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All posts copyright © 2001- by C.N. Le.
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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.

July 31, 2008

Written by C.N.

Congress Apologizes for Slavery and Jim Crow Segregation

In an earlier post, I wrote about how the Australian government has issued an official apology to their native aborigine population over the historical and systematic practice of forcibly separating aborigine children from their parents and subsequently trying to raise and socialize them as Whites.

That post also included a news story describing Senator Sam Brownback’s (R-Neb) introduction of legislation that would officially apologize to the Native American Indian population over our country’s systematic discrimination of them over the decades and centuries.

Along the same lines, as MSNBC reports, the House of Representatives has just passed legislation that officially apologizes to African Americans for the history of slavery and Jim Crow segregation:

The resolution, passed by voice vote, was the work of Tennessee Democrat Steve Cohen, the only white lawmaker to represent a majority black district. Cohen faces a formidable black challenger in a primary face-off next week.

Congress has issued apologies before — to Japanese-Americans for their internment during World War II and to native Hawaiians for the overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom in 1893. In 2005, the Senate apologized for failing to pass anti-lynching laws.

Five states have issued apologies for slavery, but past proposals in Congress have stalled, partly over concerns that an apology would lead to demands for reparations — payment for damages. The Cohen resolution does not mention reparations. It does commit the House to rectifying “the lingering consequences of the misdeeds committed against African-Americans under slavery and Jim Crow.”

It says that Africans forced into slavery “were brutalized, humiliated, dehumanized and subjected to the indignity of being stripped of their names and heritage” and that black Americans today continue to suffer from the consequences of slavery and Jim Crow laws that fostered discrimination and segregation.

My first reaction is — to echo Jay Leno’s comments in his monologue yesterday — wow, it’s not a moment too soon! What’s it been — a 150 years now? It’s a good thing they did this right away, so that there wouldn’t be any lingering problems or bad feelings, right?

More seriously, as I wrote in that earlier post, I commend the House for taking this courageous, albeit largely symbolic step. As I and many other human beings can attest to, one of the hardest things to do in any kind of relationship is to apologize.

In fact, there seems to be an inverse relationship between the severity of the wrong committed and the likelihood that the perpetrator will apologize for it. With that in mind, Rep. Cohen and all those who voted in favor of the resolution have earned my gratitude.

I will also point out that this apology actually seem to go against the larger trend in American society in which many Americans (particular White Americans) increasingly see the U.S. as a “colorblind” society in which racial minorities are perceived to be equal to Whites in terms of their socioeconomic opportunities. This mindset is reflected in recent opinion surveys which seem to show a lingering divide between Whites and Blacks over various social issues and perceptions about American society.

As I’ve written before about this colorblind trend, in theory, the motivation to be colorblind is very noble — treating people equally without regard to their skin color, race/ethnicity, or national origin. The problem is that this individual-level motivation is not reinforced at the institutional level, where people of color are still disproportionately underrepresented in positions of power and in fact, still encounter many forms of discrimination and inequality.

It is worth noting that as quoted from the MSNBC article above, the apology resolution explicitly acknowledges this ongoing inequality. In other words, it seems that at least in this case, Congress actually seems to know more than what many Americans would probably give them credit for.

With that in mind, my hope that our government can once again lead the way in facilitating a more racially equal society has been rekindled — for now.

March 2, 2006

Written by C.N.

Asian Workers Report the Most Discrimination

The Washington Post describes a recent study conducted by the Gallup Organization that measured self-reported incidences of workplace discrimination. Among other things, the report notes that the Asian Americans report the highest rates of discrimination in the workplace:

For example, 31 percent of Asians surveyed reported incidents of discrimination, the largest percentage of any racial or ethnic group, with African Americans the second-largest group at 26 percent. But Asians generally file fewer discrimination complaints than other groups, according to the EEOC. . . .

The Gallup poll found that the most frequent type of discrimination cited by respondents reporting bias (26 percent) was sex bias, followed by race (23 percent) and age (17 percent). Women were more than twice as likely as men to say they had encountered bias. Some types of discrimination reported in the poll are not clearly covered by federal law, including favoritism, sexual orientation and language. . . .

The most frequent reports of discrimination were in promotion decisions (33 percent of those claiming bias) and pay (29 percent). But workers interviewed during the poll also reported bias manifested in harassment, work conditions and assignments.

The article goes on to document several recent lawsuits alleging systematic workplace discrimination, brought against notable companies such as Best Buy, AutoNation, Morgan Stanley, Boeing, Eastman Kodak, BellSouth, and Wal-Mart.

I find it quite interesting that although Asian Americans report the highest levels of workplace discrimination, they tend to be the least likely to actually file a discrimination complaint against their employer. Sadly, it looks like the cultural image of Asian Americans as quiet, docile, and therefore, easy to pick on and discriminate against is apparently true.

It is certainly unacceptable that Asian Americans are apparently encountering so much workplace discrimination. No group deserves to be treated with contempt or hostility in that manner. At the same time, perhaps one of the reasons why Asian Americans experience the most discrimination is because not enough of us actually fight back, which can then encourage even more discrimination against us.

In other words, at some point we as Asian Americans have to stand up, speak out, and demand our rights to equal treatment. No one else is going to do it for us. Until we collectively demonstrate that discriminating against Asian Americans will lead to the same kind of consequences as that committed against Blacks, we will continue to be seen as an easy target, plain and simple.

July 7, 2005

Written by C.N.

Welcome to the Neighborhood — Or Not

Devotees of TV reality shows may have heard about the ABC show Welcome to the Neighborhood that was to be aired this month. The premise was that seven families would have the chance to win a house located in an affluent suburb of Austin, TX, with three of the families already living in the neighborhood given the power to vote off one family each week until the winning family is “crowned.” The seven contestant families included Korean Americans, wiccan witches, Blacks, gay men who adopted a Black baby, tatooed rebels, a White family where the mom is a stripper, and a single Hispanic mother with four kids.

However, many civil rights groups were alarmed at the premise that White neighbors were given the power to determine who could be their neighbor, which is actually against the law. As a result of mounting criticisms and a threat of a lawsuit, Yahoo News reports that ABC has decided not to air the show at all, even though all the episodes have already been shot and were ready to go:

With a threatened lawsuit and accusations the network was tone deaf to bigotry, ABC may have traded a major headache for the temporary embarrassment of throwing out a series that was already finished. . . “Why should people of color and others … be humiliated and degraded to teach white people not to be bigots?” said Shanna Smith, president of the National Fair Housing Alliance. “That’s not good for race relations in America.”

Within the first two episodes, one man made a crack about the number of children piling out of the Hispanic family’s car. The citizenry of the business-owning Asian family was questioned and displays of affection between the gay men were met with disgust. . . . “I really think it’s such a positive show and such a good thing to put on TV and cause viewers to look at themselves, I’m surprised by the negative reaction to it,” said Andrea Wong, head of alternative programming at ABC.”

ABC’s lawyers gave “Welcome to the Neighborhood” the go-ahead, and it apparently didn’t disturb Wong when the family that shared her Asian-American descent was the first to be knocked out.

The show’s critics are completely justified in their outrage — it is indeed illegal to deny people housing on the basis of race/ethnicity, among a list of many factors. Based just on that, the show never should have been developed and shot in the first place.

Having said that however, I am a little disappointed that the show will not be aired because it means that the nation will not get to see just how judgmental, intolerant, and racist otherwise “normal” White Americans can be. This would have been a great opportunity to show people that contrary to popular beliefs, racial prejudice is alive and well in America and that given the power, many Whites will not hesitate in discriminating against people of color.

December 4, 2004

Written by C.N.

Abercombie & Fitch in Trouble Again

Originally posted June 2003

Salon.com reports that a group of Hispanic and Asian plaintiffs have filed a lawsuit against Abercrombie & Fitch, alleging that the company, in its efforts to “cultivate an overwhelmingly white sales force,”

Clueless, A&F? © Abercrombie & Fitch

systematically discriminates against Hispanic and Asian employees and applicants. You might remember that last year A&F got into trouble with the Asian American community after marketing t-shirts that many Asians found offensive. This also follows a recent suit where A&F was found to have forced its employees to buy and wear its clothes while on the job.

A&F insensitive to racial/ethnic minorities? No!!! Ignorant of diversity issues? Unheard of!!! Discriminating against Hispanics and Asians? That’s so unlike them!!! Yeah right. More like, “I told you so!” Regardless of the final outcome of the lawsuit, the fact that these allegations have been made and now formally publicized for official legal action only confirms what many Asian Americans have suspected all along — that A&F has no clue about what it means to live in a modern multicultural society. I hope the plaintiffs take A&F for all they’re worth.