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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.

June 5, 2014

Written by C.N.

In Memory of Yuri Kochiyama

You may have heard that long-time civil rights activist and Asian American icon Yuri Kochiyama passed away earlier this week at the age of 93. Readers can learn more details about her amazing life through boted Asian American scholar Diana Fujino’s biography Heartbeat of Struggle: The Revolutionary Life of Yuri Kochiyama. Prominent Asian American blog Reappropriate also has links to several other articles from major media outlets about her passing.

Yuri Kochiyama, © ColorLines magazine

The biography and articles highlight how she grew up in the Los Angeles area and had a seemingly normal middle-class life. All of that changed after the Japanese military attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. As history records, this eventually resulted in 120,000 Japanese Americans (two-thirds of them being U.S. citizens) having their constitutional rights revoked and incarcerated, just based on their Japanese ancestry, in dozens of prison camps across the U.S., without any due process whatsoever.

Among those imprisoned were Yuri and her family and this experience forever changed her perspective on the state of race relations, racism, and the overwhelming need for social justice in the U.S. She eventually married a Japanese American GI and moved to Harlem, New York City. There, she befriended a young Black nationalist named Malcolm X and in the course of her friendship, galvanized her determination to work toward social equality and justice on behalf of her community. She was there when Malcolm X was assassinated on February 21, 1965.

Thereafter, she became known for actively participating in the movements for ending the Viet Nam War, Puerto Rican independence (highlighted by being part of the group that occupied the Statue of Liberty in 1977), and for Japanese American reparations. In her later years in Oakland, CA, she kept up her activism and social justice work, particularly around the fight against racial profiling and rounding up of Arab and Muslim Americans in the aftermath of 9/11, as detailed in the excellent documentary “Lest We Forget” that highlighted the similarities between Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor and Arab & Muslim Americans after 9/11. Here at my institution, the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, our Asian American student center is named the “Yuri Kochiyama Cultural Center” on her behalf.

For me personally, Yuri Kochiyama was a hero and an inspiration. Like Yuri, I grew up in a predominantly White community and was entrenched in an assimilationist environment. I did not care about my roots as an Asian American, an immigrant, or a person of color — I just wanted to fit in and be like everybody else around me. In doing so, I was ignorant of all the racial injustices that had been perpetrated against people like me throughout U.S. and world history and that was still taking place all around me in different ways.

It wasn’t until my later years in college and after I started studying Sociology and Asian American Studies that I finally woke up, opened my eyes, reclaimed my identity, and pledged myself to do what I could to fight for racial equality and justice. That’s when I first learned about Yuri Kochiyama. She represented not just someone who was determined to draw on her personal experiences of racism to fight on behalf of others in similar situations, but as an Asian American woman, she stood in stark contrast to the stereotypical images of Asian American women as meek, submissive, exotic, and hypersexualized “geishas” and “China dolls.”

In other words, she gave all of us — men and women, Asian American or not — a different example of what Asian Americans, particularly women, are capable of. It is these examples and memories of Yuri Kochiyama as a strong, determined, committed, and inclusive activist and Asian American woman that I will carry forth with me.


September 10, 2011

Written by C.N.

Links, Jobs, & Announcements #50

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.

Youth Advisory Council: Immigration & Entrepreneurship Conference

The Asian American Justice Center is searching for up and coming youth advocates to represent the 2011-2012 Youth Advisory Council class. Flex your social entrepreneurship to address issues of racial equity pertinent to the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. Due Sept 15. Apply online now or contact ochow@advancingequality for more info.

Call for Proposals: Immigration & Entrepreneurship Conference

Immigration & Entrepreneurship: An Interdisciplinary Conference, co-sponsored by:
The Center for the History of the New America (University of Maryland)
Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute (University of Maryland)
The German Historical Institute (Washington, D.C.)

Conveners: Prof. David B. Sicilia and Prof. David F. Barbe, University of Maryland, College Park; Prof. Dr. Hartmut Berghoff, German Historical Institute and University of Göttingen

The United States has long been an immigrant society as well as an entrepreneurial society. This is no coincidence: immigrants launch new enterprises and invent new technologies at rates much higher than native-born Americans. As the volume of in-migration again approaches that of the “new immigration” at the turn of the twentieth century, it is time to measure how immigrants have shaped the American economy in the past and how immigration policy reform in 1965 has fostered the transformation of business and economic life in the United States.

How have newcomers shaped and in turn been shaped by American economic life?

There are striking parallels between nineteenth-century immigration and contemporary immigrant entrepreneurship. Then, as now, immigrants brought considerable education, ambition, and capital, yet often were marginalized or excluded from mainstream opportunities by law, custom, and prejudice. Particular immigrant groups ultimately dominated particular industries and services. Immigrant entrepreneurs built and circulated through trans-Atlantic, trans-Pacific, and at times global networks of people, capital, and know-how.

However, the two eras of heavy migration also differ in significant ways. Newcomers from East and South Asia and Latin America have supplanted Eastern and Southern European immigrants who dominated in the late nineteenth century, and German and Irish immigrants who arrived in the early nineteenth century. And whereas many recent immigrants, like their predecessors a century ago, have worked in low-skilled occupations, in construction, or have created small businesses, a significant portion of recent immigrants have arrived with advanced degrees and have launched businesses in the most advanced sectors of the economy, from Silicon Valley to Rte. 128, from biotech to the digital economy.

The Center for the History of the New America, the Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute, and the German Historical Institute invite proposals from scholars working in a variety of disciplines – including but not limited to history, sociology, economics, business administration, entrepreneurial studies, anthropology, and cultural studies – to submit research paper proposals. Comparative studies across time and place are especially welcomed.

The conference will engage these and related research topics:

  • immigrant group styles and patterns of entrepreneurship
  • immigrant entrepreneurship and U.S. economic development
  • geography of ethnic entrepreneurship
  • journeys of successful high-tech entrepreneurs
  • immigrant entrepreneurs as small proprietors
  • succeed and failure narratives and other discourse surrounding
  • ethnic immigrant entrepreneurship
  • barriers to immigrant entrepreneurial success
  • policy implications of historical and contemporary research on immigrant entrepreneurship

For full consideration, please submit a 200-word abstract and a short c.v. to immigrant-ent@umd.edu by September 15, 2011. The conference will take place in College Park, MD, and Washington, D.C. in mid-September 2012. Presenters will be given accommodations and a travel stipend. Selected conference presenters will be invited to publish their work in an edited scholarly volume of essays that will grow out of the conference.

‘Be The Change’ Day of Service

WHAT: Be the Change (BTC) is a national day of service organized by South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) to commemorate the spirit of leadership through service. With this, we hope to inspire South Asian communities and their allies to strengthen their commitment to public service! Last year nearly 4,000 people volunteered from across the country!

WHERE: In nearly 80 locations across the country! View a complete list of cities and campuses holding Be the Change. Don’t see your city? Contact us to make it happen!

WHEN: On October 1st (unless otherwise noted).

HOW CAN I HELP?: You can participate in whatever volunteer activity you like – anything from youth empowerment to environmental justice! Register for BTC and local coordinators will contact you with the activities they have planned.

WHO MAKES IT HAPPEN: Many volunteers just like you including South Asian community members, activists, professionals, students, and allies!

HOW YOU CAN REGISTER: Please register to volunteer in your local city or campus.

WHO SHOULD I CONTACT FOR MORE INFO?: Please contact the National BTC Coordinator at btc@saalt.org or call SAALT at (301) 270-1855.

CAN I STILL ORGANIZE THIS FOR MY LOCAL COMMUNITY?: Yes! Please contact the National BTC Coordinator at btc@saalt.org . SAALT will provide you many resources to implement a meaningful service project for you and your community!

Grad Student Paper Contest: Amerasia Journal

Amerasia Journal invites faculty to nominate exceptional graduate student essays (masters and doctoral level) in the interdisciplinary field of Asian American and Pacific Islander Studies for the Lucie Cheng Prize. The winning article will be published in Amerasia Journal, and $1000 will be awarded.

The Lucie Cheng Prize honors the late Professor Lucie Cheng (1939-2010), a longtime faculty member of UCLA and the first permanent director of the UCLA Asian American Studies Center (1972-1987). Professor Cheng was a pioneering scholar who brought an early and enduring transnational focus to the study of Asian Americans and issues such as labor and immigration. Submission: Nomination must be submitted via email by the graduate advisor no later than October 1, 2011 and include:

  1. Graduate Advisor Name, Title, Institution, and Contact Information
  2. Graduate Advisor Recommendation (500 word limit)
  3. Graduate Student Brief CV (2 page)
  4. Essay (5000-7000 words) in Word file according to the Amerasia Journal Style Sheet

Submit Materials and Queries to: ajprize@aasc.ucla.edu

Dissertation Fellowships: Education Research

National Academy of Education/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship Program seeks to encourage a new generation of scholars from a wide range of disciplines and professional fields to undertake research relevant to the improvement of education. These $25,000 fellowships support individuals whose dissertations show potential for bringing fresh and constructive perspectives to the history, theory, or practice of formal or informal education anywhere in the world. Fellows will also attend professional development retreats and receive mentorship from NAEd members and other senior scholars in their field.

This highly competitive program aims to identify the most talented emerging researchers conducting dissertation research related to education. The Dissertation Fellowship program receives many more applications than it can fund. This year, up to 600 applications are anticipated and about 20 fellowships will be awarded. Additional guidelines and the fellowship application form are available from our website. Deadline: October 3, 2011.

Call for Proposals: Immigration Research, Univ. of Arizona

Summer 2012 BORDERS Awards in Immigration Research

The National Center for Border Security and Immigration (BORDERS) led by The University of Arizona is pleased to invite faculty and young researchers to submit proposals for its summer research funding competition in Immigration Research. Applicants will submit proposals utilizing data from the New Immigrant Survey (NIS) to examine immigrants’ integration and participation in American civic culture.

Awards will be given based on the innovativeness and quality of the proposed research for faculty ($30,000/project) and young researchers – postdoctoral fellows or doctoral students ($12,000/project). Teams are encouraged to apply. Project findings will be presented to academics and government policymakers at the conclusion of the award. This peer‐reviewed competition is open to U.S. citizens researching in any social science‐related field.

Application deadline: October 28, 2011. For more information, contact Riley McIsaac rmcisaac@borders.arizona.edu

The National Center for Border Security and Immigration (BORDERS) is a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Center of Excellence (COE) led by The University of Arizona. As a consortium of 15 premier institutions, BORDERS is dedicated to the development of innovative technologies, proficient processes, and effective policies that will help protect our Nation’s borders, foster international trade, and enhance long‐term understanding of immigration dynamics.

Call for Submissions: ‘What’s Your Story?’

There is nothing more powerful than the stories of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Our stories define who we are, and they reflect our impact on the community around us. At the White House Initiative on AAPIs, we seek to amplify these voices nationally. We are pleased to announce the first ever White House Initiative Video Challenge, called What’s Your Story?”

We’re calling on you to produce a video, up to three minutes long, telling us who you are and how you have impacted those around you. In your video, answer the questions: How have your unique experiences shaped who you are today? And in what ways are you making a difference in your community? Everyone is welcomed to participate.

We will review the submissions and post a select number of entries on the White House website. In addition, we’ll invite a group of exceptional AAPI leaders to share their stories in person at the White House this fall as special guests in a White House Initiative on AAPIs event. To learn more about the challenge, watch our call-out video below:

To submit your video and learn more about the challenge, go to www.whitehouse.gov/whatsyourstory. The deadline for video submissions is midnight on November 1, 2011. Thank you and we look forward to hearing your stories.

Sincerely,
The White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders

Join us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/WhiteHouseAAPI
Follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/WhiteHouseAAPI
If you have any questions, email us at WhiteHouseAAPI@ed.gov

Postdoc: Education Research

The National Academy of Education /Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship Program
supports early-career scholars working in critical areas of educational scholarship. Fellows will receive $55,000 for one academic year of research, or $27,500 for each of two contiguous years, working half time. Fellows will also attend professional development retreats and receive mentorship from NAEd members and other senior scholars in their field.

Applicants must have had their PhD, EdD, or equivalent research degree conferred between January 1, 2006, and December 31, 2011. This fellowship is non-residential, and applications from all disciplines are encouraged. Up to twenty NAEd/Spencer Fellowships will be awarded. Additional guidelines and the fellowship application are available from our website. Deadline: November 4, 2011.

Student Internships: Natl. Coalition for APA Community Development

National CAPACD is seeking undergraduate or graduate students to work with a dynamic, progressive nonprofit organization committed to advancing the well-being of Asian American and Pacific Islander communities through advocacy, organizing and leadership development.

Interns will have the opportunity to meet community and congressional leaders, engage in substantive research and writing, organize and/or attend local and national events, participate in AAPI social justice networks and learn about AAPIs in nonprofits and community development. Interns will support National CAPACD’s work, which may entail but is not limited to opportunities to engaging and building the capacity of community organizations across the country and planning outreach events.

Policy and Communications
National CAPACD is utilizing its website and portfolio of new media tools to strengthen its advocacy work with member organizations across the country. The intern will work with the Policy team to ensure messaging for campaigns and policy working groups are enhanced by the new media tools and technology.

Planning for the National Convenings
Intern will play a role in supporting the Policy and Program team to prepare for the Annual National Convention and Community in the Capital.

Development/Fundraising and Nonprofit Management
Intern will support the development/fundraising/nonprofit management arm of the organization’s operations to ensure database for the organization is comprehensive and accurate to reflect the organization’s 110 member organizations.

Qualifications
Candidates must be committed to serving low-income AAPI communities and enrolled in an academic program at a college or university. Excellent verbal and written communication skills, strong analytical ability, and research experience are desired.

To apply, visit our website to download the application form. Deadline: Rolling basis, until positions are filled.


October 18, 2010

Written by C.N.

In Brief: Recent News and Articles

I don’t always have enough time to write full posts and sociological explanations about every news story or media article about Asian Americans that comes my way, but I would like to at least mention some of them to keep you, my readers, as updated as possible. So below is a sampling of some recent news items concerning Asian Americans.

Federal Authorities Find Merit in Students’ Claims Against School

Following up on last year’s series of physical attacks against Asian American high school students in Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Inquirer finds that after reviewing a civil rights complaint filed against the school on behalf of the students by the Asian American Legal Defense & Education Fund, the Department of Justice has found that the students’ claims of institutional negligence have merit:

In a letter to the district, the Justice Department advised school officials to take steps to settle the matter. It was not immediately clear what form a settlement might take, though it would require the district to improve the treatment of Asian students, who say they have been mocked, harassed, and beaten at the school.

The action follows a formal civil rights complaint filed in January by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, an advocacy group. Such complaints do not result in criminal penalties, but can bring broad changes provided that violations are found to have occurred. . . .

News of the Justice Department letter comes as South Philadelphia High readies for a new school year with a new principal, its fifth in six years. Southern, as the school is known, has long failed to meet state academic standards and has been labeled “persistently dangerous” under federal law. The settlement talks indicate an approaching end to a seven-month investigation.

Similar cases generally conclude in one of three ways: The subject of the complaint enters into a written agreement with the government to fix certain deficiencies; the Justice Department requires the signing of a formal consent decree, a court-monitored settlement backed by the threat of a lawsuit; or the Justice Department opts to sue to force change.

Why Abortion Rate Among Asian-American Women Is So High

New America Media reports that recent data show that 35% of all Asian American pregnancies end in abortion, which is the second-highest percentage among the major racial groups after African Americans, and is almost double the 18% rate for Whites. The article goes on to describe many possible reasons for the relatively high rate and also presents several details personal stories to illustrate the cultural conflicts involved in such decisions.

Asian Americans are at risk for unintended pregnancies in part because their knowledge about sex remains pitifully low (which is curious, considering that Asian-American teens start having sex later than other American teens). Clifford Yee, youth program coordinator at Asian Health Services in Oakland, CA, has been asked whether douching with Mountain Dew prevents pregnancy. . . .

A few were so inexperienced that they didn’t know what the withdrawal method was, the program’s former research director Amy Lam says. Unawareness about sexual health combines with risky contraception practices. The withdrawal method has been popular among Asian-American women, who tend to eschew both hormonal birth control and consistent condom use. . . .

The problem begins at home, according to Lam, who has researched sexual behavior in the Asian-American community. “When you come from a culture where your family doesn’t talk about sex, how can you talk to your partner about safe sex when you don’t have that role model?”

Linked to this point is . . . the model minority myth: Asian parents refuse to think their well-mannered, studious children are having sex. Yee remembers one angry mother who found her 15-year-old’s birth control pills and still claimed her daughter was too young to be sexually active. “There’s a little bit of stubbornness there,” Yee says. “Some parents truly don’t want to believe their child can be out there having sex.” . . .

Lam says, “In many Asian-American cultures, it’s not the abortion that’s taboo; that’s a white thing. Having sex is [what's] taboo. Abortions are the strategies used to cover up that you’re having sex. At all costs, you’re not supposed to have sex.”

Carly Fiorina Courts Asian American Voters

Perhaps as a sign that politicians are starting to take Asian American voters more seriously, in California’s senatorial race between Republican Carly Fiorina and Democrat incumbent Barbara Boxer, the Daily Breeze reports that Fiorina is making an effort to reach out to Asian Americans, who collectively make up 10% of the state’s population.

Fiorina addressed a crowd of about 400 during a voter-education forum hosted by the Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs Association at California State University, Sacramento. She noted California is home to more Asian-American-owned small businesses than any other state. The former Hewlett-Packard Co. chief executive said Boxer supports policies that have stifled private-sector job growth. She went on to say opportunities are no longer as plentiful in California because of high taxes and government regulation. . . .

[Boxer's] campaign manager, Rose Kapolczynski, questioned Fiorina’s commitment to small businesses. She noted the Republican nominee opposes a bill designed to assist small businesses and give them greater access to credit. She said Boxer backs the entire small-business jobs bill, which will provide incentives to expand and hire.

Fiorina said she objects to a $30 billion fund that would be created under the bill and administered by the Treasury Department to increase lending. She said it amounts to another bank bailout. . . .

A Field Poll released last week showed Boxer with 52 percent collective support among Asian-Americans, blacks and American Indians, compared with 22 percent for Fiorina. About a quarter of those voters remained undecided.

Southeast Asians in Sacramento Area Making Strides

Taken as a whole, Southeast Asian Americans (particularly Hmong, Cambodians, and Laotians) have struggled in attaining socioeconomic mobility in the U.S., not from a lack of effort or hard work, but mainly due to their refugee experiences and relatively low rates of formal education, English fluency, and formal job skills. However, as the Sacramento Bee reports, new data and examples show that at least in Sacramento area that contains a large Southeast Asian American population, there are signs of progress and success.

In 1990, half the Sacramento region’s Southeast Asians were poor. Today, 52 percent own homes, according to a Bee analysis of census data. They enjoy a median household income of $50,000 annually, up from $17,350 in 1990 – about $28,500, adjusted for inflation. The regional average is $61,000. . . .

Most started at the bottom – without English or job skills – but through teamwork and the will to succeed have gone from roach-infested apartments in gang-controlled neighborhoods to suburban homes. Their children – including those at Florin High that hot August morning – have gone to America’s top universities and become doctors, lawyers, engineers and teachers.

Indeed, the Southeast Asian American population in the Sacramento area have a lot to be proud of and should be congratulated. They are living examples of how the :American Dream” is still possible, despite the many inevitable challenges along the way. At the same time, their experiences cautions us to remember that there are still many members of their community who are still struggling and that we should not forget about them.


January 29, 2010

Written by C.N.

Remembering Howard Zinn and His Influence on My Life

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:

A People's History of the U.S. by Howard Zinn

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.

Professor Howard Zinn © The Associated Press

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.


September 23, 2009

Written by C.N.

Update: Philadelphia Swimming Pool Segregation

This is an update to the incident this past July at the The Valley Club outside of Philadelphia, where a summer camp of predominantly Black and Latino children were kicked out of the club’s swimming pools after White club members complained about their presence.

As MSNBC reports, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission has completed its report on the incident and has found that despite its denials, the club is guilty of racial discrimination in its actions:

The club has maintained that there were too many children for the number of lifeguards on duty and that many of the children who were at the club couldn’t swim. . . .

[Email] messages quoted in the report include one from club board member George Whitehill to the rest of the board that said in part, “Race is an issue since every email of complaint mentioned race.” . . . The state report also noted that other large groups that came to the swim club did not generate the same reaction.

For example, a plumbing company has held an annual party at the club that draws about 100 to 125 people each year, about five to 10 of them black, the report said. It found that far more children were in the pool for those parties, yet no club members threatened to quit and guests did not report “inappropriate or rude comments” from club members.

Club lawyer Joe Tucker said Tuesday night that the decision “has nothing to do with the actual facts” and would be appealed. “The die was cast by the media firestorm. They had no choice but to reach the decision they did,” Tucker said.

Apparently almost everybody except the club itself can see that it was painfully obvious that race was a significant, and probably only factor in how the children of color were treated.

The saddest part is that, in the face of overwhelming evidence against them, the club continues to deny that race played any part and instead, chooses to blame the entire incident on the media. This is just another unfortunate example of colorblindness to the extreme and racial ignorance.

Or, as many would probably sum it up, it’s racism, plain and simple.


August 26, 2009

Written by C.N.

Remembering Senator Edward Kennedy and His Legacy

As all major news organizations are reporting, Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy passed away last night at the age of 77. Other news sites and blogs will offer a comprehensive review and description of his personal and professional life, so I would just like to share my own thoughts on his legacy as it relates to racial/ethnic relations and civil rights, but also what it means to be a “liberal.”

Even though he grew up in wealth and privilege, he always stood up for the less privileged and powerful among us. Among his many causes while in Congress were his championing of the Patients’ Bill of Rights and perhaps most famously, his tireless efforts toward passing universal healthcare coverage. Indeed, in his four-plus decades of service in the Senate, he amassed quite an impressive record of legislation and public service.

I will also remember his work on behalf of racial equality and justice. He was an early, consistent, and strong advocate for civil rights, exemplified by his record on supporting and sponsoring legislation on voting rights, education, labor rights, and poverty that helped all Americans but disproportionately benefited people of color and the poor the most. As the New York Times notes:

He led the Congressional effort to impose sanctions on South Africa over apartheid . . . . His most notable focus was civil rights, “still the unfinished business of America,” he often said. In 1982, he led a successful fight to defeat the Reagan administration’s effort to weaken the Voting Rights Act. In one of those bipartisan alliances that were hallmarks of his legislative successes, Mr. Kennedy worked with Senator Bob Dole, Republican of Kansas, to secure passage of the voting rights measure, and Mr. Dole got most of the credit. . . .

At a pivotal moment in the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries, Mr. Kennedy endorsed Senator Obama for president, saying Mr. Obama offered America a chance for racial reconciliation and an opportunity to turn the page on the polarizing politics of the past several decades.

“He will be a president who refuses to be trapped in the patterns of the past,” Mr. Kennedy told an Obama rally in Washington on Jan. 28, 2008. “He is a leader who sees the world clearly, without being cynical. He is a fighter who cares passionately about the causes he believes in without demonizing those who hold a different view.”

But ultimately, I will remember Senator Kennedy for his uncanny and natural ability to balance two seemingly contradictory identities — on the one hand, being a true liberal Democrat and on the other hand, being able to cross ideological boundaries and to genuinely collaborate with Republicans on bipartisan causes.

Until recently and especially during the presidencies of Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II, due to the ideological clashes and culture wars within American society, it was a derogatory term to be called a “liberal.” Nonetheless, there are many of us, including me, who are proud to be liberal and I saw Senator Kennedy as a model for being a true liberal. As I mentioned, his congressional and public service record on behalf of traditionally “liberal” causes is unquestioned. Even when it was considered an insult to be called a liberal, Senator Kennedy never backed down from his beliefs and passion to achieve meaningful equality and justice for all Americans.

But in order to get things done and achieve results, the practical reality is that it requires collaboration. Understanding that, Senator Kennedy was extremely skilled at working with fellow Republicans and reaching compromises that still retained his core ideals. The New York Times again summarizes:

Although he was a leading spokesman for liberal issues and a favorite target of conservative fund-raising appeals, the hallmark of his legislative success was his ability to find Republican allies to get bills passed. Perhaps the last notable example was his work with President George W. Bush to pass No Child Left Behind, the education law pushed by Mr. Bush in 2001. He also co-sponsored immigration legislation with Senator John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee. One of his greatest friends and collaborators in the Senate was Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican.

Senator Edward Kennedy at the 1980 Democratic National Convention © Associated Press

In the end and for me personally, Senator Kennedy will always embody the Buddhist-like, yin-and-yang ideal of achieving balance in how we conduct our lives. He came from wealth and privilege but he never wavered in standing up for the downtrodden and underprivileged. His personal life was not without controversy but he worked tirelessly in excelling in his professional life. And he always stood proud and true to his liberal convictions but also knew when and how to collaborate with others to get results and move forward as a nation.

Senator Edward Kennedy’s legacy is one that we can all learn from as Americans, today and always. In his own famous words from the 1980 Democratic convention,

The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.

 


July 13, 2009

Written by C.N.

Swimming Pools and Modern Day Segregation

So much for the Obama effect.

Many Americans seemed to think that Barack Obama’s victory to become our nation’s first non-White President represented the end of racism in America and that our society had finally moved past skin color as a marker of social hierarchy. Sadly, they were and continue to be wrong.

As many media organizations and blogs have reported and summarized in the MSNBC video below, a private club in suburban Philadelphia reneged on an arrangement to allow a group of Black and Latino children to use their swimming pool, with many White club member parents allegedly uttering racial slurs to the children:

Alethea Wright, director of Creative Steps, a summer camp for minority children, said the organization paid for weekly swim time at the pool. But during a trip there June 29 some of the children said they heard people asking what “black kids” were doing at the club, Wright said. . . .

Creative Steps, located in northeast Philadelphia, had contracted for the 65 children at the day camp to go each Monday afternoon, Wright said. But shortly after they arrived June 29, she said, some black and Hispanic children reported hearing racial comments. . . .

“Some of the members began pulling their children out of the pool and were standing around with their arms folded,” Wright said. “Only three members left their children in the pool with us.” Several days later, the club refunded the camp’s payment without explanation, said Wright. . .

The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission will immediately open an investigation into the actions of The Valley Club in the leafy suburb of Huntingdon Valley, chairman Stephen A. Glassman said. . . . “Allegedly, this group was denied the use of a pool based on their race,” Glassman said. “If the allegations prove to be true, this is illegal discrimination in Pennsylvania.” . . .

Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., issued a statement calling the allegations “extremely disturbing” and said he was looking into the matter.

My fellow blogger sociologist Jessie at RacismReview.com elaborates on some of the details of the incident and sums up the sociological context of this incident quite well:

It’s a good thing that there are laws in place that prohibit racial discrimination of this sort, and that people were outraged this happened, and that a U.S. Senator is stepping up to investigate and, at least potentially, take some action against these perpetrators of swimming pool racism.

Yet, it’s an appalling fact to realize that nearly fifty years after the passage of the Civil Rights Acts, we are still grappling with the continuing significance of racism in public places. We are, apparently, still at a point where we’re having to investigate people for violating the prohibition against racial discrimination in public accommodations.

Think about these kids in Northeast Philly next time you hear someone use the phrase “post-racial.”

Seriously, this is 2009, not 1909, right?

Without doubt, the actual incident is pretty shocking and appalling — White parents pulling their children out of the pool once Black and Latino children began using it, allegedly using racial slurs against the non-White children, and then the club abruptly canceling their earlier arrangement without any apology or explanation.

These events by themselves are pretty clear violations of federal and state laws which prohibit racial and ethnic discrimination in public and private facilities and I hope the club is prosecuted and punished to the fullest extent possible. Incidents like this are completely unacceptable in American society.

But as a sociologist, I also find it interesting to observe the club’s subsequent explanation and “apology,” offered several days after the incident and only after it was bombarded with media coverage and the threat of criminal prosecution. Specifically, as the MSNBC article quoted above notes, the club’s officials denied that race was a factor in the club’s actions and rather, it was safety concerns and a lack of space.

Most recently, the club has offered to have the summer camp kids back, but only “as long as safety issues, times and terms can be agreed upon.” Nice try, but that just basically means that as long as club members have enough advance notice, they can stay away from the club on the day the summer camp kids use it. How magnanimous of them.

These club officials need to wake up and smell what they’re shoveling.

This line of thinking is an example of colorblind ignorance at its best (or would that be, at its worst?) — taking pains to deny that race was ever a factor in one’s actions and trying to pretend or convince oneself that you, your members, and your organization has any hint of racial prejudice at all. After all, that would be so 20th century and we’re living in a “post racial” society now, aren’t we?

The sad truth is, we are living in American society, one that is still highly racialized and one in which the misguided allure of colorblindness has instead blinded us to the fundamental racist sentiments that many individual Americans consciously or unconsciously still have, the social segregation that still divides us along color lines, and the institutional racial inequalities that allow such sentiments to exist.

The calendar may say it’s 2009 but apparently, the racial consciousness of many Americans is about a 100 years behind.