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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.

April 25, 2008

Written by C.N.

Racial Tensions and Living in a Colorblind Society

I’ve written before about how Asian American students continue to face various obstacles in being treated fairly and justly on college campuses, whether it relates to dealing with offensive “satire” or being physically and violently attacked.

Some might be tempted to say that these were isolated incidents but as New America Media summarizes, these kinds of incidents are actually and unfortunately quite commonplace on college campuses around the country:

In recent months, incidents have proven this is not the tolerant and highly-evolved society we thought. Hate crimes against Asian students, racial remarks masked under the term “satire,” and institutional discrimination — are just a few causes triggering racial tension on college campuses. . . .

On Jan. 21, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Kyle Descher, a Korean American, headed out to a bar with his roommate after a Washington State University football victory over Oregon. Minutes after hearing a racial slur from one of three unknown men, Descher is “sucker-punched” in an unprovoked attack. Doctors add three titanium plates to Descher’s broken jaw and it’s wired shut. . . .

In [UPenn's quarterly student magazine "The Punch Bowl" winter 2008 edition's] “Where Asians Don’t Belong” section, staffers listed Math 104, in a panties drawer, on the basketball court, at a frat party, and behind the wheel. Imagine why the staff didn’t make jokes with the same glee for all the places African Americans “don’t belong.” In their defense, “Punch Bowl” editors said some of the writers of the “satirical” issue were Asian Americans themselves, even posing in photos poking fun at APIs.

The article goes on to list several other racially-charged incidents around the country involving a broad range of groups of color.

It would be great if I could just focus on discussing the positive aspects of how American society and American institutions such as higher education have made progress in alleviating racial inequality. Alas, these incidents only highlight what many scholars have been saying all along — as we move forward into the 21st century, racism and racial prejudice are still alive and well in American society.

The only difference between its nature today versus that of say, 100 years ago, is that in many ways, racism is now expressed in “colorblind” terms. That is, racists now apparently think that racial equality has been achieved (they’ll point to Asian American socioeconomic achievements as one example), so it’s perfectly fine to make fun of Asian Americans and other groups because we’re all equal now — we’re all on a level playing field nowadays, so everybody is fair game.

In other words, this is what it means to live in a colorblind society these days — historical legacies of systematic racism are completely ignored or “whitewashed” and we all pretend that all racial groups are perfectly equal. Or alternatively, racists act on their resentment that minorities have apparently achieved “equality” and physically attack us.

Unfortunately, I predict that this climate of “colorblind” prejudice will get worse before it gets better, especially as globalization continues to reshape the American society, the American economy, and as a result, the fundamental assumption of American superiority around the world.

As Americans, particularly White Americans, continue to economically struggle as we enter a recession and as they culturally struggle with maintaining their exclusive hold on the “American identity” while demographic shifts take place all around them, their fear, frustrations, and anger will inevitably boil over and verbal and physical attacks on convenient scapegoats such as Asian Americans will continue.

I want to be optimistic and hopefully I’m wrong, but as these recent incidents show, racial tensions seem to be on the rise, not on the decline.


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

Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Racial Tensions and Living in a Colorblind Society" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2008/04/racial-tensions-and-living-in-a-colorblind-society/> ().

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