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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.


March 16, 2011

Written by C.N.

Posts from Years Past: March

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


December 27, 2010

Written by C.N.

New Books: Examples of Racial-Ethnic Integration

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. A book’s inclusion is for informational purposes only and does not necessarily mean a full endorsement of its contents.

The start of a new year represents a renewal of hope for many people. In this case, one of my hopes is that, as a nation and society, we as Americans can continue to strive toward racial/ethnic justice and equality and to overcome the individual-, group-, and institutional challenges that get in the way of recognizing and internalizing the many benefits that a diverse and multicultural society provides us. To help in this process, these new books give us some examples of how we as Americans can become more united across racial, ethnic, and cultural divides.

A Mosaic of Believers: Diversity and Innovation in a Multiethnic Church, by Gerardo Marti (Indiana University Press)

'A Mosiac of Believers' by Gerardo Marti

Mosaic in southern California is one of the largest and most innovative multiethnic congregations in America. Gerardo Marti shows us how this unusual church has achieved multiethnicity, not by targeting specific groups, but by providing multiple havens of inclusion that play down ethnic differences. He reveals a congregation aiming to reconstruct evangelical theology, personal identity, member involvement, and church governance to create an institution with greater relevance to the social reality of a new generation.

Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead: The Frank Meeink Story as Told to Jody M. Roy, Ph.D., by Frank Meeink and Jody M. Roy (Hawthorne Books)

'Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead' by Meeink and Roy

Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead is Frank Meeink’s raw telling of his descent into America’s Nazi underground and his ultimate triumph over drugs and hatred. Frank’s violent childhood in South Philadelphia primed him to hate, while addiction made him easy prey for a small group of skinhead gang recruiters. By 16 he had become one of the most notorious skinhead gang leaders on the East Coast and by 18 he was doing hard time.

Teamed up with African-American players in a prison football league, Frank learned to question his hatred, and after being paroled he defected from the white supremacy movement and began speaking on behalf of the Anti-Defamation League. A story of fighting the demons of hatred and addiction, Frank’s downfall and ultimate redemption has the power to open hearts and change lives.

Fire in the Heart: How White Activists Embrace Racial Justice, by Mark R. Warren (Oxford University Press)

'Fire in the Heart' by Mark R. Warren

Fire in the Heart uncovers the dynamic processes through which some white Americans become activists for racial justice. The book reports powerful accounts of the development of racial awareness drawn from in-depth interviews with fifty white activists in the fields of community organizing, education, and criminal justice reform.

Drawing extensively on the rich interview material, Mark Warren shows how white Americans can develop a commitment to racial justice, not just because it is the right thing to do, but because they embrace the cause as their own. Contrary to much contemporary thinking on racial issues focused on altruism or interests, Warren finds that cognitive and rational processes alone do little to move whites to action.

Rather, the motivation to take and sustain action for racial justice is profoundly moral and relational. Warren shows how white activists come to find common cause with people of color when their core values are engaged, as they build relationships with people of color that lead to caring, and when they develop a vision of a racially just future that they understand to benefit everyone — themselves, other whites, and people of color. Warren also considers the complex dynamics and dilemmas white people face in working in multiracial organizations committed to systemic change in America’s racial order, and provides a deeper understanding and appreciation of the role that white people can play in efforts to promote racial justice.

The first study of its kind, Fire in the Heart brings to light the perspectives of white people who are working day-to-day to build not a post-racial America but the foundations for a truly multiracial America rooted in a caring, human community with equity and justice at its core.

Transcending Racial Barriers: Toward a Mutual Obligations Approach, by Michael O. Emerson and George Yancey (Oxford University Press)

'Transcending Racial Barriers' by Emerson and Yancey

Despite recent progress against racial inequalities, American society continues to produce attitudes and outcomes that reinforce the racial divide. In Transcending Racial Barriers, Michael Emerson and George Yancey offer a fresh perspective on how to combat racial division. They document the historical move from white supremacy to institutional racism, then look at modern efforts to overcome the racialized nature of our society. The authors argue that both conservative and progressive approaches have failed, as they continually fall victim to forces of ethnocentrism and group interest.

They then explore group interest and possible ways to account for the perspectives of both majority and minority group members. They look to multiracial congregations, multiracial families, the military, and sports teams-all situations in which group interests have been overcome before. In each context they find the development of a core set of values that binds together different racial groups, along with the flexibility to express racially-based cultural uniqueness that does not conflict with this critical core.

Transcending Racial Barriers offers what is at once a balanced approach towards dealing with racial alienation and a bold step forward in the debate about the steps necessary to overcome present-day racism.


June 30, 2010

Written by C.N.

New Books: Race/Ethnicity in Contemporary America

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. A book’s inclusion is for informational purposes only and does not necessarily mean a full endorsement of its contents.

It’s been kind of a quiet start of the summer in terms of pressing issues or current events related to race/ethnicity, so perhaps it’s useful to take a step back and look at the general state of race/ethnicity in contemporary American society.

Searching for Whitopia: An Improbable Journey to the Heart of White America, by Rich Benjamin (Hyperion Press)

Searching for Whitopia, by Rich Benjamin

Between 2007 and 2009, Rich Benjamin, a journalist-adventurer, packed his bags and embarked on a 26,909-mile journey throughout the heart of white America, to some of the fastest-growing and whitest locales in our nation.

By 2042, whites will no longer be the American majority. As immigrant populations–largely people of color–increase in cities and suburbs, more and more whites are moving to small towns and exurban areas that are predominately, even extremely, white. Rich Benjamin calls these enclaves “Whitopias” (pronounced: “White-o-pias”).

His journey to unlock the mysteries of Whitopias took him from a three-day white separatist retreat with links to Aryan Nations in North Idaho to the inner sanctum of George W. Bush’s White House–and many points in between. And to learn what makes Whitopias tick, and why and how they are growing, he lived in three of them (in Georgia, Idaho, and Utah) for several months apiece. A compelling raconteur, bon vivant, and scholar, Benjamin reveals what Whitopias are like and explores the urgent social and political implications of this startling phenomenon.

The glow of Barack Obama’s historic election cannot obscure the racial and economic segregation still vexing America. Obama’s presidency has actually raised the stakes in a battle royale between two versions of America: one that is broadly comfortable with diversity yet residentially segregated (ObamaNation) and one that does not mind a little ethnic food or a few mariachi dancers–as long as these trends do not overwhelm a white dominant culture.

Colorblind: The Rise of Post-Racial Politics and the Retreat from Racial Equity, by Tim Wise (City Lights Publishers)

Colorblind, by Tim Wise

In this powerful follow-up to Between Barack and a Hard Place, Tim Wise argues against “colorblindness” and for a deeper color-consciousness in both public and private practice. We can only begin to move toward authentic social and economic equity through what Wise calls “illuminated individualism”—acknowledging the diverse identities that have shaped our perceptions, and the role that race continues to play in the maintenance of disparities between whites and people of color in the United States today. This is the first book to discuss the pitfalls of “colorblindness” in the Obama era.

Uncommon Common Ground: Race and America’s Future, by Angela Glover Blackwell, Stewart Kwoh, and Manuel Pastor (W.W. Norton & Co.)

Uncommon Ground, by Blackwell, Kwoh, & Pastor

With a mixed-race president, a Latino population that is now the largest minority, and steadily growing Asian and Pacific Islander populations, race is both the most dynamic facet of American identity and the defining point of American disunity.

By broadening the racial dialogue, Blackwell, founder of PolicyLink; Kwoh, president of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center; and Pastor, professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at USC, bring new perspective to this essential American issue.

Doing Race: 21 Essays for the 21st Century, edited by Hazel Rose Markus and Paula M. L. Moya (W.W. Norton & Co.)

Doing Race, by Markus and Moya

Doing Race focuses on race and ethnicity in everyday life: what they are, how they work, and why they matter. Going to school and work, renting an apartment or buying a house, watching television, voting, listening to music, reading books and newspapers, attending religious services, and going to the doctor are all everyday activities that are influenced by assumptions about who counts, whom to trust, whom to care about, whom to include, and why. Race and ethnicity are powerful precisely because they organize modern society and play a large role in fueling violence around the globe.

Drawing on the latest science and scholarship, the collected essays emphasize that race and ethnicity are not things that people or groups have or are, but rather sets of actions that people do. Doing Race provides compelling evidence that we are not yet in a “post-race” world and that race and ethnicity matter for everyone. Since race and ethnicity are the products of human actions, we can do them differently. Like studying the human genome or the laws of economics, understanding race and ethnicity is a necessary part of a twenty first century education.

Erasing Racism: The Survival of the American Nation, by Molefi Kete Asante (Prometheus Books)

Erasing Racism, by Molefi Kete Asante

Did the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States signal real progress in bridging America’s long-standing racial divide? In this profound study of systemic racism, Molefi Kete Asante, a leading scholar of African American history and culture, discusses the greatest source of frustration and anger among African Americans in recent decades: what he calls “the wall of ignorance” that attempts to hide the long history of racial injustice from public consciousness.

This is most evident in each race’s differing perspectives on racial matters. Though most whites view racism as a thing of the past, a social problem largely solved by the civil rights movement, blacks continue to experience racism in many areas of social life: encounters with the police; the practice of redlining in housing; difficulties in getting bank loans, mortgages, and insurance policies; and glaring disparities in health care, educational opportunities, unemployment levels, and incarceration rates.

Though such problems are not expressions of the overt racism of legal segregation and lynch mobs – what most whites probably think of when they hear the word ‘racism’ – their negative effect on black Americans is almost as pernicious. Such daily experiences create a lingering feeling of resentment that percolates in a slow boil till some event triggers an outburst of rage. Asante argues that America cannot long continue as a cohesive society under these conditions.

As we embark upon new leadership under America’s first African American president, he urges more public focus on redressing the wrongs of the past and their continuing legacy. Above all, he thinks that Americans must seriously consider some system of reparations to deal with both past and present injustices, an apology, and our own truth-and-reconciliation committee that addresses both the history of slavery and present-day racism. Only in this way, he feels, can we ever hope to heal the racial divide that never seems to be erased.


January 18, 2010

Written by C.N.

Dr. King, Race, Politics, and a Colorblind Society

Today we celebrate Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday and legacy as a national holiday. I would like to use this occasion to reflect a little bit on one part of Dr. King’s dream and how far we have come toward accomplishing it.

Specifically, I refer to Dr. King’s wish that one day soon, we would live in a society in which, as he eloquently put it, people “would be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” a vision that we commonly refer to as a “colorblind” society. This ideal has remained an ultimate goal for many in American society, from a wide variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds. But are we there yet? How close are we to achieving that dream?

Martin Luther King Jr. © Howard Stroman

Many Americans thought that Barack Obama’s election was the culmination of Dr. King’s dream and concrete proof that we have evolved into a “post-racial,” colorblind society. Unfortunately, as I and many other sociologists and commentators have argued, even in this past year, we have seen numerous incidents that illustrate just how prevalent racial distinctions and racism still are in American society.

As another example, just recently, there was the uproar over Senator Harry Reid’s comments from the presidential campaign that Barack Obama had a good chance of being elected because he was “light-skinned” and had “no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.” Many conservatives charged that Senator Reid’s comments were racist and that similarly due to the racist comments uttered by former Senator Trent Lott, Reid should resign. Others pointed out that conservatives were being hypocritical in pointing out this particular example of “racism” while basically ignoring other examples of racism directed toward Barack Obama over the past few years.

Similarly, others like Professor Joe Feagin point out that Harry Reid was just verbalizing an implicit reality that still operates within American society — the “backstage” racism that still exists among many White Americans who are reluctant or unwilling to vote for an African American candidate (or even any candidate of color) unless that candidate looks and acts as “White” as possible.

The point of these examples is to illustrate that in contrast to what many Americans had hoped, unfortunately we are not yet close to living in a colorblind society. While Dr. King’s dream remains the ideal, the realities of the U.S. racial/ethnic landscape are quite different.

With this in mind, I would also argue that allies and supporters of anti-racism and racial equality should accept this reality, that race is still a significant marker of differentiation in our county, rather than naively proceeding with the assumption that being colorblind is the best approach within this context.

In other words, many Whites (and other Americans of different racial/ethnic identities) try to fight back against racism by trying to be colorblind in their daily lives. They try to treat everybody they meet, interact with, or hear about, solely as an individual rather than as a member of a racial group. They genuinely believe that ignoring race is the best way to move forward toward a colorblind society. Even worse, many Americans who otherwise consider themselves “progressive” criticize people of color for “obsessing” over race and that we somehow create our own oppression by recognizing race.

While trying to be colorblind is indeed a noble and well-intended idea on the individual, interpersonal level, the problem is that the idea of colorblindness is not reinforced on the institutional level and therefore, it is just not practical given how American society continues to be racialized, as I described above, and how racism continues to largely operate independently of individual motivations. In other words, ignoring the problem will not make it go away, nor will it solve anything.

As many educators point out, if anything, trying to be colorblind only makes racism worse because people then mistakenly and naively believe that all forms of racial inequality and discrimination have been eliminated, that everybody is now on an equal playing field with equal access to all social opportunities, and that American society is a true meritocracy.

More generally, the fundamental problem is not racial differences themselves. Instead, the root of racism is that certain racial markers or characteristics have been assigned institutional value judgments of “good” versus “bad,” “normal” versus “abnormal,” and “human” versus “sub-human.” This process has led to certain racial groups being privileged and systematically advantaged over others. Or in the words of Audre Lorde, “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”

Ultimately, the best way for us to work toward achieving the ultimate colorblind ideal is to recognize, accept, and understand that racial distinctions still matter and that they are still the basis for continuing discrimination and inequality in American society today. Only by doing so will we move forward on achieving Dr. King’s final ideal — true racial equality.


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.


November 3, 2008

Written by C.N.

Lewis Hamilton: First Black Formula One Champion

Being a fan of Formula One motor racing, I’d like to congratulate Lewis Hamilton on becoming the youngest Formula One champion ever. Hailing from Great Britain, Hamilton won the driver’s championship in dramatic fashion in the Grand Prix of Brazil by passing a competitor in the last corner of the last lap and thereby claiming fifth place, just enough to win the championship over his nearest rival by one point.

However, Hamilton’s age is not his biggest distinction in his championship. He is also the first Black driver to be crowned the F1 champion. Just like a well-known candidate running for President of the United States, Hamilton is actually half White and half Black and just like Barack Obama, has endured many high-profile incidents of racism as he has risen in national and international prominence in recent years.

Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain becomes youngest and first Black F1 champion © Associated Press

Now that Hamilton has achieved his ultimate goal of winning the Formula One championship, I certainly hope that by the end of tomorrow, we can celebrate another significant similarity in the careers of Lewis Hamilton and Barack Obama.


October 20, 2008

Written by C.N.

Racists Who Support Obama

I’ve written several times recently about how the issue of race has affected the presidential campaign. Much of the conventional wisdom, on which many of my posts are based, is that Whites who hold racist views would never consider voting for Obama. However, as CBS News reports, a new study argues that “racism” not so cut and dry and that quite surprisingly, many Whites who hold racist views actually support Obama:

The poll asked voters whether they agreed with the statement that “African Americans often use race as an excuse to justify wrongdoing.” About a fifth of white voters said they “strongly agreed.” Yet among those who agreed, 23 percent said they’d be supporting Obama.

“This result is reasonable if you believe that race is not as monolithic an effect as we might easily assume,” Franklin said, noting that 22 percent of those who “strongly disagreed” said they’d be supporting McCain. . . .

Some argue that elements of Obama’s story and persona make him specifically acceptable to voters who hold broadly negative views of African Americans. “Not all whites associate the generic African American with Obama,” said Ron Walters, an aide to Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaigns. “They give him credit for having half a Caucasian ancestry, and give him credit for his education, and give him credit for his obvious ability to take complex subjects and parse them.” . . .

“Obama’s personality – his speech, his look – he provides [white voters] with a non-threatening way to move forward on this issue, and that’s a very positive development,” said David Waymire.

Those last two paragraphs that I quoted above are worth highlighting. They suggest that while many Whites hold racist views of African Americans, they don’t see Obama as a “typical” African American — he is not uneducated, or on welfare, or a street criminal like what they tend to see in the media.

Instead, they see Obama as “not like the rest of them” — he breaks the mold of their traditional, stereotypical image of Blacks.

In fact, my guess is that many Asian Americans have probably been in situations in which Whites may be criticizing Asians/Asian Americans but will turn to them and say, “But you’re not like them — you’re different.”

Obama seems to be in that position. Combined with economic concerns being at the topic of the list for many White voters, that may explain why so many Whites who would otherwise have quite racist views of Blacks are willing to support Obama.

So the question becomes, is this situation good or bad for American society? Does the fact that so many “racist” Whites see Obama as an “exceptional” Black mean that the glass is half full or half empty?

To be honest, I’m still thinking this through. In the meantime, let me know what you think, and whether that means American society is becoming less racist, or just more of the same kind of racism.


October 8, 2008

Written by C.N.

Excuse Me? “That One?”

My wife and I just finished watching the second debate between Obama and McCain and I feel compelled to write about what I thought was the one moment that stood out the most for me in the entire debate — when McCain called Obama “That one.”

McCain seemed intent on belittling Obama all night, which by itself is very disrespectful and juvenile. But it was about halfway through the debate and McCain was talking about environmental policies when he said something to the effect, “You know who voted for the Bush-Cheney energy bill? That one!”

Excuse me?!? “That one?!?”

Mr. McCain, please tell us what exactly did you mean by calling Senator Obama “That one?”

Here’s my guess — deep down, McCain really wanted to call Obama “That boy” or even worse, “That nigger.”

In other words, calling Senator Obama “That one” goes way beyond being impolite or even condescending — it was downright racist.

We all know no one wants to openly talk about the undercurrent issue of race, but whether we like it or not, race has stuck its head into the campaign in so many ways — from recurring references to Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s comments, to lingering beliefs that Obama is really a Muslim terrorist, to outright and direct incidents of racial discrimination against Obama’s campaign.

It’s within this context that we might begin to understand where John McCain is coming from, and some of the unconscious motives he may have had for referring to Obama as “That one.” We know that he is trailing in almost all polls and that he is slowly watching his claim to be our next President slip away.

And we also know that when people feel cornered and threatened, they become desperate, and when they become desperate, they revert to basic emotional instincts — like believing that his opponent is nothing more than a glorified house slave, certainly not worthy of being on the same social level as him, or even being a “real” American.

What else could he have meant by calling Obama “That one?”

In case you did not already know, there has been much discussion about John McCain’s use of the racial slur “gooks” when he used that term back in the 2000 presidential campaign in talking about his North Vietnamese communist captors when he was a prisoner of war: “I hate the gooks. I will hate them as long as I live.”

So in other words, McCain has a history of racial prejudice. It is also clear from watching his interactions in Obama’s presence that he clearly has a lot of contempt for Obama. I’m sure much of it has to do with the adversarial position they’re in as competitors to be the next President. But ultimately, there is a racial component to his contempt as well — that he, as a White person, is getting beat by a Black person.

In a desperate fight for political survival, just like his desperate fight for his physical survival almost 40 years ago, he has apparently showed us his true colors by derogatorily dehumanizing Obama and calling him “That one.”


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.


August 14, 2008

Written by C.N.

Spain Basketball Team’s Racist Gesture

Several Asian American bloggers (thanks to AngryAsianMan for first pointing it out) and now, major news organizations such as ABC News and the New York Times, have been covering this emerging controversy: Spain’s Olympic basketball team making a racist, anti-Asian gesture before the start of the games:

Mangled bus that flipped, killing 15 Vietnamese American © Herald Democrat/Associated Press

A pre-Olympics “slant-eye” pose by the Spanish men’s basketball team could leave the gold medal contenders with a black eye as they compete in Beijing. . . .It’s a racially pejorative pose not often associated with goodwill in the United States and many other countries, where a similar gesture is more likely to be seen on a school playground than coming from Olympic statesman.

“It’s something that I haven’t seen since I was a kid,” said Sarah Smith, a spokesman for the Organization of Chinese Americans in Washington, D.C. “I can’t speak for what is considered funny in Spain. I don’t know if it has the same impact that it would here. It’s clearly racist, and not even in a jovial way.” . . .

This is not Spain’s first racial controversy involving sport. In 2004, FIFA, the world ruling body in soccer, fined the Spanish Football Federation nearly $90,000 after Spanish fans showered black English players with racist chants during a “friendly” match in Madrid.

The governing body for Formula One auto racing announced in April an anti-racism campaign after British driver Lewis Hamilton, who is black, was racially taunted by racing fans in Madrid. A group, wearing dark makeup on their faces, wore shirts that read “Hamilton’s Family.”

As any Asian American will tell you, this “chink eye” gesture is deeply hurtful and offensive to us. Many of us have experienced the pain and humiliation associated with this racist gesture throughout our entire lives, whether it’s in the playground of our elementary school, or as we walk down the street even as adults. For Asian Americans, it is the visual equivalent of being called a “nigger.”

With that in mind, as the ABC News article mentions, this is not the first time that Spain has been in the news for making racially offensive gestures. While I cannot make a blanket generalization about the racial sentiment of the Spanish people in general, I can say that combined with the previous soccer and Formula One/Lewis Hamilton episodes, this “chink eye” incident does not reflect well on the country.

At the same time, for the sake of argument, I can accept that in this specific circumstance, Spain’s basketball team did not intend this “gesture” to be ridiculing or offensive to the Chinese or Asians in general. For now, I am willing to accept that they were not aware of the cultural meaning of this gesture for Asians and Asian Americans.

But unfortunately, this “lack of awareness” is at the heart of the problem and in fact, forms the basis for much of the racism that Asians and Asian Americans encounter on an everyday basis. In other words, most non-Asians (most of whom are admittedly White) don’t purposely intend to be racist when make jokes or casual comments about Asians.

But when they do so based on their ignorance of Asians and Asian Americans, they only reinforce and perpetuate their racial privileges as Whites. In other words, because Whites are the demographic and cultural majority in the U.S. (and in Europe), they have the privilege of not having to think about their racial superiority — it’s a given, based on their country’s history.

That privilege also gives them the “right” to not have to worry about saying or doing offensive things about other racial groups because basically, who cares about Asians? That is, their racial privilege gives them a larger “comfort zone” to say and do things that they think are funny or harmless but ultimately, minorities find very offensive.

Even if most Whites don’t have this consciously or even unconsciously in their minds when it comes to Asians, this climate of racial ignorance is a reality and functions to “protect” and “insulate” Whites — whether or not they’re even aware of it — at the expense of people of color.

Of course, many Whites will respond by basically saying that even if the Spanish basketball team meant it as a joke, Asians should just shrug it off, that it was harmless and that we Asians should just lighten up and not take things so seriously.

The problem with that argument is that it ignores the larger historical and cultural context. What we need to recognize is that there are fundamental institutional power differences inherent in situations in which Whites denigrate minorities.

Each time an incident like that happens, it reinforces the notion of White supremacy — that Whites can say and do whatever they want toward anybody at any time without facing any negative repercussions.

Ultimately, suggesting to us that we should just “get over it” only serves as another clear illustration of White privilege — of those with in an institutionally superior position telling those below them what to do and what they should think.

Within this larger sociological context, the Spanish basketball team’s gesture, unfortunately, is really nothing new.