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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?


July 27, 2011

Written by C.N.

Recent Books & Articles on Islam & Muslim Americans

The recent mass murder tragedy in Norway has once again focused attention on ongoing sociological issues related to Islam in general and Muslim Americans in particular. As we approach the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the debate and controversy surrounding the present and future dynamics of Muslim-west relations will only intensify. With this in mind, the following news articles and recently-released books shed more light on these important issues facing not just Muslim Americans, but all of U.S. society and indeed, the entire world.

Difference Between a Christian and Muslim Terrorist

This graphic (I found it on Digg.com but am not sure who the creator of it is) caught my attention and I think makes a powerful statement about how criticism of religious extremism seems to differ according to which religion is implicated:

Difference between a Christian and Muslim terrorist

Muslim-Western Tensions Persist

As the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attack approaches, new data from the Pew Research Group shows that unfortunately, tensions and suspicions still exist between the west and Muslim populations.

Muslim and Western publics continue to see relations between them as generally bad, with both sides holding negative stereotypes of the other. . . . However, the latest Pew Global Attitudes survey finds somewhat of a thaw in the U.S. and Europe compared with five years ago. A greater percentage of Western publics now see relations between themselves and Muslims as generally good compared with 2006.

In contrast, Muslims in predominantly Muslim nations are as inclined to say relations are generally bad as they were five years ago. And, as in the past, Muslims express more unfavorable opinions about Christians than Americans or Europeans express about Muslims. Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere who say relations with the West are bad overwhelmingly blame the West. However, while Americans and Europeans tend to blame Muslims for bad relations, significant numbers believe Westerners are responsible.

Mistaken for Muslims, Sikhs Hit by Hate Crimes

A suspected hate crime in Sacramento CA tragically highlights the inability (or refusal) of some Americans to distinguish between Asian ethnic and religious groups and instead, blindly acting on racist stereotypes to attack innocent Americans.

The traditional [Sikh] headwear might have singled them out late last week when they were gunned down, one fatally, in what police are investigating as a suspected hate crime. On Monday, local religious leaders pleaded for the community to come forward with leads but also said they will not be deterred by violence.

“Our community will continue to wear our turbans proudly,” said Navi Kaur, the granddaughter of Surinder Singh, 65, who died from his wounds. His friend, 78-year-old Gurmej Atwal, remains in critical condition. They were walking through their neighborhood in Elk Grove, just south of the California state capital Sacramento, Friday afternoon when someone in what witnesses described as a pickup truck opened fire.

Monday also marked the start of a trial involving a confirmed hate crime against a Sikh. . . . [Amar Shergill] is the attorney for a Sikh cab driver beaten four months ago by passengers who shouted anti-Islamic slurs at him in West Sacramento, which sits across the Sacramento River from the state capital. The two defendants pleaded no contest Monday to felony assault.

As the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks approaches, several people at Monday’s news conference drew links between the Sacramento-area crimes and national and international developments. From unrest in North Africa to congressional hearings on radicalization of Muslims in the U.S., speakers warned of an increasingly hostile climate.

Arabic One of the Fastest-Growing Language Courses at U.S. Colleges

Student enrollment in Arabic, Korean and Chinese classes is showing the fastest growth among foreign language courses at U.S. colleges, even though Spanish remains the most popular by a huge margin, a new study shows.

The survey of more than 2,500 colleges and universities by the Modern Language Assn., or MLA, found that enrollment in Arabic surged by 46% between 2006 and 2009. More U.S. college students are studying Arabic than Russian, a change that officials say reflects a shift of interest from Cold War concerns to current issues involving the Middle East and terrorism.

American Muslims Ask, Will We Ever Belong?

Last year’s controversy about the location of a Muslim center near Ground Zero has many American Muslims exasperated about if and when they will ever be fully accepted into mainstream U.S. society.

For nine years after the attacks of Sept. 11, many American Muslims made concerted efforts to build relationships with non-Muslims, to make it clear they abhor terrorism, to educate people about Islam and to participate in interfaith service projects. They took satisfaction in the observations by many scholars that Muslims in America were more successful and assimilated than Muslims in Europe.

Now, many of those same Muslims say that all of those years of work are being rapidly undone by the fierce opposition to a Muslim cultural center near ground zero that has unleashed a torrent of anti-Muslim sentiments and a spate of vandalism. . . . Dr. Ferhan Asghar, an orthopedic spine surgeon in Cincinnati and the father of two young girls [says], “In no other country could we have such freedoms — that’s why so many Muslims choose to make this country their own. But we do wonder whether it will get to the point where people don’t want Muslims here anymore.”

Behind the Backlash: Muslim Americans After 9/11, by Lori Peek (Temple University Press)

'Behind the Backlash' by Peek

As the nation tried to absorb the shock of the 9/11 attacks, Muslim Americans were caught up in an unprecedented wave of backlash violence. Public discussion revealed that widespread misunderstanding and misrepresentation of Islam persisted, despite the striking diversity of the Muslim community.

Letting the voices of 140 ordinary Muslim American men and women describe their experiences, Lori Peek’s path-breaking book, Behind the Backlash presents moving accounts of prejudice and exclusion. Muslims speak of being subjected to harassment before the attacks, and recount the discrimination they encountered afterwards. Peek also explains the struggles of young Muslim adults to solidify their community and define their identity during a time of national crisis.

Behind the Backlash seeks to explain why blame and scapegoating occur after a catastrophe. Peek sets the twenty-first century experience of Muslim Americans, who were vilified and victimized, in the context of larger sociological and psychological processes. Peek’s book will be of interest to those in disaster research studies, sociology of religion, and race and ethnic relations.

Muslims in Motion: Islam and National Identity in the Bangladeshi Diaspora, by Nazli Kibria (Rutgers University Press)

'Muslims in Motion' by Kibria

In Muslims in Motion, Nazli Kibria provides a comparative look at Bangladeshi Muslims in different global contexts-including Britain, the U.S., the Middle East, and Malaysia. Kibria examines international migrant flows from Bangladesh, and considers how such migrations continue to shape Islamization in these areas. Having conducted more than 200 in-depth interviews, she explores how, in societies as different as these, migrant Muslims, in their everyday lives, strive to achieve economic gains, sustain community and family life, and realize a sense of dignity and honor.

Muslims in Motion offers fresh insights into the prominence of Islam in these communities, especially an Islam defined by fundamentalist movements and ideologies. Kibria also focuses on the complex significance of nationality-with rich analyses of the diaspora, the role of gender and class, and the multiple identities of the migrants, she shows how nationality can be both a critical source of support and also of difficulty for many in their efforts to attain lives of dignity. By bringing to life a vast range of experiences, this book challenges prevailing stereotypes of Muslims.

Framing Muslims: Stereotyping and Representation after 9/11, by Peter Morey and Amina Yaqin (Harvard University Press)

'Framing Muslims' by Morey and Yagin

Can Muslims ever fully be citizens of the West? Can the values of Islam ever be brought into accord with the individual freedoms central to the civic identity of Western nations? Not if you believe what you see on TV. Whether the bearded fanatic, the veiled, oppressed female, or the shadowy terrorist plotting our destruction, crude stereotypes permeate public representations of Muslims in the United States and western Europe. But these “Muslims” are caricatures—distorted abstractions, wrought in the most garish colors, that serve to reduce the diversity and complexity of the Muslim world to a set of fixed objects suitable for sound bites and not much else.

In Framing Muslims: Stereotyping and Representation after 9/11, Peter Morey and Amina Yaqin dissect the ways in which stereotypes depicting Muslims as an inherently problematic presence in the West are constructed, deployed, and circulated in the public imagination, producing an immense gulf between representation and a considerably more complex reality. Crucially, they show that these stereotypes are not solely the province of crude-minded demagogues and their tabloid megaphones, but multiply as well from the lips of supposedly progressive elites, even those who presume to speak “from within,” on Muslims’ behalf.

Based on nuanced analyses of cultural representations in both the United States and the UK, the authors draw our attention to a circulation of stereotypes about Muslims that sometimes globalizes local biases and, at other times, brings national differences into sharper relief.

Patriot Acts: Narratives of Post-9/11 Injustice, by Alia Malek (McSweeneys Publishing)

'Patriot Acts' by Malek

This book seeks to tell the life stories of the innocent men and women who have been needlessly swept up in the “war on terror.” As we approach the ten-year anniversary of 9/11, this collection of narratives gives voice to the people who have had their human rights violated here in the U.S. by post-9/11 policies and actions.

Among the narrators:
Young men of Arab, Muslim, South Asian, and Middle Eastern descent, who were arrested and detained or singled out for voluntary interviews because of their national origin or religion. Scholars who have been blacklisted or subjected to interrogation for their research or writings on Islam and related topics. Muslim women who have suffered from job discrimination, harassment, and assault for wearing a veil or similar head covering.

= = = = = = = = = =

UPDATE

After this post was published, I came across a few more noteworthy articles on Islam and Muslim Americans:

More Muslim Americans Believe They Are Thriving

Muslim Americans are now more optimistic about their lives than any other major American faith group as their economic well-being improves and they feel more politically enfranchised. A Gallup study released on Tuesday found 60 percent of Muslim Americans surveyed reported they were “thriving”, slightly higher than for Americans of any other religion except for Jews, who edged them out of the top spot by one percentage point.

Pollsters noted in particular the rapid surge in positive sentiment among Muslim Americans. The percentage of Muslims who were “thriving” grew by 19 points since 2008, double that of any other major faith group. . . .

Authors of the study said they attributed the change in outlook to improved economic conditions and a sense of more political enfranchisement since the election of President Barack Obama, a Christian with Muslim family roots who has reached out to Muslim communities worldwide. The report said Obama’s approval rating among Muslim Americans was 80 percent, and that 46 percent, or a plurality, of Muslim Americans identified as Democrats, compared to only 9 percent who identified as Republicans.

[I]mprovements in Muslim sentiment came despite continuing controversies. Those included a controversy surrounding a plan to build a Muslim cultural center and mosque near the site of New York’s September 11 al-Qaida attack, and hearings on Islamic extremism called by U.S. Representative Peter King, which critics viewed as a witch-hunt.

Muslim Americans Are Most Likely to Reject Violence

The same Gallup Organization study mentioned in the above article also notes that among major U.S. religious groups, Muslim Americans are the most likely to oppose individual or military violence against civilians. This particular report would be a very useful resource to contradict ongoing stereotypes that Muslims are more prone to support violence than other religious groups.

Muslim Americans are the staunchest opponents of military attacks on civilians, compared with members of other major religious groups Gallup has studied in the United States. Seventy-eight percent of Muslim Americans say military attacks on civilians are never justified. . . . Respondents from other faith groups, particularly Mormon Americans, are more likely to say military attacks are sometimes justified than never justified.


December 22, 2008

Written by C.N.

The Impact of Racial Diversity on College Students

As an educator and a person of color, I have a particular interest in issues surrounding racial/ethnic diversity on college campuses. In fact, this topic is a common theme that I’ve written about on this blog. Like most liberals, I happen to think that greater diversity is generally a good thing, although I acknowledge that there are some ways in which diversity can lead to some challenges in the short run.

In other words, racial/ethnic diversity is a complicated and multidimensional phenomenon. This is especially true on college campuses where, in most cases, there are students who come from a wide range of backgrounds and once they interact with each other, can lead to an equally wide range of outcomes. To illustrate this point, Inside Higher Education reports on the release of a new study that looks at actual outcomes of racial/ethnic diversity on college students and finds, you guessed it, some mixed results:

One key finding was the generally positive impact on racial attitudes of living with someone of a different race. Students were surveyed on their attitudes before being assigned someone to live with, and after a year in which some lived with “outgroup roommates.”

Generally, and regardless of the attitudes with which students entered UCLA, those who lived with members of other ethnic groups showed statistically significant gains in comfort levels with people of different groups, having circles of friends beyond one’s own group, and a variety of other measures of tolerance toward different groups. The changes in attitudes were most striking for those living with either black or Latino roommates.

The one exception to this positive impact was with Asian students as roommates: White and black students who lived with Asians tended to show increased prejudice against Asians on some measures after living with them. . . .

[However], the researchers examined the impact of membership in groups that are defined largely by race and ethnicity (such as black student unions) as well as membership in groups that do not have an explicit racial or ethnic mission, but have overwhelmingly white members (some fraternities and sororities). Generally, they found that a negative impact resulted from membership in these groups — white or minority — in which belonging to such a group led to an increase in feelings of victimization.

There are several key findings here, so let me address them one at a time.

The Benefits of Diversity

The study’s finding that increased racial/ethnic contact and interaction among students leads to greater comfort with others of a different race is not new and in fact, reinforces what sociologists have been saying for decades — this is frequently referred to as the “Contact Hypothesis.” Nonetheless, it is nice to see real, concrete evidence of this idea in a real-world situation.

As the article also notes, this finding confirms one of the basic principles of affirmative action — that increased racial/ethnic diversity represents a net benefit for American society and is therefore a worthwhile goal. Opponents of affirmative action are free to criticize other aspects of affirmative action that they disapprove of, but as this study confirms, the argument that increased diversity can’t improve people’s attitudes and levels of acceptance towards others is simply not true.

The Drawbacks of ‘Segregated’ Student Groups

On the other hand, the study points out that racially/ethnically homogeneous student groups and organizations generally do not improve racial tolerance and acceptance. This finding is basically the flip side to the first one that I discussed above. The only potentially controversial part of this finding is that it applies to all kinds of homogeneous groups, whether they are all-White fraternities/sororities or Black Student Unions, Asian American Student Associations, etc. that are based explicitly on a particular racial/ethnic identity.

On that count, I would point out that while feelings of victimization and anger may exist among students of color in such racial/ethnic student organizations, there are many benefits that also exist within such groups. For example, these groups can also foster a sense of community identity and support and can also empower students by educating them about their group’s history and shared experiences, as well as giving them opportunities to turn their feelings and emotions into positive, constructive activities that provide the campus community the chance to further promote racial/ethnic diversity.

In other words, to echo another central theme of this blog, there is a difference between all-White and all-minority organizations in terms of their historical, cultural, and political meanings. That is, in the past and frequently still true today, all-White organizations have been associated with excluding marginalized groups and perpetuating a superior position of power for themselves.

In contrast, minority organizations have traditionally been focused on working to eliminate that kind of social inequality and to improve the conditions and lives of its members so that they more equally match that of their White counterparts. Therefore, the social dynamics are likely to be different between all-White and all-minority organizations.

I am not saying that all-White fraternities or sororities exist to actively reinforce White superiority. Rather, the nature and impact of the “negative” consequences of segregation are different because the history of American race relations has been different through the years. That’s what we should keep in mind when considering the dynamics of such groups.

The Negative Impact of Having an Asian Roommate

I’ve left this finding for last because I have the most trouble understanding it. My first reaction is skepticism of the results themselves. But as an academic myself, for now I will presume that the results are valid and reliable until I read the study’s exact methodology myself.

That said, my first question is, are there differences between having an Asian immigrant roommate versus a U.S.-born Asian American roommate? In other words, did White and Black students who had an Asian roommate have conflicts with the fact that their roommate was Asian or that s/he was an immigrant and therefore, presumably not as “Americanized” as they were. That may help to explain this particular finding.

If there is no difference between having an immigrant versus U.S.-born Asian American roommate, then my second thought is that perhaps it has to do with the fact that Asian Americans are something like 40% of the student population at UCLA. More generally and at the national level, perhaps White and Black Americans see us as symbols of globalization and how the U.S. is slowing losing its cultural superiority around the world as the 21st century progresses.

In that sense, it is conceivable that Whites and Blacks unconsciously feel threatened by Asians/Asian Americans and see us as competitors, either on the international level or at the level of a college campus. On several occasions I’ve posted about anti-Asian incidents on college campuses, and more generally, the rise of racial tensions in general in recent years.

With that in mind, perhaps this finding that having an Asian roommate actually had a negative impact on racial tolerance for White and Black students at UCLA reflects this general atmosphere of economic insecurity and cultural change and instability.

While it is possible that individually, Asian American roommates exhibited specific behaviors that offended their White or Black roommates, I have a hard time seeing that this was a systemic or consistent pattern among most Asian American roommates. I will have to read the actual study and the authors’ explanations for this finding to have a more concrete idea.

Ultimately and with most studies dealing with the topic of racial diversity, there are many interpretations and conclusions to make. On the one hand, I am encouraged to see the study’s results that in almost all cases, increased racial/ethic diversity led directly to increased racial/ethnic tolerance among students.

At the same time, I am a little worried about how Asian Americans fit into this equation and to what extent this finding — that having an Asian American roommate had the lone negative impact on racial tolerance — is reliable and generalizable to American society in general.


November 24, 2008

Written by C.N.

Post-Election Racist Incidents

Last week, I talked about how many people have observed that Barack Obama seems to have a very calm, cool, and Zen-like approach to his life and the tasks ahead of him as our incoming President. It certainly looks like he’ll need to remain cool as he prepares to tackle numerous problems facing our country.

In addition to the economic crisis that’s at the forefront for many of us, since Obama’s overwhelming victory, plenty of Americans — academics and otherwise — are talking about what it means for race relations for our society. More specifically, one question that keeps coming up is, does his victory mean that racism is on the decline?

There are plenty of opinions out there on this question and I anticipate that I for the foreseeable future, this will be a recurring theme in many of my upcoming posts in this blog. But in the meantime, here is a story that should make things very interesting: as CBS News reports, Obama’s victory seems to have spurred several incidents of racism since the election:

Cross burnings. Schoolchildren chanting “Assassinate Obama.” Black figures hung from nooses. Racial epithets scrawled on homes and cars. Incidents around the country referring to President-elect Barack Obama are dampening the post-election glow of racial progress and harmony, highlighting the stubborn racism that remains in America.

From California to Maine, police have documented a range of alleged crimes, from vandalism and vague threats to at least one physical attack. Insults and taunts have been delivered by adults, college students and second-graders.

There have been “hundreds” of incidents since the election, many more than usual, said Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate crimes. . . .
Obama has received more threats than any other president-elect, authorities say.

The article lists several examples of racist incidents that have taken place since Obama’s win, all of which illustrate the level of hate, bigotry, and intolerance that still exists in American society today.

As I’ve posted about previously, Obama’s win is a significant step forward for American society, but it does not mean that all African Americans have now achieved equality and in fact, racial incidents were common during the presidential campaign.

Therefore, nobody should be surprised that these incidents of racism have taken place and will continue to take place for the foreseeable future. Change is never easy, especially for people who fear that their “country” or their “power” is being taken away from them — politically, economically, and socially. My regular readers know that this has also been a recurring theme in my posts on this blog.

As I’ve also written previously, while I remain optimistic in the long run, in the short run, I unfortunately anticipate that anti-Obama, anti-Black, and anti-people of color racism will only get worse before it gets better.


July 2, 2008

Written by C.N.

Is Criticism Against Japan’s Whaling Unfair?

I’ve written before about almost universal criticism against Japan’s continuing program of hunting whales in defiance of international conventions. However, as National Geographic points out, Japan is not the only country that continues to hunt whales.

Specifically, both Norway and Iceland hunt whales as well, in much the same way that Japan does — for commercial, not “scientific” reasons and in defiance of international agreements. Therefore, we have to ask the question, why is Japan singled out for international criticism when few also mention Norway and Iceland’s whaling activities?

Japan is the “head of the zombie and needs to be cut off,” said Willie Mackenzie, oceans campaigner for Greenpeace U.K. “It’s very, very clear that, internationally, Japan is behind the drive towards commercial whaling.” . . .

Yet Norway and Iceland also have substantial whaling programs—and do so not under the auspices of research but commercially, flouting IWC rules that have banned such activities since 1986.

“Japanese people feel that, yes, maybe there is a little bit of racism in the way in which we are considered in comparison with the way Norway or other whaling nations are treated,” said Noriko Hama, a professor of economics at Doshisha University in Kyoto. . . .

According to IWC figures, Japanese ships killed 866 whales in the 2006-2007 season, a haul that included minke, fin, sei, and sperm whales—the most of any nation. Norway placed second with a total catch of 545 whales. . . .

Norway and Iceland confine whaling to coastal regions inside their own waters, but Japan is the only nation that still exploits Antarctic seas, now an internationally recognized sanctuary for whales.

The article points out that much of the scorn directed at Japan is focused not just on their actual whaling activities but also on Japan’s political maneuvers to try to block or reverse international agreements on whaling limits.

It is disappointing that Japan continues to support whaling and I can see that they seem to be compounding the antagonism against them by trying to use their influence in a heavy-handed way. At the same time, I also find it a little disturbing that virtually all of the criticism against whaling is directed at Japan, with little mention of Norway and Iceland.

Unfortunately, this is a tough issue to disaggregate. It’s similar to criticism against China’s human rights abuses and its occupation of Tibet — are China’s critics genuinely concerned about Tibet and human rights, or are they just using these issues as the basis to express their anti-Chinese prejudice?

In the same way, Japan certainly deserves criticism for its whaling activities and defiant actions. But their critics also need to be fair and at the least, explain clearly why European countries such as Norway and Iceland don’t receive nearly the same level of condemnation.


July 7, 2005

Written by C.N.

Welcome to the Neighborhood — Or Not

Devotees of TV reality shows may have heard about the ABC show Welcome to the Neighborhood that was to be aired this month. The premise was that seven families would have the chance to win a house located in an affluent suburb of Austin, TX, with three of the families already living in the neighborhood given the power to vote off one family each week until the winning family is “crowned.” The seven contestant families included Korean Americans, wiccan witches, Blacks, gay men who adopted a Black baby, tatooed rebels, a White family where the mom is a stripper, and a single Hispanic mother with four kids.

However, many civil rights groups were alarmed at the premise that White neighbors were given the power to determine who could be their neighbor, which is actually against the law. As a result of mounting criticisms and a threat of a lawsuit, Yahoo News reports that ABC has decided not to air the show at all, even though all the episodes have already been shot and were ready to go:

With a threatened lawsuit and accusations the network was tone deaf to bigotry, ABC may have traded a major headache for the temporary embarrassment of throwing out a series that was already finished. . . “Why should people of color and others … be humiliated and degraded to teach white people not to be bigots?” said Shanna Smith, president of the National Fair Housing Alliance. “That’s not good for race relations in America.”

Within the first two episodes, one man made a crack about the number of children piling out of the Hispanic family’s car. The citizenry of the business-owning Asian family was questioned and displays of affection between the gay men were met with disgust. . . . “I really think it’s such a positive show and such a good thing to put on TV and cause viewers to look at themselves, I’m surprised by the negative reaction to it,” said Andrea Wong, head of alternative programming at ABC.”

ABC’s lawyers gave “Welcome to the Neighborhood” the go-ahead, and it apparently didn’t disturb Wong when the family that shared her Asian-American descent was the first to be knocked out.

The show’s critics are completely justified in their outrage — it is indeed illegal to deny people housing on the basis of race/ethnicity, among a list of many factors. Based just on that, the show never should have been developed and shot in the first place.

Having said that however, I am a little disappointed that the show will not be aired because it means that the nation will not get to see just how judgmental, intolerant, and racist otherwise “normal” White Americans can be. This would have been a great opportunity to show people that contrary to popular beliefs, racial prejudice is alive and well in America and that given the power, many Whites will not hesitate in discriminating against people of color.