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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.

December 12, 2011

Written by C.N.

Racial/Ethnic Relations in 2011: The Best & Worst

As 2011 comes to an end, once again I look back at the major events, developments, and trends in U.S. racial/ethnic relations during the past year and focus on some of the positive highlights as well as the setbacks in terms of achieving racial/ethnic equality and justice, with a particular focus on Asian Americans (my area of expertise). This list is not meant to be an exhaustive review of all racial/ethnic news in 2011, but rather the ones that I covered in this blog and ones that I believe have the most sociological significance.

The Best

The past and future © Gregor Schuster/Corbis

The Worst

What are your best and worst memories about racial/ethnic relations from this past year, individually and institutionally?


February 25, 2010

Written by C.N.

Vancouver Olympic Inclusiveness, Except for Asians

Many of you probably watched the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics taking place in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Much has been made of the ethnic and cultural inclusiveness of these Olympics, particularly as the first Olympics to include indigenous groups, as a reflection of Canada’s long and rich history of cultural diversity.

The Olympic Torch at the Opening Ceremonies © Richard Heathcote

But has everyone been included appropriately? As reported by the Associated Press, the Asian Canadian community in Vancouver feels particularly left out, especially considering that they make up 30% of Vancouver’s population:

The Olympic opening ceremony celebrated Canada’s aboriginals and French speakers, but gave little hint of Vancouver’s huge, dynamic Asian population. Dismayed civic leaders are pleading for a different story at the closing show.

“It was a slap in the face,” Indo-Canadian activist Sukhi Sandhu said Thursday, referring to the opening show’s cultural segment. . . . Sandhu and his allies have called on the Vancouver Organizing Committee to ensure that the closing ceremony convey more of the character of greater Vancouver, where Chinese and South Asians comprise 30 percent of the area’s 2 million people. . . .

VANOC’s CEO, John Furlong, addressed the complaints this week, saying it was a “complex challenge” to portray Canada’s ethnic mosaic. He indicated it was too late to modify the closing ceremony, but suggested that by the end of the show there would be no doubt “who we are and who is here.” . . .

[T]hree French-Canadians were among the final 13 people given prestigious roles in the final stages of the ceremony, either helping carry the Olympic flag or assisting in the lighting of the Olympic cauldron. Sandhu and other critics were outraged that none of the 13 was what Canada classifies as “visible minorities” — Asians, blacks and other nonwhites.

“Why not Donovan Bailey? Why not Daniel Igali?” asked Sandhu, referring to the Jamaican-born Canadian sprinter who once held the world 100-meter record and the Nigerian-born wrestler who won an Olympic gold medal for Canada in 2000.

Alden Habacon, founder of an online magazine called Schema that covers multicultural trends, said he took note during the opening telecast when the Olympic flag emerged “carried by an all-white cast of Canadian heroes.”

“Don’t get me wrong — I love all of them,” he wrote. “The point is, if you were watching the opening ceremonies on television, you wouldn’t even know that it took place in the most Asian city in North America. Have any of the producers been to a high school in Vancouver?”

To give credit where credit is due, I was impressed by the amount and ways in which Canada’s indigenous groups were included in the opening ceremonies. I found their performances to be very majestic and inspiring, although I have to admit that I was a little uneasy that perhaps they were being put “on display” like some kind of museum artifact. Also, I appreciate that it can be difficult to ensure that all racial/ethnic/cultural groups are included appropriate, especially in such an ethnically diverse country as Canada.

Having said that, unfortunately, this apparent oversight on the part of Vancouver’s and Canada’s Olympic organizers seems to be another example of Asians — whether they’re in the U.S., Canada, or any other White-majority country — being treated as invisible minorities, in ironic contrast to their status as “visible minorities.”

Asian Americans certainly know this feeling of exclusion or ridicule too well and it is sad to see that in a country like Canada that, in many cases, prides itself on being more racially/ethnically tolerant than the U.S., these dynamics of marginalization toward our Asian Canadian counterparts apparently operate in much the same way.


October 14, 2008

Written by C.N.

Racial Education Gap is Getting Worse

As the economy continues to worsen and as average American families encounter more difficulties trying to make ends meet, two “social trends” that have been constant through these recurring cycles of bust and boom are that (1) getting a good education is crucial to social mobility and financial security and (2) each succeeding generation has been able to improve their rates of getting a college degree.

But now, as Inside Higher Education reports, new data from the American Council on Education shows that perhaps for the first time in American history, some racial groups may actually be doing worse then their predecessors in terms of achieving a college education:

The latest generation of adults in the United States may be the first since World War II, and possibly before that, not to attain higher levels of education than the previous generations.

While White and Asian American young people are outpacing previous generations, the gaps for other minority groups are large enough that the current generation is, on average, heading toward being less educated than its predecessor. . . .

For Black and Latino women, for example, the most recent generation outperformed the prior ones, but the opposite is true for men. And across racial and ethnic groups, women are achieving a higher educational attainment than men.

Educational attainment by age group and race

To summarize, the data basically show that comparing the percentage of adults with at least an associate’s degree, younger Whites and Asian Americans (those between 25-29 years old) had slightly higher attainment rates than their older counterparts (those who are age 30 and older), and this corresponds with the long-established trend that succeeding generations improving their educational attainment rates over previous generations.

However, the opposite seems to be true for African Americans, Latinos, and Native American Indians — those in the younger group have lower educational attainment rates than their older counterparts, which means the younger generation seem to be falling behind the older generation.

The data also shows that across all racial/ethnic groups, women have higher rates of having at least an associate’s degree than men.

So what are some possible reasons behind this trend of African Americans, Latinos, and Native American Indians falling behind, in contrast to Whites and Asian Americans? It may be tempting, especially among nativists and those who are racially ignorant, to say that these three minority groups are less qualified, motivated, and/or intelligent enough to complete college and attain social mobility.

However, the rest of the Inside Higher Education article provides more details for us to understand this situation more fully. Specifically, the article also notes that high school graduation rates for these three groups of color have remained constant over the past two decades (even though they still trail that of Asian Americans).

Further, the article notes that “Total minority enrollment increased by 50 percent, to 5 million students, between 1995 and 2005.” This tells us that after graduating high school, Black, Latino, and Native American Indian students are still entering college in large numbers.

So the problem seems to be, once they get into college, somewhere along the line, these minority students are not able to complete their associate’s or bachelor’s degrees.

Is it because they are unprepared for the academic demands involved? That is one possible reason. But more likely, and as other studies have suggested, since these three racial minority groups tend to be less affluent than Whites or Asian Americans, the main reason may be that as college expenses keep skyrocketing, these students eventually are unable to afford completing their college education and are more likely to drop out of college because of lack of finances.

As other studies also show, there are still gaps at many colleges in terms of racial inclusion — cultivating a welcoming atmosphere and social environment in which students of color feel supported and secure:

Intolerance, threats and verbal insults pervaded the campuses of three predominately White institutions, the University of California, Berkeley, Michigan State University, and Columbia College, according to a student survey in the recently released report, “If I’d Only Known.”

The report reveals that more than 60 percent of students at MSU reported witnessing or personally experiencing such incidents of violence based on intolerance, followed by 49 percent of students at UC Berkeley and 43 percent of students at Columbia. . . .

Research shows that comfortable environments play a major role in minority persistence. Scholars agree that isolation and racial violence contribute to the high minority drop-out rates at some institutions.

Ultimately, this trend of Black, Latino, and Native American Indian students beginning to fall behind their older counterparts in terms of educational attainment involves many factors. While some reasons undoubtedly relate to individual abilities or motivations, as studies continue to show, there are still many institutional inequalities and barriers that make it more difficult for these students to complete their degrees.

Whatever the causes, this is a disturbing trend that all of us as Americans should be concerned about.