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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.

June 19, 2012

Written by C.N.

Remembering Vincent Chin

Today, June 19, marks the 30th anniversary of the day Vincent Chin was beaten into a coma because he was Asian. As summarized in my article “Anti-Asian Racism,” Vincent Chin was a 27-year-old Chinese American living in Detroit, Michigan. On this date in 1982, he and a few friends were at a local bar celebrating his upcoming wedding. Also at the bar were two White autoworkers, Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz.

Portrait of Vincent Chin

Ebens and Nitz blamed the Japanese for the U.S. auto industry’s struggles at the time and began directing their anger toward Vincent. A fight ensued and eventually spilled outside the bar. After a few minutes, Ebens and Nitz cornered Vincent and while Nitz held Vincent down, Ebens repeatedly bludgeoned Vincent with a baseball bat until he was unconscious and hemorrhaging blood. Vincent was in a coma for four days until he finally died on June 23, 1982.

Ebens and Nitz were initially charged with second degree murder (intentionally killing someone but without premeditation). However, the prosecutor allowed both of them to plea down to manslaughter (accidentally killing someone). At the sentencing, the judge only sentenced both of them to three years probation and a fine of $3,780. The sentence provoked outrage among not just Asian Americans, but among many groups of color and led to a pan-racial coalescing of groups demanding justice for Vincent.

Vincent’s supporters got the U.S. Justice Department to bring federal charges against Ebens and Nitz for violating Vincent’s civil rights. In this trial, Ebens was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years in prison while Nitz was found not guilty. However, the verdicts were thrown out because of a technicality and a second trial was ordered. The defense successfully got the trial moved away from Detroit to Cincinnati OH. In this second federal trial, an all-White jury acquitted both Ebens and Nitz of violating Vincent’s civil rights.

Vincent’s death and the injustices he, his family, and all Asian Americans suffered still stand as a stark and sober reminder that, in contrast to the image of us as the “model minority” and the socioeconomic successes that we have achieved, Asian Americans are still susceptible to being targeted for hostility, racism, and violence. We only have to look at recent incidents in which Asian American students continue to be physically attacked at school, and other examples of Asian- and immigrant-bashing and White backlash to see that we as society still have a lot of work to do before Asian Americans (and other groups of color) are fully accepted as “real” or “legitimate” Americans.

The silver lining in Vincent’s case was that it was a watershed moment in Asian American history because it united the entire Asian American community like no event before. For the first time, different Asian groups began to understand that the discrimination committed against other Asians could easily be turned towards them. In other words, for the first time, Asians of different ethnicities, cultures, and nationalities united around an issue that affected them all.

As a result, the Asian American community mobilized their collective resources in unprecedented ways and Vincent’s death was the spark that led to the creation of a network of hundreds of non-profit organizations working at local, state, and national levels to combat not just hate crimes, but also other areas of inequality facing Asian American (i.e., housing, employment, legal rights, immigrant rights, educational reform, etc.). Vincent’s death has had a powerful legacy on the Asian American community — as a result of the collective action demanding justice, it contributed to the development of the “pan-Asian American” identity that exists today.

This is why it is important for all Asian Americans, and all of us as Americans, to remember Vincent Chin — to mourn the events of his death, to reflect on how it changed the Asian American community forever, and to realize that the struggle for true racial equality and justice still continues today.


February 1, 2012

Written by C.N.

New Books & Recent News Articles on Immigration

As always, the start of the new semester has been quite busy and a little hectic. As a result and as my regular readers have probably noticed, I have not been able to write new posts as often as I would like. This spring semester, I am teaching my “Sociology of Immigration” course once again, so below are summaries of some newly-released books and recent news articles related to the issue of immigration to the U.S. As always, a book’s inclusion is for informational purposes only and does not necessarily mean a full endorsement of its contents.

Citizenship and Immigration, by Christian Joppke (Polity)

'Citizenship and Immigration' by Christian Joppke

This incisive book provides a succinct overview of the new academic field of citizenship and immigration, as well as presenting a fresh and original argument about changing citizenship in our contemporary human rights era. Instead of being nationally resilient or in “postnational” decline, citizenship in Western states has continued to evolve, converging on a liberal model of inclusive citizenship with diminished rights implications and increasingly universalistic identities.

This convergence is demonstrated through a sustained comparison of developments in North America, Western Europe and Australia. Topics covered in the book include: recent trends in nationality laws; what ethnic diversity does to the welfare state; the decline of multiculturalism accompanied by the continuing rise of antidiscrimination policies; and the new state campaigns to “upgrade” citizenship in the post-2001 period.

The Fence: National Security, Public Safety, and Illegal Immigration along the U.S.-Mexico Border, by Robert Lee Maril (Texas Tech University Press)

'The Fence' by Robert Lee Maril

To the American public it’s a 2,000-mile-long project to keep illegal immigrants, narcotics, and terrorists on the other side of the U.S.–Mexico border. In the deserts of Arizona, it’s a “virtual fence” of high-tech electronic sensors, cameras, and radar. In some border stretches it’s a huge concrete-and-steel wall; in others it’s a series of solitary posts designed to stop drug runners; in still others it’s rusted barbed-wire cattle fences. For two-thirds of the international boundary it’s nonexistent. Just what is this entity known as “the fence”? And more important, is it working?

Through first-person interviews with defense contractors, border residents, American military, Minutemen, county officials, Customs and Border Protection agents, environmental activists, and others whose voices have never been heard, Robert Lee Maril examines the project’s human and financial costs. Along with Maril’s site visits, his rigorous analysis of government documents from 1999 to the present uncovers fiscal mismanagement by Congress, wasteful defense contracts, and unkept political promises. As drug violence mounts in border cities and increasing numbers of illegal migrants die from heat exhaustion in the Arizona desert, Maril argues how the fence may even be making an incendiary situation worse.

Avoiding preconceived conclusions, he proposes new public policies that take into consideration human issues, political negotiation, and the need for compromise. Maril’s lucid study shows the fence to be a symbol in concrete, steel, microchips, and fiber optics for the crucible of contemporary immigration policy, national security, and public safety.

Immigration Nation: Raids, Detentions, and Deportations in Post-9/11 America, by Tanya Maria Golash-Boza (Paradigm Publishers)

'Immigration Nation' by Tanya Maria Golash-Boza

Immigration Nation is a critical analysis of the human rights impact of US immigration policy. In the wake of September 11, 2001, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was created to prevent terrorist attacks. The creation of DHS led to dramatic increases in immigration law enforcement raids, detentions and deportations have increased six-fold in the past decade. Immigration Nation considers the widespread impact of this new enforcement regime.

Immigration Nation explains how immigration policies in the U.S. have had negative consequences for citizens, families and communities. Even though family reunification is officially a core component of U.S. immigration policy, our policies often tear families apart. Despite the perception that immigration policy primarily affects immigrants, it frequently has devastating effects on citizens. The immigration policy debate is nearly always framed in terms of security and economic needs. In contrast, this book addresses the debate with the human rights of migrants and their families at the center of the analyses.

Living “Illegal”: The Human Face of Unauthorized Immigration, by Marie Friedmann Marquardt, Timothy J. Steigenga, Philip J. Williams, and Manuel A. Vasquez (New Press)

'Living Illegal' by Marquardt, Steigenga, Williams, and Vazquez

Today’s polarized debates over immigration revolve around a set of one-dimensional characters and unchallenged stereotypes. Yet the resulting policy prescriptions, not least of them Arizona’s draconian new law SB 1070, are dangerously real and profoundly counterproductive. A major new antidote to this trend, Living “Illegal” is an ambitious new account of the least understood and most relevant aspects of the American immigrant experience today. Based on years of research into the lives of ordinary migrants, Living “Illegal” offers richly textured stories of real people—working, building families, and enriching their communities even as the political climate grows more hostile.

Moving far beyond stock images and conventional explanations, Living “Illegal” challenges our assumptions about why immigrants come to the United States, where they settle, and how they have adapted to the often confusing patchwork of local immigration ordinances. This revealing narrative takes us into Southern churches (which have quietly emerged as the only organizations open to migrants), into the fields of Florida, onto the streets of major American cities during the historic immigrant rights marches of 2006, and back and forth across different national boundaries—from Brazil to Mexico and Guatemala.

A deeply humane book, Living “Illegal” will stand as an authoritative new guide to one of the most pressing issues of our time.

The Immigrant Advantage: What We Can Learn from Newcomers to America about Health, Happiness and Hope, by Claudia Kolker (Free Press)

'The Immigrant Advantage' by Claudia Kolker

Do you have a relative or friend who would gladly wait on you, hand and foot, for a full month after you had a baby? How about someone to deliver a delicious, piping hot home-cooked meal, just like your mother’s, right to your front door after work? Do you know people you’d trust enough to give several hundred dollars a month to, with no receipt, on the simple promise that the accumulated wealth will come back to you a year later?

Not many of us can answer “yes” to these questions. But as award-winning journalist Claudia Kolker has discovered, each of these is one of a wide variety of cherished customs brought to the United States by immigrant groups, often adapted to American life by the second generation in a distinctive blending of old and new. Taken together, these extraordinary traditions may well contribute to what’s known as “the immigrant paradox,” the growing evidence that immigrants, even those from poor or violence-wracked countries, tend to be both physically and mentally healthier than most native-born Americans.

These customs are unfamiliar to most Americans, but they shouldn’t be. Honed over centuries, they provide ingenious solutions to daily challenges most of us face and provide both social support and comfort. They range from Vietnamese money clubs that help people save and Mexican cuarentenas—a forty-day period of rest for new mothers—to Korean afterschools that offer highly effective tutoring at low cost and Jamaican multigenerational households that help younger family members pay for college and, eventually, their own homes.

Fascinated by the success of immigrant friends, Claudia Kolker embarked on a journey to uncover how these customs are being carried on and adapted by the second and third generations, and how they can enrich all of our lives. In a beautifully written narrative, she takes readers into the living rooms, kitchens, and restaurants of immigrant families and neighborhoods all across the country, exploring the sociable street life of Chicago’s “Little Village,” a Mexican enclave with extraordinarily low rates of asthma and heart disease; the focused quiet of Korean afterschool tutoring centers; and the loving, controlled chaos of a Jamaican extended-family home.

She chronicles the quests of young Indian Americans to find spouses with the close guidance of their parents, revealing the benefits of “assisted marriage,” an American adaptation of arranged marriage. And she dives with gusto into some of the customs herself, experimenting to see how we might all fit them into our lives. She shows us the joy, and excitement, of savoring Vietnamese “monthly rice” meals delivered to her front door, hiring a tutor for her two young girls, and finding a powerful sense of community in a money-lending club she started with friends.

The Immigrant Advantage is an adventurous exploration of little-known traditional wisdom, and how in this nation of immigrants our lives can be enriched by the gifts of our newest arrivals.

Massachusetts is Third State to Reject Obama Immigration Program

  • Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick joins his counterparts in New York and Illinois in declining to participate in the controversial federal “Secure Communities” program that critics charge encourage police to round up anyone suspected of being undocumented.

Red-Blue Divide Widens on Issue of Undocumented Immigration

  • “America’s red and blue states are increasingly going in exactly opposite directions on the issue of illegal immigration – a testament to how difficult finding middle ground has become on the federal level.”

Better Lives for Mexicans Cut Allure of Going North

  • “The extraordinary Mexican migration that delivered millions of illegal immigrants to the United States over the past 30 years has sputtered to a trickle, and research points to a surprising cause: unheralded changes in Mexico that have made staying home more attractive. A growing body of evidence suggests that a mix of developments — expanding economic and educational opportunities, rising border crime and shrinking families — are suppressing illegal traffic as much as economic slowdowns or immigrant crackdowns in the United States.”

Deportations Of Immigrants Hits Record Number Under Obama Administration

  • “Huge increases in deportations of people after they were arrested for breaking traffic or immigration laws or driving drunk helped the Obama administration set a record last year for the number of criminal immigrants forced to leave the country, documents show. . . . The spike in the numbers of people deported for traffic offenses as well as a 78 percent increase in people deported for immigration-related offenses renewed skepticism about the administration’s claims that it is focusing on the most dangerous criminals.”

Companies Use Immigration Crackdown to Turn a Profit

  • As the U.S. and other western countries ramp up their arrest and deportation of suspected undocumented immigration, private security companies are seeing skyrocketing business and profits.

Immigration Crackdown Also Snares Americans

  • “In a spate of recent cases across the country, American citizens have been confined in local jails after federal immigration agents, acting on flawed information from Department of Homeland Security databases, instructed the police to hold them for investigation and possible deportation. Americans said their vehement protests that they were citizens went unheard by local police officers and jailers for days, with no communication with federal immigration agents to clarify the situation. Any case where an American is held, even briefly, for immigration investigation is a potential wrongful arrest because immigration agents lack legal authority to detain citizens.”

Arizona Sheriff Violates Civil Rights of Latinos, Justice Department Says

  • “The U.S. government said Thursday that [Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio] who called himself the toughest sheriff in America ran an office that has committed wide-ranging civil rights violations against Latinos, including a pattern of racial profiling and heavy-handed immigration patrols based on racially charged complaints. The U.S. Justice Department’s expert on measuring racial profiling called it the most egregious case he has seen, the department’s civil rights division chief told reporters.”

Arizona Candidate Challenged Over English Skills

  • “What began as an effort by political opponents to block Alejandrina Cabrera from the ballot for a seat on the City Council has mushroomed into an uncomfortable discussion of just how fluent Arizona officeholders need to be. Like many other states, Arizona has long required politicians at all levels to speak, read and write English, but the law fails to spell out just what that means. Is grade-school knowledge enough? Must one speak flawlessly? Who is to decide?”

In Lights of Charges of Anti-Latino Abuse, East Haven Mayor Says He’ll Support Latinos by Eating Tacos

  • Federal prosecutors charge four East Haven CT police officers with systematically harassing, beating, and retaliating against Latinos in their town and people who spoke up for them. East Haven’s Police Chief is eventually forced to resign. When asked how he would support Latinos in his community in lights of these indictments, East Haven Mayor Joseph Maturo Jr. answered, “I might have tacos when I go home.”

September 11, 2011

Written by C.N.

10th Anniversary of 9/11: An Asian-Nation Retrospective

Today the U.S. and the rest of the world commemorates the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Many media outlets, think tanks and research institutions, organizations, and individual commentators have offered their own analyses of what transpired on that day 10 years ago and what has happened since. Like those of many Americans, my reflections are complex and even contradictory.

On the one hand, I still mourn those who suffered on that eventful day, in the years since, and continue to suffer today. I also applaud the ways in which, at least for a while, we came together as Americans, united by our fierce loyalty to fundamental principles upon which this country was founded. On the other hand, I also feel that we as Americans have given given into fear too much and that has allowed many of our institutions to inflict needless hostility against innocent people inside the U.S. and around the world.

To hopefully serve as a teaching and learning resource about the issues related to this 10th anniversary, I humbly offer the following retrospective of posts related to 9/11, the war on terrorism, and the treatment of Arab and Muslim Americans (or those perceived to be by the rest of society) since Sept. 11, 2001 (in chronological order).

Peace Rally at Brooklyn Mosque © Richard H. Cohen/Corbis

9/11/01: Tragedy & Devastation

  • Days after the attacks, the need for unity is clear.

Jumping the Gun

  • Racial paranoia fed by terrorist fears leads to a sad case of racial profiling.

Terror Alert for Chinese Immigrants

  • A bizarre case of unsubstantiated rumors and individual revenge leads to Chinese immigrants targeted as potential terrorists.

Hate Crimes on the Rise?

  • Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, hate crimes based on racial/ethnic or religious identity increased, but then declined. This post from 2005 analyzes why they began increasing again.

Calls for Racial Profiling in NYC

  • A group of New York politicians advocate using explicit racial profiling to target Arabs and Muslims.

Racial Profiling Against Arab Americans Continue

  • Contrary to ‘official’ denials, racial profiling against Arab and Muslim Americans is still alive and well — and in fact thriving — in the U.S.

The State of Muslim Americans

  • An article by Reuters looks at where the Muslim American community stood on the five-year anniversary of 9/11.

U.S. Trying to Bridge Gap to Arabs & Muslims

  • Looking at the sincerity and prospects of efforts by the Bush administration to reach out to Arab and Muslim Americans and improve relations with them.

Hmong Refugees Labeled as Terrorists

  • Rather than thanking them, Hmong refugees who fought alongside the U.S. in the Viet Nam War are labeled as terrorists.

Parallels Between Treatment of Muslims and Japanese

  • Members of both groups reflect on the unfortunate similarity of being the targets of racial profiling by their own country as it fights wars with others who look like them.

Attitudes Towards Muslim Americans

  • New opinion surveys describe the public’s attitude about Muslim Americans since the 9/11 attacks.

Handbook for Young Muslim Americans

  • A new book helps young Muslim Americans in negotiating the challenging racial, religious, and cultural terrain of contemporary American society.

What Muslims Want to Tell the World

  • A short video illustrates that, contrary to many media images, Muslim Americans want peace just as much as anybody else.

Wal-Mart Catering to Muslim Americans

  • Is it wrong for Wal-Mart to try to make more money by appealing to Muslim American customers?

How Muslims View the West

  • How similar and different are the views of Muslims toward the west, compared to how the west views them?

What Exactly is a Hate Crime?

  • How a recent racial attack against an Indian American symbolizes the injustices people of color have experienced through the years.

Creating an Arab and Middle Eastern Racial Category

  • Creating a new racial category for Arab and Middle Eastern Americans will not weaken, but strengthen America’s identity and influence.

New Books: Arab & Muslim Americans

  • New academic books provide a more detailed look into the lives, experiences, successes, and challenged faced by Arab and Muslim Americans.

The Most Significant Racial/Ethnic Issue of the Decade

  • In the decade of the 2000s, one issue has become the most significant factor in affecting racial/ethnic relations in the U.S.

Literary Essays on 9/11 10th Anniversary

  • Special issue of Asian American Literary Review commemorates the 10th anniversary of 9/11 from the point of view of South Asians, Arabs, Middle Easterners, and Muslim Americans.

September 8, 2011

Written by C.N.

Literary Essays on 9/11 10th Anniversary

As the nation prepares to commemorate the 10th anniversary of 9/11, there are many different ways to think about how those events have affected the Asian American community in the past decade. One important contribution comes from the academic journal The Asian American Literary Review, which has just released a special issue of testimonies, essays, and dialogues written by community activists, writers, and scholars that explore the the political, legal, and civil rights repercussions for most directly affected: South Asians, Arabs, Middle Easterners, and Muslim Americans. An excerpt of their press release and their table of contents are below:

AALR Special Issue: 9/11 10th Anniversary

Asian American Literary Review Releases Special Issue Commemorating Tenth Anniversary Of Sept. 11

As the tenth anniversary of September 11th, 2001 approaches, how can we reflect on that day and its aftermath when so many of the voices of affected communities remain unheard? In the interests of broadening the public conversation, The Asian American Literary Review (AALR) is publishing a special commemorative issue that gives voice to those too frequently unheard.

AALR’s Special Issue: Commemorating the Tenth Anniversary of Sept. 11 features a Sikh American musician on the traumas of experience, before and after; an Indian American lawyer on defending Guantánamo detainees; a Pakistani American Muslim feminist on teaching September 11th; an Afghan American poet on envisioning the first Afghan American literary anthology; an Arab American scholar on why Arab American fiction matters; and organizers and participants on the 10-year anniversary of Desis Organizing, the first gathering of NYC South Asian activists and artists. . . .

Rajini Srikanth, Introduction

Section 1: Witness and Grieving

  • Sonny Singh, Testimony
  • Anouska Cheddie, Testimony
  • Samina Najmi, “Teaching as a Pakistani American Muslim Feminist”
  • Unais Ibrahim, Shahara Ahmed, and Tauseef Kazi, Testimony
  • Kazim Ali, “September 14th”
  • Varun Sriram, “My Airport Story”
  • Siddharth Shah, “Terrorized Nervous Systems and Islamophobic Backlash: The Case for Neurobiological and Psychosocial Countermeasures”
  • Rishi Reddi, “On Being South Asian Post 9/11″
  • Mary Husain, Rakhshanda Saleem, Sunaina Maira, and Veena Dubal, “Forum | On 9/11 as ‘Rupture'”
  • Sudha Acharya, Testimony
  • Theresa Thanjan, Testimony
  • Elizabeth OuYang, Testimony
  • DJ Rekha, Postcard & Testimony
  • Anant Raut, “I Guess You Had to Be”
  • Vijay Prashad, “Dear Uncle Swami”

Visuals from Visible Collective

Section 2: New Formations, New Alignments

  • Adem Carroll, Testimony
  • Tito Sinha and Chaumtoli Huq, “Laying the Groundwork for-Post 9/11 Alliances: Reactions Ten Years Later on Desis Organizing”
  • Zohra Saed, Testimony
  • Pico Iyer, “Ten Years On”
  • Angie Chuang, “Six Syllables: Searching for Home, and the Post-9/11 Metaphor, in Kabul”
  • Pawan Dhingra, “Post-9/11 Vacancies: Race, Economics, and Indian American Motel Owners”
  • Deepa Iyer, Gary Okihiro, Jack (John Kuo Wei) Tchen, Sunita, S. Mukhi, Jennifer Hayashida, Abla Harara, Nadia Firozvi, and Robert Ji-Song Ku, “Forum | On the Desi America-Asian America Split and New Alignments Between South Asian, Arab, Middle Eastern, and Muslim Americans”
  • Tram Nguyen, “On Suspects and Belonging: Post-9/11 America”
  • Khin Mai Aung, Testimony
  • Magid Shihade, “On 9/11 and the War on ‘Terror': Names, Numbers, and Events”
  • Elora Chowdhury, “Unsuspecting Connections: Reactions on Teaching ‘Becoming South Asian’ to Non-South Asians in Post-9/11 America”
  • Vasudha Desikan, Testimony
  • Saru Jayaraman, Testimony
  • Subhash Kateel by Parag Khandhar, “The Long View: An Interview”

Visuals from Tomie Arai

Section 3: We Live in Echo

  • Dinu Ahmed and Moumita Zaman, “A Dialogue on Khadijah’s Caravan”
  • Mazen Naous, “Why Arab American Fiction Matters”
  • Amitava Kumar, Harold Ja e, Anis Shivani, and Shailja Patel, “Forum | On Literature Post 9/11″
  • Zohra Saed, Testimony
  • Ronak Kapadia, Prerana Reddy, Naeem Mohaiemen, Vivek Bald, Aimara Lin, Uzma Z. Rizvi, and Aziz Huq, “Collectives in Post-2001 New York: A Conversation with
    Visible Collective”
  • Madhulika Khandelwal, Testimony
  • Purvi Shah, Hossannah Asuncion, Tamiko Beyer, April Heck, R.A. Villanueva, and Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai, “A Public Art, A Re-membered Poetry, A Community Constellation: A Dialogue on the Kundiman Project Together We Are New York”
  • Shahid Buttar and Dan S. Wang, Testimony
  • Giles Li and Sham-e Ali Nayeem, “On the DVD Ten Years Later: Asian American Performers Reflect on 9/11″
  • Sunu Chandy, Testimony

Visuals from Khadijah’s Caravan

Parag Khandhar, Afterword


July 14, 2011

Written by C.N.

Posts from Years Past: July

If you’re the nostalgic type, you might be interested to read the following posts from July of years past:


July 5, 2010

Written by C.N.

Posts from Years Past: July

You might be interested to read the following posts from July of years past:

  • 2009: Reflections on a Multiracial Buddhist Retreat
    One of my most controversial posts — In an otherwise refreshing and renewing multiracial Buddhist family retreat, two incidents with racial overtones highlight unconscious racial dynamics still present in American society.
  • 2008: The New Yorker’s Obama Cover
    The New Yorker’s controversial cartoon cover of Barack and Michelle Obama as terrorists brings up a range of reactions from conservatives and liberals.
  • 2007: Allowing Non-Citizens to Vote
    Should immigrants who haven’t become citizens yet be allowed to vote in elections?
  • 2006: “Cute Culture” in Japan
    Looking at the rising popularity of “cute culture’s” effect on Japan’s mentality toward outsiders.
  • 2005: Native Hawaiian Sovereignty
    Looking at the contentious debate about whether to grant Native Hawaiians sovereignty rights.
  • 2004: Jumping the Gun
    Racial paranoia fed by terrorist fears leads to a sad case of racial profiling.

May 10, 2010

Written by C.N.

Arizona, Immigration Reform, and Where the Democratic Party Stands

As I’m sure almost everyone has heard about, a couple of weeks ago the Arizona legislature passed a new law (SB 1070), signed by the Governor, that allows local police to check the immigration status of anyone they suspect of being an unauthorized immigrant. In making being in the state without authorization a crime, Arizona police can then arrest and begin deportation proceedings against those who cannot properly document that they are legal immigrants.

As many critics of the law point out, the law basically legalizes racial profiling against Latinos, anyone who looks Latino and more generally people of color since it is highly unlikely that this new law can be carried out without the police resorting to racial profiling against the racial/ethnic group most often associated with the issue of unauthorized immigration: Latinos. In other words, it is highly unlikely that Whites will be stopped in large numbers by police and told to prove that they’re in the U.S. legally.

My family and I had plans on visiting Arizona this summer, seeing some friends, and camping at the Grand Canyon (it would have been my daughter’s first visit to the Grand Canyon). But along with many people in the U.S. and around the world who condemn this law, including many Asian Americans, we decided to act on our opposition to this new law by canceling our trip and are now boycotting Arizona. My daughter was disappointed but certainly understands and supports the reason behind it.

Others have written very detailed and convincing critiques of Arizona’s law and I don’t want to just echo what they’ve already said. Instead, I would like to reemphasize some points made by Debra J. Saunders at the San Francisco Chronicle. She points out that while it’s natural and generally for critics of Arizona’s law to focus on Republicans for condemnation, Democrats are not completely free of blame either:

President Obama called the Arizona law “misguided” and said he favors “commonsense comprehensive immigration reform.” It’s all lip service. President Obama reneged on his 2008 campaign pledge to push immigration reform – with a path to citizenship for undocumented aliens – during his first year in office because, well, it’s political poison.

At a Cinco de Mayo event last week, Obama had a new promise – “to begin work this year” on an immigration bill. In Spanish that translates into: Adios, amigos. Of course, not all Latino voters want to relax immigration laws, but to the extent that they do, they have guaranteed that the Democratic Party will take their votes for granted.

Meanwhile, why should Republicans stick their necks out for a demographic that abandoned John McCain in the 2008 presidential election? He risked his political ambitions by pushing for a federal bill with a pathway to citizenship in 2007 and then, according to an Edison/Mitofsky exit poll, McCain won a lousy 31 percent of the Latino vote- down from George W. Bush’s 44 percent in the 2004 presidential contest.

Obama helped kill that bill, and he won 67 percent of the demographic.

When it’s in their interests, Democrats ditch their pro-illegal immigration corner. In 2003, the Democratic California Legislature passed a bill to allow illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. Voters revolted and recalled Gov. Gray Davis, who signed the measure. In a craven act of cowardice, the Legislature quickly voted to rescind the bill it had passed.

In 2009, the Obama administration deported 5 percent more illegal immigrants than the Bush administration deported in 2008. As part of his immigration reform proposal, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, is pushing for a national ID card for all American workers – the very type of documentation that critics of the Arizona law have said will turn Arizona into the “Your papers, please” state.

Saunders’ last point about Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer deserves particular attention. A few months ago, Schumer and South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham laid out their “blueprint” for comprehensive immigration reform (this was before the Arizona law as passed). As printed in the Washington Post, some of their provisions directly mirror the anti-immigrant sentiment that prompted the Arizona law:

We would require all U.S. citizens and legal immigrants who want jobs to obtain a high-tech, fraud-proof Social Security card. . . . We would bolster recent efforts to secure our borders by increasing the Border Patrol’s staffing and funding for infrastructure and technology. More personnel would be deployed to the border immediately to fill gaps in apprehension capabilities.

Other steps include expanding domestic enforcement to better apprehend and deport those who commit crimes and completing an entry-exit system that tracks people who enter the United States on legal visas and reports those who overstay their visas to law enforcement databases. . . .

For the 11 million immigrants already in this country illegally . . . they would be required to admit they broke the law and to pay their debt to society by performing community service and paying fines and back taxes. These people would be required to pass background checks and be proficient in English before going to the back of the line of prospective immigrants to earn the opportunity to work toward lawful permanent residence.

Regardless of their political ideology, almost everyone generally agrees that as it stands, our current immigration system and policies are broken and need to be fixed. For years, conservatives have argued for an strict “enforcement first” approach that focuses on keeping unauthorized immigrants from entering in the first place and deporting as many as possible those already in the U.S. (or at least making life so miserable for them that they voluntarily leave the country).

Historically, Democrats have supported a more forgiving approach to immigration reform that, while acknowledging their unauthorized status, also recognizes the contributions that they make to the economy through sales, income, and other taxes that they pay and in making labor-intensive industries such as agriculture and construction more globally competitive, to name just a few.

But nowadays, as Julia Preston at the New York Times writes, it seems that Democrats have become just as “enforcement-first” as Republicans:

The enforcement would be more far-reaching than anything in place now — or anything proposed by the administration of President George W. Bush. It begins with “zero tolerance” for immigrants trying to enter the country illegally, by tightening border enforcement and by barring them from taking jobs in the United States.

“It shows how far the Democrats have moved in terms of tougher and tougher enforcement,” said Edward Alden, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who studies immigration. “Across the board you see language that would be very comfortable in a proposal written by Republicans.”

This change in direction by the Democratic Party is not an encouraging sign for supporters of addressing the issue of unauthorized immigration in a more holistic manner (recognizing the humanity of the people involved, the economic reasons many decide to enter the U.S. in the first place, the diversity of the unauthorized immigrant population to include not just border crossers but visa overstayers, and the contributions they make to the U.S.). In fact, while there are still some Democratic politicians who share these beliefs, I would say that as a rule, we can no longer rely on the Democratic party or Democratic politicians to be a staunch ally in terms of supporting a humanistic and holistic approach to comprehensive reform. And as much as I hate to say it, this includes President Obama.

Granted, much of the change in attitude among Democratic politicians toward a stricter “enforcement-first” approach is due to the practical realities of wanting to appeal to their mostly White constituents to get reelected (itself a reflection of the emerging White backlash movement). Nonetheless, for many liberals like me, seeing the Democratic Party distancing itself from their traditional support of true comprehensive immigration reform feels like a kick in the stomach and a betrayal.

At least when it comes to the issue of immigration reform, many within the Democratic Party seem to be making choosing what’s convenient over what’s right.


April 12, 2010

Written by C.N.

Updated List of White Backlash Examples

Following up on my earlier post entitled “White Backlash: Yes, It’s Real,” I will use this post to maintain a continually updated list of news stories that highlight and exemplify various examples of this kind of direct and indirect anti-minority, anti-‘foreigner,’ and pro-‘traditional American’ mentality and behavior that is increasingly on display throughout American society. The list in in reverse chronological order (most recent stories first). Also, feel free to mention any other examples I missed in the comments section at the bottom.

  • Secret Service to Probe Bullet-Ridden Picture of Obama (Jan. 2012)
    A photograph showing a group of men with guns posing with a bullet-riddled T-shirt containing an image of Barack Obama’s face is to be investigated by the Secret Service. The picture originally appeared on the Facebook page of an Arizona (surprise!) police officer.
  • Kansas Republican Leader Calls Michelle Obama ‘Mrs. YoMama,’ Prays She Becomes a Widow (Jan. 2012)
    Kansas House Speaker Mike O’Neal (R) was forced to apologize to First Lady Michelle Obama after forwarding an email to fellow lawmakers that called her “Mrs. YoMama.”
    Earlier that same week, O’Neal said “Let [President Obama’s] days be few” and calls for his children to be without a father and his wife to be widowed.
  • Arizona Teenage Girls Post Racist YouTube Denigrating Immigrants (Jan. 2012)
    A group of Arizona girls post a video on YouTube about “Mexican immigration” and the “new Arizona law that just passed the legislator (sic).” The video was pulled from YouTube and the creators deleted their YouTube account shortly after their inboxes and social media accounts were flooded with video responses and hate mail.
  • California Libertarian Politician Calls for Obama to be Assassinated (Jan. 2012)
    Jules Manson, who ran for city council in Carson (CA), posts about President Obama on his Facebook page, “Assassinate the fucken nigger and his monkey children.”
  • Fox Sports Sports Segment Mocks Asians With an Accent (Sept. 2011)
    Fox Sports deliberately singles out Asian students who have a foreign accent at USC to suggest that USC students are clueless about sports.
  • Muslim American U.S. Citizen Removed from Flight for Saying “I’ve Got to Go” (March 2011)
    Racial Profiling 1010: a Muslim American graduate student was removed from a Southwest flight after a crew member thought they had overheard the passenger say something vaguely threatening over her cell phone — “I’ve got to go.”
  • Posters for Students of Color Vandalized at Univ. of Utah (March 2011)
    Candidates of color running for student government at the Univ. of Utah have their campaign posters torn down or vandalized with racist terms such as “terrorists,” “ghetto,” and other offensive stereotypes.
  • Blond UCLA Student Majoring in White Privilege (March 2011)
    Clueless UCLA student Alexandra Wallace thinks it’s cool to post a video on YouTube where she mocks and stereotypes Asians (yes, the tired, old ‘ching chong’ routine) and makes light of the catastrophe in Japan. [Insert blond joke here].
  • Kansas Lawmaker Suggests Hunting Illegal Immigrants Like ‘Feral Hogs’ (March 2011)
    Murder is so funny, isn’t it — State Rep. Virgil Peck cracks, “Looks like to me, if shooting these immigrating feral hogs works, maybe we have found a (solution) to our illegal immigration problem,” refuses to apologize.
  • British Prime Minister Calls Multiculturalism a Failure (February 2011)
    Cameron stereotypes and indicts entire religious, ethnic, and cultural groups by arguing that “hands-off tolerance” in Britain and other European nations has encouraged Muslims and other immigrant groups “to live separate lives, apart from each other and the mainstream.”
  • Asian American Legislator Receives Death Threats for Criticizing Rush Limbaugh (January 2011)
    Rush Limbaugh mocks China’s President Hu Jintao using juvenile “ching chong” gibberish, refuses to apologize, and his supporters threaten the life of an Asian American legislator who calls for a boycott of Limbaugh’s advertisers.
  • Ohio Mom Sent to Jail for Sending Kids to Suburban School (January 2011)
    A single African American mother tries give her kids a better life by sending them to a predominantly White school, only to be arrested, convicted of “tampering with school records,” and sentenced to 10 days in jail.
  • Virginia Republican Chair Compares Blacks to Dogs (October 2010)
    Virginia’s Republican Party Chairman Bob McDonnell sent around an email in which he draws on racist stereotypes about Blacks on welfare.
  • Billboard in Colorado Portrays President Obama as Terrorist, Gangster, Mexican Bandit, and Gay (October 2010)
    An anonymous individual or group puts up a billboard on Interstate 70 in Colorado that has cartoon caricatures of President Obama as an Arab terrorist, a gangster, a Mexican bandit/illegal immigrant, and as a homosexual.
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel: Multiculturalism has ‘Utterly Failed’ (October 2010)
    Germany’s leader declares that attempts at building a multicultural society has “utterly failed” and that, basically it is entirely the responsibility of non-Germans (i.e., non-Whites) to integrate into the German mainstream. Didn’t we hear a similar message from another high-profile German Chancellor back in the 1930s?
  • Islamophobia Reaches a Fever Pitch (August 2010)
    Racist and xenophobic opposition to a mosque near Ground Zero and calls by some Christian leaders to burn the Koran on 9/11 illustrates America’s rising hatred of Islam.
  • “Yup, I’m A Racist” T-Shirts for Sale (July 2010)
    Celebrate Independence Day 2010 by proudly proclaiming your racism and do your part to make racism cool.
  • U.S Hospital Fires 4 Filipina Nurses for Speaking Tagalog on Their Lunch Break (June 2010)
    Four Filipina ex-staffers of a Baltimore City hospital haven’t gotten over the shock of being summarily fired from their jobs, allegedly because they spoke Pilipino during their lunch break. . . “They claimed they heard us speaking in Pilipino and that is the only basis of the termination. It wasn’t because of my functions as a nurse. There were no negative write-ups, no warning before the termination,” [Nurse Hachelle Hatano] added.
  • South Carolina State Senator Calls President Obama a “Raghead” (June 2010)
    Republican state Sen. Jake Knotts refers to President Obama and Nikki Haley, a Republican gubernatorial candidate of Indian descent: “We’ve already got a raghead in the White House, we don’t need another raghead in the governor’s mansion.”
  • Arizona Passes Law Censoring Ethnic Studies Programs (May 2010)
    On the heels of the law that critics argue would legalize racial profiling against Latinos, Arizona’s new anti-ethnic studies bill “prohibits classes that advocate ethnic solidarity, that are designed primarily for students of a particular race or that promote resentment toward a certain ethnic group.”
  • Alabama Governor Candidate Declares “We Speak English” (April 2010)
    Tim James, Republican candidate for Governor of Alabama, releases a TV ad in which he declares, “This is Alabama; we speak English. If you want to live here, learn it” (you can watch the actual ad at the link above).
  • Arizona Enacts Stringent Law on Immigration (April 2010)
    Arizona’s new legislation would allow police to question anyone suspected of being an unauthorized immigrant. Critics charge that it basically amounts to legally-sanctioned racial profiling and plan demonstrations, boycotts, and lawsuits to protest and block its implementation.
  • Asian American Legislator Receives Racist Threats After Questioning Palin Visit (April 2010)
    California State Legislator Leland Yee summarizes the racist threats he received from Sarah Palin supporters after questioning her planned visit to a Cal State University campus.
  • John Jay College Accused of Bias Against Noncitizens (April 2010)
    The Justice Department files a lawsuit against John Jay College of Criminal Justice, accusing it of violating provisions of immigration law by demanding extra work authorization from at least 103 individuals since 2007.
  • McDonnell’s Confederate History Month Proclamation Irks Civil Rights Leaders (April 2010)
    The Governor of Virginia revives a dormant proclamation that April is “Confederate History Month,” with the initial version of his proclamation omitting any mention of slavery.
  • Male Studies vs. Men’s Studies (April 2010)
    A group of White male academics are trying to create a new academic discipline that highlights the ways in which males (by implication, White males) are apparently an underrepresented and oppressed group in contemporary American society.
  • Racist Fliers Distributed at UW-Oshkosh, St. Norbert College (March 2010)
    An example of how White supremacist hate groups are increasingly capitalizing on this White backlash.
  • UC Regents Sorry for Acts of Hate on Campuses (March 2010)
    Summarizing numerous racist incidents at numerous University of CA (UC) campuses, students and faculty try to get the UC Regents to see that racial ignorance and intolerance is a serious and endemic problem.
  • Meeting Space for Muslim Students at Brandeis is Vandalized (March 2010)
    On the heals of the racist incidents at the University of CA campuses, a newly renovated meeting space for Muslim students at Brandeis University is vandalized.
  • The Year in Nativism (March 2010)
    The Southern Poverty Law Center summarizes notable recent hate crimes against immigrants in 2008 and notes that nativist extremist groups have more than tripled in number, from 144 in 2007 to 309 in 2009.
  • Justice Department Fights Bias in Lending (January 2010)
    Under a new initiative from the Obama administration, the U.S. Justice Department begins targeting the rising predatory practice of “reverse redlining” aimed predominantly at minorities in which “. . . a mortgage brokerage or bank systematically singles out minority neighborhoods for loans with inferior terms like high up-front fees, high interest rates and lax underwriting practices. Because the original lender would typically resell such a loan after collecting its fees, it did not care about the risk of foreclosure.”
  • New Basketball League for Whites Only (January 2010)
    The “All-American Basketball Alliance” announces plans to create a minor league basketball league in which “only players that are natural born United States citizens with both parents of Caucasian race are eligible to play in the league.”

October 30, 2009

Written by C.N.

New Books: Arab & Muslim Americans

As part of this blog’s mission of making academic research and data more easily accessible, understandable, and applicable to a wider audience and to practical, everyday social issues, I highlight new sociological books about Asian Americans and other racial/ethnic groups as I hear about them.

Recently, a reader emailed me to ask why Arab, Muslim, and other ethnic and cultural groups from western Asia are not included within the “Asian American” category. I replied that from a sociological point of view, collective group identities such as “Asian American” are based on more than just geography — there are also political, economic, cultural, and religious similarities and differences.

That is why the consensus of scholars generally separate out “Asian Americans” and “Arab and Muslim Americans” as distinct group identities. Nonetheless, I also noted that both Asian Americans and Arab & Muslim Americans share many things in common and in fact, I have written several articles and blog posts on this site on the connections between the two groups.

Below are some recent and notable books that highlight the recent histories and contemporary experiences of Arab and Muslim Americans even more:

A Country Called Amreeka: Arab Roots, American Stories, by Alia Malek (Free Press)

A Country Called Amreeka by Alia Malek

This book is the most powerful approach imaginable: it is the story of the last forty-plus years of American history, told through the eyes of Arab Americans. Each chapter describes an event in U.S. history — which may already be familiar to us — and invites us to live that moment in time in the skin of one Arab American. The chapters follow a timeline from 1963 to the present, and the characters live in every corner of this country.

We meet fellow Americans of all creeds and colors, among them the Alabama football player who navigates the stringent racial mores of segregated Birmingham, where a church bombing wakes a nation to the need to make America a truly more equal place; the young wife from Ramallah — now living in Baltimore — who had to abandon her beautiful homeand is now asked by a well-meaning American, “How do you like living in an apartment after living in a tent?”; the Detroit toughs and the potsmoking suburban teenagers, who in different decades become politicized and serious about their heritage despite their own wills; the homosexual man afraid to be gay in the Arab world and afraid to be Arab in America; the two formidable women who wind up working for opposing campaigns in the 2000 presidential election; the Marine fighting in Iraq who meets villagers who ask him, “What are you, an Arab, doing here?”

We glimpse how America sees Arabs as much as how Arabs see America. We revisit the 1973 oil embargo that initiated the American perception of all Arabs as oil-rich sheikhs; the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis that heralded the arrival of Middle Eastern Islam in the American consciousness; bombings across three decades in Los Angeles, Oklahoma City, and New York City that bring terrorism to American soil; and both wars in Iraq that have posed Arabs as the enemies of America.

How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America, by Moustafa Bayoumi (Penguin Books)

How Does it Feel to be a Problem by Moustafa Bayoumi

Just over a century ago , W.E.B. Du Bois posed a probing question in his classic The Souls of Black Folk: How does it feel to be a problem? Now, Moustafa Bayoumi asks the same about America’s new “problem”-Arab- and Muslim-Americans. Bayoumi takes readers into the lives of seven twenty-somethings living in Brooklyn, home to the largest Arab-American population in the United States.

He moves beyond stereotypes and clichés to reveal their often unseen struggles, from being subjected to government surveillance to the indignities of workplace discrimination. Through it all, these young men and women persevere through triumphs and setbacks as they help weave the tapestry of a new society that is, at its heart, purely American.

Al’ America: Travels Through America’s Arab and Islamic Roots, by Jonathan Curiel (New Press)

Al' America by Jonathan Curiel

Four out of ten Americans say they dislike Muslims, according to a Gallup poll. “Muslims,” a blogger wrote on the Web site Free Republic, “don’t belong in America.” In a lively, funny, and revealing riposte to these sentiments, journalist Jonathan Curiel offers a fascinating tour through the little-known Islamic past, and present, of American culture.

From highbrow to pop, from lighthearted to profound, Al’ America reveals the Islamic and Arab influences before our eyes, under our noses, and ringing in our ears. Curiel demonstrates that many of America’s most celebrated places—including the Alamo in San Antonio, the French Quarter of New Orleans, and the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina—retain vestiges of Arab and Islamic culture.

Likewise, some of America’s most recognizable music—the Delta Blues, the surf sounds of Dick Dale, the rock and psychedelia of Jim Morrison and the Doors—is indebted to Arab music. And some of America’s leading historical figures, from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Elvis Presley, relied on Arab or Muslim culture for intellectual sustenance.

Part travelogue, part cultural history, Al’ America confirms a continuous pattern of give-and-take between America and the Arab-Muslim world. The rich and surprising tapestry of Arab and Islamic influence on America includes:

  • Architecture: from the World Trade Center to the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina
  • Music: from the blues to surf music and the Doors
  • Philosophy and poetry: from the Transcendentalists and Henry James to Khalil Gibran and Rumi
  • The food we eat: from ice cream cone to coffee
  • Pop culture: from P.T. Barnum to the Shriners and Star Wars

Race and Arab Americans Before and After 9/11: From Invisible Citizens to Visible Subjects, edited by Amaney Jamal and Nadine Naber (Syracuse University Press)

Race and Arab Americans Before and After 9/11 edited by Jamal and Naber

Bringing the rich terrain of Arab American histories to bear on conceptualizations of race in the U.S., this groundbreaking volume fills a critical gap in the field of ethnic studies. Unlike most immigrant communities who either have been consistently marked as “non-white,” or have made a transition from “non-white” to “white,” Arab Americans historically have been rendered “white” and have increasingly come to be seen as “non-white.”

This book highlights emergent discourses on the distinct ways that race matters to the study of Arab American histories and asks essential questions. What is the relationship between U.S. imperialism in Arab homelands and anti-Arab racism in the lives of Arab Americans? What are the relationships between religion, class, gender, and anti-Arab racism? What is the significance of whiteness studies to Arab American studies?

Transcending multiculturalist discourses after September 11 that have simply “added on” the category “Arab American” to the landscape of U.S. ethnic and racial studies, this volume locates September 11 as a turning point, rather than a beginning, in the history of Arab American engagements with race, multiculturalism, and Americanization.


July 27, 2009

Written by C.N.

The Larger Context of the Professor Gates Racial Profiling Incident

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard about the incident in which Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates alleges that he was racially profiled by the Cambridge Police Department after he tried to open the front door of his house that was stuck only to have a neighbor mistakenly think he was a burglar trying to break into the house and call the police, who subsequently arrested him after a confrontation at his house. The following CBS News video summarizes the incident:

For those who are regular readers of this site and blog, it will not surprise you to hear that I am squarely behind Professor Gates on this one for many reasons — being an academic as well, being a person of color, and being a sociologist who studies racial dynamics in this country.

As Professor Gates and his supporters argue, this entire incident is a stark example of the persistence of racial profiling in American society, where many Whites are quick to assume that any Black man in a well-to-do neighborhood is suspicious, where police are much less likely to believe a Black man’s word than a White man’s, and where police are much more likely to arrest a Black man while letting a White man go for the same behavior.

I don’t want to go into a long and detailed analysis about this particular incident nor the legal issue of racial profiling specifically. Some of the better commentaries that I’ve read about the Gates incident can be found at Racism Review, All About Race, and the New York Times.

For those who are interested in delving into the background issues that frame racial profiling (and the related topic of White privilege), I highly recommend starting with some of the books written by Professor Joe Feagin, such as White Racism: The Basics, Two-Faced Racism: Whites in the Backstage and Frontstage, and The Many Costs of Racism.

Certainly, this is not the first incident of racial profiling in American history. Neither is it the first incident in which an African American professor was arrested trying to do a seemingly routine and mundane task in public. I refer to a 2005 incident involving Antwi Akom, an Assistant Professor of Africana Studies at San Francisco State University and personal friend of mine, who was stopped from entering his office and subsequently arrested by campus police while his two young daughters were sleeping in his car.

Sadly, these two incidents illustrate many unfortunate points about the state of race relations in American society today. The first is that even Blacks such as Professors Gates and Akom with high-status occupations or professional characteristics are not immune from racism and racial profiling. In fact, incidents like this remind me of a “joke” that an African American mentor told me years ago (please excuse the language, I’m just repeating it as it was told to me): “What does White America call a Black man with a Ph.D.? A nigger.”

More generally, these kinds of incidents remind us that, contrary to what many and perhaps most Whites think, race is still a deeply-entrenched issue in American society, just waiting to boil over. As evidence, a second CBS News video summarizes how this incident has touched off a national debate about race relations and racial profiling:

What strikes me the most about not just this particular incident involving Professor Gates, but the reaction of Americans from different racial backgrounds around the country is this: I find it ironic that in general, many (as in a large number but certainly not all) Whites feel unaccustomed and therefore uncomfortable talking about racial issues (this recent article published by the American Psychological Association summarizes this tendency among Whites to avoid talking about race very well). Instead, consciously or unconsciously, they try to be “colorblind” and act like they don’t notice racial differences around them.

In theory, that’s a great idea but in practice and within the realities of American society, it is just not practical and ultimately, naive. The result of this dynamic is that when incidents like this (or when a group of Black and Latino children are turned away by a predominantly White swimming club, or when I notice that virtually all of the people who volunteered to stay and clean up after a Buddhist retreat are people of color) become publicized, many Whites are surprised and taken aback when the “R-word” (racism) is used.

In fact, many Whites become quite defensive when the R-word (or the idea of White privilege) comes up, as though they are being personally accused of acting in a racist way against a person of color, or that they are being told that they are personally more privileged than every single other person of color in the country.

But here’s the problem: what many Whites don’t realize is that one of the reasons why people of color invoke racism as the cause of such incidents is that on a collective and institutional level, we as a society have yet to honestly and fully reconcile our racial history and how it continues to form the basis for the conflicts such as this.

In other words, the fact that many Whites don’t want to or can’t talk about racism (as well-meaning and well-intentioned as they are) is part of the reason why racism still exists. In fact, this inability or unwillingness to discuss racism is a big reason why many Whites get defensive when the topic of racial discrimination or White privilege comes up — they are not able to depersonalize the issue, place it outside of their own personal experiences, and examine it from it from an institutional point of view.

Ultimately, this is also why relationships, opinions, experiences, and conversations between Whites and non-Whites on the individual and institutional levels remain emotionally fraught beneath the superficial veneer of colorblindness and in fact, will continue to boil over for the foreseeable future.

Yes, denial that race is a problem is part of the problem. And the more most Americans deny it, the more it festers and the more it erodes our sense of national identity and unity. The fact that this incident has become a national controversy should be plenty of proof that race is still a unresolved issue in this country. For those who think that I’m being “extremist,” or even “racist,” then take a look at the following NBC News video from this past weekend that basically says the exact same thing: