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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.

September 14, 2006

Written by C.N.

The Effects of Class, Race, and Place

It should be well-known by now that a person’s race and social class has a large influence on his/her life chances. No matter how much right wing conservatives may disagree, being poor and of a certain racial/ethnic minority in the U.S. is likely to be associated with many socioeconomic and institutional disadvantages. But as CBS News reports, where a person lives can also have a large effect on the quality of his/her life:

Asian-American women living in Bergen County, N.J., lead the nation in longevity, typically reaching their 91st birthdays. Worst off are American Indian men in swaths of South Dakota, who die around age 58 — three decades sooner. Where you live, combined with race and income, plays a huge role in the nation’s health disparities — differences so stark that a report issued Monday contends it’s as if there are eight separate Americas instead of one. . . .

Murray analyzed mortality data between 1982 and 2001 by county, race, gender and income. He found some distinct groupings that he named the “eight Americas:”
1. Asian-Americans, average per capita income of $21,566, have a life expectancy of 84.9 years
2. Northland low-income rural Whites, $17,758, 79 years
3. Middle America (mostly White), $24,640, 77.9 years
4. Low income Whites in Appalachia, Mississippi Valley, $16,390, 75 years
5. Western American Indians, $10,029, 72.7 years
6. Black Middle America, $15,412, 72.9 years
7. Southern low-income rural Blacks, $10,463, 71.2 years
8. High-risk urban Blacks, $14,800, 71.1 years . . .

Scientists have long thought that the Asian longevity advantage would disappear once immigrant families adopted higher-fat Western diets. Murray’s study is the first to closely examine second-generation Asian-Americans — and found their advantage persists.

The article also points out that it’s not really lack of health insurance that is largely responsible for such mortality disparities but rather, lifestyle choices such as alcohol and tobacco use, obesity, and lack of physical activity (along with high blood pressure and cholesterol) that make the biggest difference. One thing to note however, is that it is very unfortunate that Hispanics/Latinos were not included in the data, most likely due to their official classification as an “ethnic” rather than a “racial” group (meaning Hispanics can be of any race).

At any rate, the results for Asian Americans is pretty striking and suggests, at least initially, that there apparently is something about Asian culture that promotes better health or at least better longevity. While it’s slightly reassuring to find out that my culture apparently offers some health benefits to me, the larger social implications of this finding are a little more vague and even potentially troubling.

Specifically, I’m worried that findings like this are the first steps for some people to reinterpret the results to mean that Asian Americans are genetically and biologically different from “real” Americans and as such, should be treated differently than other Americans. In other words, findings like this have the possibility of perpetuating the cultural stereotype that Asian culture is inherently different from “mainstream” American culture and that therefore, Asian Americans are inherently different from mainstream Americans.

The moral to this story is that as with any scientific or statistical data, the numbers do not just “speak for themselves.” Rather, people sometimes interpret the numbers to mean what they want them to mean, and to achieve certain political or cultural goals. Therefore, we need to assert that data like this only show one part of the larger picture about Asian Americans.


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Copyright © 2001- by C.N. Le. Some rights reserved. Creative Commons License

Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "The Effects of Class, Race, and Place" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2006/09/the-effects-of-class-race-and-place/> ().

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