The views and opinions expressed on this site and blog posts (excluding comments on blog posts left by others) are entirely my own and do not represent those of any employer or organization with whom I am currently or previously have been associated.
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.
As regular readers to this blog know already (and as I write in the top section of every Asian-Nation post I write), I feel very strongly “public sociology” — to make sociological theory, research, and data as accessible to as wide of an audience as possible, and as applicable to real-world issues and situations as possible. I recently received an email that gave me just that opportunity.
Specifically, one reader wrote to me:
I am a full time elementary school teacher and I will have a new student in a few days from China. He and his family do not speak English–they are opening a restaurant in our small community. In our community, he will be the only Asian child. What can I do to help him not feel so alone and alienated? I know language will be a problem, but what could I as his teacher do to help? I was scanning the internet trying to find resources and found your site. Thank you for your time.
I replied back:
I commend you on trying to find ways to make this new student feel welcomed. Although my expertise is not in education, these are some suggestions that come to mind:
(1) Some time ago, there was a commercial (I forgot what the actual product or service was), but it showed a young Chinese boy about to enter a predominantly White school for his first day. Before entering, he was speaking in Chinese with his mom outside and told her, “My English is not good. What if the other students hate me?” His mother calmly replied, “You’ll be fine.” As he entered his classroom escorted by the principal, the teacher introduced the new student to the class. Then the entire class welcomed him by saying in unison, “Ni hao [student's name]” — translated, it means “Hello [student's name].” It was very sweet and it would be great if your class would do the same.
(2) You may already have plans to do so already, but I’ve heard from many educators that it helps new students if one or two other students are assigned to be their “guide” or someone who will spend time him the new student, show him around the school, eat lunch with him, introduce him to other students, and basically act like an ambassador for him to make him feel more comfortable.
(3) You may know Google Translate already , but if not, it’s a great tool to assist in translating between different languages. In the meantime, you’ll probably be surprised how quickly the student will learn English. Just stay patient and positive while he does.
(4) Perhaps some time in the future, your class can make a field trip to his parent’s restaurant to learn about Chinese food, running a small business, etc. This would be a great way to welcome the family to the community and to show the other students that he is welcomed in their class.
(5) Finally and perhaps most importantly, I hope you and the rest of the teachers and administrators can do whatever possible to stay on top of any incidents of racial teasing. Nothing will alienate the new student more than if other students start making fun of him because he’s Chinese — because he’s different than everybody else around him. With that in mind, it is absolutely critical to let the other students (in your class and elsewhere) that it is not acceptable to make fun of him because he’s Chinese and that any such incidents will be punished. This how we start to break the cycle of racial prejudice — one student at a time.
The teacher wrote me back and thanked me for the ideas and seemed very excited about them.
This question of how a school, administrators, teachers, and students can best welcome new student who is both an immigrant and a racial minority to their class got me thinking that, rather then just giving her my ideas, I should “crowdsource” this question and ask all of you for your suggestions on how to best welcome this new student.
If you have been in this situation, either as the new student, one of the existing students, or the educator, what were some ways to make this new student feel welcomed and comfortable? Or even if you were never in this situation, what are some strategies to try? If you are a researcher who is familiar with this issue, what are some “best practices” that have been shown to be effective? I would love to hear from others with your ideas and suggestions.
The following new books highlight how demographic, political, economic, and cultural changes taking place in U.S. society are transforming racial/ethnic dynamics as well. In the process, the traditional relationship of being White and being American — and the larger dynamics of Whiteness — are also evolving. As always, a book’s inclusion is for informational purposes only and does not necessarily mean a full endorsement of its contents.
The Myth of Post-Racial America provides a history of race and racism in the United States. These concepts became integral parts of American society through social, psychological, and political decisions, which are documented so readers can learn about the origin of myths and stereotypes that have created schisms in our society from its founding to the present day. This information is essential reading for students and teachers so they can become more effective in their work and value cultural differences, modes of expression, and learning styles.
Discrimination and racism has existed in America since the very early days of colonization. In the Declaration of Independence, our founding fathers declared “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” and yet, it would be another 189 years before Americans would be equal by law. It has been suggested that with the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, America had finally overcame its ugly past of racism and discrimination. As we entered into the new millennium, the author wondered if America had really set aside its biases and discriminatory practices.
The author interviewed eight people as he developed the foundations for this book. One of the people he was honored to interview was Brian Swann, the brother of famous footballer Lynn Swann. Brian shared his story of a racially motivated encounter that he and his brother’s had experienced in the 1970’s in San Francisco, California, at the hands of the San Francisco Police Department. Each of the eight people interviewed for this book brought with them a different experience and viewpoint as it relates to discrimination and racism in America, and more specifically, white male privilege in America. The author brought these eight individual viewpoints together, and told their story as they relate to American history, from the early days of colonization through the present day.
This interdisciplinary textbook challenges students to see race as everyone’s issue. Drawing on sociology, psychology, history, and economics, Seeing White introduces students to the concepts of white privilege and social power. Seeing White is designed to help break down some of the resistance students feel in discussing race. Each chapter opens with compelling concrete examples to help students approach issues from a range of perspectives.
The early chapters build a solid understanding of privilege and power, leading to a critical exploration of discrimination. Key theoretical perspectives include cultural materialism, critical race theory, and the social construction of race. Each chapter includes discussion questions to help students evaluate institutions and policies that perpetuate or counter forces of privilege and discrimination.
The second edition of Melanie Bush’s acclaimed Everyday Forms of Whiteness looks at the often-unseen ways racism impacts our lives. The author has interviewed and surveyed hundreds of college students and reveals that even though we talk as though we live in a ‘post-racial’ world after the election of Barack Obama, racism is still very much a factor in everyday life. The second edition incorporates new data and interviews to show how the everyday thinking of ordinary people contributes to the perpetuation of systemic racialized inequality. The book introduces key terms for the study for race and ethnicity, reveals the mechanisms that support the racial hierarchy in U.S. society, then outlines ways we can challenge long-standing patterns of racial inequality.
Timely—as the 2012 presidential election nears—and controversial, here is the first book by a major African-American public intellectual on racial politics and the Obama presidency. Renowned for his cool reason vis-à-vis the pitfalls and clichés of racial discourse, Randall Kennedy—Harvard professor of law and author of the New York Times best seller Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word—gives us a keen and shrewd analysis of the complex relationship between the first black president and his African-American constituency.
Kennedy tackles such hot-button issues as the nature of racial opposition to Obama, whether Obama has a singular responsibility to African Americans, electoral politics and cultural chauvinism, black patriotism, the differences in Obama’s presentation of himself to blacks and to whites, the challenges posed by the dream of a postracial society, and the far-from-simple symbolism of Obama as a leader of the Joshua generation in a country that has elected only three black senators and two black governors in its entire history. Eschewing the critical excesses of both the left and the right, Kennedy offers a gimlet-eyed view of Obama’s triumphs and travails, his strengths and weaknesses, as they pertain to the troubled history of race in America.
The deeply entrenched patterns of racial inequality in the United States simply do not square with the liberal notion of a nation-state of equal citizens. Uncovering the false promise of liberalism, State of White Supremacy reveals race to be a fundamental, if flexible, ruling logic that perpetually generates and legitimates racial hierarchy and privilege.
Racial domination and violence in the United States are indelibly marked by its origin and ongoing development as an empire-state. The widespread misrecognition of the United States as a liberal nation-state hinges on the twin conditions of its approximation for the white majority and its impossibility for their racial others. The essays in this book incisively probe and critique the U.S. racial state through a broad range of topics, including citizenship, education, empire, gender, genocide, geography, incarceration, Islamophobia, migration and border enforcement, violence, and welfare.
White Americans have long been comfortable in the assumption that they are the cultural norm. Now that notion is being challenged, as white people wrestle with what it means to be part of a fast-changing, truly multicultural nation. Facing chronic economic insecurity, a popular culture that reflects the nation’s diverse cultural reality, a future in which they will no longer constitute the majority of the population, and with a black president in the White House, whites are growing anxious.
This anxiety has helped to create the Tea Party movement, with its call to “take our country back.” By means of a racialized nostalgia for a mythological past, the Right is enlisting fearful whites into its campaign for reactionary social and economic policies. In urgent response, Tim Wise has penned his most pointed and provocative work to date. Employing the form of direct personal address, he points a finger at whites’ race-based self-delusion, explaining how such an agenda will only do harm to the nation’s people, including most whites. In no uncertain terms, he argues that the hope for survival of American democracy lies in the embrace of our multicultural past, present and future.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Regular readers to this blog may have noticed that I have not posted often as of late. As you might have guessed, it’s because I’m on vacation — visiting my parents and friends in southern California. As part of my trip, we also did the Disneyland thing the other day by going there with some friends and their families.
Overall, it was a fun experience, especially for my daughter, who never objects to a trip to the Tragic, err Magic Kingdom. However, there were a couple of “incidents” that — unexpectedly — stood out as interesting metaphors for the sociology of being “American,” a theme about which I’ve often blogged on this site.
Specifically, my wife, daughter, and I were part of a large group that included two of my best friends (Jim and Tony) from high school and their families, Jim’s ex-girlfriend from high school (Kim), and Jim’s sister (Michelle) and her family. For the record, they are all White while of course, my wife, daughter, and I are Asian American.
The “incidents” in question were when we were about to board a particular ride or attraction and the Disneyland attendant would determine who was in which party and therefore, how many people to let into each car for the ride in question.
A couple of times my family and I were at the tail end of the group and as such, when we reached the ride attendant, s/he would close the gate before we could enter, thinking that were were not part of the group that s/he just let in, when in fact, we were. We would immediately let him/her know that we were part of the group s/he just let in and the attendant would say, “Oh ok, sorry about that” and let us in.
For us, we did not think that much about it because quite frankly, we’re used to being thought of as “outsiders” or not part of the “normal” or “mainstream.” But each time these incidents happened, my friend Tony noticed and by the second time, he remarked that he found those incidents to be a little jarring for him to see how we were automatically thought of as “outsiders” in everyday situations like being at Disneyland.
One of the reasons why Tony and I have been friends for so long is because long ago, he understood my identity as an Asian American, a person of color, and some of the challenges that I face on the individual and institutional levels of American society as a result of these identities. So it’s not as though he is completely clueless about such issues.
But when he admitted that he found those incidents to be rather disconcerting, I realized that for many White Americans, they may have an intellectual understanding of racism, or at the least, implicit racial assumptions that function to exclude people of color, but until they actually see it happen right in front of them, they really cannot appreciate just how such incidents can accumulate in the psyche of people of color and for the perpetrators of such racial exclusion.
Ultimately, these incidents — the actual “closing of the gates” as we were about to enter and my friend Tony’s reaction to them — serve as an interesting and useful metaphor for the status of people of color, particularly Asian Americans, in American society in the eyes of many Whites.
That is, we are frequently and automatically seen as outsiders and not “real” or “authentic” members of the mainstream and second, that our White allies sometimes don’t fully understand or appreciate our position in American society until they see it happen right in front of their eyes.
As you can see, sociology can happen in many places — even Disneyland.