Archive for Asian Americans
Over the weekend, the hashtag #NotYourAsianSidekick exploded on Twitter, trending for more than 24 hours, with over 45,000 tweets in less than a day.
This hashtag, started by writer Suey Park (@suey_park), inspired Asian Americans and others to share their thoughts on the multiple ways Asians are marginalized.
People tweeted about diversity within the Asian community, language, stereotypes, body image, immigration, media representation, and other topics. Although the conversation was initially about Asian American feminism, the hashtag clearly had global appeal and tweets poured in from around the world.
On Monday, a counter-hashtag #AsianPrivilege appeared. Twitter users deployed this hashtag to claim that Asians experience relative privilege as compared to other people of color. Many of the people behind this counter-hashtag appear to be trolls tweeting from new accounts. Nevertheless, the sentiments behind these tweets are widely shared as many people believe that Asians and Asian Americans do not face discrimination.
As a sociologist, I think it is best to turn to the evidence: Do Asians face discrimination? The labor market is one of the best places to take this question because this is where many people believe Asians have reached parity with white Americans.
Asian Americans have among the highest earnings in the United States. In 2013, Asians’ median weekly earnings were $973, as compared to $799 for whites, $634 for blacks, and $572 for Latinos. It seems as if Asians do not experience discrimination. However, these aggregate numbers hide many disparities.
First of all, Asian men earned, on average, 40 percent more than Asian women. The gender gap between Asian men and women is the highest of any racial group. Secondly, these numbers hide the diversity within the Asian community: the 2000 U.S. Census reports Hmong women had an average weekly earnings of just $389 per week – putting them far below average. Whereas Chinese and Indian men earn more on average than white men, the opposite is true for Laotian, Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Hmong men. In sum, some Asians earn more than whites, yet this is the case for only some nationalities – those that have, on average, higher levels of education.
Chinese and Indian Americans have higher educational attainment than their white male counterparts. This helps explain some of the earnings disparities.
Studies that take into account educational achievements find that Asian men earn less than their white male counterparts. Sociologists ChangHwan Kim and Arthur Sakamoto found that if you compare white men to Asian men with similar characteristics, the white men often earn more. In other words, if an Asian American man and a white man both live in New York, both went to selective universities, and both studied engineering, we could expect that the Asian American man would earn, on average, 8 percent less than the white man.
The fact that Asian Americans do not earn as much as white men with the same qualifications points to the fact that Asian Americans face labor market discrimination. In other words, there is a real monetary cost to being Asian American. Over the course of one’s career, this disparity can amount to significant amounts of money.
Labor market discrimination against Asians is not unique to the United States. A study conducted in Australia also uncovered labor market discrimination against Asians. Alison Booth and her colleagues conducted an audit study where they sent 4,000 fictitious job applications out for entry-level jobs, where they varied only the last name of the applicant – thereby signaling ethnicity.
The results were that the average callback rate for Anglo-Saxons was 35 percent. Applications with an Italian-sounding name received responses 32 percent of the time – with only a small statistically significant difference. The differences were starker for the other groups: indigenous applicants obtained an interview 26 percent of the time, Chinese applicants 21 percent of the time, and Middle Easterners 22 percent of the time. According to these findings, Anglo-Saxons would have to submit three job applications to have a decent shot at getting a callback whereas Chinese applicants can expect to submit five.
This labor market discrimination – both in hiring and in compensation – stems from stereotypes about Asians and Asian Americans. These stereotypes were frequently mentioned on Twitter over the past few days.
People on Twitter pointed out the perpetual foreign-ness of Asian Americans:
My answer to the popular question "Where are you from?" is "My mother's uterus." (People must not understand biology.) #NotYourAsianSidekick
— Amber Ying (@diabola) December 16, 2013
Others pointed to the exoticization of Asian Americans:
I need Asian American feminism because we're constantly reduced to being exotic and fetishized. Stop diminishing us. #NotYourAsianSidekick
— Maureen (@maureen_ahmed) December 15, 2013
Many of these stereotypes are perpetuated by mass media.
Darrell Hamamoto analyzed representations of Asians and Asian Americans on television between 1950 and 1990. He found that Asian men were often represented in US media as asexual or effeminate, whereas Asian women were often portrayed as hypersexual. Hamamoto contends that network television negatively influences popular perceptions of Asians.
Although Asians make up five percent of people in the United States, in 2011, they only accounted for two percent of all television representations. The combination of few representations of Asian Americans in mass media along with stereotypical representations work to feed these stereotypes.
The hashtag #NotYourAsianSidekick clearly struck a chord with people around the world both because of the discrimination people of Asian descent face as well as because of the fact that this discrimination is rarely discussed in public forums.
In an article entitled “Why So Few Asians are College President,” Dr. Santa J. Ono, President of the University of Cincinnati, indicates that he finds himself among a very small group of Asian American leaders in higher education: only 1.5 percent of college and university presidents are Asian American and 3.4 percent are administrators in higher education. By contrast, Hispanics comprise 3.8 percent of presidents and African Americans hold 5.9 percent of these roles. This pattern also holds true for the corporate sector, such as the low representation of Asian Americans as corporate officers and members of corporate boards.
Why are Asian Americans so underrepresented in leadership roles? Ono suggests two major factors at play: cultural differences deriving from home environments that value preferences for indirect communication, emotional restraint, and an egalitarian view of power as well as contradictory perceptions about Asian Americans such as being conspicuous but self-effacing, hyperambitious but timid. Frank Wu, Chancellor of the University of California Hastings College of the Law, similarly points out that the model minority myth transforms positive qualities into negative attributes: intelligence is seen as lack of personality, family-oriented as clannish, and hard-working as unfairly competitive.
Ono, however, points to significant new research by Jennifer Berdahl and Ji-A Min at the University of Toronto that sheds light on the particular barriers Asian Americans face in leadership roles. Berdahl and Min distinguish between descriptive stereotypes or generalized beliefs about what members of different racial groups are like and prescriptive stereotypes which, when violated, are likely to provoke social disapproval and backlash. Since East Asians in North America are often descriptively stereotyped as relatively competent, cold, and nondominant, Berdahl and Min identify “nondominant” as a prescriptive stereotype that, when violated, causes negative consequences in the workplace. As a result, when East Asians remain in subordinate, nonleadership roles, and do not try to assert their own viewpoints or ideas or take charge, the competitive threat to valued resources they pose is neutralized. Through a series of four studies, the research findings reveal that not only did East Asians report more racial harassment at work than other employees, but, more importantly, those individuals that violated racial stereotypes were more likely to be the targets of such harassment. Berdahl and Min report that the negative responses to dominant East Asians did not depend on gender and appeared to be unique to this racial minority group.
This promising line of research on prescriptive stereotypes helps explain the hurdles faced by Asian Americans in their efforts to attain leadership positions and how these stereotypes can influence their ability to break through the so-called “bamboo ceiling” or what Sylvia Ann Hewlett calls “the marzipan layer” just below the upper rungs of power.
The notion of prescriptive stereotypes can also apply to the challenges faced by other racial minorities and women when they violate expected stereotypical behaviors and experience backlash. As Santa Ono notes, unconscious bias may be more difficult to address in academe where intellectual fairness and rigor are already presumed to be present. In this regard, he aptly suggests that academe focus some of its energy, acuity, and empathy toward tearing down existing social and psychological barriers to success, “particularly those all the more imposing for being invisible.” Perhaps greater understanding of the influence of prescriptive stereotypes will provide the opportunity for reexamination of the impact of subtle, unconscious bias on organizational processes and allow us to develop truly inclusive definitions of leadership capabilities.
“Rare indeed is the Asian American who has not heard an aunt or grandmother say something like; ‘Don’t go out in the sun. You’ll get too dark’…[Asian countries have] had long-standing preferences for light skin, especially in women.”
In my continuing research examining the lives of young multiracial Asian children, it has become pretty clear pretty quick that colorism (skin color discrimination of individuals falling within the same racial group) is a major theme. This isn’t a surprise to me, a multiracial Asian woman who grew up constantly scrutinized and measured as more European looking against other Asian peoples. I launched an Amazon hunt and as usual, found very little. In fact almost nothing; only one book addressing colorism in the Asian American community: Is Lighter Better? Skin-Tone Discrimination Among Asian Americans by Joanne L. Rondilla and Paul Spickard (2007) (if you know of more, please send to me).
According to Rondilla & Spickard, colorism in Asia is less about wanting to look European and more a class imperative. “To be light is to be rich, for dark skin comes from working outside in the sun…the yearning to be light is a desire to look like rich Asians, not like Whites” (Rondilla & Spickard, 2007, p.4). A preference for light-skinned beauty existed long before serious encounters with Europeans and Americans, and this desire deeply persists. Though not visibly common in the US, skin lightening products are loudly advertised and mass-consumed all over Asia. And sales are rising. Two million units of skin lightening soap are sold annually in the Philippines. Today, every major cosmetics company has some form of skin lightener (Rondilla & Spickard, 2007).
So what happens when huge numbers of Asian immigrants (430,000 in 2010) and students (6 in 10 international students are from Asia) start arriving Stateside and their colorist/class values meet US racism which has aggressively devalued and violently oppressed dark-skinned people for hundreds of years? What happens when White Perfect (above) meets Jim Crow? “Less yellowish” meets Yellow Peril?
On the one hand, it’s a complicated catch-22. Overlay the former with the latter and we certainly get a compounded but also confused effect. As Rosalind S. Chou and Joe R. Feagin note in their book The Myth of the Model Minority: Asian Americans Facing Racism, “Asian Americans frequently embrace stereotypes created by whites about other groups, as well as the racist notions that whites have created for Asians” (p.138).
Asian Americans often manifest “old world” inspired, “new world” enhanced colorism at the same time they find themselves victimized by the same system; targeted as people of color. Rock and a hard place, right? Take for instance American born Lucy Liu, still one of the few Asian TV and film stars, who has publicly bemoaned racism in Hollywood yet stirred controversy last year when she let slip a disparaging remark about Filipino skin color on Jay Leno.
On the other hand, the oppression of dark-skinned people, whether in Asia or America, is exactly what it is — the oppression of dark-skinned people. I often run into folks who try to differentiate the two histories of discrimination as totally disparate, unrelated and incompatible things. Sometimes to excuse immigrant colorist behaviors as eccentric or somehow less offensive because they technically aren’t rooted in racism. Sometimes to dismiss the possibility of any compounded and damaging internalized effects to Asian American children through their combination. But in our increasingly interdependent world, how can we pretend the cultural values of one continent are not influenced and impacted by the values of the other? When I was a young girl my father told me if I ever married a Black man he’d disown me. Even that young I remember being totally shocked by his unapologetic and vocal bias, something I continued to live with and object to my entire youth (though my protests always seemed to fall on deaf ears). My father was born and raised in Taiwan, a place that was and still mostly remains pretty Asian-homogenous. He immigrated to the United States when he was in his 20s at which point he’d had very little exposure to any kind of Black be it African, Afro-Brazilian, Afro-Cuban, African American, whatever. Yet despite his limited exposure to racial diversity growing up and the fact he himself was often targeted as an immigrant/person of color later living in the US, as an adult he harbored very extreme American prejudices against historically targeted American racial groups.
Chou & Feagin point out Asian immigrants often have preconceived stereotypes about Blacks before they even immigrate because of contact with American mainstream media operating overseas, a major source of negative typecasting for Mexican and African Americans (among others) (Chou & Feagin, 2010):
The impact of U.S. racism is not confined to the borders of the United States. Indeed, U.S. economic, political, military, and mass media power makes the country very important, indeed often dominant, in many global settings. The United States not only exports commercial goods but also propagates important ideals and ideas as well. The U.S. media are very influential and perpetuate important aspects of the white racial frame to many countries around the world. Certain U.S.-oriented products and their advertising also spread a U.S. racial framing (Chou & Feagin, 2010, pp.170-171).
Where does this leave multiracial Asian Americans born into these overlapping frameworks? I’m afraid that as multiracial Asian Americans, this leaves us poised very precariously at times. Despite what you might imagine, with the recent influx of Asian immigration and Asians marrying out of their ethnic group at a higher rate than any other racial group, multiracial Asian children are not actually that far removed from “old world” prejudices and are often second generation Americans like myself. I have been constantly scanned for Asian versus white features by Asian immigrants and proclaimed “the best of both worlds” leaving me with the uncomfortable, highly racialized feeling there’s something I did or didn’t get that I should be glad about but that one or both of my halves might resent. In my October post “Mixed Heritage and Knowing We Still Have Work To Do,” I described the race challenges shared by a quarter Asian youth panelist (Black/Asian/white) as part of a local mixed heritage dialogue. Despite identifying strongly as Blasian:
12 yo Saiyana, a child of our future and proud of her mixed heritage, showed us that race mythologies/oppressions persist. She related being profiled by a museum security guard who identified her as Black at the same time Black peers at school refuse to acknowledge her multiraciality.
Even in Rondilla & Spickard’s well-researched book something funny around mixed race people seems to be happening. In their study, they asked participants asked to respond to pictures of 3 different women of varying skin tones from lightest to darkest. The “fairest of them all,” as designated by the researchers, appears to be multiracial, something alluded to, but not confirmed in the book. The other two do not appear to be multiracial.
Why would only one woman be mixed race? Why not choose either 3 mixed race Asian woman OR 3 monoracial Asian women? And if only one mixed race woman was going to be chosen, why would she be the light one?
There is a conversation we aren’t having about specifically colorism in Asian America and the way it impacts the lives of mixed race children. For example, how are darker-skinned Black/Asians versus lighter-skinned white/Asians received within their families, within the Asian American community, and society at large?
In her book Pure Beauty: Judging Race in Japanese American Beauty Pageants, Rebecca Chiyoko King-O’Riain points out that despite growing acceptance of mixed race children in the Japanese American community:
The idea of racial hierarchies perpetuated by the Japanese American community is evidenced in the community beauty pageants. There have been few if any African American/Japanese American mixed-race queen candidates and none has been successfully chosen to be queen (King-O’Riain, 2006, p.38).
How do phenotype and issues of blood quantum complicate this conversation? What is it like for children like Saiyana who are a quarter or less Asian and may not wear Asian racial markers that signal loudly to others, yet who identify strongly as being so? Given that multiracial Asian is a fast-growing demographic and will soon constitute a larger and larger portion of our population, I think we have to ask ourselves these hard questions. Certainly not at the exclusion of other discussions central to multiraciality but definitely as an important part of the larger conversation.
What is it like for multiracial Asians with different skin colors/heritages sitting at a crossroads where “old world” Asian colorism and “new world” US racism meet?
~ Guest blogger Sharon Chang writes regularly at MultiAsian Families.
I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news. But if there is a child of color in your life and if you ever read to them – then they have already experienced racism.
(image [by artist Tina Kugler)
First let’s clear one thing up. When many people think racism, they think extreme. Overtly aggressive, easily-identifiable. Slavery, KKK, Jim Crow, Japanese internment, etc. To be sure, very racist. But these overt forms of racism are now widely condemned and far less common. They still happen no doubt, but nowhere near the level they used to. No. These days racism has gone stealth; often taking less obvious, insidious forms. Harder to find. Harder to fight? Nowadays we understand racism as a system of oppression that unfairly advantages some (whites) over others on the basis of phenotype (skin color). Take a look around you and it’s easy to see this system of privilege in place. Who lives in the poorest neighborhoods? Who lives in the richest? Whose children go to the lowest funded, most scantily equipped schools? Whose children go to the most expensive, richly resourced private schools?
When my son was born I enthusiastically set out to find children’s books that celebrated and reflected our family’s unique multiracial Asian heritage. I figured there were so many mixed kids now I’d find tons of stuff. If not about mixed Asian (which admittedly is very specific) at least about Asian, multiracial or multicultural. I found a handful of books and then? Myself beating my head against a brick wall. I was mystified, frustrated and then infuriated. What was going on? I suddenly got that sinking-yucky-PoC feeling, “Uh oh there’s something racial happening here.” Not sure what else to do I began blogging, researching and collecting resources on my own.
Then early this summer my fears were confirmed. About the same time data revealed that, for the first time, whites had fallen to a minority in America’s under-5 age group a 2012 report from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison garnered quick internet and media attention.
The CCBC report found that despite our increasing diversity, the number of children’s books written by or about people of color is very low and has not changed in 18 years. Of the 3,600 books the CCBC received last year, only 3% were about African Americans, 2% were about Asian Pacific Americans, 1.5% were about Latinos, and less than 1% were about Native Americans and these numbers have stayed fairly consistent since the CCBC started keeping statistics in 1994.
(Image credit: Flickr/Global Partnership for Education)
Some argue there isn’t large enough demand for main characters of color while others argue there can’t be a demand for something that’s not on the market.
But boil it down and it very simply looks like this. There are still few minority owned publishing companies in the U.S. Publishing is disproportionately controlled by whites who continue to favor producing products by, for, and about their own race despite very real evidence that the market demands something more diverse. This then has the trickle down effect of impacting what’s available to you and your family at bookstores, libraries, schools, etc. Yes people. It’s systemic. It’s institutional. It’s covert. It’s about power and race. That’s racism. And your children of color are at a disadvantage because of it.
In one of the most influential works on anti-bias early education, Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves, Louise Derman-Sparks & Julie Olsen Edwards address the omission of diversity as a major dynamic of advantage and disadvantage in early learning materials. They reframe under- and over-representation as a form of societal (in)visibility that works to undermine some children’s sense of self at the same time it teaches other children that they are more deserving than others. They write:
“Young children are learning about who is and isn’t important. Invisibility erases identity and experience; visibility affirms reality. When children see themselves and their families reflected in their early childhood setting, they feel affirmed and that they belong. When children’s identities and families are invisible, the opposite happens. Children feel that they are unimportant and do not belong. These lessons from societal visibility or invisibility are among the most powerful messages children receive…Children absorb these messages every day, often without the adults in their lives even knowing what the children are learning” (pp.13-4).
And at the end of the day, as these authors point out, this is something that impacts everyone regardless of race. According to FirstBook, a nonprofit dedicated to overcoming illiteracy, literacy is one of the best predictors of a child’s future success but when children see characters and hear stories that aren’t relevant to their lives, it makes it harder to engage and interest them.
Low levels of literacy are associated with lower educational, employment and health outcomes, and that will ultimately cost the United States more than a quarter of a million dollars each.
Children’s books are also one of the most important launching pads for discussions about tough things (e.g. trying new foods, being scared of the dark, bullying, etc). If there aren’t many diverse children’s books then we can guess adults aren’t starting meaningful conversations on the subject at home, in school, etc.
Indeed in the popular 2011 Nurtureshock, authors Pro Bronson and Ashley Merryman verify 75% of white parents almost never talk to their kids about race Let’s follow this through to its obvious conclusion. We’ve got silence from the critical adults in children’s lives. We’ve got covert societal messages about who is and is not important via (in)visibility. We’ve got our children, left to themselves, easily making misinformed generalizations about groups of people (and not telling us about it). And then we’ve got their fairly innocent pre-prejudices, left mostly unattended, growing with them into…bias. And voila! Racism is reborn.
The early years are critical in setting the stage for who we become and the things we learn as children are the hardest to unlearn. So this is also a critical point of intervention for addressing racial inequities in this country. How can we ever undo racism if its foundation continues to be solidly, firmly poured in place? It isn’t only about naïve children and cute children’s books. It’s about the fact that we still aren’t having the conversations and we aren’t having them early enough. If we truly want to make a difference, let’s head it off at the gate.
Find out who’s trying to make a change and how you can help. Here’s are a couple of places to start: FirstBook’s solution and Lee&Low Books and Cinco Puntos discussion of multilcultural publishing.
~ Guest blogger Sharon Chang maintains the blog MultiAsian Families.
The notion of meritocracy hinges on the belief in a just system, or what researchers have called “system justification theory.” As theorists John Jost and Masharin Banaji explain, system justification theory is a psychological process by which people justify existing social arrangements as legitimate and fair, such as the belief that hard work, effort, and motivation lead to success. This theory locates the cause of events within personal attributes, and indicates that individuals should take personal responsibility for outcomes. For example, a recent article by John Jost, Brian Nosek, and Samuel Gosling notes that stability and hierarchy provide both structure and reassurance, in contrast with social change and equality that imply unpredictability and greater chaos, especially in large social systems.
The irony of system justification theory is that members of minority groups can view the locus of individual success or failure as solely due to their own efforts and discount the impact of socially-mediated forces of discrimination. We have seen examples in the recent press where minority leaders themselves emphasize personal responsibility while remaining silent on the impact of the forces of systemic discrimination. As Alvin Evans and I point out in Diverse Administrators in Peril , this viewpoint can undermine self-esteem when individuals impacted by discrimination internalize contemporary forms of oppression and become their own oppressors through self-blame and inappropriate attributions of instances of everyday discrimination to their own dispositional or personal inadequacies. It heightens what Wesley Yang calls “self-estrangement” by removing the factor of difference from the equation.
A study conducted by Frank Samson at the University of Miami highlighted in a recent article in Inside HigherEd clearly demonstrates the fluidity of the notion of meritocracy when applied to different minority groups. When one group of white adults in California was asked about the criteria that should be used in admissions processes, a high priority was placed on high school grade-point averages and standardized tests. Yet when a control group was told that Asian Americans make up more than twice as many undergraduates in the University of California system compared to their representation in the state population, the participants then favored a reduced role for test and grade scores in the admissions process. They further indicated that leadership should be given greater weight.
Since Asian American scores on the SAT topped white average scores by 1641 to 1578 this year and the leadership abilities of Asian Americans tend to be unrecognized , the shift in criteria by study participants shows that meritocracy means different things when applied to different groups. Samson attributes this shift to “group threat” from Asian Americans and suggests that key Supreme Court decisions based upon the framework of meritocracy might have been decided differently if different groups had been involved. Samson notes the exclusionary rhetoric that emphasizes “qualifications” applied in discussions of opportunities that can exclude African-Americans and how this framework shifts when applied to Asian Americans. In an earlier post, I cited a June 14 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Stacey Patton that explains how the frequent argument about “lack of qualified candidates” for top roles becomes a loaded and coded divergence—a smoke screen that feeds stereotypes of minorities as less capable, intelligent, or experienced (p. A4).
Certainly the road to attainment of meritocracy will require consideration of the many detours we have taken in the course of American history. Perhaps we need to be reminded that a true meritocracy is still an aspirational goal and in the words of Martin Luther King, represents “a promissory note” that will “open the doors of opportunity” to all Americans.
A new Georgetown University report titled “Separate and Unequal: How Higher Education Reinforces the Intergenerational Reproduction of White Privilege” by Anthony Carnevale and Jeff Strohl reinforces why the Supreme Court’s decision in Fisher v. University of Texas misses the point. Recall that in Fisher v. the University of Texas, while the justices recognized the value of diversity in the higher education experience, universities and colleges must prove that no workable race-neutral alternatives could have produced the same diversity benefit. And strikingly, Justice Kennedy stated that in this process “the university receives no deference.” A reviewing court will be the arbiter of this determination.
The report by Carnevale and Strohl debunks the assumption that the United States has attained a level educational playing field in which consideration of race is no longer relevant. The study demonstrates that American higher education has two separate and unequal tracks: the 468 selective colleges and the 3250 open-access institutions. The divergence between these two tracks is increasing rather than diminishing. The authors identify two prominent themes that characterize these tracks: 1) racial stratification in the 4400 two- and four- year colleges analyzed for the study; and 2) polarization between the most selective schools and open-access schools. And from a student perspective, they conclude that “disadvantage is worst of all when race and class collide.”
Between 1995 and 2009, despite increases in the enrollment of African American and Hispanic students attending postsecondary institutions, more than 8 in 10 of new white students enrolled in the 468 most selective institutions, whereas more than 7 in 10 new Hispanic and African-American students have gone to open-access two and four-year colleges. White students account for 78 percent of the growth in the more selective institutions, while 92 percent of the growth in open-access institutions went to Hispanic and African-American students.
In addition, stratification by income is marked in more selective colleges, with high-income students overrepresented relative to population share by 45 percentage points and African-American and Hispanic students underrepresented relative to population share by 9 percentage points. This disadvantage is magnified by pre-existing geographic (spatial) isolation in the location of high schools as well as economic and educational deprivation in the pre-college years.
Why does this matter? The 468 most selective schools spend two to nearly five times more per student, have higher ratios of full- to part-time faculty, higher completion rates, and greater access to graduate schools, even when considering equally qualified students. Also, the college completion rate for the most selective schools is 82 percent, compared with 49 percent for open-access, two- and four-year institutions.
The report responds to two important questions. First, it provides substantive evidence that contradicts the “mismatch” theory which posits that minority students fare better in universities where the median test scores are nearer their own. In contrast, it reveals that Hispanic and African-American students benefit from attending selective institutions even when their test scores fall substantially below the averages at these schools, with a graduation rate of 73 percent from top colleges when compared to a graduation rate of 40 percent at open-access institutions.
Second, the report sheds light on the difficulty of substituting race-neutral alternatives such as class or to produce the same educational diversity benefit. The authors find that it would take more than five or six times the current level of class-based admissions to maintain the current racial mix in the most selective colleges. In fact, the pool of low-income white students far exceeds the pool of Hispanic and African-American students eligible for selective college admissions. The flood of low-income students that could result from using class as a proxy for disadvantage would create intense resource challenges for all but the most wealthy of selective institutions in the financial aid process. More selective institutions would also have difficulty to maintain current standards in the competition for students with higher test scores.
The report does not include an identical analysis for Asians and Native Americans due to data limitations. It does note that while 50 percent of new Asian enrollments have gone to the most selective schools, 30 percent have also gone to the open-access schools. In this regard, a 2005 College Board study reveals that Asian American/Pacific Islander students are evenly concentrated in two- and four-year institutions, with over half of the students in California and Nevada enrolled in community colleges. And a study produced by UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute concludes that, like other minority students, AAPI students often struggle with poverty, with 47.4 of Asian American families classified as low income compared with 39.5 percent of the general population.
The challenge ahead for universities is to develop the statistical models that will satisfy the Supreme Court’s requirement to prove that alternative race-neutral alternatives are not sufficient for producing the educational benefits of diversity. In the evolution of the new criteria required to satisfy Fisher’s requirements, the Georgetown University report takes an important step in laying the groundwork for the evidentiary data and metrics needed.
Summing up the complexity of the court’s newly imposed requirements for justifying the consideration of race as one factor among others in college admissions, Thomas Kane and James Ryan point out in a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education that:
The court sometimes seems to labor under the belief that there is some magical combination of race-neutral proxies that will produce exactly the same group of students as in a class admitted under a race-conscious plan. Admissions officers know differently….
I love my Japanese mother-in-law to the end of time. She is an amazing woman who has been (and continues to be) profoundly supportive when my own mother is notably absent. My son is also intensely close to her and identifies with her very deeply. But when it comes to race, there are clear differences in the way we think. Some of these differences are cultural. Some generational. Sometimes we find ways to talk about it (very powerful). But sometimes we don’t. One subject that has confounded me is the number of times she’s mentioned my son’s eyes. In the beginning she often observed that his eyes were Asian-shaped. Now, almost every time we see her she points out that he is developing an eyelid crease or “double eyelid” (which he didn’t have when he was born). But she’s got me reconsidering myself on this one. Eyes are clearly something she notices right away and thinks about a lot. But I don’t. Or…do I? Because the truth is many people easily identify me as mixed Asian and I’ve always assumed it was mostly because of my eyes. And now it’s happening to my son. The trouble is, when I ask myself what it is about our eyes that would identify us, I can’t describe it. I seem to be avoiding. And it certainly gives me an icky feeling on some level. Why is that? And what exactly are “Asian” eyes anyway?
(Image from InCulture Parent)
First, a disclaimer. The “Asian” eyes I’m talking about are a stereotype that don’t actually apply to many people with Asian heritage. Asia is a massive region representing over half of the world’s human population and obviously a vast variety of phenotypes. I’ve heard Japanese and South Asian, among others, greatly object to being teased for such eyes when they in fact don’t have them at all. What is the stereotype? We all know it. Smaller. Slanted. Little or no eyelid. Dark brown/black eye color. The slant is created in some peoples by the orbital bone sitting more laterally. The “single” eyelid, also known as an epicanthal fold, is skin of the upper eyelid that covers the inner corner of the eye from nose to inner eyebrow. It can be attributed to a narrower attachment of eyelid skin to eyelid, and/or to an extra layer of fatty tissue on the eyelid. Nevertheless, disclaimer aside, these are eye features which generations of AAPI children/people have been taunted for and which have been sourced for ethnic slurs and racist descriptors (e.g. “slant”, “chinky eyes”).
Because they are a phenotypic feature strikingly different than those of white-Euro descent, “Asian” eyes have historically been an easy target for racism. European male scientists who greatly influenced the racial classification system we know today often attached a stigma to them. For example, in the 19th century German anthropologist Johann Blumenbach held that:
“The fairness and relatively high brows of Caucasians were…apt physical expressions of a loftier mentality and a more generous spirit. The epicanthic folds around the eyes of Mongolians and their slightly sallow outer epidermal layer bespoke their supposedly crafty, literal-minded nature.”
In the same era, English physician John Langdon Down used “mongolism” and “mongoloid” to describe Down Syndrome because of what he observed were similar physical characteristics (e.g. epicanthal fold) to people from the “Mongoloid” (Asian) race (). He explained the syndrome as an evolutionary “reversion” or backslide from the superior Caucasian to the inferior “Mongoloid” race. Awful terms were eventually derived from Down’s erroneous assumptions including “mongolian imbecile”, “mongoloid idiot”, and “mongoloid deformity.”
Here in the U.S., discrimination against people of color has always been about sequestering whites and their privileges from “others”. Implicit in this practice is seeing “others” as different, foreign, ugly and lesser entitling whites to their special status while simultaneously releasing them from guilt or shame. For Asians, being “foreign” and “ugly” has foundationally meant, among other things, the shape of their eyes. Early anti-Asian sentiment America (aka “Yellow Peril”) was directed primarily towards large waves of 19th century Chinese immigrants, and later during WWII towards Japanese, who more commonly held some of the eye features described. And of course such prejudice was comfortably helped along by scientists like Blumenbach and Down. For instance, in 1941 Life Magazine infamously published “How To Tell Japs From the Chinese.” Notice the heavy scrutiny of phenotype and prominent mention of epicanthal fold. Also note while wartime propaganda was meant to distinguish friend (now the Chinese) from foe (the Japanese, the truth is it really did not abolish racial stereotypes about either group.
What are the implications of this history? Though I do think there are notable exceptions, I’m sad to say not only do we still have a hard time viewing the “Asian” eye as beautiful but this unpleasant Western ideology has gone internationally viral.
In an alarming example, blepharoplasty (aka “double eyelid surgery”) has seen a boom amongst Asian populations here in the U.S. and especially in Asian countries. Blepharoplasty is a type of cosmetic surgery where the skin around the eye is reshaped to create an upper eyelid with a crease. According to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ISAPS), in 2010 blepharoplasty was the third most common procedure performed world-wide (). It is a growing trend in Asia to have patients of all ages coming in to get cosmetic surgeries in an effort to make themselves look more Westernized. In 2011 CNN ran a piece about Western concepts of beauty invading Asia and revealed how girls as young as 12 were having surgeries to make their eyes appear rounder. In particular Korea has come under fire for shockingly high rates of plastic surgery and what has subsequently been unveiled as a longstanding, widely-accepted culture of surgical alteration. 1 in 5 women in Korea has had some form of cosmetic surgery compared to 1 in 20 women in the U.S. Korea is now synonymous with medical tourism, and has established itself as an epicenter for all sorts of cosmetic surgery many of which centrally revolve around Western standards of beauty.
(Image from The Atlantic)
After doing this research my husband and I took a good look at our own eyes for the first time. And I’ve been paying more attention to my son’s eyes too. Frankly it’s been a relief to give myself that permission. I didn’t realize how much I was tiptoeing around it. And maybe that’s the more important part. I SEE things now. I can see what traits we have inherited that would identify us to others. I see why my immigrant Japanese mother-in-law would be so conscious of an eye shape that has become internationally controversial. At the same time I also see why I, an American born and bred Asian, have unconsciously avoided a subject that has (and continues to have) such a long, painful history in this country.
~ You can read more of guest blogger Sharon Chang at her MultiAsian Families blog.
The intersection of race, space, and history in local government policies and politics illustrates the profound impact of spatial arrangements on the reproduction of systemic inequalities. As Leslie Picca and Joe Feagin point out in Two-faced Racism: Whites in the Front Stage and the Backstage (2007) significant research supports the argument that much of the social space in the United States is highly racialized.
Two articles provide significant insight into how such racialization occurs within the context of the efforts of cities in California to reconfigure historical neigborhoods and nullify and erase the presence of dominant ethnic identities from the landscape. Wendy Cheng’s perceptive article entitled “’Diversity’ on Main Street? Branding Race and Place in the New ‘Majority-Minority’ Suburbs” (2010), describes two redevelopment campaigns in the Los Angeles West San Gabriel Valley cities of Alhambra and San Gabriel that epitomized the struggle for white economic, social and political dominance over Asian American and Latino pasts.
In an area in which Asian immigrants and Asian Americans constitute half the population and Latinos represent more than a third of the population, the polarization of the city of Alhambra is reflected in residential patterns, with the largely white northern area reporting a median household income 50 percent higher in 2000 than the southern area comprised of a heterogeneous mix of working-class to middle-income Mexican-Americans and Asian Americans.
Cheng documents how the redevelopment of Alhambra’s Main Street involved high-pressure tactics by the city to excise small Chinese businesses and replace them with new “mainstream” businesses. For example, the city gave Starbucks a “tenant improvement allowance” using $136,000 of HUD money and bought an 8,000 square-foot building for over $1 million with an additional $350,000 in upgrades to lure Tony Roma’s to open a restaurant on Main Street, after the chain restaurant had refused several overtures. And the redevelopment agency literally gave Edwards Theatres a 43,000-square-foot parcel of land and $1.2 million form a HUD loan to construct a movie theater. To cap these efforts, the merchants in the Downtown Alhambra Business Association invested in a diversity branding effort with banners that included an older blond white woman, a young Latina woman with freckles and dark hair, a middle-aged Asian man, and a young blue-eyed, blond white woman.
Similarly, in his article entitled, “From ‘Blighted’ to ‘Historic’: Race, Economic Development, and Historic Preservation in San Diego, California” (2008), Leland T. Saito chronicles how the determination of historic designation in the city “favored Whites and overlooked the history of racial minorities” (p. 183). The city commissioned studies on the Chinese Mission, Douglas Hotel, and Clermont/Coast Hotels, three properties associated with Asian American and African American history, and concluded they were not historically or architecturally significant. The Chinese Mission, established in 1927, was a major social center for the Chinese American Community. The Douglas Hotel was the most important entertainment venue for African Americans when it was established in 1924 and the only hotel that would accept African Americans in the 1930s and 1940s. The Clermont/Coast Hotel also had significance for the history of the African American Community.
It was only through the lobbying efforts of the Chinese American community and the African American community that the Chinese Mission and Clermont/Coast Hotel were preserved and received historic designation. Due to the lack of a major lobbying effort, the Douglas Hotel was demolished. Saito concludes from these examples that
“public policy is an important site of struggle over the meaning of race” (p. 168) and that “race remains significant in the formation and implementation of development and historic preservation policies” (p. 182).
Community groups, however, can play a key role in counteracting the racial consequences of public policy.
Both these articles present evidence of how space is intertwined with race and history in the identity of place and underscore the importance of community activism and minority participation on city councils. Such activism and solidarity are critical in overcoming divided racial, economic, and geographic interests, ensuring the voice and representation of minority populations, and changing the dynamics of power relationships within municipal governments.
In my research and encounters with multiracial/interracial Asian families, I have been asked this question a lot. Everyone seems to have a general idea. But shine the spotlight on “Asian”, try to get a good look at it, and we all get confused. Everything is blurry. Why is that? What and who exactly is “Asian”? Well. It depends. Like all racial concepts, “Asian” has a long history of construction informed by race/power politics. It never comes into clear view because its identity is never static. Rather always fluid. Continually defined, dismantled, reclaimed and redefined.
Let’s start with geography. The well respected science that studies the lands, its features, its inhabitants, and the phenomena of the Earth. Geographers tell us there are 4 major landmasses on our planet. Eurasia, North/South America, Africa and Australia. These masses are also called continents.
Except for Eurasia.
Eurasia is divided unevenly into two continents. A small fifth to the west is Europe. Everything east of that, a MASSIVE area, is Asia (including western Asia or the “Middle East”). Indeed Asia is the largest and most populous of all the continents. It compromises 30% of the planet’s land area and is home to about 60% of the world’s population. Why are there 4 landmasses, but 5 continents? Does that seem…maybe a little unscientific? That’s because it is. And now we’re getting to the heart of things. Rewind the clock. The word “Asia” was actually invented by ancient Greeks. It described the land to the east which was inhabited by people who were often their enemies. “Europe” was then coined to describe the area to the west where they were the predominant cultural influence.
This “us” versus “them” concept of Asia continued to be propagated by European geographers, politicians and encyclopedia writers. “Asian” remained a descriptor for non-Europeans on the landmass. “To talk of Asia at all,” writes Philip Bowring in the Far Eastern Economic Review, “May even be to talk in Eurocentric terms…Asia would have been no more than a geographical concept but for Europeans deciding they were something different.” Important to note too, the dividing line between Europe and Asia was drawn where the Urals join with the Caucasus and the Black Sea. If you will recall from my piece on “Mongolian Spots”, the Caucasus region was once thought by Europeans to be the birthplace of humanity. It was the location after which the archetypal, and most beautiful, “Caucasian” race was named (from which all other races theoretically diverged). And of course this delineation of races became the foundation for a global racial order that still impacts us.
Fast forward. Nowadays we can tell a lot about what “Asian” means to a people by their country’s national census. Censuses are deeply implicated in sociopolitical construction. They provide the concepts, taxonomy, and information by which a nation understands its parts as well as its whole. They create both the image and the mirror of that image for a nation’s self-reflection. Census definitions of “Asian” however are often at great odds not only with geographical definitions, but each other as well.
For example in Australia, you’re “Asian” if you’re from central, south, southeast and northeast Asia – but not western Asia (then you’re either “North African” or “Middle Eastern”). Western Asian people aren’t considered “Asian” in Canada or the U.S. either. In Canada they’re “Arabs”. Here in the U.S., they’re “White” or “Caucasian.” In New Zealand you’re “Asian” if you’re Chinese, Indian, Korean, Filipino, Japanese, Vietnamese, Sri Lankan, Cambodian and Thai – but not south Asian. Conversely in the United Kingdom “Asian” is pretty much south Asian, while “Chinese” is a different category entirely. And of course these definitions are always changing.
So what does “Asian” mean? Perhaps the best answer is – something different all the time.
~ You can read more guest blogger Sharon Chang at her blog MultiAsianFamilies
The other day I was reading and came across this:
Prior to 1989, the race on a newborn’s birth certificate was determined by the race of the parents. An infant with one White parent was assigned the race of the non-White parent. If neither parent was White, the child was assigned the race of the father. Since 1989, the race of the mother has been indicated as the child’s race on the birth certificate.[Note 1 below]
Of course being the mother of a multiracial Asian child, my curiosity was massively peaked. I didn’t remember identifying my son’s race/ethnicity after he was born. Did nurses mark it for us? What did they put considering both my husband and I are multiracial Asian too? I rushed to find my son’s birth certificate. No race listed. End of story? Of course not.
A birth certificate is a vital record documenting the birth of a child. In the U.S., State laws require birth certificates to be completed for all births, and Federal law mandates national collection and publication of births and other vital statistics data.The data is managed by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), part of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
What I pulled from my files was a Short Form Birth Certificate, an unofficial document containing very little information. The short form does not list race. It merely certifies that an actual official birth certificate exists somewhere else. A Long Form or Certified Birth Certificate is the official document; a duplicate of the hospital birth record that is prepared when a child is born. The long form certificate does list race.
The manner in which birth race is recorded has changed over time. The most recent 2003 revision included the important update of allowing multiple-race selection. As far as I can tell a “multiracial” option has not yet been added (as it was to the 2010 Census).
And here’s where it gets complicated.
First, although the NCHS has expanded its race/ethnicity codes extensively and allows multiple-box-checking, doing so has created a statistical dilemma. How does the system compile answers when some people check 1 box and others check 2, 3, or more? I poured over many online documents (including those posted on the NCHS website) and found myself drowning in confusion. I am certainly open to being corrected on this point if someone else can figure what in the world the NCHS is talking about – but it appears that complex algorithims are used to bridge multiple-race responses into one single response, a single race response. What??
Second, despite collecting race information on both parents, birth data is still reported, in most cases, by the race of the mother.
Third, states have been slow to adopt the newest certificate form. As of 2007, 26 jurisdictions had not yet implemented it.
Carmen: “When my daughter was born the hospital put black on all of her documents (immunizations etc). I am black and my hubby is white, I thought it was a little weird that they should ignore the fact that my child is bi-racial. The nurses told me, (a little condescendingly mind you) that ALL government doc default to the race of the birth mother. So I had a question for the white mothers with bi-racial children with black fathers, did they put white on your child’s documents? Or was this some backwards thing they do just to black mothers?” –Circle of Moms (2010)
Ultimately this all gets pretty sticky when we consider birth certificate data has played a long-standing role in public health planning, action and funding. Leaving me, as always, with more questions than answers. How does the inaccuracy of recording mixed race impact the lives and representation of multiracial people? And how do us parents experience this inaccuracy as we are asked again and again to identify our multiracial children?
See my blog here.
1. Tashiro, Cathy J. “Mixed but Not Matched: Multiracial People and the Organization of Health Knowledge”. The Sum of Our Parts. Ed. Teresa Williams-León and Cynthia L. Nakashima. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2001. 173-182. Print.