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.
Today, June 19, marks the 30th anniversary of the day Vincent Chin was beaten into a coma because he was Asian. As summarized in my article “Anti-Asian Racism,” Vincent Chin was a 27-year-old Chinese American living in Detroit, Michigan. On this date in 1982, he and a few friends were at a local bar celebrating his upcoming wedding. Also at the bar were two White autoworkers, Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz.
Ebens and Nitz blamed the Japanese for the U.S. auto industry’s struggles at the time and began directing their anger toward Vincent. A fight ensued and eventually spilled outside the bar. After a few minutes, Ebens and Nitz cornered Vincent and while Nitz held Vincent down, Ebens repeatedly bludgeoned Vincent with a baseball bat until he was unconscious and hemorrhaging blood. Vincent was in a coma for four days until he finally died on June 23, 1982.
Ebens and Nitz were initially charged with second degree murder (intentionally killing someone but without premeditation). However, the prosecutor allowed both of them to plea down to manslaughter (accidentally killing someone). At the sentencing, the judge only sentenced both of them to three years probation and a fine of $3,780. The sentence provoked outrage among not just Asian Americans, but among many groups of color and led to a pan-racial coalescing of groups demanding justice for Vincent.
Vincent’s supporters got the U.S. Justice Department to bring federal charges against Ebens and Nitz for violating Vincent’s civil rights. In this trial, Ebens was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years in prison while Nitz was found not guilty. However, the verdicts were thrown out because of a technicality and a second trial was ordered. The defense successfully got the trial moved away from Detroit to Cincinnati OH. In this second federal trial, an all-White jury acquitted both Ebens and Nitz of violating Vincent’s civil rights.
Vincent’s death and the injustices he, his family, and all Asian Americans suffered still stand as a stark and sober reminder that, in contrast to the image of us as the “model minority” and the socioeconomic successes that we have achieved, Asian Americans are still susceptible to being targeted for hostility, racism, and violence. We only have to look at recent incidents in which Asian American students continue to be physically attacked at school, and other examples of Asian- and immigrant-bashing and White backlash to see that we as society still have a lot of work to do before Asian Americans (and other groups of color) are fully accepted as “real” or “legitimate” Americans.
The silver lining in Vincent’s case was that it was a watershed moment in Asian American history because it united the entire Asian American community like no event before. For the first time, different Asian groups began to understand that the discrimination committed against other Asians could easily be turned towards them. In other words, for the first time, Asians of different ethnicities, cultures, and nationalities united around an issue that affected them all.
As a result, the Asian American community mobilized their collective resources in unprecedented ways and Vincent’s death was the spark that led to the creation of a network of hundreds of non-profit organizations working at local, state, and national levels to combat not just hate crimes, but also other areas of inequality facing Asian American (i.e., housing, employment, legal rights, immigrant rights, educational reform, etc.). Vincent’s death has had a powerful legacy on the Asian American community — as a result of the collective action demanding justice, it contributed to the development of the “pan-Asian American” identity that exists today.
This is why it is important for all Asian Americans, and all of us as Americans, to remember Vincent Chin — to mourn the events of his death, to reflect on how it changed the Asian American community forever, and to realize that the struggle for true racial equality and justice still continues today.
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. A book’s inclusion is for informational purposes only and does not necessarily mean a full endorsement of its contents.
The start of a new year represents a renewal of hope for many people. In this case, one of my hopes is that, as a nation and society, we as Americans can continue to strive toward racial/ethnic justice and equality and to overcome the individual-, group-, and institutional challenges that get in the way of recognizing and internalizing the many benefits that a diverse and multicultural society provides us. To help in this process, these new books give us some examples of how we as Americans can become more united across racial, ethnic, and cultural divides.
Mosaic in southern California is one of the largest and most innovative multiethnic congregations in America. Gerardo Marti shows us how this unusual church has achieved multiethnicity, not by targeting specific groups, but by providing multiple havens of inclusion that play down ethnic differences. He reveals a congregation aiming to reconstruct evangelical theology, personal identity, member involvement, and church governance to create an institution with greater relevance to the social reality of a new generation.
Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead is Frank Meeink’s raw telling of his descent into America’s Nazi underground and his ultimate triumph over drugs and hatred. Frank’s violent childhood in South Philadelphia primed him to hate, while addiction made him easy prey for a small group of skinhead gang recruiters. By 16 he had become one of the most notorious skinhead gang leaders on the East Coast and by 18 he was doing hard time.
Teamed up with African-American players in a prison football league, Frank learned to question his hatred, and after being paroled he defected from the white supremacy movement and began speaking on behalf of the Anti-Defamation League. A story of fighting the demons of hatred and addiction, Frank’s downfall and ultimate redemption has the power to open hearts and change lives.
Fire in the Heart uncovers the dynamic processes through which some white Americans become activists for racial justice. The book reports powerful accounts of the development of racial awareness drawn from in-depth interviews with fifty white activists in the fields of community organizing, education, and criminal justice reform.
Drawing extensively on the rich interview material, Mark Warren shows how white Americans can develop a commitment to racial justice, not just because it is the right thing to do, but because they embrace the cause as their own. Contrary to much contemporary thinking on racial issues focused on altruism or interests, Warren finds that cognitive and rational processes alone do little to move whites to action.
Rather, the motivation to take and sustain action for racial justice is profoundly moral and relational. Warren shows how white activists come to find common cause with people of color when their core values are engaged, as they build relationships with people of color that lead to caring, and when they develop a vision of a racially just future that they understand to benefit everyone — themselves, other whites, and people of color. Warren also considers the complex dynamics and dilemmas white people face in working in multiracial organizations committed to systemic change in America’s racial order, and provides a deeper understanding and appreciation of the role that white people can play in efforts to promote racial justice.
The first study of its kind, Fire in the Heart brings to light the perspectives of white people who are working day-to-day to build not a post-racial America but the foundations for a truly multiracial America rooted in a caring, human community with equity and justice at its core.
Despite recent progress against racial inequalities, American society continues to produce attitudes and outcomes that reinforce the racial divide. In Transcending Racial Barriers, Michael Emerson and George Yancey offer a fresh perspective on how to combat racial division. They document the historical move from white supremacy to institutional racism, then look at modern efforts to overcome the racialized nature of our society. The authors argue that both conservative and progressive approaches have failed, as they continually fall victim to forces of ethnocentrism and group interest.
They then explore group interest and possible ways to account for the perspectives of both majority and minority group members. They look to multiracial congregations, multiracial families, the military, and sports teams-all situations in which group interests have been overcome before. In each context they find the development of a core set of values that binds together different racial groups, along with the flexibility to express racially-based cultural uniqueness that does not conflict with this critical core.
Transcending Racial Barriers offers what is at once a balanced approach towards dealing with racial alienation and a bold step forward in the debate about the steps necessary to overcome present-day racism.
To complement my earlier post on recent studies on the second generation, another special issue from an academic journal focuses on issues related to social justice and activism among Asian Americans: “Asian American and Pacific Islander Population Struggles for Social Justice” in the journal Social Justice: A Journal of Crime, Conflict, and World Order (2008-2009, Volume 35 Issue 2):
This issue of Social Justice offers an overview of the struggle for social justice in the United States by Asian and Pacific Islanders, including the factors that shape oppositional consciousness and the possibility for collective action. Authors address Asian American activism in urban communities — particularly traditional Asian ethnic enclaves — around land use, affordable housing, as well as labor and community preservation.
Articles address grass-roots efforts to launch an anti-drug offensive, an environmental justice and leadership skills organization, to develop tools for Muslim women of South Asian descent to fight anti-Islamic sentiment, to confront the marginalization and stereotyping of Asian Americans in popular culture, to critique the racial differentiation of the Asian and Latino immigrant populations, and to expose how the model minority myth reinforces established inequities and places second-generation Asian Americans within a precarious, defensive dilemma in which they must constantly prove their worth as “real” Americans regardless of their legal citizenship status.
Adalberto Aguirre, Jr., and Shoon Lio: “Spaces of Mobilization: The Asian American/Pacific Islander Struggle for Social Justice”
Michael Liu and Kim Geron: “Changing Neighborhood: Ethnic Enclaves and the Struggle for Social Justice
Jinah Kim: “Immigrants, Racial Citizens, and the (Multi)Cultural Politics of Neoliberal Los Angeles”
Diane C. Fujino: “Race, Place, Space, and Political Development: Japanese-American Radicalism in the “Pre-Movement” 1960s”
May Fu: “‘Serve the People and You Help Yourself’”: Japanese-American Anti-Drug Organizing in Los Angeles, 1969 to 1972″
Bindi Shah: “The Politics of Race and Education: Second-Generation Laotian Women Campaign for Improved Educational Services”
Etsuko Maruoka: “Wearing ‘Our Sword’: Post-September 11 Activism Among South Asian Muslim Women Student Organizations in New York”
Lisa Sun-Hee Park: “Continuing Significance of the Model Minority Myth: The Second Generation”
Meera E. Deo, Christina Chin, Jenny J. Lee, Noriko Milman, and Nancy Wang Yuen: “Missing in Action: ‘Framing’ Race in Prime-Time Television”
For most academics who study racial/ethnic relations, we almost exclusively focus on civilian society. But what are such relations like in the military? You might recall that the military was one of the first American institutions to desegregate, occurring in 1948 through Executive Order 9981.
The study of over 30,000 active duty personnel suggests that the armed forces’ social hierarchy—explicitly based on rank—overrides many of the racial or gender biases in civil society, which tend to act as barriers for women and minorities in career advancement. . . .
In civilian society African-Americans generally express higher dissatisfaction with their jobs than their white counterparts and are less committed. But Lundquist’s study of 30,000 active-duty personnel found that those norms are largely flipped in the military.
She looked at five measurements of career satisfaction, including overall quality of life and opportunities for advancement, and found African-American women to be the most positive and satisfied with their jobs, followed by African-American men, Latinas, Latinos and white women. White men are the least satisfied with their military careers, rating their satisfaction and overall happiness with their jobs much lower.
“It’s not that the military environment treats white males less fairly; it’s simply that, compared to their peers in civilian society, white males lose many of the advantages that they had,” Lundquist says. “There’s a relative deprivation when you compare to satisfaction of peers outside of the military.”
I should provide the disclaimer that Prof. Lundquist is a colleague and also a good friend of mine. Nonetheless, her research findings are quite compelling in their own right.
To summarize, those findings are that within the military, there is a much more stringent set of regulations regarding how personnel are judged and promoted. Based on this structure, outcomes do not differ nearly as much by race/ethnicity as they do in civilian society, where such criteria is much less standardized.
Therefore, Whites in the military generally do not enjoy the same privileges of being White that their counterparts enjoy in civilian life and conversely, people of color fare better and have higher levels of life satisfaction than their counterparts in civilian life.
Prof. Lundquist’s results also show that women report higher levels of satisfaction inside the military than do men, although the specific details are a little more complicated. In the end, as the Newsweek article sums up, “There’s a very clear contrast in job satisfaction between civilian and military society, and it seems to come down to the military’s meritocractic structure.”
Of course, Americans continue to debate the institutional morality of the military’s existence and the role it plays in international affairs, but that’s a separate question. The take-home message here seems to be, in regard to fostering racial/ethnic equality, apparently American civilian society can learn a few lessons from its military.
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.”