our first non-White President, the current recession and economic insecurities confronting many Americans who had been comfortably middle-class up to this point, and the continuing uncertainty of institutional trends such as globalization and demographic population changes, many Whites understandably feel a little destabilized these days.

It is within this context that many Whites see an opportunity to rail against what they perceive to be the “invasion” or “taking over” of their country by those who are different from them — immigrants and non-Whites. Most recently, this has taken the form of post-election racial incidents and of subtle and non-so-subtle forms of immigrant bashing.

But as many sociologists such as my blogging colleague Jessie at Racism Review and other observers point out, this upsurge in racial intolerance is different because with the advent of internet technology and the proliferation of social networking websites, the message of White supremacy is being broadcast much more widely to a growing audience of White Americans feeling destabilized. The following video report from ABC News last year summarizes this emerging trend (about 3 minutes long):

A recent MSNBC article goes into more detail about this trend of racial/religious extremists using internet and social networking websites to spread their message of intolerance:

Militants and hate groups increasingly use social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and YouTube as propaganda tools to recruit new members, according to a report by the Simon Wiesenthal Center. The report released on Wednesday noted a 25 percent rise in the past year in the number of “problematic” social networking groups on the Internet. . . .

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the center, said Facebook recently removed several Holocaust denial sites, including one that featured a cartoon of Adolf Hitler in bed with Anne Frank, whose diary written in hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam is among the best known stories of the Holocaust. . . . He pointed out a YouTube user whose racist content has caused his postings on the site to be taken down repeatedly, but he simply creates a new user profile, or channel, and posts the material again.

Extremist groups are also setting up their own social networking sites, the report said, picking out one called “New Saxon,” described as “a Social Networking site for people of European descent” produced by an American Neo-Nazi group called the National Socialist Movement. Other groups have created online games such as one created by an Iranian organization and called “Special Operation 85 — Hostage Rescue,” and one called “Border Patrol” in which the player has to shoot Mexicans, including women and children, as they try to come over the border into the United States.

I’m not here to say that we should ban or further restrict such websites or other forms of internet, communication, or media technology just because they allow people to spread messages of hate and intolerance more easily than would otherwise be possible (although I urge the administrators of such sites and internet services to take quick and decisive action to remove such blatantly offensive material, as per their stated policies). In other words, the technology itself is not to blame — it’s how technology is used.

With that in mind, I hope that those of us who oppose such racial and religious intolerance will make full use of such websites and technologies to counteract messages of hate with our own messages of understanding, tolerance, acceptance, and peace. This very site is my own attempt to do just that and thankfully, there are plenty of other sites and efforts toward promoting greater racial diversity and respect as well.

In fact, a homemade furniture commercial hosted on YouTube that has apparently become an internet sensation shows us that racial tolerance and capitalism can coexist together and that yes, it is possible for all of us to “just get along”:

There is a piece in the New York Times today is reporting on their investigation into the explicitly racist practices of Wells Fargo in their subprime mortgage business (Creative Commons License photo credit: TheTruthAbout… , h/t Schiffon Wong). According to the NYTimes,  Wells Fargo created a unit in the mid-Atlantic region to push expensive refinancing loans on black customers, particularly those living in Baltimore, southeast Washington and Prince George’s County, Md.

wells fargoAccording to a former employee of the banking giant quoted in the article, the company viewed the black community as fertile ground for subprime mortgages, as working-class blacks were hungry to be a part of the nation’s home-owning mania. Loan officers, she said, pushed customers who could have qualified for prime loans into subprime mortgages. Another loan officer stated in an affidavit filed last week that employees had referred to blacks as “mud people” and to subprime lending as “ghetto loans.”  The employee, a Ms. Jacobson, who is white and said she was once the bank’s top-producing subprime loan officer nationally, goes on to reveal:

“We just went right after them. Wells Fargo mortgage had an emerging-markets unit that specifically targeted black churches, because it figured church leaders had a lot of influence and could convince congregants to take out subprime loans.”

The NYTimes backs this anecdotal evidence with their own more systematic investigation:

The New York Times, in a recent analysis of mortgage lending in New York City, found that black households making more than $68,000 a year were nearly five times as likely to hold high-interest subprime mortgages as whites of similar or even lower incomes. (The disparity was greater for Wells Fargo borrowers, as 2 percent of whites in that income group hold subprime loans and 16.1 percent of blacks.)

To understand the Wells Fargo case, it’s important to understand the broader context of this banking institutions’ policies as part of a larger pattern.

Sociologists Doug Massey and Nancy Denton in their ASA-award-winning book, American Apartheid, document the systematic pattern of housing discrimination in the U.S., as well as the dire consequences of such enforced segregation.   Part of Massey and Denton’s argument is that segregation in housing leads to “social dislocations” (William J. Wilson’s term) in other areas like high school drop-out rates, increased rates of drug use, delinquency and crime, in other words, “the making of an underclass” (the subtitle of their book).

Massey and Denton’s work was path-breaking for the way that it clearly and painstakingly documents the “construction of the ghetto,” but their findings were not exactly new.  The Kerner Commission Report from 1968 famously concluded:

“What white Americans have never fully understood— but what the Negro can never forget— is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it.”

The report from today’s NYTimes and the evidence of explicitly racist practices of Wells Fargo do not mean that everyone that worked there agreed with these policies or harbored explicitly racist views.   Indeed, as Eduardo Bonilla-Silva as recounted in his Racism Without Racists, the continued operation of white supremacist system does not require the presence of extreme racists in that system.  In fact, I’m sure that many of the people that worked at Wells Fargo would never consider themselves racists but rather well-meaning and liberal in their views on race.

So, then it becomes necessary to understand Wells Fargo’s banking discrimination — and the housing segregation such discrimination creates — within an even broader context.  For that, it’s important to understand the white racial frame that sustains systemic racism, as Joe has described here and in his important book by the same name.  Note the loan officer mentioned in the NYTimes piece that referred to blacks as “mud people” and to the subprime lending as “ghetto loans.” These statements reflect thinking within the white racial frame and the result is the maintenance of systemic racial segregation in housing and further economic devastation of black families that might otherwise be homeowners.

That’s the real tragedy of this story, to my thinking.  Families that worked hard, tried to buy a home and provide a better life for their kids, are now facing foreclosure – and maybe worse – because of the systematic racism in Wells Fargo’s banking practices.    The question really becomes then if we, as a nation, are so “tragically bound to that starless midnight of racism,” as Dr. King said, that we can never move beyond it.    It’s time, I think, to begin holding institutions accountable for racist practices like these.

The post Systemic Racism in Banking: The Wells Fargo Case appeared first on racismreview.com.