Striking Lack of Diversity in Ivy League’s Top Positions

The June 14 edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education (“At the Ivies, It’s Still White at the Top”) presents a remarkable pictorial display of the individuals in the top levels of university administration in the Ivy League (Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, University of Pennsylvania, Princeton, and Yale). This pictorial display is more powerful and compelling than any statistical report in portraying the absence of diversity in university leadership. It reminds us of the dimensions of the administrative landscape as it exists today and emphasizes the fact that we are truly only at the beginning of the long journey toward inclusion in the top tiers of our nation’s educational institutions. This journey begins with representation as its first phase, next proceeds to the development of a representative bureaucracy that reflects the changing demography of student populations, and ultimately requires the creation of inclusive cultures at all levels.

The lack of racial and ethnic diversity in the top administrative ranks is not limited to the Ivies, but also pertains to public and private research universities as well as four-year colleges throughout the United States. A 2008 King & Gomez study found that close to 85 percent of the top-ranked positions in doctorate-granting institutions are held by whites and 66 percent held by males. Similarly, a NACUBO (2010) survey, found that Chief Financial Officers are 90% white and 68% male.

Furthermore, as Bryan Cook, former director of the American Council of Education, notes in the lead article by Stacey Patton in this Chronicle special edition, the lack of racial and ethnic diversity at 149 four-year colleges has persisted for 25 years. Cook also observes that institutions rarely replace a minority member with another when he or she leaves. As Ms. Patton perceptively notes, the frequent argument about “lack of qualified candidates” for these top roles becomes a loaded and coded divergence—a smoke screen that feeds stereotypes of minorities as less capable, intelligent, or experienced (p. A4). The few minorities that are selected for these highly visible roles experience what researchers William Tierney and Robert Rhodes call the double-edged sword of “a perverse visibility and a convenient invisibility.” For example, in her essay, “The Making of a Token,” in the edited volume Presumed Incompetent Yolanda Flores Niemann reports her “inordinate visibility” as a minority female professor in a mainly white male department. Subjected to overt racism and isolation, her negative self-perceptions and lowered sense of self-efficacy in the academy increased, until, as she reports, “I no longer recognized the person in the mirror.” Hiring one or two minorities at high levels within our institutions of higher education cannot be expected to solve the sense of exclusion, perceptions of token status, heightened visibility, or differential expectations that can accrue to the singular individual or nominal number of individuals in these top roles.

There are, however, some promising developments on the horizon. David S. Lee, professor of economics and public affairs and the director of the Industrial Relations Section at Princeton University, was just named provost last week, as the current provost (Christopher Eisgruber) ascended to the presidency. Unlike its Ivy comparators, Columbia University had the highest percentage of minority administrators (42 percent), although only 3 of its senior-level administrators are minorities. And women have certainly attained the highest levels with female presidents at all of the Ivies except Yale (Dartmouth has an interim female president).

As Alvin Evans and I share in our forthcoming book, The New Talent Acquisition Frontier: Integrating HR and Diversity Strategy, diverse talent is an accelerator of innovation, demanding a shift in the structures of top-down, command-and-control leadership that characterized the Industrial era. In this era of globalization, universities can no longer afford to ignore the need for diverse, collaborative, intergroup leadership. The leadership of diverse executive teams will create common ground in an environment of shared governance, promote inclusive campus climates, and position the university to respond to the changing educational needs of students in an interconnected, global society.

Obama and Civil Rights Enforcement

Over at her “pragmatic progressive” political blog, the head of nonprofit organization in Minnesota analyzes some data collected by a right-wing group on the impressive lawyer appointees being added by Attorney General Eric Holder, the first black attorney general ever. The right-wing group is very disturbed that Holder is moving the agency away from weak or no enforcement of civil rights laws to much more aggressive enforcement. This includes the hiring of many (106 so far) new career lawyers, almost all with real-world experience in the area of civil rights and civil rights enforcement in regard to gender, racial group, and gay/lesbian groups — which experience seems to qualify them all as “leftist” as seen by the right-wing group. Take a look at their mostly impressive resumes.

It is more than odd that numerous progressive government policy changes under President Obama, such as much more aggressive enforcement of the civil rights laws, has gotten little mainstream media coverage. This is one of many Obama actions that provide a major contrast with the weak or nonexistent enforcement of civil rights and other human-protective laws under the George Bush administration.

This paradigm shift is worth much more media and scholarly analysis, right?

International Women’s Day

Today is the celebration of the 100th International Women’s Day.   While it’s meant to be an event that celebrates the diversity of women’s accomplishments, often times the focus of such celebrations is overly young, white, straight and normatively gendered.  To counter this trend, I thought I would highlight three women leaders who don’t fit this model.

Estela Maris Álvarez is a member of the Enxet people, an indigenous group in Paraguay´s Chaco region, an area of semi-arid grasslands and thorny forests. She lives in La Herencia, a community in the western part of the country, located 340 km from Asunción.

Álvarez, who is 40 and raising two kids on her own, practices natural medicine as a nursing assistant and treats people in her community. From her traditional position as mother and healer, Álvarez has become a more non-traditional leader, taking on sexism and discrimination within her community and from outside it, such as in the governmental National Institute of Indigenous Affairs (INDI) which only recognises men as leaders. “If a group of indigenous women turns to INDI to protest about a specific problem that affects us or to demand respect for our rights, they tell us that we’re not tribal chiefs, and just ignore us,” she said.  Dismissing women’s voices exists within the Enxet community as well.   According to Álvarez, the  reality in the indigenous communities is that they’re governed by tribal chiefs with authoritarian and even violent attitudes. “They think that just because they’re chiefs they have the right to decide over the life of the community,” she said.  Violence against women is a chronic problem in the patriarchal culture that prevails in indigenous communities, where it is considered acceptable.  As a community leader, her position is clear. “The rights of indigenous women must be defended even over the interests of the communities,” because, moreover, it’s not true that you have to choose one or the other, she said.

“I am becoming more radical with age.  I have noticed that writers, when they are old, become milder. But for me it is the opposite. Age makes me more angry.”   This is the observation of Nawal El Saadawi, Egyptian advocate for women’s rights.

El Saadawi trained as a doctor, then worked as a psychiatrist and university lecturer, and has published almost 50 novels, plays and collections of short stories. Her work, which tackles the problems women face in Egypt and across the world, provokes outrage in many ways because she takes on religion, but she doesn’t back down.   She continues to address controversial issues such as female circumcision, domestic violence and religious fundamentalism in her writing and speaking.  Here is a short video clip of her talking about some of these issues (warning: strong content, annoying ad at the beginning).

Sojourner Truth famously asked, “Ain’t I a Woman?” in her speech at the 1851 Women’s Convention.  Her speech was meant to challenge the race and class privilege of the white women who organized that convention and did not imagine Sojourner’s struggles in their conceptualization of “women’s rights.”   More than a 100 years later, women who are outside of privilege have continued to challenge what is meant by “women’s rights,” and who gets included and excluded from the category “woman.”   Someone who is widely regarded as a pioneer in this struggle is Sylvia Rivera.

Rivera, a veteran of the Stonewall Uprising in 1969, continued throughout her life to fight for the rights of the disenfranchised, particularly homeless LGBT kids and trans people everywhere, as she pointed out the often privileged myopia of the white, middle-class LGBT movement.  Part of Sylvia Rivera’s legacy is a more inclusive definition of who is considered a woman and understanding that fighing for “women’s rights” includes transgendered women’s rights.

Discrimination and Diversity: Senior University Leadership

Do leadership and decision-making processes in the research university mirror the racial stratification of American society? The structure of higher education is strikingly white male-dominated in its senior leadership ranks. According to “Pathway to the Presidency” published by the American Council on Education , close to 85 percent of the top-ranked positions in doctorate-granting institutions are held by whites and 66 percent held by males (King & Gomez, 2008).

The only exception to this pattern is the Chief Diversity Officer position–70.8 percent of these positions are held by African-Americans, with white incumbents holding 12.3 percent, And according to a NACUBO (2010) survey, Chief Financial Officers are 90% white and 68% male, a demographic that is considerably similar to Chief Academic Officers who are 85% white and 60% male.

UnERD 2010
( Creative Commons License photo credit: -Kenzie- )

In our forthcoming book, Diverse Administrators in Peril: The New Indentured Class in Higher Education, (Paradigm, 2011), Alvin Evans of Kent State University and I examine the fragile and unstable working conditions faced by women, minority and lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender (LGBT) administrators in the highest ranks of the research university. Unlike faculty who pursue individualistic accomplishments solidified through the tenure process, university administrators generally serve in an “at will” status without employment protection to support the success of the entire institution.

In our survey and followup interviews with administrators from public and private research universities at the level of director and up, we discovered remarkable similarity in how the process of subtle discrimination unfolds through acts of marginalization, exclusion, and social closure. These patterns of discrimination transcend geographical location, institutional prestige, and public/private research university status. What it tells us that power is still highly concentrated in the hands of a few, and that the covert, difficult-to-prove nature of subtle discrimination heightens the vulnerability of diverse administrators to forms of differential treatment.

Joe Feagin, reminds us of the high cost of wasting talent and creativity in The White Racial Frame, indicating that “a society that ignores such a great store of knowledge and ability irresponsibly risks its future.” And he also reminds us of the need for moral thinking and action that “frees up the knowledge and energy” of those who have faced barriers to achievement, knowledge-generation, and prosperity.

Based on the poignant yet courageous testimonials of diverse administrators shared in our study, structural changes that strengthen employment stability for administrators will help ensure more inclusive leadership practices. These changes will not only enhance the success of diverse administrators but immeasurably contribute to the dynamism, viability, and competitiveness of our American institutions of higher education.

Do Subtle Discrimination and Social Justice Belong in Leadership Development Programs?

Mary Rowe, ombudsperson at MIT argues that subtle discrimination is the primary scaffolding for segregation in the U.S., a scaffolding that maintains inequality through micro-inequities–small, ephemeral, covert events that marginalize historically disadvantaged groups. She writes about how micro-inequities come to her attention everyday:

I hear of racist and anti-gay graffiti, of ethnic jokes in a lab, of someone failing to introduce a minority person, or confusing the names of two people of color I hear of someone ascribing the work or idea of a woman to a nearby male, of people who think exclusively of male contacts when a job or coveted assignment is open, of someone’s obvious discomfort at being assigned to travel with a woman or a person of another race. I hear of women who take a different path to class because of a man who seems to hang around on the path. I hear of a minority employee not notified of a vital matter at work. I hear of a woman trainee assigned to a certain office she did not want to be in, ‘because the man in that office was lonely and wanted to be assigned with a woman.’

Are these issues that leaders need to know about? Are the dynamics of subtle discrimination a subject for leadership development programs?

A thought-provoking new report on leadership and race entitled “How to Develop and Support Leadership that Contributes to Racial Justice” has just been issued by the Leadership Learning Community. The report suggests the leadership programs that simply focus upon diversity practices, equal opportunity, and individualism, do not recognize how systems such as culture, institutional practices, and policies, impact career and life opportunities for disadvantaged groups. A revealing chart in the report indicates that almost 90 percent of the 122 institutional leadership programs surveyed address diversity, but only half include training on structural racism and white privilege. An even smaller number (a little over 30 percent) include GLBTQ concerns.

Why does this matter? Should structural considerations relating to racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, classism, and other forms of exclusion be included in our leadership development programs? Should we not simply continue to talk about the value of diversity without addressing the systems that perpetuate social stratification within our institutions and organizations?

These questions remain controversial. It is easier to focus upon general discussions of diversity and multi-culturalism without delving into the difficult problems that this country has faced and is still facing. As American’s foremost theorist on systemic discrimination, Joe Feagin, reminds us in The White Racial Frame , the United States is a country shaped by extensive slavery and comprehensive legal segregation for a time period of 350 years, between 1619 to 1969, when legal segregation officially ended.

In the field of higher education, we know from recent reports that a high degree of racial and gender stratification persists in the administrative leadership ranks. My colleague, Alvin Evans of Kent State University, and I are exploring the implications of this stratification for university leadership in an upcoming book.
And as Adrianna Kezar and Rosana Carducci point out in Rethinking Leadership in a Complex, Multicultural and Global Environment now is the time for a revolutionary reconceptualization of leadership models from hierarchical, individualist leadership models that focus on power over others, to process-centered, nonhierarchical, collective forms of leadership that emphasize mutual power.

We agree. In Bridging the Diversity Divide: Globalization and Reciprocal Empowerment in Higher Education my co-author and I identify the importance of a framework of demography, diversity, and democracy that infuses the climate and culture and fosters reciprocal empowerment. Reciprocal empowerment corrects the imbalance in asymmetrical power relations through distributive justice, collaboration, and self-determination. In this era of globalization, the need for new approaches in our leadership programs that address critical social justice issues has never been stronger.

Domestic Terrorism: Racial, Gender, and Class Angles (UPDATED)

As you probably know by now, a white software engineer crashed his plane into an office building in Austin and killed himself and at least one other person. David Neiwert has a probing article at Crooks-and-Liars,” with a video from Fox News that moves strongly away from calling this an “act of terrorism.” They describe the act as like someone who wildly attacks with a gun at their workplace. The Obama administration’s press secretary and the Department of Homeland Security are also saying it probably was not an act of terrorism. A newsperson at Fox concluded:

Our Homeland Security contacts telling us, this does not appear to be terrorism in any way that that word is conventionally understood. We understand from officials that this is a sole, isolated act.

Neiwert notes that

Well, this is true only if the conventional understanding of the word “terrorism” has now been narrowed down to mean only international terrorism and to preclude domestic terrorism altogether. Since when, after all, is attempting to blow up a federal office as a protest against federal policies NOT an act of domestic terrorism? You know, Timothy McVeigh used a “dangerous instrument” to kill 168 people in Oklahoma City. He too was angry at the federal government, and was converted to the belief that acts of violence was the only means possible to prevent the government from overwhelming our freedom and replacing it with tyranny.

He was also not brown or black. That seems to have something to do with the way these events are reported and described as “not terrorism” by media and government officials. Indeed, I see no one at the mainstream media outlets analyzing that the likely suicide attacker was white, or even much analysis of his note below.

The very long letter from the apparent suicide attacker was left by him on the web, and reads in part:

If you’re reading this, you’re no doubt asking yourself, “Why did this have to happen?” …. Sadly, starting at early ages we in this country have been brainwashed to believe that, in return for our dedication and service, our government stands for justice for all. ..While very few working people would say they haven’t had their fair share of taxes (as can I), in my lifetime I can say with a great degree of certainty that there has never been a politician cast a vote on any matter with the likes of me or my interests in mind. . . . Yet, it mercilessly “holds accountable” its victims, claiming that they’re responsible for fully complying with laws not even the experts understand.

A major thrust of his suicide note is an attack on taxation, and this is what the media has played up. This is similar to the anti-government motivation for the kind of domestic terrorism engaged in my Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma City. Very few in the mainstream media have so far explored his strong critique of the business world:

Why is it that a handful of thugs and plunderers can commit unthinkable atrocities (and in the case of the GM executives, for scores of years) and when it’s time for their gravy train to crash under the weight of their gluttony and overwhelming stupidity, the force of the full federal government has no difficulty coming to their aid within days if not hours? Yet at the same time, the joke we call the American medical system, including the drug and insurance companies, are murdering tens of thousands of people a year and stealing from the corpses and victims they cripple, and this country’s leaders don’t see this as important as bailing out a few of their vile, rich cronies.

He continues with a discussion of his efforts as an engineer and rails against people losing their pensions to corrupt management executives, unions, and officials. After much economic difficulty, he moved to Austin, which gets a bad review:

So I moved, only to find out that this is a place with a highly inflated sense of self-importance and where damn little real engineering work is done. I’ve never experienced such a hard time finding work.

He then had more economic troubles, and blames the IRS for this problems:

I remember reading about the stock market crash before the “great” depression and how there were wealthy bankers and businessmen jumping out of windows when they realized they screwed up and lost everything. Isn’t it ironic how far we’ve come in 60 years in this country that they now know how to fix that little economic problem; they just steal from the middle class (who doesn’t have any say in it, elections are a joke) to cover their asses and it’s “business-as-usual”. Now when the wealthy fuck up, the poor get to die for the mistakes. . . . I know I’m hardly the first one to decide I have had all I can stand. It has always been a myth that people have stopped dying for their freedom in this country, and it isn’t limited to the blacks, and poor immigrants. . . .I choose to not keep looking over my shoulder at “big brother” while he strips my carcass, I choose not to ignore what is going on all around me, I choose not to pretend that business as usual won’t continue; I have just had enough. . . . Sadly, though I spent my entire life trying to believe it wasn’t so, but violence not only is the answer, it is the /only/ answer. . . . Well, Mr. Big Brother IRS man, let’s try something different; take my pound of flesh and sleep well. *The communist creed: From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.* *The capitalist creed: From each according to his gullibility, to each according to his greed.* Joe Stack (1956-2010)

We get here a close look at the mind of a suicide attacker, and probably should read it closely. His rationale for violence is carefully presented. This event and its reporting have important racial and class angles.

There is also a major gender violence angle here. MSNBC reported some domestic dispute between the attacker and his wife before the incident, and he appears to have set to light his house on fire, and the fire department had to rescue his wife and daughter. Gender gets downplayed often in these cases. This man first terrorized his wife and daughter, then engaged in an act of domestic terrorism against the government. His wife and daughter are now homeless.

White anger and violence directed at the government is not usually reported as terrorism. White, heterosexual, Christian men infrequently get called out as such and generalizations developed on the basis of these demographics. If these recent incidents by white men had been committed by Muslim men or others of color it is quite likely those demographics would be foregrounded. @GuerrillaMama has put it eloquently (via Twitter):

Suppose two men committed separate acts of extremist murder in the United States within a month. Suppose the gunmen attacked a church and a national landmark, motivated by politics and religious prejudice, targeting a nationally controversial figure and innocent civilians. Suppose there was a history of attacks by similarly motivated men in America, ranging from individual shootings and bombings to an act of spectacular violence that destroyed a federal office building. Suppose two Muslim men had done this. Is there even a question that we would be using a particular term to describe this behavior? Might reporters and news anchors be terming these horrible acts, say, “terrorism”?

Still, Matt Yglesias cautions about an overreaction to this event:

But instead of complaining about the hypocrisy involved in not trying to whip people into a fit of terror and madness about this incident, I think it makes more sense to congratulate everyone on handling this in a calm and sensible manner. . . . Simply put, the odds of “death by disgruntled anti-tax activist flying an airplane into your office” are extremely small and it’s extremely difficult to think of cost-effective and efficacious methods of ensuring that this never happens again. Off the top of my head, this looks to me like a demonstration of the desirability of better mental health services in the United States, but that’s something that I would think was true one way or the other.

In my view, this is a good time for much careful reflection and action about the underlying, stressful, oppressive class, racial, gender conditions of this society. For example, the society’s structural conditions, mentioned in the suicide note, that sometimes play a role in driving people of any background to such extreme violence are also rarely examined in the mainstream media. One can and should examine these contextual conditions of suicide attackers closely without excusing such violence. They often tell us something about our societies. Clearly, the economic depression we are now in is likely part of his story. So, it seems to me, is the violent rhetoric of many in the “tea bag” movement and on white supremacist websites. This extremely violent talk and discussion probably makes violence seem “normal” to people like this suicide attacker. Why is there no mainstream media discussion of the broader racial and class and gender implications of this story, and the biased ways it is being handled?


Rep. Steve King (R-IA) told a crowd at CPAC on Saturday that he could “empathize” with the suicide bomber who last week attacked an IRS office in Austin, and encouraged his listeners to “implode” other IRS offices, according to a witness. King’s comments weren’t recorded, but a staffer for Media Matters, who heard the comments, provided TPMmuckraker with an account. The staffer, who requested anonymity because she’s not a communications specialist, said that King, an extreme right-winger with a reputation for eyebrow-raising rhetoric, appeared as a surprise guest speaker on an immigration panel at the conservative conference.

We should note too that the only person this white domestic terrorist killed was a black veteran of Vietnam.

Remarkable Transgender Appointment–and Major Anti-Discrimination Resources

A very useful website for information on civil rights issues these days is is operated by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund. It has many useful lists of anti-racism and other anti-discrimination sources and reports, such as this recent one on hate crimes and what to do about them.

The site just reported on this major progress in government appointments, as Amanda Simpson becomes the first ever transgender presidential appointee. Here is the statement from the website by Tyler Lewis:

President Obama recently appointed Amanda Simpson, a transgender woman, to be the senior technical adviser to the Department of Commerce. Simpson – the first ever transgender presidential appointee – will serve in the department’s Bureau of Industry and Security. The federal agency enforces sanctions and embargoes on various goods and regulates the export of sensitive technologies, such as software and machinery. Since 9/11, the bureau has made restricting the export of technologies that could be potentially used to create weapons of mass destruction a top priority. With 30 years of experience working in the aerospace and defense industries, most recently serving as deputy director in advanced technology development at Raytheon Missile Systems, Simpson is exceptionally qualified for the position.

President Obama’s openness to finding talent among all Americans is a welcome change from the previous administration, even if it took a decade into the 21st century. He may not be as progressive on things like the economy as many would like to see, but his orientation to real diversity and operational openness marks a major change for this government and society.

Exotifying Asian Women: The White Racial Frame Again

Marie Clare online (ht Rosalind) has a recent article on “The New Trophy Wives: Asian Women,” which is both insightful and naïve at the same time, even white-framed. The author, Ying Chu, raises the provocative question of why many powerful, older white men are now partnering with younger Asian women:

When the venerable director [Woody Allen] scandalously left Mia Farrow for her adopted daughter, South Korean-born Soon-Yi Previn . . . he may as well have sent out a press release: Asian-girl fantasy trumps that of Hollywood royalty! . . . Rupert Murdoch walked down the aisle with fresh-faced Wendi Deng . . . .Then, CBS head Leslie Moonves wed TV news anchor Julie Chen; Oscar winner Nicolas Cage married half-his-age third wife Alice Kim; billionaire George Soros coupled up with violinist Jennifer Chun; and producer Brian Grazer courted concert pianist Chau-Giang Thi Nguyen. Add the nuptials of investment magnate Bruce Wasserstein to fourth wife Angela Chao and the pending vows between venture capitalist Vivi Nevo and Chinese actress Ziyi Zhang.

She then asks why this is happening, first suggesting this may be a type of colonial “yellow fever”:

The excruciating colonial stereotypes — Asian women as submissive, domestic, hypersexual — are obviously nothing new.

Her primary answer is that these are after all now omnipresent images and

often entertaining. Even now, how many cinematic greats, literary best sellers, or even cell-phone ads . . . characterize Asian women as something other than geishas, ninjas, or dragon ladies? . . . I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry at the cheeky blog, which ranks Asian girls at number 11 because “Asian women avoid key white women characteristics, such as having a midlife crisis, divorce, and hobbies that don’t involve taking care of the children.”

So these old and new racialized images are entertaining? We are supposed to laugh at such stereotyping of Asian and white women? Racialized steretoyping is no laughing matter, even if some naïve websites think it is. Then she moves back to a more critical analysis:

“It’s like a curse that Asian-American women can’t avoid,” says C.N. Le, director of Asian and Asian-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. “From an academic point of view, the perception still serves as a motivation for white men.” . . . Richard Bernstein found that the Orientalist illusion continues to influence. “Historically, Asia provided certain sexual opportunities that would be much more difficult for Western men to have at home. But it remains a happy hunting ground for them today,” he says, citing one phenomenon in the northeastern region of Thailand called Issan, where 15 percent of marriages are between young Thai women and Western men well into their 60s.

She introduces the importance of the exotic Asian woman stereotype, but quickly drops it instead it and does not exploring what it means in the West. This sexualization of Asian American women in white-male minds is a major aspect of contemporary racism, and one deserving of much more analysis than we have in social science, never mind in the stereotype-riddled popular media. This stereotype is central not only for the elite-men-partnering issue, but much more generally to white (male) framing of Asian and Asian American women. There are, for example, a great many websites dedicated to pleasing the racialized exotic-Asian-female fantasies and images held by many white men across the Internet.

After suggesting that the partnering actions of white men may have some connection to their recognizing the power of China and the rest of Asia in contemporary globalization, she then reverses direction and asks why these often high-achieving Asian or Asian American women pair up with these aging white men of power:

While I’m sure that real love and affection is sometimes the bond in these culture-crossing May-December romances, could it be that power divorcés of a certain ilk make the perfect renegade suitors for these overachieving Asian good girls — an ultimate (yet lame) attempt at rebellion? Maybe these outsized, world-class moguls are stand-ins for emotionally repressed Asian dads (one cliché that is predominantly true).

So now we get her own stereotype of Asian men as somehow not really men as one explanation for the actions of Asian women such as these. As we point out in our recent The Myth of the Model Minority:

In the 19th century Asian American [and Asian] men were stereotyped in the white framing as oversexed and threatening to white women, but in more recent decades they have been more likely to be stereotyped as feminized or emasculated, a shift that may link to the rise of model minority stereotyping. . . . In the United States Asian American women are the group most likely to marry outside of their racial group. They outmarry more than other women and men of color, and much more than Asian American men. In many such cases a white racial framing in the minds of Asian American women may intersect with the sexualization of Asian American women in white male minds. Because their standard of an attractive male has become white-normed and because of the potential to enter directly into white middle-class [or upper-class] world, many Asian women find a white male partner appealing. In contrast, some white men are drawn to the Asian female stereotype of exoticized sensuality and submissiveness.

Judge Sonia Sotomayor: Issues of Empathy, Gender, and Gendered Racism

As we watch the hearings in the US Senate on Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination, we can reflect on some images generated about her in most parts of the conservative sector and in the mass media that often plays lapdog for conservatives’ views. One conservative view accents her previous talks and speeches (but not, interestingly, her decisions in this regard) that indicate her important experiential understandings as a woman of color (“wise Latina”) and attacks her for thinking and operating necessarily out of her own racialized and gendered experience, as if that is possible for white men to do.

Indeed, when Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) questioned now Supreme Court Justice Sam Alito about these matters in his hearing a few years back, Coburn and other conservatives did not challenge this candid answer that Alito gave indicating that he operated very much out of his own experience (H/T Glenn Greenwald and Dailykos video ) in his own thinking about cases as a judge:

Because when a case comes before me involving, let’s say, someone who is an immigrant — and we get an awful lot of immigration cases and naturalization cases — I can’t help but think of my own ancestors, because it wasn’t that long ago when they were in that positionAnd so it’s my job to apply the law. It’s not my job to change the law or to bend the law to achieve any result. But when I look at those cases, I have to say to myself, and I do say to myself, “You know, this could be your grandfather, this could be your grandmother. They were not citizens at one time, and they were people who came to this country.”

Isn’t Alito here speaking about having some human empathy for immigrants because of his own family’s immigrant experience? Yet, Coburn and other numerous conservatives (and some others) lately have tied some of what Sotomayor has said about her similar experiences to President Obama’s stated concern for judges to have empathy across important lines in society—apparently a bad thing to have, especially for many white conservatives, including many Republicans in Congress. Indeed, Sotomayor has been forced the last day or two to disagree with President Obama’s earlier statement on empathy in judging, and to assert what Alito does in this comment–that she does not make or bend the law to her personal views (etc.).

Is this conservative attack on the concept of empathy as it is raised by people of color like Obama and Sotomayor because they are afraid that real empathy across color lines is indeed corrosive of the oppressive structure of society, from which they greatly benefit? Hernan Vera and I have argued that individual racism and systemic racism generally require a lack of real inter-human empathy, what we call “social alexithymia”? Doesn’t US racism, past and present, require a breakdown of real empathy in the dominant racial group? Is real empathy corrosive of racist framing and much racist action?

Dailykos has an interesting June 2009 poll on how the public sees this judge/empathy issue. People we asked, "Do you think empathy is an important characteristic for a Supreme Court Justice to possess or not?" This was the breakdown for key demographic groups:

.........Yes   No
18-29 63   17
30-44 47   34
45-59 55   26
60+ ...46   35

All age groups have a majority or plurality that said yes, but those under 30 are more oriented this way than older groups.

White ..41   39
Black ..81    4
Latino .79    4
Other ..79    5

Whites barely have a plurality for judges having empathy, but you can see that folks of color, who experience the harsh end of everyday racism, are far more likely to see human empathy as important, even though it is not defined in this survey. Majorities there seem to be coming from the same place as Judge Sotomayor in her comments. It would be interesting to do in-depth interviews to see what people understand the word “empathy” to mean. The survey also had an interesting gender breakdown:

Men ......48   34
Women .56   24

Both men and women  were more yes than no, but the women were more strongly in the yes column. A majority of the whole sample comes down on the side of empathy for judges, white male Senators notwithstanding!

Let us explore some more aspects of this gender and leadership issue in another major survey of 2,250 adults done last year by the Pew Center. It is revealing in regard to various gendered matters that clearly relate to societal debates on Judge Sotomayor, and on other women recently nominated or appointed to key positions. The survey asked about the leadership traits and assets of men and women. The public, interestingly, seems more enlightened than some US senators.

(Source: Wikipedia)

(Source: Wikipedia)

On most leadership traits women did better than men. Half of the survey respondents viewed

women are more honest than men, while just one-in-five say men are more honest (the rest say they don’t know or volunteer the opinion that there’s no difference between the sexes on this trait). And honesty, according to respondents, is the most important to leadership of any of the traits measured in the survey.

Then there is the old saw that men are more intelligent, which was not accepted by the sample:

Here again, women outperform men: 38% of respondents say women are smarter than men, while just 14% say men are smarter, and the remainder say there’s no difference between the sexes.

On the qualities of hard work and ambition, there was a tie, with equal percentages citing women and men on each as better. Men did best on only one of the traits, decisiveness

with 44% of respondents saying that men are more decisive and 33% saying women are.

Most strikingly, perhaps, women had huge

leads over men on the last three traits on the public’s rankings of the eight items measured: being compassionate (80% say women; 5% say men); being outgoing (47% say women; 28% say men) and being creative (62% say women; 11% say men).

Significantly, the African American women were the most pro-female (womanist) in their views:

Nearly eight-in-ten (78%) black women (compared with 51% of white women and 50% of all adults) say women are more honest than men. About two-thirds (65%) of black women (compared with 37% of white women and 38% of all adults) say women are smarter than men. And about half (49%) of black women (compared with 33% of white women and 28% of all adults) say women are more hardworking than men.

I could not find a breakdown for Latinas or other women of color in the sample, but one might expect them to be closer to black women than white women? Most of the respondents also thought women made as good leaders as men, about 69 percent said so. If so, then, why are there so few women leaders in many sectors of society? The survey respondents agreed that it was substantially because of gender discrimination and the old boy’s club, with smaller percentages accenting women’s family responsibilities and lack of experience. However, Even with high marks for these virtues, women (the 51 percent population majority in the US) do not do well at the top of the society, as these statistics indicate:

2 percent the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies

17 percent of U.S. House members

16 percent of U.S. senators and governors

24 percent of state legislators

11 percent of the U.S. Supreme Court justices

And the statistics are even worse for women (and men of color), especially for Latinos/as like Sotomayor. It is odd that no one in the hearings has analyzed well the point that out of 110 Supreme Ct. justices so far in our history, 106 have been white men, virtually all elite white men. And this is supposed to be some sort of democracy? It is more like a male-ocracy?

It is significant that there seems to be some recognition of the gender discrimination faced by women in the survey too:

A majority of adults (57%) say the nation needs to continue to make changes to give women equal rights with men. A similar majority (54%) says discrimination against women is either a serious or somewhat serious problem in society

Now, the greatest political difficulty is getting some real societal change in the gendered, and gendered racist, structure of this society.