The views and opinions expressed on this site and blog posts (excluding comments on blog posts left by others) are entirely my own and do not represent those of any employer or organization with whom I am currently or previously have been associated.
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.
Here are some more announcements, links, and job postings about academic-related jobs, fellowships, and other opportunities for those interested in racial/ethnic/diversity issues, with a particular focus on Asian Americans. As always, the announcements and links are provided for informational purposes and do not necessarily imply an endorsement of the organization or college involved.
Vietnamese American Community Center, 42 Charles Street Boston MA (near Fields Corner T-stop)
Interested in Asian American activism within Dorchester? Want to develop your leadership skills? Want to organize for social justice?
Join Asian American Resource Workshop (AARW) and the Asian American activist community on July 28, from 11-2:30pm, for the community launch of the exciting and new Dorchester Organizing and Training (DOT) Initiative. We will find free lunch, new friends, and lots of fun!
AARW is launching the “DOT Initiative” to provide a space for young Asian Americans in Fields Corner to build community and organize for social change. After meeting with residents and community leaders, AARW identified and seeks to fill the need for leadership development within young, working-class Asian Americans in Dorchester, in order to increase civic engagement and organize the community to fight against injustices.
Please join us! Don’t miss out on a day that will include:
Food and Socializing – free lunch and good people to talk with.
Activist Training – led by a prominent community organizer, to build your activist skills with a voter registration training Door-knocking session – take action in Fields Corner, putting your training to use right away.
Report on civic engagement within the Asian American community – conducted by the UMass Boston Institute of Asian American Studies.
AARW is a pan-Asian organization that seeks to empower the APA community to work for full participation in US society. Join us for what is shaping up to be an exciting event!
2012 Abe Fellowship Competition
Deadline: September 1, 2012
The Social Science Research Council (SSRC), the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership (CGP), and the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) announce the annual Abe Fellowship competition. The Abe Fellowship is designed to encourage international multidisciplinary research on topics of pressing global concern. The Abe Fellowship Program seeks to foster the development of a new generation of researchers who are interested in policy-relevant topics of long-range importance and who are willing to become key members of a bilateral and global research network built around such topics.
The Abe Fellowship Research Agenda
Applicants are invited to submit proposals for research in the social sciences and related fields relevant to any of the following three themes:
Traditional and Non-Traditional Approaches to Security and Diplomacy
Topic areas include transnational terrorism, internal ethnic and religious strife, infectious diseases, food safety, climate change, and non-proliferation, as well as the role of cultural initiatives in peace building.
Global and Regional Economic Issues
Topic areas include regional and bilateral trade arrangements, international financial stability, globalization and the mitigation of its adverse consequences, sustainable urbanization, and environmental degradation.
Social and Cultural Issues
Topic areas include demographic change, immigration, the role of civil society and media as champions of the public interest, social enterprise, corporate social responsibility, and revitalization of multicultural urban areas.
Research projects should be policy relevant, contemporary, and comparative or transnational.
Terms of the fellowship are flexible and are designed to meet the needs of Japanese and American researchers at different stages in their careers. The program provides Abe Fellows with a minimum of three and maximum of 12 months of full-time support over a 24 month period. Part-time residence abroad in the United States or Japan is required.
This competition is open to citizens of the United States and Japan as well as to nationals of other countries who can demonstrate a serious, long-term affiliation with research communities in the United States or Japan. Applicants must hold a Ph.D. or the terminal degree in their field, or equivalent professional experience at the time of application. Applications from researchers in professions other than academia are encouraged.
For further information and to apply, go to http://www.ssrc.org/fellowships/abe-fellowship/ or contact SSRC staff at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My name is Cindy, and I’m writing to let you know that the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM) has announced that its Call for Entries for the 31st San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, held on March 14-24 2013, is now OPEN!
It is a terrific opportunity for filmmakers to be a part of the largest film festival in North America dedicated to showcasing films by or about Asian Americans and Asians around the world and have the chance to have their film viewed by one of the most sophisticated and enthusiastic audiences in the nation, as well as by many festival programmers, including delegates from nearly every Asian American film festival in North America.
31st SF International Asian American Film Festival
March 14-24, 2013
The San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival accepts films, videos and digital and interactive projects that are made by or about Asian Americans and Asians of any nationality. All lengths and genres will be considered.
Your signed entry form, entry fee, screener and press kit must be postmarked by one of these two dates:
* Early Deadline – Sept 3, 2012
* Late Deadline – Oct 1, 2012
* Withoutabox.com Extended deadline –Oct 8, 2012
A presentation of:
Center for Asian American Media
145 Ninth Street, Suite 350
San Francisco, CA 94103-2641
Call for Submissions: Race and the Life Course
“Racing through Life: Readings on Race and the Lifespan” is a collection of readings about race and the life course edited by Drs. Diditi Mitra and Joyce Weil. Holding race and aging constant, the book will incorporate readings that reflect how both these concepts intersect with other elements of social differentiation, such as gender, social class, sexual orientation, and immigrant status to name a few.
Additionally, the project will include works that echo the broad range of social methodologies used in studying the intersecting experiences of race and the life course. Thus, on the whole, the collection of works will include varieties of qualitative and quantitative methodologies. The book will also provide space for personal histories pertaining to the topics of race and the life course perspective that contextualizes those histories within a social scientific framework.
We welcome works on all race and ethnic groups, including whites. Our goal is not to focus on the “other” races, but to include whites, as well, in order to offer meaningful insights into the topics of race and the aging. The readings will be divided among the book’s three parts: the journey to adulthood (Part I), adulthood and midlife (Part II), and aging and latter years (Part III).
Please let us know of your interest and contact us if you would like to discuss a topic. The recommended length of the manuscript is between20 and 25 pages. The deadline for submission is November 1, 2012. Your expert contribution to this edited collection is greatly valued. Dr. Joyce Weil and Dr. Diditi Mitra can be reached at email@example.com (970.351.1583) and firstname.lastname@example.org (732.224.2537), respectively.
Today, March 8, is International Womens Day. To commemorate this event, The Daily Beast (an online magazine that is part of the Newsweek media corporation) has compiled a list of “150 Women Who Shake the World.”
Since this site focuses on Asians and Asian Americans, I am particularly glad to see that the list includes numerous women from Asia and a couple of Asian Americans as well, specifically Kamala Harris (Attorney General of California) and Ai-Jen Poo (community activist for immigrant domestic workers).
In reading their descriptions, it is clear that while many of their contributions may benefit women most immediately, their work uplifts us all as human beings. Keep up the good work and the good fight, ladies.
Time magazine has released its annual Top 100 Most Influential People in the World for 2011. This year’s list includes a number of Asians and Asian Americans, some well-known while others not as well-known (until now I suppose):
Feisal Abdul Rauf, 63, has moderate, colloquial eloquence, still relatively rare among American Muslim religious leaders. That didn’t stop the attacks on him and his wife Daisy Khan when they teamed with a developer to propose a community center near Ground Zero. They still hope to realize that vision, knowing it won’t come without further attacks. — Rev. William M. Tully
Ambani, 54, took the firm his father founded — Reliance Industries — and turned it into India’s largest private-sector company, a $45 billion petrochemicals giant. It’s a new kind of Indian company, built through adroit manipulation of governments and the stock market but also enriching millions of shareholders. “We have taken money from ordinary Indians, and we are their trustees,” he says. As long as the money keeps coming, they may forgive his excesses. — Suketu Mehta
In 2009 the chinese government, concerned about how information could spread rapidly among millions of people over microblogs, blocked Twitter and shuttered domestic equivalents. Amid those obstacles, Charles Chao saw an opportunity. A journalist turned accountant who rose through the executive ranks to head Sina, China’s largest Internet portal, he backed the company’s own microblog service [Sina Weibo] . . . [and] Beijing approved it. . . . It reached 100 million users in March, vs. 200 million for Twitter. . . . It is censored, Chao acknowledges, but it is also one of the freest online platforms in China. — Austin Ramzy
Amy’s book is a nuanced story of how her parenting had to evolve to take into account the differences between her children. Parenting is hard and humbling for all of us. If there were a right way to raise your kids, everyone would do it. Clearly that’s not the case. In China, this book is being marketed as a tale about the importance of giving children more Western freedom. Few have the guts to parent in public. Amy’s memoir is brutally honest, and her willingness to share her struggles is a gift. Whether or not you agree with her priorities and approach, she should be applauded for raising these issues with a thoughtful, humorous and authentic voice. — Sheryl Sandberg
As a spiritual guru, Cheng Yen, 73, has an ethereal quality. Yet the Buddhist nun is also the well-grounded, no-nonsense head of a non-profit humanitarian machine with divisions in 50 countries and nearly 10 million supporters and volunteers. The Tzu Chi Foundation (tzu chi means compassionate relief) is known for the astonishing speed and efficiency with which it brings aid to victims of natural disasters. Wherever calamities occur, Tzu Chi volunteers and experts arrive promptly, dispensing food, medicine, blankets and warm clothing (as they did recently in Japan) and, in the long term, rebuilding homes, clinics and schools. — Zoher Abdoolcarim
Hu founded Caijing [and] shook up China’s media landscape with courageous investigative pieces on corruption and fraud. After a dispute with her publisher, Hu left the magazine in 2009 and set up Caixin Century, now a paragon of reporting brilliance in China. In February it ran a commentary on Egypt that any savvy reader would link to China. “Autocracy creates turbulence,” it read, “democracy breeds peace.” — Adi Ignatius
Hung spent her teenage years going to school in New York City and college at Vassar. These days Hung, 49, is hugely influential in Chinese culture, tweeting with humor and intelligence to 2.5 million people. She runs a fashion magazine called iLook, owns a store featuring Chinese designers and recently became the director of the first design museum in China. What makes Hung unique is that she understands America, its pragmatism and practices, yet she remains a true Chinese patriot. She works hard to bring her country’s culture into the 21st century. — Diane Von Furstenberg
The 31-year-old doctor was on duty at the Shizugawa public hospital in the Japanese town of Minami Sanriku when he heard the tsunami alert. He immediately began moving patients to the highest floor. . . When the wall of water arrived, Kanno watched it swallow the street in three minutes, taking the patients he couldn’t move with it. . . . Over the next two days, Kanno refused to leave those he’d helped survive. When evacuation helicopters arrived, he waited until the last of his patients had gone before he too left. Three days after the quake, he at last made it back to his wife, just hours before the birth of their second child, a boy they named Rei. The name evokes two meanings: in English, a beam of light; in Chinese and Japanese, the wisdom to overcome hardship. — Krista Mahr
Nobody’s sure if Kim Jong Un is 28 or 29. There are only a handful of photos of him in circulation. Until a couple of years ago, few North Koreans knew anything about him. But he’s been picked to succeed his dad and granddad as absolute ruler of his impoverished, nuclear-tipped nation, which means that though he may not be known, he will be feared.
Few Americans have heard of Liang Guanglie, but his name comes up a great deal in discussions within the U.S. national-security establishment. Liang, 70, is a career military officer and since 2008 has been China’s Defense Minister . . . He is presiding over the rapid rise in Beijing’s defense spending, a subject of increasing concern in Washington. — Bill Powell
A pioneer of India’s IT-outsourcing industry, Premji [is] inspired by his belief that a strong educational system is essential to sustaining the economic growth needed to pull millions of Indian citizens out of poverty, Premji, 65, is deeply involved in efforts to provide universal primary education in India. The Azim Premji Foundation supports programs that reach more than 2.5 million children. But it may be his pioneering leadership in India’s nascent field of philanthropy that will be Premji’s lasting legacy. His recent $2 billion donation to his foundation was the largest charitable contribution in the history of modern India. — Bill Gates
The South Korean pop star turned actor Rain, 28, took the top spot in the TIME 100 reader poll for the third year, trouncing competitors from Barack Obama to Lady Gaga. That’s pretty impressive online power for a guy whose main claim to Western fame is a role in the 2009 film Ninja Assassin.
Ramachandran, 59, is best known for developing a therapy for phantom-limb pain in which a mirror is used to reflect the intact limb, creating the illusion that the missing one is still there. That persuades the brain that all is well, and the pain subsides. With his simple, creative and innovative ideas, V.S. Ramachandran is changing how our brains think about our minds. — Thomas Insel
The former chancellor of the Washington, D.C., school system and the founder of the Students First advocacy group, Rhee . . . . set a goal to improve the lot of the nation’s students, and she has stuck to that. And she paid dearly for it, stepping down from her D.C. post in 2010 after Mayor Adrian Fenty lost his bid for re-election, a public rejection that some saw as a repudiation of the tough steps Rhee took to raise the standards of the city’s public schools. Subsequently, she shunned any high-salary job offers that resulted from her high-profile tenure and instead founded her organization. — Davis Guggenheim
Starting from a tiny village in the deserts of Rajasthan in the 1980s, Aruna Roy began a long campaign to bring transparency to India’s notoriously corrupt bureaucracy. Its signal achievement is the 2005 Right to Information (RTI) Act, a law that has given the nation’s poor a powerful tool to fight for their rights and has influenced similar measures in other countries. It has also inspired thousands of RTI activists, who have exposed everything from land scams to bank embezzlement to the misuse of public funds meant for the poor. . . . Roy doesn’t just condemn a broken system; she changes it. — Jyoti Thottam
Within weeks of Lieut. General Ahmed Shuja Pasha’s becoming head of Pakistan’s top intelligence agency, ISI, in 2008, terrorist attacks in Mumbai seriously roiled already stressed U.S.-Pakistani relations. Pasha, 59, has grown progressively more suspicious of U.S. motives and staying power. . . . Pasha, a Pakistani patriot and American partner, now must find these two roles even more difficult to reconcile. — Michael Hayden
[A]s radiation wafted from the earthquake- and tsunami-damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant toward the city of Minami Soma, some 15 miles (25 km) away, Mayor Katsunobu Sakurai . . . posted an 11-min. video on YouTube two weeks after the March 11 natural disaster [and] lashed out at Japan’s political and economic establishment, which had ignored his frantic calls and, as a result, left thousands of local residents stuck in a nuclear no-go zone. “With the paltry information given by the government and [plant operator] TEPCO, we are left isolated … and are being forced into starvation,” Sakurai charged. “I beg you from my heart to help us.” His plea resonated across the world, leading many to ask how a country so celebrated for efficiency had failed its most vulnerable citizens. — Hannah Beech
As the leader of Burma’s democracy movement and winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, Aung San Suu Kyi, 65, is an Asian hero and global inspiration. . . Last November she was released from her latest stint of more than seven years under house arrest. In March her banned party, the National League for Democracy, called again for talks with Burma’s rulers. Even after spending most of the past two decades in detention, Suu Kyi is determined to return to the front lines of the battle for democracy. — Wang Dan
Dhoni is now universally acknowledged as India’s best [cricket] captain ever. He’s also its most likable, exuding both cool confidence and down-to-earth humility. As astonishing as Dhoni’s talent is his background. Indian success stories are usually associated with pedigree, connections and power. Dhoni, from a small-town family of modest means, had none of these, but he’s shown India that you can make it with only one thing: excellence. Dhoni doesn’t just lead a cricket team; he’s also India’s captain of hope. — Chatan Bhagat
Ai Weiwei is the kind of visionary any nation should be proud to count among its creative class. He has drawn the world’s attention to the vibrancy of contemporary Chinese culture. More important, Ai, 53, has shown compassion for his fellow citizens and spoken out for victims of government abuses, calling for political reforms to better serve the people. It is very sad that the Chinese government has seen a need to silence one of its most innovative and illustrious citizens. For the world, Ai continues to represent the promise of China. — John Huntsman
You can make the case that Xi has reformist impulses. His father, once a comrade of Mao Zedong’s, was purged three times. Xi is an engineer, like most of China’s leaders, but he also has a law degree and a breadth of knowledge that many of his colleagues lack. His wife is one of China’s most famous singers. His daughter is at Harvard. Who knows? Maybe he even likes jazz and scotch. — Fareed Zakaria
Here are some more announcements, links, and job postings about academic-related jobs, fellowships, and other related opportunities for those interested in racial/ethnic/diversity issues. As always, the announcements and links are provided for informational purposes and do not necessarily imply an endorsement of the organization or college involved.
Today is the last day to help take the Queer Southeast Asian (QSEA) Census, March 1, 2011. As of now, we have collected 380 surveys nationally by Hmong, Thai, Laotian, Vietnamese and Cambodians who are LGBTQ living in the US. We need 20 more surveys to be taken to reach our goal of 400 and it would be fantastic if we surpass that goal!
I wanted to reach out to you all again in hopes that if you haven’t taken the survey yet, to please do so, as this is historical and ground breaking data that we have been needing to
help support our work and bring visibility to our communities that do exist for over 30 years in the US. And for those that have taken it or don’t fit the criteria, please help us outreach it to your family, friends and network until midnight via Facebook, social networks, website and email.
Our QSEA Census is directed towards Queer Southeast Asians that have been affected by the Vietnam War living in the countries of Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia.
Leadership in Action (LIA) is an eight-week paid summer internship program designed to develop emerging young leaders by providing college students with practical leadership skills and the opportunity to work hands-on in the Asian and Pacific Islander (API) community in Southern California.
Approaching its 14th year, the program takes learning beyond the classroom, and places the student interns in a range of API community based organizations in order to gain real-life experience working at nonprofits. The intern will be paid $2,000 for the eight-week internship.
The intern’s weekly schedule is comprised of 4 days at their assigned community based organization (CBO) and 1 day at LEAP. At the CBO, the intern works with their assigned supervisor on a meaningful project. At LEAP, the intern’s day is devoted to leadership development training, issue discussions, CBO site visits and a community impact project. Nationally recognized trainers deliver workshops in critical skill areas. Issue discussions are on local or timely topics of interest and are facilitated by local community leaders/activists and LEAP trainers.
The community impact project will give the students interns an opportunity to flex their leadership skills in a safe setting, as well as allow them to contribute a service that has lasting impact on to the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. The 2011 program will be held in Los Angeles from June 20 – August 12, 2011.
The application process for interns is now open. Applications are due Friday, March 11th, 2011. There are two rounds in the application process. The first round is where a committee reviews all the applications and decides who they want to come in for an interview. The second round is the actual interview either at LEAP or by teleconference. The results will be decided by the end of March and interns will be notified by the first week of April.
Junior Faculty Development Workshop, Penn State
On June 2-4, 2011, the East of California Caucus and the Pennsylvania State University will sponsor a junior faculty development workshop for early-career Asian Americanists. The workshop reflects EOC’s historical commitment to mentoring junior faculty and providing support to those working to increase the disciplinary and curricular visibility of Asian American Studies in higher education. Specifically, the workshop will help professionalize junior faculty by focusing on how to:
Create extra-institutional networks of support
Identify meaningful research projects and develop vocabularies for how to talk about such projects with a variety of audiences (department chairs, audiences outside of Asian American Studies, potential editors)
Confront pedagogical challenges
Establish effective collegial relationships
Navigate the tenure process successfully
To accomplish these goals, the workshop will feature panel discussions, breakout sessions, and work-in-progress workshops. Please note that space will be limited to ensure a high level of interaction among all participants. Interested scholars should submit a brief letter of application outlining what the applicant hopes to gain by attending the workshop, a draft or excerpt of approximately 7-15 pages of the article or book chapter being proposed for workshop development (only work that has not yet been published is eligible), and a c.v. Please send materials to Tina Chen email@example.com and Eric Hung firstname.lastname@example.org; questions should be directed to Tina Chen.
This event is funded by the Penn State Asian Studies Program (ASP) with additional support from the Center for American Literary Studies (CALS). The workshop will begin on Thursday evening (6/2) and conclude at 12:30 on Saturday (6/4). PSU will cover lodging and all meals during the event (specifically, 2 nights of lodging; dinner on Thursday; all meals on Friday; and breakfast and lunch on Saturday).
Examining the Resettlement & Integration Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Refugees
Intensive Internship Yielding Thesis-Level Stand-Alone Report and Publication
[10-week Program from June 13th to August 19th]
ORAM (Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration) is a California-based non-profit organization with a mission to advocate for refugees fleeing sexual or gender based persecution. ORAM conducts international education and advocacy on behalf of these highly vulnerable individuals. It also provides legal counseling and representation as these persons struggle to find security and safe haven. We work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), with other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and with community-based groups in the U.S. and abroad to achieve our mission. More information is available at www.oraminternational.org.
Project: Conducting a Survey on the Resettlement Experiences of LGBTI Refugees
ORAM is looking for exceptionally committed and highly qualified interns to conduct and report upon a survey documenting the experiences of LGBTI refugees in the United States. Each intern will be assigned a geographic area corresponding to his/her location. After contacting local resettlement organizations and locating LGBTI refugees, the intern will conduct in-person interviews with the persons identified. ORAM will provide translation services on an as-needed basis. Basing their work on a survey designed by ORAM, interns will inquire into areas including the refugees’ access to medical and mental health care, ability to find employment, and access to safe housing.
Participants’ stand-alone papers based on these interviews will be appropriate for use as graduation theses, upon school approval. ORAM will utilize the information gathered to compile a high quality analytical advocacy report, along with extensive recommendations for organizations and government agencies resettling LGBTI refugees. As in all ORAM projects, student contributors will be fully credited in the final published work.
Anthropology, sociology, gender studies, social work and journalism students are encouraged to apply. Applicants must have excellent interviewing, listening and writing skills. High-level fluency in a second language, including (but not limited to) Spanish, Arabic, French or Farsi is highly desirable. Applicants receiving academic credit for this internship are strongly preferred. Interns are unpaid. They will work a minimum of 20 hours of work per week during a 10-week period in the summer of 2011. Interns will report to an ORAM supervisor and will be required to attend a weekly meeting via Skype.
Interested applicants should send (1) a resume, (2) a cover letter, and (3) an original, non-fiction writing sample to ORAM Internship Coordinator at email@example.com. Please write “Resettlement Experiences Internship Application” in the subject line of the email. Applications will be evaluated on an ongoing basis until May 1, 2011.
As I previously promoted on this blog, this past weekend, the annual conference of the East Coast Asian American Student Union (ECAASU) was held on my home campus, the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. ECAASU bills itself as the largest Asian American student conference in the nation and from most accounts, it was a big success with almost 1,500 attendees from schools all around the country. Kudos are in order for the organizers, attendees, presenters, and entertainers who all contributed to a dynamic and enriching event.
Inevitably, the conference was not without some controversy. Specifically, many attendees and presenters this year questioned the appropriateness of U.S. military branches such as the Navy and Coast Guard and government agencies such as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) as sponsors of the event. In fact, there were several contentious instances in which speakers vocally criticized various historical and contemporary aspects of the U.S. military and security agencies along with their presence at the conference, with about 30 or so representatives of such military and security agencies sitting directly in front of them in the audience.
Apparently, these and other military branches and government agencies have prominently sponsored ECAASU conferences in the past, so their presence was not new. Since I have not attended many ECAASU conferences recently, I do not know whether there were similar objections raised in a very public way before. Nonetheless, this year the tensions were clearly out in the open.
In trying to not minimize the positive aspects of the conference, I would also like to reflect a little bit on this particular issue and source of tension. Also at the risk of contradicting one my favorite quotes — “I don’t know what’s the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody” (Bill Cosby) — my personal and sociological thoughts on this matter includes praise and criticism for both sides.
Speaking the Truth
On the one hand, the speakers who criticized the military and government agencies clearly had a right to do so and also had plenty of “ammunition” to back up their criticisms. There can be little denial that through the years, the U.S. military and security agencies and a number of individuals working for them have perpetrated or been directly complicit in innumerable instances of injustice and outright crimes against innocent civilians domestically and abroad and in the process, destroyed lives and livelihoods left and right.
To make a long story short, it is because of these actions that many people around the world have a very intense hatred of the U.S. and in extreme cases, feel compelled to resort to desperate actions to fight back against such historical and contemporary oppression. As such, the opposition to the presence of these U.S. military branches and government agencies at a conference focused on, among other things, counteracting institutional domination and cultural colonialism is perfectly understandable and justified.
Taking a Step Back
On the other hand, we cannot dismiss the fact that many members of the military put their very lives at risk to protect our right to criticize their employers — our government. More specifically, in criticizing the presence of the U.S. military and government agencies, I feel that the speakers missed an important distinction — the actions of individuals versus institutional policies. In other words, as a sociologist, one of the first things that I teach my students is that in order to properly understand a social issue or problem, we first need to recognize its dynamics and dimensions across different levels of analysis — the individual level, the group/community level, and the institutional level.
The issue of racism is an excellent example of the need to recognize how sociological understanding takes place at each of these levels of analysis. For instance, when a person of color points out how racism still exists in U.S. society these days, a White person may interpret that as a personal attack and direct implication against them and that they are being accused of being a racist when in fact, the person of color is referring to racism on the institutional level.
Similarly, many Whites may feel that racism will be eliminated once individuals are taught to be colorblind or that it’s wrong to have racial prejudices, when in fact the most enduring mechanisms that reinforce and perpetuate racism exist not among individuals, but within institutional policies and practices that privilege one racial group over another. Ultimately, it is when people discuss an issue like racism from different levels of analysis that misunderstandings, tensions, and hostility inevitably result.
As applied to the ECAASU conference and the speakers’ criticisms against the U.S. military and government agencies, I feel that they missed the opportunity to engage the military and agency personnel in a constructive sociological discussion because they largely conflated these levels of analysis. This happened in instances in which speakers implied that the military and government personnel in attendance at the conference, by virtue of their employment and position within such agencies, were directly complicit in committing crimes or acts of injustice.
More subtly, the conflating of these levels of analysis prevented speakers from conceptualizing the possibility that the military and government personnel in attendance might actually be agents of social change. In other words, on the one hand, there is the strong possibility that people of color, Asian Americans, or anyone else who has a commitment to racial equality and justice may end up just becoming another cog in the machine or another brick in the wall if they enter these military and government institutions and get swallowed into the perpetual system of bureaucracy.
But on the other hand, it is also possible that such individuals can bring their sense of racial equality and justice into an organization, build a coalition, consensus, or critical mass with like-minded others within the organization through time, and after achieving positions of power and authority, begin to apply their beliefs and little by little, change the culture and policies of that organization toward greater social/racial equality and justice. Organizations, institutions, and as we’re seeing in the Middle East, entire nations do change through individual actions — either toward more oppression, or toward more equality and democracy.
The Times They Are A’ Changing
Here in the U.S., we have three recent examples, including one involving the U.S. military — Gary Locke (Secretary of Commerce), Professor Steven Chu (Secretary of Energy), and General Eric Shinseki (Secretary of Veterans Affairs). Within each of their respective careers, all three of these Asian Americans have personified a sense of working toward greater social equality and while there is still plenty of work to be done, I feel are positive examples and role models of how social change can occur within institutions.
I also recall a conversation I had with a student in which she mentioned that, as an advertising major, she also has a strong commitment to use her experiences and training to work toward greater racial equality and justice for Asian Americans and people of color. But she also expressed reservations about entering the advertising industry with its history of portraying people of color in very narrow and even stereotypical ways. One of the things that I told her was that if students like her self-select out of these kinds of industries, everything will just be perpetual status quo and nothing will change. Instead, I encouraged her to bring her determination with her into the advertising industry and as I described earlier, build a critical mass with others who share similar goals and fight for the change that she wants to see happen.
I cannot guarantee that the 30 or so military or government personnel in attendance at the ECAASU conference have the same kind of drive toward achieving racial equality and justice, but based on the brief speeches that a few of them gave, I am confident that many of them do. As such, while we can and should continue to criticize their institutions for the injustices that they’ve perpetrated through the years, that should not preclude us from encouraging individual members of such institutions from doing what they can to change their institutions from within.
Earlier this week, well-renowned and respected professor, author, and social activist Howard Zinn passed away at the age of 87. Professor Zinn is most famously known for writing A People’s History of the United States and for being a vocal and active anti-war and civil rights activist. The New York Times’s obituary provides more details of his life:
Published in 1980 with little promotion and a first printing of 5,000, “A People’s History” was, fittingly, a people’s best-seller, attracting a wide audience through word of mouth and reaching 1 million sales in 2003. Although Professor Zinn was writing for a general readership, his book was taught in high schools and colleges throughout the country . . .
“A People’s History” told an openly left-wing story. Professor Zinn accused Christopher Columbus and other explorers of committing genocide, picked apart presidents from Andrew Jackson to Franklin D. Roosevelt and celebrated workers, feminists and war resisters. . . .
He attended New York University and Columbia University, where he received a doctorate in history. In 1956, he was offered the chairmanship of the history and social sciences department at Spelman College, an all-black women’s school in segregated Atlanta.
During the civil rights movement, Professor Zinn encouraged his students to request books from the segregated public libraries and helped coordinate sit-ins at downtown cafeterias. He also published several articles, including a rare attack on the Kennedy administration, accusing it of being too slow to protect blacks.
He was loved by students — among them a young Alice Walker, who later wrote The Color Purple — but not by administrators. In 1963, Spelman fired him for “insubordination.” (Professor Zinn was a critic of the school’s non-participation in the civil rights movement.) His years at Boston University were marked by opposition to the Vietnam War and by feuds with the school’s president.
Professor Zinn retired in 1988, spending his last day of class on the picket line with students in support of an on-campus nurses’ strike. Over the years, he continued to lecture at schools and to appear at rallies and on picket lines.
I never had the privilege of meeting Professor Zinn or seeing him speak, but he was still a strong influence in my life and my career. Professor Zinn was a role model of an activist academic — someone who did not try to pretend that everything he taught, researched, or write about would be completely objective or unbiased.
Instead, he was not afraid to take a stand on controversial issues and just as important, Professor Zinn was willing and indeed eager to get out of the isolation of the college campus (the “ivory tower” as many call it) and go out into the cities, neighborhoods, and communities where discrimination was taking place and to physically contribute to the struggle for social equality.
It is also notable, at least for me, that as a White American, Professor Zinn acknowledged and personally owned how the legacy of racial inequality in the U.S. had benefited him and that because of his racial identity, he was privileged in many ways. But rather than just implicitly recognizing his privilege, he used it to give back to the less-privileged.
Professor Zinn’s example is one that I have tried to follow, with this website and blog being one way for me to try to continue his legacy of using your knowledge to make a contribution to the cause of true human equality — to not just talk the talk, but also walk the walk.
Thank you Professor Zinn, may you rest in peace, and may your life continue to inspire others.
As part of this blog’s mission of making academic research and data more easily accessible, understandable, and applicable to a wider audience and to practical, everyday social issues, I highlight new sociological books about Asian Americans and other racial/ethnic groups as I hear about them.
As some of my readers have lamented, one of the drawbacks about looking at racial issues is that much of the research and writing focuses on the negatives — what’s wrong with the situation, who/which groups is/are hurt the most, how society is not just flawed but even responsible for the mess, etc. With that in mind, these new books look at the positives and successes — how we can and have moved forward toward more racial equality.
Richard Alba argues that the social cleavages that separate Americans into distinct, unequal ethno-racial groups could narrow dramatically in the coming decades. During the mid-twentieth century, the dominant position of the United States in the postwar world economy led to a rapid expansion of education and labor opportunities. As a result of their newfound access to training and jobs, many ethnic and religious outsiders, among them Jews and Italians, finally gained full acceptance as members of the mainstream.
Alba proposes that this large-scale assimilation of white ethnics was a result of “non-zero-sum mobility,” which he defines as the social ascent of members of disadvantaged groups that can take place without affecting the life chances of those who are already members of the established majority.
Alba shows that non-zero-sum mobility could play out positively in the future as the baby-boom generation retires, opening up the higher rungs of the labor market. Because of the changing demography of the country, many fewer whites will be coming of age than will be retiring. Hence, the opportunity exists for members of other groups to move up.
However, Alba cautions, this demographic shift will only benefit disadvantaged American minorities if they are provided with access to education and training. In Blurring the Color Line, Alba explores a future in which socially mobile minorities could blur stark boundaries and gain much more control over the social expression of racial differences.
Race, age, political affiliation, country of origin, native language—too often Americans define themselves, and are defined, by the differences that separate them. But if the 2008 presidential campaign has taught us anything, it is that we as a people want to look beyond these divisions to the values and interests that unite us.
New Common Ground embodies this zeitgeist, showing the ways that traditional boundaries among ethnic groups, political ideologies, and generations are blurring, and how to hasten the process. New Common Ground demonstrates that even though the deepest divide in America is said to be racial, the differences in viewpoints and values among races are declining, even in an age of increased intermarriage.
On immigration and other controversial matters, Etzioni argues for diversity within unity and the means to achieve that necessary end. New Common Ground is a provocative and insightful look into how we as Americans can reach consensus not just in spite of our diversity but also in ways that strengthen our commitment to the good of one and all as we seek to overcome the divisiveness that sometimes results from identity politics. The book closes by looking beyond our shores to the bridges that bring America closer to the rest of the world.
In Chains of Babylon, Daryl J. Maeda presents a cultural history of Asian American activism in the late 1960s and early 1970s, showing how the movement created the category of “Asian American” to join Asians of many ethnicities in racial solidarity. Drawing on the Black Power and antiwar movements, Asian American radicals argued that all Asians in the United States should resist assimilation and band together to oppose racism within the country and imperialism abroad.
As revealed in Maeda’s in-depth work, the Asian American movement contended that people of all Asian ethnicities in the United States shared a common relationship to oppression and exploitation with each other and with other nonwhite peoples. In the early stages of the civil rights era, the possibility of assimilation was held out to Asian Americans under a model minority myth.
Maeda insists that it was only in the disruption of that myth for both African Americans and Asian Americans in the 1960s and 1970s that the full Asian American culture and movement he describes could emerge. Maeda challenges accounts of the post-1968 era as hopelessly divisive by examining how racial and cultural identity enabled Asian Americans to see eye-to-eye with and support other groups of color in their campaigns for social justice.
Asian American opposition to the war in Vietnam, unlike that of the broader antiwar movement, was predicated on understanding it as a racial, specifically anti-Asian genocide. Throughout he argues that cultural critiques of racism and imperialism, the twin “chains of Babylon” of the title, informed the construction of a multiethnic Asian American identity committed to interracial and transnational solidarity.
One of the knocks against academics and professors, especially those who study social inequality issues, is that we don’t do anything with our knowledge. That is, we conduct research and learn about the different ways people are treated unfairly and unjustly in American society, but beyond passing on this knowledge to students in the courses we teach, we don’t use our knowledge to try to change the situation.
Thankfully, there are exceptions to these criticisms. As the Los Angeles Times reports, many professors at Santa Ana College in California are literally putting their money where their mouths are by donating some of their salary to a scholarship fund that assists low-income students attend their classes:
Chemistry professor Jeff McMillan is sick of seeing otherwise capable students drop his courses because it costs too much to go to school. So much so that he is opening his wallet.
McMillan and about a dozen other faculty and staff members at Santa Ana College have started a scholarship fund that they hope will make it easier for low-income students to afford their classes.Starting this fall, each will fund a student’s course fees for a year — about $600 for a full-time schedule.
Professors say the donation comes with the satisfaction of knowing the student their money is helping. . . . The Opportunity Scholarship will be awarded to students with extreme financial need. Instructors will recommend students who have great potential but are struggling to pay for school.
Each student will be paired with one of the faculty sponsors, who will serve as an informal mentor. . . . Most likely to benefit will be students who are not citizens and thus are not eligible for federal student aid or a state program that waives fees for low-income community college students.
I hope that they serve as an inspiration for other professors at colleges around the country, but at the same time, assistance programs like this are ultimately the responsibility of colleges and universities themselves, especially elite private colleges that have the endowment and resources to give low-income students the chance at a better life through a college degree.
Although there’s still a long way to go, thankfully there seems to be a trend among such elite colleges out there that they need to use their vast wealth and resources to help all members of society get a college education, not just the wealthy and privileged.
At any rate, kudos to the faculty at Santa Ana College who not only talk the talk, but they aren’t afraid to walk the walk. Or as another cliche goes, “Well done is better than well said.”