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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.

November 17, 2010

Written by C.N.

Links, Jobs, & Announcements #33

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.

Call for Papers: Asian American Policy Review

Founded in 1989, the Asian American Policy Review (AAPR) at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government is the first non-partisan academic journal in the country dedicated to analyzing public policy issues facing Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI). Over the past 20 years, the AAPR has been one of the only academic journals in the country committed to bringing attention to the research and policy perspectives of scholars, activists, policymakers and other Asian American leaders.

The AAPR is now accepting submissions for its twenty-first edition, to be published in February 2011. The submission deadline is November 22, 2010. Submissions and questions should be emailed to to aapr@hks.harvard.edu. We strongly encourage submissions from writers of all backgrounds, including scholars, policy makers, civil servants, advocates, and organizers. We look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,
Uyen Doan and Tommy Tseng
Editors-in-Chief

Uyen T. Doan
Harvard University | Kennedy School of Government
Master in Public Policy Candidate, Class of 2011
uyen_doan@hks11.harvard.edu | 617-413-4820

Humanities/Ethnic Studies, Virginia Commonwealth University

To advance its ongoing humanities initiative, the College of Humanities and Sciences at Virginia Commonwealth University is searching for four tenure-eligible faculty (three assistant professors and one advanced assistant or associate professor; two in English, and two in another humanities unit such as African-American Studies, History, Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies, or World Studies (the administrative home to programs in Anthropology and World Cinema) with research and teaching interests in and potential to secure external funding in the areas of:

Transatlantic Studies
Theory and History of Media or Film
Medical Humanities
Ethnic Literatures of the United States with a focus on historical contexts
Gender and Sexuality Studies

Of particular interest are candidates who bring interdisciplinary and global perspectives in their work and who can contribute to the interdisciplinary PhD program in Media, Art, and Text (MATX). We seek candidates who possess disciplinary knowledge, theoretical acumen, and a mastery of the relevant cultural and historical contexts. Preference will be given to candidates with a clear research agenda, existing or potential to secure external funding and teaching experience in: new media, world cinema, slavery and the literature of the slavery debate, the African presence in Central and South America or the Middle East, Transnational Gender and Sexuality studies, Africa and the African Diaspora including its literature, and narrative medicine.

Qualifications expected of candidates include a PhD in an appropriate field in hand by January, 2011 and a record of or potential for excellence in scholarship. Demonstrated experience working in and fostering a diverse faculty, staff, and student environment or commitment to do so as a faculty member at VCU required. Applicants should e-mail (preferably as a single attachment) a letter of application, CV, and 3 letters of reference to the Search Chair, c/o Naomi Batten, battenne@vcu.edu. The application review process will begin on October 20, 2010. For full consideration, applications must be received prior to November 25, 2010. We will be available to interview at the MLA conference.

Asian American Studies, UC Davis

The Department of Asian American Studies at the University of California, Davis invites applications for a tenured or tenure-track position, to begin July 1, 2011. The position is open to all ranks. We seek an Asian American studies scholar, preferably in history or social sciences, with a Ph.D. in a relevant field who has expertise in interdisciplinary, comparative research. We are interested in a scholar who focuses on empire and colonialism with a specialization in two or more of the following areas: gender, sexuality, racialization, labor, citizenship, indigeneity, and transnationalism. Expertise in Filipino American and/or Asian Pacific Islander studies is also desirable, but we are open to other areas of concentration.

We seek a scholar with a strong record or clear potential for intellectually innovative and accomplished research within the field of Asian/Pacific Islander American studies; an excellent record of or potential for intellectual distinction and interdisciplinary expertise in the field of Asian/Pacific Islander American studies; demonstrated excellence or potential for departmental/university service and collaboration; demonstrated excellence or potential for teaching and curricular development in Asian/Pacific Islander American studies; and a commitment to and interest in collaborating with other academic units and graduate programs (e.g., cultural studies, social sciences, comparative race and ethnic studies, performance and media studies, language and literature departments).

Please submit a letter of application, a curriculum vita, and samples of written work (not more than 50 pages) as PDF or MS Word compatible files, and three letters of reference to AsianAmericanStudies@ucdavis.edu. If letters of recommendation cannot be sent electronically, please mail hard copies to: Department of Asian American Studies, Attn: Search Committee, University of California-Davis, One Shields Ave., Davis, CA 95616. Review of applications begins on December 8, 2010 and continues until the position is filled.

Undergraduate Research Program, UNC Chapel Hill

The Moore Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program (MURAP) invites applications for a ten-week paid summer research internship for undergraduate students (rising juniors or seniors). The program will be held from May 22-July 28, 2011 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The MURAP program seeks to prepare talented and motivated students from racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds, or those with a proven commitment to diversity, for graduate study and academic careers in fields in the humanities, social sciences and fine arts. The program provides students with a rigorous research experience under the guidance of a UNC faculty mentor. Each student participant will receive:

* Stipend
* Campus Housing
* Meal Allowance
* Weekly or biweekly writing, communication skills and professional development workshops
* GRE prep course
* Paid domestic travel expenses (up to $500)

The application deadline is February 4, 2011. For more details about MURAP please visit our website or contact the Program’s Administrative Assistant, Ms. Kendra McKinney (mckendra@email.unc.edu).


October 8, 2010

Written by C.N.

Job Postings #5

here are some more announcements about academic-related jobs, fellowships, and other related opportunities for those interested in racial/ethnic/diversity issues (listed in order of application deadline). As always, the announcements and links are provided for informational purposes only and do not necessarily imply an endorsement of the organization or college involved.

Asian American Studies, Scripps College

Scripps College, a women’s liberal arts college with a strong interdisciplinary tradition, invites applications for one or two part-time visiting lecturers for spring semester 2010 to teach one course in Asian American Women’s Experiences and one course on Queering Asian America. Applicants should be ABD or have a Ph.D. in ethnic studies, Asian American Studies, history, psychology, sociology, anthropology, or other disciplines or interdisciplinary studies appropriate to this subject. Teaching experience preferred.

Please submit a letter of interest, curriculum vitae, and contact information for three references to: Professor YouYoung Kang, Asian American Studies Search Committee, Scripps College, 1030 Columbia Avenue, Box 4063, Claremont, CA 91711. Committee review of applications will start on October 1, 2010 and continue until the position is filled. For further information about the courses, please contact Professor Kathleen S. Yep, Chair of Asian American Studies, via email at Kathleen_Yep@pitzer.edu.

English & Asian Diaspora, Pomona College

Full-time, tenure-track Assistant Professor specializing in literature relevant to histories of contact/migration between Asia and the Americas. We welcome interdisciplinary scholarship and pedagogy. Attractive secondary interests include drama and performance studies, postcolonial or transnational literary theories and comparative diaspora studies. Ability to teach in the nineteenth century is also a plus. PhD in hand or expected by September 2011.

Send a letter of application, curriculum vitae, and project outline to ENGL2010Search@pomona.edu; complete applications received by October 15 will receive full consideration. At a later stage of the search, a writing sample, letters of recommendation, and transcripts will be solicited from select candidates.

Pomona College, the founding member of the Claremont Colleges, is a highly selective liberal arts college, located 35 miles east of Los Angeles and attracting a diverse, national student body. We value candidates who have a demonstrable commitment to addressing issues of race, class, and gender in the classroom and to mentoring students from underrepresented groups.

Racial Minority History, Quinsigamond Community College

Quinsigamond Community College has one or more full-time positions open in History, with a particular need for scholar(s) with an expertise in world, African, Latin American, or Asian history. Some other qualifications:

  • Master’s Degree in History or in Area/Cultural Studies with major emphasis in History.
  • Experience in post–secondary teaching and/or training adult learners.
  • One full year or equivalent teaching history at the secondary level or higher, preferably in a community or technical college setting.
  • Documented examples of curriculum / course development and assessment in history.
  • Demonstrated track record in innovative, non-traditional modes of instruction and instructional delivery, including team-teaching, on-line learning and/or service learning.
  • A clear understanding of the role of community colleges, their students and mission.
  • Evidence of understanding of and appreciation for diversity and multiculturalism.
  • A predisposition to working in a dynamic environment requiring flexibility, adaptability, and teamwork.
  • Strong evidence of commitment to excellence in working with students, faculty, and staff, and in responding to opportunities that extend the Mission of the College.

Salary is commensurate with MCCC/MTA salary schedule and dependent upon such factors as education and experience. Minimum starting salary for Master’s degree candidate is $41,470. Full salary range is $41,470 to $92,555. Full benefits package. Start date is January 2011. To apply, apply online and submit cover letter, resume, and written statement of philosophy of education including how that philosophy informs the teaching/learning process in a community college setting not later than October 17, 2010. Successful applicants will be required to complete a Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI/SORI) request. Bilingual persons are encouraged to apply.

Asian American Literature, Harvard University

The English Department at Harvard University invites applications for a tenure-track faculty position in Contemporary American literature with a special interest in Asian American Literature. The appointment, effective July 1, 2011, will be made at either the entry or at an advanced level, dependent upon experience and qualifications.

The successful applicant will have a strong doctoral record and should show promise of excellence in scholarship, along with a strong commitment to teaching in a variety of areas. Finalists will be expected to submit in December the entire dissertation or as much of it as is completed (or, alternatively, a book-length publication). The successful candidate will teach four courses per year at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Send cover letter, CV, 1-2 page abstract of dissertation, dossier, and article-length writing sample (25-­30 pages, excluding footnotes), all postmarked no later than October 29, 2010, to “Contemporary and Asian American Literature Search Committee,” c/o James Simpson, Chair, Department of English, Harvard University, Barker Center ­ 12 Quincy Street, Cambridge MA 02138. Late applications will not be considered. Complete applications will be acknowledged by postcard once all materials have been received.

Sociology, Fordham University

The Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Fordham University invites applications for a full-time, tenure-track appointment for a quantitative sociologist at the Assistant Professor level, effective September 1, 2011. Specializations in any of the following are of interest: education, media, public opinion, race, ethnicity, and/or gender.

Candidates should be able to teach undergraduate and graduate statistics and research methods and must have a Ph.D., demonstrated excellence in teaching, an active program of research and publication, a commitment to service, and an enthusiasm for working effectively and collegially within a diverse faculty setting. Principal teaching responsibilities will be in the undergraduate program within Fordham College at Lincoln Center (in Manhattan) and in the graduate program at Rose Hill (in the Bronx).

Interested candidates should submit a cover letter and TWO copies each of the following: curriculum vitae, evidence of teaching excellence from peer and/or student evaluations, one sample of scholarly writing, and the names of three references. All materials must be received by November 15th (no electronic submissions please) and addressed to: Prof. Allan S. Gilbert, Chair, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Fordham University, 441 East Fordham Road, Bronx, New York 10458. Fordham University is an independent Catholic university in the Jesuit tradition that welcomes applications from men and women of all backgrounds.

Asian American Studies, Purdue University

Purdue University’s College of Liberal Arts invites nominations and applications for a tenure-track or tenured position at the Assistant or Associate Professor level. Candidates should have the Ph.D. in Asian American Studies, Anthropology, History or Sociology, and a record of scholarly research on Asian Americans. Teaching responsibilities will include courses in Asian American Studies and the tenure home department, which will be one of the departments of Anthropology, History, or Sociology. The teaching load is two courses per semester, with the possibility of a course release for administrative duties.

The successful candidate will be expected to assume, eventually, the directorship of the Asian American Studies Program. Purdue is a partner in the Asian American Studies Consortium within the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC) a collaborative consortium of Big Ten universities plus the University of Chicago and University of Illinois Chicago. Review of applications will start by November 15, 2010, but the position will remain open until filled. Send letter of application, CV, a writing sample, and three letters of recommendation to: Chair, Asian American Studies Search, Office of Interdisciplinary Studies, Room 1289, Beering Hall, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907.


January 11, 2010

Written by C.N.

Links & Announcements #19

Here are some more announcements and links out that have come my way relating to Asians or Asian Americans. As always, links to other sites are provided for informational purposes and do not necessarily imply an endorsement of their contents.

LEAP Summer Internships

My name is Reimar Macaranas and I am the Community Program Manager at Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics (LEAP). I wanted to ask for your help in outreaching to your Asian and Pacific Islander students in regards to the paid summer internship we have offered each year for the past 13 years.

This is a two-month summer internship where we put interns in Asian and Pacific Islander community-based organizations (a full list of past
organizations we have worked with is on the website link provided) for 4 days of the week, where they would be working hands-on with communities on specific projects the organizations have proposed to us. The other day of the week, they would be at LEAP, going through workshops, community dialogues and panels to not only increase personal development, but community development as well.

You can find more information about the internship at https://www.leap.org/empower_lia.html.

Reimar Macaranas
Community Program Manager
Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics, Inc. (LEAP)
(213) 485-1422×4102
(213) 485-0050 (fax)
rmacaranas@leap.org
www.leap.org

Ph.D. Scholarships in Migration Studies

Call for Applications: “Settling Into Motion“ – The Bucerius Ph.D. Scholarships in Migration Studies. The ZEIT-Stiftung Ebelin und Gerd Bucerius Ph.D. scholarship program in migration studies “Settling Into Motion” offers up to eight scholarships for Ph.D. theses addressing migration in changing societies.

For 2010, research applications on “Migration, Diversity and the Future of Modern Societies” are especially welcome. Qualified Ph.D. students of – in a broad sense – social sciences can apply until 25 February 2010. Please find further information as well as the online application on the program’s website.

Migration leads to increasing diversity in many countries all over the world. Sometimes this results in challenges of established institutions as well as cultural practices of modern societies. Current migrant populations are more heterogeneous than ever before: migrants and their descendants have not only different religious, cultural and ethnic roots, but they also differ with regard to their citizenship status, as well as their professional and economic backgrounds.

At the same time, governments in receiving societies frequently react to this phenomenon with integration schemes that implicitly address a non-existent homogeneous “migrant population”. On the other hand, there are examples where diversity and cultural pluralism are seen as strength and advantage. We encourage the following topics, but will also consider other approaches:

  • Diversity and political order
  • Migration and cultural, ethnic and religious diversity
  • Integration policies
  • Cultural policy and the management of diversity
  • Concepts and categories in migration and integration debates

Innovative approaches both in terms of subject matter and methodology are highly encouraged.

Southeast Asians in the Diaspora Conference in San Francisco

Re-SEAing SouthEast Asian American Studies. Memories & Visions: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.

San Francisco State University
March 10-11, 2011

The third tri-annual interdisciplinary Southeast Asians in the Diaspora conference will take place at San Francisco State University. The San Francisco Bay Area is home to sizable populations of Burmese, Cambodian, Filipino, Hmong, Indonesian, Lao, Malaysian, Singaporean, Thai, and Vietnamese Americans. This conference will foreground the large Southeast Asian American communities of the Bay Area, Silicon Valley, and the Pacific Northwest, as well as continue to build momentum and grow just as the Southeast Asian American demographics increase in size and visibility here in the U.S. and in particular, on the West Coast.

The main objectives of this conference are:

  • to encourage the interdisciplinary and comparative study of Southeast Asian
  • American peoples and their communities
  • to promote national and international cooperation in the field
  • to establish partnerships between academia and the community

This two-day conference explores memories (e.g., memories of homeland; memories of war; memories of childhood and growing up American; historical memories; embodied memories; intergenerational memories; technologies of memories; and imagined/created memories) and visions (actual sightings and sites of Southeast Asian Americans and their communities, both real and imaginary). Because this conference takes place after the constitutionally mandated 2010 census, the focus will be on locating/situating Southeast Asian American Studies for the 21st century.

The conference invites proposals for panels, workshops, and individual papers from all disciplines and fields of study that explore the dialectical relationship between memories and visions related to the following topics:

  • Southeast Asian American health and wellness
  • Southeast Asian American social justice
  • Southeast Asian American and critical pedagogy
  • Southeast Asian American youth cultures
  • Southeast Asian American folklore, folklife, and religions
  • Southeast Asian American families, relationships, and communities
  • Southeast Asian American queer cultures and spaces
  • Southeast Asian American sexualities
  • Southeast Asian Americans of mixed heritage/race
  • Southeast Asian American transnationality, transnationalization, and transnationalism
  • Sino-Southeast Asian Americans
  • Explorations of how artists (writers, filmmakers, visual artists) “see” and envision themselves and their communities as Southeast Asian Americans
  • The location and relationship of Southeast Asia to Southeast Asian America
  • The shifting demographics of Southeast Asian Americans vis-à-vis (in)visibility

Papers will also be considered on any related topics in Southeast Asian American Studies. 250 word abstracts should be submitted by June 15, 2010 to Dr. Jonathan H. X. Lee at jlee@sfsu.edu with the following information: a) author(s), b) affiliation, c) email address, and d) abstract with title.

All papers will go through an internal review process and decisions regarding acceptance of papers for the conference will be communicated by October 15, 2010. Information on previous conferences:

Jonathan H. X. Lee, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Asian American Studies
San Francisco State University
Department of Asian American Studies
1600 Holloway Ave, EP 103
San Francisco, CA 94132

Non-Profit Management Scholarship at Harvard

Do you know of any non-profit organizations which benefit the Asian American community? If so, please encourage their Executive Director to consider spending a week at Harvard to sharpen their leadership skills and make their organizations more effective.

For the 5th consecutive year, the Harvard Business School Asian American Alumni Association (HBS4A) will be sponsoring a full tuition, room, board, and materials scholarship for a non-profit organization executive director to attend the Strategic Perspectives in Non-Profit Management program at HBS this July. Alaric Bien, last year’s HBS4A Scholarship recipient and Executive Director of the CISC had this to say after completing the program last year:

“The SPNM experience was truly amazing! Scary and somewhat intimidating at first to be part of a group of such high powered, incredibly sharp and dedicated nonprofit executives from literally all over the world, but what a wonderful privilege to have access to all those resources and knowledge.

The professors were awesome – incredibly expert in their fields, inspiring, great teachers, and they really understand what it’s like to work in the real world of the nonprofit sector. I came back to CISC charged up and eager to put into practice what we learned during that short, but oh so intense week at HBS. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity!”

Previous organizations which have benefited from the HBS4A scholarship include the New York Asian Women’s Center in 2006, the Chinese Community Center in Houston in 2007, the Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Association of Philadelphia in 2008, and the Chinese Information and Service Center of Seattle in 2009.

If you know of an Executive Director at a non profit organization which benefits the Asian American community, please direct them to the scholarship website for more information! Thanks to all the HBS4A dues-paying members for helping make this empowering program possible!

Sincerely,
HBS4A Alumni Volunteers


January 4, 2010

Written by C.N.

Racial Contradictions in College Basketball

First, I hope everyone had a nice holiday season and that your new year is off to a good start.

As reflected in the origin of its name (Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and endings), the first month of the new year is traditionally a time to reflect on two “opposite” ideas. In this case, I’d like to use a recent Time magazine article profiling Harvard University basketball player Jeremy Lin as an opportunity to explore opposing and contradictory racial presumptions in college and professional basketball.

Jeremy Lin © Harvard University Athletics

First, the article describes the success Jeremy is having as Harvard’s star player:

It’s been 64 years since the Crimson appeared in the NCAA tournament. But thanks to senior guard Jeremy Lin, that streak could end this year. Lin, who tops Harvard in points (18.1 per game), rebounds (5.3), assists (4.5) and steals (2.7), has led the team to a 9-3 record, its best start in a quarter century.

Lin, a 6 ‘3″ slasher whose speed, leaping ability, and passing skills would allow him to suit up for any team in the country, has saved his best performances for the toughest opponents: over his last four games against teams from the Big East and Atlantic Coast Conference, two of the country’s most powerful basketball leagues, Lin is averaging 24.3 points and shooting nearly 65% from the field.

“He’s as good an all-around guard as I’ve seen,” says Tony Shaver, the head coach of William & Mary, which in November lost a triple overtime game to Harvard, 87-85, after Lin hit a running three-pointer at the buzzer. “He’s a special player who seems to have a special passion for the game. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the NBA one day.”

I think it’s important to first recognize Jeremy’s success. He’s worked hard academically and athletically to be in the position he’s in right now. In many ways, he represents a nice example of how Asian Americans can balance both model minority expectations with a physical or extracurricular passion on the way to a well-rounded sense of personal balance.

The article later acknowledges the elephant in the room and points out why Jeremy’s success is unique — he’s Asian American. Unfortunately, he’s also experienced some racism from opposing fans based on his racial identity:

A Harvard hoopster with pro-level talent? Yes, that’s one reason Lin is a novelty. But let’s face it: Lin’s ethnicity might be a bigger surprise. Less than 0.5% of men’s Division 1 basketball players are Asian-American. . . . Some people still can’t look past his ethnicity. Everywhere he plays, Lin is the target of cruel taunts.

“It’s everything you can imagine,” he says. “Racial slurs, racial jokes, all having to do with being Asian.” Even at the Ivy League gyms? “I’ve heard it at most of the Ivies, if not all of them,” he says. Lin is reluctant to mention the specific nature of such insults, but according to Harvard teammate Oliver McNally, another Ivy League player called him a c-word that rhymes with “ink” during a game last season.

Just last week, during Harvard’s 86-70 loss to Georgetown in Washington, D.C., McNally says one spectator yelled “sweet and sour pork” from the stands. In the face of such foolishness, Lin doesn’t seem to lose it on the court. “Honestly, now, I don’t react to it,” he says. “I expect it, I’m used to it, it is what it is.”

It would be simple enough to point out the obvious contradiction in Jeremy’s situation — why is it apparently acceptable (or at least tacitly tolerated) to hurl racial slurs at an Asian American basketball player but not at say, African American players?

How would bystanders, teammates, coaches, security personnel, and even opposing players react if a fan in the stands yelled the N-word at a Black basketball player at a game? Chances are, that “fan” would immediately face backlash and would be ejected from the building faster than you can say “codes of conduct.” In fact, Dartmouth recently issued an official apology to Harvard in the wake of anti-Semitic and homophobic slurs hurled at some of its squash players at a recent match.

But in Jeremy’s case, there doesn’t seem to be any sense of collective backlash or outrage over the racist comments he routinely receives on the court. Apparently it’s another sad example of Asian Americans being seen as the invisible minority, perpetual foreigners, or as easy targets for racism.

But beyond that, I have to wonder whether his status as an Asian American — as opposed to an Asian — player plays a role as well. In other words, we have seen an influx of professional athletes from Asia in basketball (Yao Ming, Yi Jianlian) and baseball (Hideo Nomo, Ichiro, Daisuke Matsuzaka, etc.) recently but unfortunately, there is still a glaring underrepresentation of Asian American professional athletes in the highest-profile sports such as football, basketball, and baseball.

Although it’s a documented fact that many Americans can’t or won’t distinguish “Asians” from “Asian Americans,” my question is, are Americans (or in this case, sports fans) likely to accept Asian athletes more readily than Asian American ones?

Perhaps fans consciously or unconsciously are more comfortable with the idea that Asian athletes are likely to remain “foreigners” and therefore will eventually return to “their own” country and won’t settle down in the U.S. and be in direct competition with Americans for jobs, etc., while Asian American athletes are in fact homegrown and are perceived to be a greater economic “threat” to “real” Americans. After all, many already perceive Asian Americans to be “taking over” other areas of American life such as colleges and universities.

So based on these perceptions, perhaps fans are unconsciously spewing racism — or at least remaining silent when such slurs are made — at Asian American athletes as another form of backlash against the ongoing socioeconomic success of Asian Americans.

The mentality and contradictions of racism are always subject to speculation but the examples keep adding up.

= = = = = = = = =

Update: If you’re reading this, you probably know that in January 2012, Jeremy was signed by the New York Knicks. He promptly seized this opportunity and has since blown up the basketball scene and is now a national and international sensation. To read my sociological take on this “Linsanity” phenomenon, check out my recent post “Jeremy Lin Mania and How to Relates to Colorblindness.”


July 27, 2009

Written by C.N.

The Larger Context of the Professor Gates Racial Profiling Incident

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard about the incident in which Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates alleges that he was racially profiled by the Cambridge Police Department after he tried to open the front door of his house that was stuck only to have a neighbor mistakenly think he was a burglar trying to break into the house and call the police, who subsequently arrested him after a confrontation at his house. The following CBS News video summarizes the incident:

For those who are regular readers of this site and blog, it will not surprise you to hear that I am squarely behind Professor Gates on this one for many reasons — being an academic as well, being a person of color, and being a sociologist who studies racial dynamics in this country.

As Professor Gates and his supporters argue, this entire incident is a stark example of the persistence of racial profiling in American society, where many Whites are quick to assume that any Black man in a well-to-do neighborhood is suspicious, where police are much less likely to believe a Black man’s word than a White man’s, and where police are much more likely to arrest a Black man while letting a White man go for the same behavior.

I don’t want to go into a long and detailed analysis about this particular incident nor the legal issue of racial profiling specifically. Some of the better commentaries that I’ve read about the Gates incident can be found at Racism Review, All About Race, and the New York Times.

For those who are interested in delving into the background issues that frame racial profiling (and the related topic of White privilege), I highly recommend starting with some of the books written by Professor Joe Feagin, such as White Racism: The Basics, Two-Faced Racism: Whites in the Backstage and Frontstage, and The Many Costs of Racism.

Certainly, this is not the first incident of racial profiling in American history. Neither is it the first incident in which an African American professor was arrested trying to do a seemingly routine and mundane task in public. I refer to a 2005 incident involving Antwi Akom, an Assistant Professor of Africana Studies at San Francisco State University and personal friend of mine, who was stopped from entering his office and subsequently arrested by campus police while his two young daughters were sleeping in his car.

Sadly, these two incidents illustrate many unfortunate points about the state of race relations in American society today. The first is that even Blacks such as Professors Gates and Akom with high-status occupations or professional characteristics are not immune from racism and racial profiling. In fact, incidents like this remind me of a “joke” that an African American mentor told me years ago (please excuse the language, I’m just repeating it as it was told to me): “What does White America call a Black man with a Ph.D.? A nigger.”

More generally, these kinds of incidents remind us that, contrary to what many and perhaps most Whites think, race is still a deeply-entrenched issue in American society, just waiting to boil over. As evidence, a second CBS News video summarizes how this incident has touched off a national debate about race relations and racial profiling:

What strikes me the most about not just this particular incident involving Professor Gates, but the reaction of Americans from different racial backgrounds around the country is this: I find it ironic that in general, many (as in a large number but certainly not all) Whites feel unaccustomed and therefore uncomfortable talking about racial issues (this recent article published by the American Psychological Association summarizes this tendency among Whites to avoid talking about race very well). Instead, consciously or unconsciously, they try to be “colorblind” and act like they don’t notice racial differences around them.

In theory, that’s a great idea but in practice and within the realities of American society, it is just not practical and ultimately, naive. The result of this dynamic is that when incidents like this (or when a group of Black and Latino children are turned away by a predominantly White swimming club, or when I notice that virtually all of the people who volunteered to stay and clean up after a Buddhist retreat are people of color) become publicized, many Whites are surprised and taken aback when the “R-word” (racism) is used.

In fact, many Whites become quite defensive when the R-word (or the idea of White privilege) comes up, as though they are being personally accused of acting in a racist way against a person of color, or that they are being told that they are personally more privileged than every single other person of color in the country.

But here’s the problem: what many Whites don’t realize is that one of the reasons why people of color invoke racism as the cause of such incidents is that on a collective and institutional level, we as a society have yet to honestly and fully reconcile our racial history and how it continues to form the basis for the conflicts such as this.

In other words, the fact that many Whites don’t want to or can’t talk about racism (as well-meaning and well-intentioned as they are) is part of the reason why racism still exists. In fact, this inability or unwillingness to discuss racism is a big reason why many Whites get defensive when the topic of racial discrimination or White privilege comes up — they are not able to depersonalize the issue, place it outside of their own personal experiences, and examine it from it from an institutional point of view.

Ultimately, this is also why relationships, opinions, experiences, and conversations between Whites and non-Whites on the individual and institutional levels remain emotionally fraught beneath the superficial veneer of colorblindness and in fact, will continue to boil over for the foreseeable future.

Yes, denial that race is a problem is part of the problem. And the more most Americans deny it, the more it festers and the more it erodes our sense of national identity and unity. The fact that this incident has become a national controversy should be plenty of proof that race is still a unresolved issue in this country. For those who think that I’m being “extremist,” or even “racist,” then take a look at the following NBC News video from this past weekend that basically says the exact same thing: