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All posts copyright © 2001- by C.N. Le.
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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.

January 15, 2009

Written by C.N.

Counting Down to the End of Colonialism

Like millions of Americans, I am anxiously awaiting noon on Tuesday, January 20. This is the hour when Barack Obama is scheduled to take the oath of office and officially become the next President of the United States.

I’ve written before on the sociological and personal significance of this momentous event and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. But in the meantime, my Vietnamese American colleague Andrew Lam of New America Media has written a very eloquent post about what Barack Obama’s inauguration means to him.

Andrew begins his piece by recounting the plot of Daniel Defoe’s The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe and how Crusoe “saves” an indigenous man, names him “Friday,” and basically teaches him the ways of acting “civilized” according to White, European standards. Andrew then relates the story to his own experiences:

[W]hen he was christened, when he called Crusoe “master,” Friday essentially lost his autonomy and his past. When he was taught a new language, Friday lost his bearings and the articulation and the enchantment of his old tongue. . . .

For a while, as a Vietnamese refugee to America, I grieved. Then I resigned myself to the idea that I was fated to live at the empire’s outer edge, living in a world in which Friday’s children were destined to play subservient roles and sidekicks. I knew this because I saw it on TV nightly.

Friday became Tonto, Mammy, Pocahontas, Kato, and (play it again) Sam. I saw too, the complexity of my own Vietnamese past ignored or, worse yet, simplified and reduced to faceless figures in black pajamas and conical hats, to serve as props or to be gunned down by American GIs, the wielders of history. . . .

Five hundred years after European conquest began, the glory of Crusoe continues to play out. “The Swiss Robinson Family,” and “Robinson Crusoe on Mars” and dozens more movies were direct spin offs but its mythos provides the backbone for tv shows like Star Trek, where the captain is white and his crew are ethnic and aliens, and contemporary films like Men in Black, Jerry McGuire, Pulp Fiction, and Lethal Weapon, just to name very few. In them the ethnic sidekicks help make the main character who he is, reinforcing his centrality. . . .

Who knows then when the story began to shift? . . . It may very well have begun with Frederick Douglass. . . . [H]e learned the alphabet from his master’s wife. He stole books. He learned how to read and write. He taught others. He became an abolitionist, editor, a suffragist, author, and the first African American nominated vice president in 1872 on the Equal Rights Party ticket with Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for President of the United States. . . .

For this is the way the new power lies: Those who once dwelled at the margins of the Commonwealth have appropriated the language of their colonial masters and used it with great degree of articulation as they inch toward the center, crossing all kinds of demarcations, dispelling the old myth. If Crusoe contends that he still is the lead actor, Friday is far from being content to playing subservient and sidekick any longer. . . .

[O]n that fateful Tuesday in November 4, 2008, Friday spoke up loud and clear and eloquently, and declared himself an equal, and the whole world danced. He tells us to dare to dream big, even this once considered impossible dream: Son of Africa becomes the new patriarch of America.

I think Andrew captures the sentiments of many of us very accurately.


November 6, 2008

Written by C.N.

14 Exit Poll Statistics About Obama’s Victory

There’s not much more that I can say that others have not said already regarding the significance of Barack Obama’s election as our next President: historic, monumental, amazing, inspiring, emotional, and quite simple, awesome. As a sociologist and demographer, I’d like to offer a few statistics on his election to be our next President:

  • 136.6 million Americans voted, representing a 64.1% turnout rate, the highest since 65.7 percent in 1908.
  • Obama is the first Democrat to receive more than 50 percent of the popular vote since Jimmy Carter in 1976.

From CNN’s exit poll tabulations:

  • Obama received 49% of all the male votes (vs. 48% for McCain) and 56% of the female votes (vs. 43% for McCain). But once you break it down by race, Obama only received 41% of the White male vote (vs. 57% for McCain) and 46% of the White female vote (vs. 53% for McCain).
  • 95% of African Americans, 66% of Latinos, and 61% of Asian Americans voted for Obama. Along with the previous statistic, what this tells us is that while large numbers of Whites supported Obama, ultimately non-Whites helped put him over the top.
  • 66% of voters under the age of 30 voted for Obama.
  • 52% of voters making $200,000 or more voted for Obama (vs. 46% for McCain).
  • By level of education, the groups that voted for Obama the most were those at both ends of the spectrum — those who have no high school degree and those with a postgraduate degree.
  • 54% of Catholics voted for Obama (vs. 45% for McCain), although among White Catholics, 47% voted for Obama while 52% for McCain.
  • 50% of voters living in the suburbs voted for Obama (vs. 48% for McCain).
  • Among voters who felt that their taxes would go up if Obama were elected President, 43% still voted for him.
  • 64% of all voters felt that McCain unfairly attacked Obama, while only 49% of all voters felt Obama unfairly attacked McCain.
  • 47% of all voters felt that, regardless of who is President, race relations are likely to get better in the next few years, and of those, 70% voted for Obama. In contrast, 15% felt that race relations are likely to get worse and of those, 70% voted for McCain.
  • 9% of voters said that the candidate’s race was an important factor and of those, 53% voted for Obama.
  • 58% of voters said that issues, rather than personal qualities, were more important to them and of those, 60% voted for Obama. In contrast, 59% of those who believed personal qualities were more important to them voted for McCain.

For me, the most telling and interesting of these statistics is first, that shows 52% of voters making at least $200,000 voted for Obama versus 46% voting for McCain. In my opinion, that is pretty astounding — those in the upper 6%-7% of the nation in terms of wealth supported Obama more than McCain, even though their taxes are likely to go up slightly. I give these voters a lot of credit for supporting Obama and goes a long way to counteract the stereotype of them as caring only about their wallets.

But perhaps the most significant statistic is how Obama captured almost all of the African American votes and a huge percentage of the Latino and Asian American votes and how, most likely, this was likely a big factor in helping to put him over the top.

It is certainly true that White votes still outnumbered non-White votes for Obama and that in the end, the scope of Obama’s victory shows that he has significant, broad-based support from Americans of all racial backgrounds. Nonetheless, I think it’s pretty clear that the Latinos and Asian Americans did constitute a crucial “swing vote” and ultimately, they overwhelmingly rallied to Obama’s support.

While observers, commentators, and scholars will debate this particular issue for the foreseeable future, it does appear that, combined with their continuing population growth, Latino and Asian American voters are poised to have this kind of potential impact and power for years to come.


November 5, 2008

Written by C.N.

Yes We Can. Yes We Did!

As someone once said, “Change does not come from Washington — change comes to Washington.”

Barack Obama -- Yes We Can

I will offer a more “sociological” analysis of Obama’s historic victory in an upcoming post but for now, I’d like to share the first thoughts that came to me when all the major news outlets officially declared Barack Obama to be the next President of the United States:

We shall overcome, We shall overcome
We shall overcome, some day.

Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe
We shall overcome, some day.

We will walk hand in hand, We will walk hand in hand
We’ll walk hand in hand, some day.

We shall live in peace, We shall live in peace
We shall live in peace, some day.

We shall all be free, We shall all be free
We shall all be free, some day.

Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe
We shall overcome, some day.


September 18, 2008

Written by C.N.

The Presidential Campaign and White Privilege

The presidential campaign is in full swing, but as I’ve written about before, the question of race has been bubbling slightly beneath the public surface for about a year and a half now, ever since Barack Obama first announced his candidacy to be our next President.

For example, there have been blatant examples of the influence of race — several incidents in which racism has reared its ugly head in regards to his campaign, but also more subtle ones — a recent CBS News article notes that “Obama’s support would be as much as 6 percentage points higher if there were no white racial prejudice.”

But one particular aspect of this issue that hasn’t really gotten much attention is the topic of White Privilege. For those who aren’t familiar, White privilege is basically the idea that Whites have an invisible and taken-for-granted set of advantages and rights that no other racial/ethnic group has. It’s also a touchy subject because for someone who’s White, it’s very hard to recognize but easy to deny.

To try to illustrate this concept as it applies to the presidential campaign, writer and activist Tim Wise has written an absolutely brilliant post at the Red Room blog that must be read in its entirety to be fully appreciated. Nonetheless, here are some excerpts:

For those who still can’t grasp the concept of white privilege, or who are constantly looking for some easy-to-understand examples of it, perhaps this list will help.

White privilege is when you can get pregnant at seventeen like Bristol Palin and everyone is quick to insist that your life and that of your family is a personal matter, and that no one has a right to judge you or your parents, because “every family has challenges,” even as black and Latino families with similar “challenges” are regularly typified as irresponsible, pathological and arbiters of social decay.

White privilege is when you can call yourself a “fuckin’ redneck,” like Bristol Palin’s boyfriend does, and talk about how if anyone messes with you, you’ll “kick their fuckin’ ass,” and talk about how you like to “shoot shit” for fun, and still be viewed as a responsible, all-American boy (and a great son-in-law to be) rather than a thug.

White privilege is when you can attend four different colleges in six years like Sarah Palin did (one of which you basically failed out of, then returned to after making up some coursework at a community college), and no one questions your intelligence or commitment to achievement, whereas a person of color who did this would be viewed as unfit for college, and probably someone who only got in in the first place because of affirmative action.

White privilege is when you can claim that being mayor of a town smaller than most medium-sized colleges, and then Governor of a state with about the same number of people as the lower fifth of the island of Manhattan, makes you ready to potentially be president, and people don’t all piss on themselves with laughter, while being a black U.S. Senator, two-term state Senator, and constitutional law scholar, means you’re “untested.” . . .

White privilege is being able to have a husband who was a member of an extremist political party that wants your state to secede from the Union, and whose motto was “Alaska first,” and no one questions your patriotism or that of your family, while if you’re black and your spouse merely fails to come to a 9/11 memorial so she can be home with her kids on the first day of school, people immediately think she’s being disrespectful.

White privilege is being able to make fun of community organizers and the work they do–like, among other things, fight for the right of women to vote, or for civil rights, or the 8-hour workday, or an end to child labor–and people think you’re being pithy and tough, but if you merely question the experience of a small town mayor and 18-month governor with no foreign policy expertise beyond a class she took in college–you’re somehow being mean, or even sexist. . . .

White privilege is being able to attend churches over the years whose pastors say that people who voted for John Kerry or merely criticize George W. Bush are going to hell, and that the U.S. is an explicitly Christian nation and the job of Christians is to bring Christian theological principles into government . . . and everyone can still think you’re just a good church-going Christian, but if you’re Black and friends with a Black pastor who has noted (as have Colin Powell and the U.S. Department of Defense) that terrorist attacks are often the result of U.S. foreign policy and who talks about the history of racism and its effect on black people, you’re an extremist who probably hates America.

Yes, Tim’s post is very liberal and very partisan. But in my humble opinion, also absolutely right on the money.

It finally exposes this uneasy social undercurrent that people of color have known about for a while, but that most Whites will not acknowledge even exists — why some acts, when committed by high-profile Whites, get excused and even praised, but when similar acts are committed by people of color, get criticized and ridiculed.

In other words, Tim Wise’s piece lays out the fundamental reality of the American racial landscape — much of the U.S., its people, and its social institutions, are still in deep denial about how insidious racism still is today and how it continues to be firmly but quietly embedded in how we as Americans live our lives on an everyday basis.

And in November, it will play a subtle but significant role in influencing who many of us will choose to be our next President.


July 24, 2008

Written by C.N.

Congratulations to Evelyn Nakano Glenn

I would like to pass along an enthusiastic congratulations to Professor Evenlyn Nakano Glenn (Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley), who has just been elected as President-Elect of the American Sociological Association.

Prof. Evelyn Nakano Glenn, UC Berkeley Ethnic Studies and new President of the American Sociological Assn.

Professor Nakano Glenn has been a true pioneer in the fields of Sociology, Ethnic Studies, and Asian American Studies. She has written numerous articles and well-respected and often-referenced books, such as Issei, Nisei, Warbride: Three Generations of Japanese American Women in Domestic Service and Unequal Freedom: How Race and Gender Shaped American Citizenship and Labor.

Professor Nakano Glenn becomes the first Asian American to be elected President of the American Sociological Association. This is a very big deal and a well-earned achievement on her part. Even though I do not know Professor Nakano Glenn well personally, I certainly have used and referenced her work in my research and respect her immensely for her distinguished career and long list of accomplishments.

While it’s nice to have Asian Americans serving as role models in very public and high-profile occupations as entertainers, politicians, and professional athletes, on an everyday basis, it’s people like Professor Nakano Glenn who do the same kind of work that I do that have the most direct influence and inspiration for me as an Asian American sociologist.

Congratulations, Professor Nakano Glenn!