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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.

May 4, 2009

Written by C.N.

Where Affirmative Action Stands Today

Despite — or perhaps because of — Barack Obama’s election as President, affirmative action remains one of the most controversial and divisive issues in American society today. It’s an issue that can divide not only different racial/ethnic groups, but even members of a single racial group like Asian Americans. In fact, some of the most heated arguments I’ve had with people over affirmative action has been with other Asian Americans.

The issues and controversies surrounding affirmative action are not going to be resolved any time soon and perhaps not even in my lifetime. For now, I hope that we can all look at the issues from a more sociological and objective, rather than personal, point of view and at least understand each side’s positions, even if we don’t agree with them. To help in that process, MSNBC as an article that does a nice job at describing the current state of affirmative action in the U.S. in an objective and balanced way:

Strict racial quotas were unconstitutional, the court said — affirmative action was not. But that ruling far from decided what many considered the big-picture issue: Does protecting minorities discriminate against the majority? More than 30 years [after the famous Bakke v. University of California lawsuit], and scores of lawsuits later, the question remains unanswered. . . .

“The laws that Congress wrote are clear — everyone is protected from racial discrimination,” said Roger Clegg, president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, a conservative think tank that advocates eliminating race and ethnic considerations. “Not just blacks, but whites. Not just Latinos, but whites.”

Those who favor affirmative action say race divisions still exist in this country, 40 years after the civil rights movement. “Race so permeates society that you can’t ignore it,” said Dennis Parker, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Racial Justice Project. . . .

Twenty years later, a more conservative court declared that public school systems cannot try to achieve or maintain integration based on explicit race rules. . . . At issue in the case were programs in Seattle and Louisville, Ky., that tried to maintain racial diversity by limiting transfers and admissions.

“The Supreme Court case law isn’t clear. There aren’t bright lines and clear guidance,” said attorney Deborah Archer, director of the Racial Justice Project at New York Law School. “It’s very difficult to extract a rule from those cases that can be applied across the board.” Instead, “they have tended to be concerned with a specific aspect, and the decisions are made on case-by-case basis,” said Archer.

To summarize, through the years, the Supreme Court has basically ruled that consideration of an applicant’s race/ethnicity is legal, if there is a direct and specific reason supporting it, which includes the goal of creating a racially and ethnically diverse student population at colleges and universities and in private sector companies. However, the Supreme Court has also ruled that blanket policies such as quotas and allocating points to minority candidates are illegal and unconstitutional.

As the article also mentions, the Supreme Court is not likely to make any broad or sweeping decisions on affirmative action in general any time soon, instead preferring to make judgments about specific programs and policies on a case-by-case basis.

Within this ongoing debate about affirmative action, MSNBC has another recent article that seems to coincide with arguments of affirmative action supporters — that racial inequalities continue to persist in terms of pay between Whites and Blacks/Latinos even among workers with similar educational qualifications:

Blacks and Hispanics lag behind whites for higher-paying jobs at the largest rates in about a decade . . . Blacks overall slightly narrowed the gap in 2007 with whites in average salary, but the pay disparity widened for blacks with college degrees. Blacks who had a four-year bachelor’s degree earned $46,502, or about 78% of the salary for comparably educated whites.

It was the biggest disparity between professional blacks and whites since the 77% rate in 2001, when the U.S. fell into a recession due to the collapse of the tech bubble and the Sept. 11 terror attacks. College-educated blacks had previously earned as much as 83% of the average salary of whites in 2005.

Hispanics saw similar trends. . . . Hispanics with bachelor’s degrees had an average salary of $44,696, amounting to roughly 75 cents for every dollar made by whites — the lowest ratio in more than a decade — after hitting a peak of 87 cents to every dollar in 2000.

The numbers highlight some of the barriers for minorities, said Mark Mather, a demographer for the Population Reference Bureau. He said the pay disparities could widen further since blacks and Hispanics tend to be relative latecomers to the professional world and thus more vulnerable to layoffs in the current recession.

This finding that Blacks and Latinos are especially vulnerable in times of economic recession has been consistently documented. Some of this disparity has to do with the fact that many Black and Latino college-educated workers have less seniority and overall years of experience than many White workers, and therefore earn less.

At the same time, as social science research has also shown, even among workers in the same occupation and same area of the country with almost identical educational qualifications and years of experience, Blacks and Latinos still lag behind Whites in terms of pay. As many sociologists argue, once you control for all these variables that might affect differences in pay, the only thing left to explain such disparities and pay inequalities is racism, pure and simple.

On the flip side of this issue about affirmative action, as I mentioned in an earlier post, the University of California has officially approved changed to its policies on eligibility for admissions (i.e., on who qualifies to be considered for admissions, not who actually gets admitted). Many Asian Americans and other people of color argue that these changes will disproportionately hurt the chances of Asian American applicants and other applicants of color and that these policies basically amount to “affirmative action for Whites.”

All of these developments illustrate the complex and often contradictory nature of this issue. Like I said, as a sad legacy of our country’s racialized history, it’s an issue that will unfortunately continue to perplex use for years and likely generations to come.


September 26, 2006

Written by C.N.

Asian American Buying Power

As you probably know already, Asian Americans tend to have the highest median household income along with the highest rates of having a college degree. Does this mean that, as a consumer group, Asian Americans have enough buying power for advertisers to take seriously? According to new research, the answer is yes — Asian Americans have an annual buying power of about $427 billion:

Per new statistics released earlier this month by the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia, Asian consumer annual buying power in the United States has reached $427 billion, representing a 59% increase since the beginning of the decade. Furthermore, Asian buying power has the second fastest projected rate of growth, slightly behind Hispanic buying power. By 2011, Asian buying power will grow 46% over the current benchmark to reach $626 billion.

Reflecting the Asian population distribution by state which was recently documented in the Census Bureau’s 2005 American Community Survey (ACS), California and New York remain in first and second place for annual Asian buying power, with $140.5 billion and $41.5 billion respectively. . . . The Selig data also highlights . . . that Asian consumers wield a disproportionately larger clout in terms of their purchasing power than the absolute size of the Asian population would otherwise imply.

“Most often, marketers hesitate in considering Asian programs because they overly focus on the comparatively smaller size of the Asian population vis-à-vis the larger Hispanic and African American audiences,” said Saul Gitlin, Executive Vice President – Strategic Services, Kang & Lee Advertising. “However, while the Asian population may be only one third the size of the Hispanic population, Asian annual buying power already represents 53% of Hispanic buying power.

It’s nice to hear that American advertisers and companies are likely to become increasingly aware of the purchasing power of the Asian American community, especially since we have apparently have disproportionately high level of buying power per capita. But I think it would be even nicer if American media companies, advertisers, and businesses recognize that if they want our dollars, they also need to earn our respect.

That means no advertisements that contain disparaging or stereotypical images or portrayals of Asians, nor supporting TV or radio shows that contain material that we as Asian Americans find offensive. That also means that we as Asian Americans need to be more selective with our money and by supporting companies that share our values. Religious conservatives have been doing this for years now, and we can and should do the same.