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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, 2009

Written by C.N.

Online Survey: Career Decisions by Chinese Americans

Below is another announcement about an online survey in need of Chinese American respondents:

Greetings. My name is William Nguyen, MA and I am a Ph. D Candidate at Alliant International University: CSPP. I am conducting a study that explores the beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors of Chinese American-identified undergraduate students attending a 2 or 4 year college/university in regards to their career decision-making process. I believe that the career theories currently in the literature fail to fully capture the Asian American experience and often neglect key facets of who we are: our culture, our experiences of acculturation, and the influence of honor and family.

If you are interested in participating, you will complete a 20 – 30 minute survey that asks you a myriad of questions related to your career decision-making process. All responses and identifying information will be kept confidential. As incentive for your participation, all participants that provide contact information will be entered in a raffle for either a $75, $50, or $25 gift card to Gap, Inc. (or any other department store of choice).

Should you have any questions about the research please contact: William Nguyen at wnguyen@alliant.edu. If you would like to participate, please click go to https://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=DQKGz8ZQQ58Uuyq4aROxvA_3d_3d. Also, if you are interested in receiving results to this study, please contact William Nguyen with that request. Thank you for your time and consideration.

In Peace,

William W. Nguyen, MA, Ph. D Candidate
Alliant International University: California School of Professional Psychology
San Francisco, CA


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.


January 26, 2009

Written by C.N.

Asian Americans and Workplace-Employment Discrimination

In my article on Employment and Occupational Patterns, I described how, despite the fact that many Asian American work in high-status, well-paying jobs, unfortunately many still experience glass ceiling barriers (sometimes referred to as the ‘bamboo ceiling’ for Asian Americans) and other mechanisms of discrimination in the workplace.

To give us a more detailed picture of this issue, a new report by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC, the federal agency in charge of enforcing employment non-discrimination laws) has just released a new study on the extent of workplace discrimination against Asian Americans in federal government jobs (thanks to AngryAsianMan for blogging about this first).

First, a little background data: this report only looked at Asian American workers who work for federal government agencies. According to EEOC data, there are about 2.6 million federal employees and Asian American comprise about 6% of them. That works out to be around 156,000 Asian American federal government workers.

In comparison, there are about 5.2 million Asian Americans in the total civilian labor force. So of all Asian American workers, around 3% work for the federal government. That may not seem to be a lot but in many ways, we might expect the federal government to be more attuned to racial discrimination in their ranks compared to the private sector. So how did Asian American federal workers fare in this regard?

AAPIs have been called the “model minority,” but this community seems to be the “forgotten minority.” This community has been facing a number of misperceptions or stereotypes – for example, AAPIs are quiet, hardworking, family-oriented, technically-oriented, good at math and science, but are also passive, non-confrontational and antisocial.

However, while some of these stereotypes have positive characteristics, they have become the framework of barriers establishing glass or bamboo ceilings which prevent AAPIs from moving into the upper tiers of an organization. In addition, AAPIs face sticky floors which hold AAPIs at a particular level for a prolonged period of time and other obstacles. . . .

[A Gallup survey in 2005 found that] 31% of Asians surveyed reported incidents of discrimination, the largest percentage of any ethnic group. . . . [However, EEOC data] shows that only about 2% of all charges in the private sector and 3.26% in the federal sector are filed by AAPIs. There is more discrimination occurring in the workplace than is being reflected in our charge/complaint statistics.

The report notes that among all federal government agencies, the Broadcasting Board of Governors has the highest Asian American representation at 13.5% while the Tennessee Valley Authority has the lowest at 0.3%. Also significant is that across virtually all federal agencies, compared to their overall representation with a particular agency, Asian Americans are consistently underrepresented as mid-level supervisors and as executives.

Although the report does not provide many specific examples of discrimination against Asian American federal government employees, its summary of the barriers that they face are very similar to the ones I identified in my own article that I cited in the first paragraph: model minority perceptions leading to narrow and limiting assignments, language and accent discrimination, perceptions of foreignness, perceptions of social deficiency, and perceptions of lack of leadership.

Finally, the EEOC’s recommendations are:

  • Strong leadership and personal commitment to diversity comes from the top down. Hopefully Barack Obama will fulfill his promise to work toward ending this underrepresentation of Asian Americans in the federal government.
  • Strengthen commitment to diversity among agency leadership. This is not just to be politically correct — there is a solid business case to be made that for the U.S. to stay ahead and succeed in the international, globalized economy, its workforce needs to include a broad range of backgrounds, talent, and skills.
  • Ensure that supervisor/manager assessments of their Asian American employees are fair, objective, and free from the cultural biases that I listed above.
  • Ensure that the EEOC agency itself does its job properly in terms of being accessible to Asian American employees who have a complaint and in properly investigating such complaints. Hopefully this will also be easier to do under our new (Democratic) administration.
  • Collaborate with Asian American community organizations and leaders to encourage Asian Americans to work for the federal government and to increase their levels of representation within federal agencies.
  • Actively support Asian American employee groups. Rather than promoting “balkanization” as some critics have charged, these ethnically-focused support groups actually lead to greater worker loyalty, productivity, and satisfaction.
  • Finally, give Asian American federal employees who do have documented skill deficiencies the opportunities and resources to address them and to improve their skills and qualifications so that they can perform better and be promoted more easily.

As the saying goes, all these things are easier said than done. Nonetheless, I am very confident that Barack Obama’s administration will give closer attention to these kinds of issues within the federal government and that things are looking up for Asian American employees. In other words, there is a new sheriff in town and things are going to change around here.


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.