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Behind the Headlines: APA News Blog

Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.

Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.

February 28, 2005

Written by C.N.

Prognosticating About the Pontiff

As I’m sure you’ve heard, Pope John Paul II has been through several illnesses recently. He is 84 years old, stricken with Parkinson’s Disease, and it is widely believed that he may be nearing the end of his life soon. In that context, speculation about who may succeed him as the next Pope is already well underway.

One of the better analyses is by former Vatican diplomat and professor at James Madison University, John-Peter Pham, who apparently is Vietnamese. Professor Pham recently wrote a book entitled Heirs Of The Fisherman: Behind The Scenes Of Papal Death And Succession. As he explains in this article at MSNBC/Newsweek, Pope John Paul II changed the rules slightly regarding how the next Pope should be elected:

Traditionally, a two-thirds majority is required to elect the pope. But, now, he’s changed the rules so that, essentially, after a little over a week’s time staying at this hotel in relative comfort, if they haven’t elected someone, they can change the rules to elect by simple majority after they have gone through the whole procedure. . . [T]his way, a determined majority can elect someone who is not a consensus figure.

Professor Pham also notes that even though Pope John Paul II has appointed 116 of the 119 cardinals who will elect the next Pope, there’s no guarantee that his successor will be a carbon copy of himself:

Both popes and cardinals have been surprised by what comes out of a conclave. Because of the nature of the constitution of the church that invests sole and absolute power in one man, once that man is seated in that chair, all bets are off. You can’t, from the grave, control your successor. Conventional wisdom only takes you so far.

Professor Pham also goes on to describe five cardinals who are early favorites who are likely to be considered for the next Pope — three Italians, one Nigerian, and one Austrian. I could not locate any biogrpahical information about Professor Pham, but don’t be surprised to hear about him or see him on television in the upcoming months, as the talk about the Pope’s successor intensifies. As always, it’s nice to see another Asian American, in this case another Vietnamese American, earning respect.

February 25, 2005

Written by C.N.

Report on Asian American LGBT

As reported by Asian American Village, a new study conducted by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, entitled “Asian Pacific American Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender People: a Community Portrait,” notes that the overwhelming majority of Asian American LGBT have experienced multiple forms discrimination. Some of the key findings are:

  • Nearly every respondent (95%) had experienced at least one form of discrimination and/or harassment in their lives. For example, 82% said that they had experienced discrimination based on their sexual orientation, and 82% had experienced discrimination based on their race or ethnicity.
  • The three most important issues facing APA LGBT community members were immigration, hate violence/harassment, and media representation.
  • Nearly all respondents (96%) agreed that homophobia and/or transphobia is a problem within the APA community. And, over 80% agreed that APA LGBT people experience racism within the predominantly white LGBT community.
  • The majority of respondents felt that LGBT organizations inadequately address issues of race (58%), class (80%), and disability (79%).

Also, 59% of the Asian American LGBT in the survey agreed or strongly agreed that Asian Americans experience racism within the White LGBT community. Further, 85% of survey respondents agreed or strongly agreed that homophobia is a problem in the Asian American community. As the former Director of Education at the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition on HIV/AIDS, I am not at all surprised to see the level of prejudice and discrimination that exists from both the White LGBT community and the “mainstream” Asian American community toward Asian American LGBT.

The results unfortunately show just how perilous a position many Asian American LGBT find themselves in — being unable to find appropriate support from either White gays and lesbians on the one hand, and from straight Asian Americans on the other. Add into that mix the fact that many are recent working-class immigrants and the almost constant threat of HIV/AIDS and you can come to the conclusion that in many respects, LGBT are one of, if not the most marginalized and vulnerable members of the Asian American community, and in American society in general.

February 16, 2005

Written by C.N.

Multiracial Commercial Images has an article that describes the growing popularity of using multicultural situations and multiracial actors in commercials and advertisements. However, as is generally the case in the advertising world, the reality of the everyday world does not always match up perfectly with stylized advertisement images:

In the idyllic world of TV commercials, Americans increasingly are living together side by side, regardless of race. The diverse images reflect a trend that has been quietly growing in the advertising industry for years: Racially mixed scenarios — families, friendships, neighborhoods and party scenes — are often used as a hip backdrop to sell products. The ads suggest America’s ethnic communities are meshing seamlessly, bonded by a love of yogurt, lipstick and athletic gear. . .

But critics say such ads gloss over persistent and complicated racial realities. Though the proportion of ethnic minorities in America is growing, experts say, more than superficial interaction between groups is still relatively unusual. Most Americans overwhelmingly live and mingle with people from their own racial background. Advertising, meanwhile, is creating a “carefully manufactured racial utopia, a narrative of colorblindness” says Charles Gallagher, a sociologist at Georgia State University in Atlanta. . .

[P]articularly since data from Census 2000 underscored the nation’s increasing ethnic complexity, ads that meld racial groups in less controversial ways have slowly become the norm. Interracial settings now are used as a matter-of-fact backdrop to sell wine and bath soap. . . “For so long, speaking to consumers of color has been absent from the landscape,” said Dana Wade, president of Spike DDB, a New York-based ad agency that uses multiracial images in most of its advertising. “It’s important to correct that.”

This subject has the potential to become quite a thorny issue. On the one hand, it is certainly true that people of color and multiracial individuals have traditionally been systematically left out of the vast majority of commercials and advertisements as companies have implicitly assumed that there entire audience of consumers was almost exclusively White. Therefore, the emergence of more multicultural images is indeed a step in the right direction.

On the other hand, as critics point out, advertisers need to recognize and understand that life is more complicated than a mixed-race group of friends having a party at the beach. This issue reminds me of how many colleges and universities, in their attempts to promote their campus as racially and culturally diverse, recruit students of color to appear in carefully staged pictures for their promotional materials when in reality, their campus and almost all their high profile campus activities (i.e., sporting events, etc.) remain virtually all-White.

So is there a middle ground here? I think it has to be a two-way process. First, hopefully consumers will understand that advertisement by design are supposed to be superficial idealized images, rather than an accurate reflection of reality. Therefore, I hope that consumers will recognize that even though they may be seeing more images of people of color in commercials and other ads, that does not necessarily mean that race relations in the U.S. are completely hunky-dory.

On the other hand, advertisers also need to understand that all with using images of people of color to promote their products, they should follow up on this effort to reflect a more accurate image of America by also promoting more people of color behind the scenes, as managers, supervisors, and executives. It’s one thing to portray a multicultural image to the public — it’s another to really mean it by institutionalizing multiculturalism behind the scenes, where it really counts.

February 10, 2005

Written by C.N.

Indian Driver in Formula One

This probably won’t be notable to many people who don’t follow international open wheel motor racing but in case that describes you, you may find it notable that the Formula One team Midlands Jordan Toyota has just named Narain Karthikeyan as the first Indian-born driver ever to race in Formula One, the pinnacle of automotive technology and competition and most popular sport in the world in terms of television and event audiences, next to World Cup soccer.

There have been several Japanese drivers in Formula One and one from Malaysia, but never one from India. As ESPN RPM explains, this move bodes well for Formula One’s long term goal of expanding its schedule of races away from Europe where tobacco advertising is usually severely limited, and into Asian countries such as India, where there are virtually no restrictions: “It also gives India, an attractive business market for sponsors with its enormous potential audience, a Formula One focal point after a stalled attempt to host a race in the country.”

In case you’re wondering, there have been American drivers in F1 of course, but never an Asian American driver. The only Asian American race car driver right now who has any notoreity is 28 year old Roger Yasukawa, who races in the Indy Racing League (a professional series that includes mostly oval races, including the Indianapolis 500). It’s hard to say whether there will be an Asian American driver in F1 anytime soon, which is rather ironic considering the prominent role that young Asian Americans have had in the sport compact import scene over the last decade or so.

Therefore, it remains to be seen whether Formula One’s expansion into Asia increases the chances that an Asian American, not just Asian, driver will one day race at the highest level of motor racing in the world. At the least, I hope the proliferation of Asian drivers in F1 helps to quell the stereotype that Asians can’t drive. This is assuming that Karthikeyan doesn’t fall flat on his face and embarass himself . . . and us too.

February 3, 2005

Written by C.N.

“Stress” in Viet Nam

Well-respected Vietnamese American journalist Andrew Lam has a commentary article in the Pacific News Service in which he describes the emerging phenomenon of “stress” in modern-day Viet Nam. As he notes,

Stress is the latest trend to hit Vietnam from America since MTV. At first glance it seems impossible: Vietnam, after all, is a country full of hardworking young people, and rural life is backbreaking for the majority. Generation after generation has known nothing but sweat and toil. But stress is a phenomenon not of simple hard work. It is a kind of symptom associated with young, upwardly mobile urban professionals in peacetime. . .

Vietnam’s upwardly mobile urban young are given to multitasking these days. Next to Huy, Tram is talking on one phone, ordering a drink, conversing with another friend, and, yes, text messaging on another cell phone — all at once. . . A practice among the urban young is to place one’s cell phone on the table upon sitting down at a restaurant. Everyone then proceeds to check out everyone else’s new toy. “I bought a $500 dollar cell phone, and everyone in my circle has one. So I bought a new one for $1,200, and now I’m respected. It’s materialistic, but in my business, you have to do it.”

Quite ironic, isn’t it? Here is Viet Nam, supposedly one of the staunchest communist countries in the world, unable to escape the inevitable global influence of capitalism. It just goes to show just how powerful greed is — greed for money, for status, for materialistic satisfaction.

It would be easy to criticize these young Vietnamese workers as overly selfish and materialistic, concerned more about making money and having the latest symbols of wealth and status, rather than working toward democracy or social equality in their country. But we have to remember that, as Andrew Lam points out in his article, the vast majority of ordinary Vietnamese citizens have known nothing but toil, tedium, and unfullfilled aspirations for almost all of their lives.

I think they deserve to enjoy the fruits of their labor. At the same time, I am worried that the encroachment of capitalism will inevitably create an even wider gap between the affluent and the poor. However, maybe capitalism will be a force so irresistable that one day, it will finally be able to topple an entire totalitarian communist regime by itself. Like I said, quite ironic, isn’t it?