St. Patrick’s Day: A History of Racism, A Celebration of Whiteness

Today in New York City and throughout the U.S., Irish-Americans will celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and Irish heritage.  What few will acknowledge in this day of celebration is the way in which the Irish in American deployed whiteness in order to deflect the racism they encountered in the U.S.

Kerry Band from the Bronx

(Creative Commons Licensephoto credit: ktylerconk)

Like many immigrant groups in the United States, the Irish were characterized as racial Others when they first arrived in the first half of the 19th century. The Irish had suffered profound injustice in the U.K. at the hands of the British, widely seen as “white negroes.” The potato famine that created starvation conditions that cost the lives of millions of Irish and forced the out-migration of millions of surviving ones, was less a natural disaster and more a complex set of social conditions created by British landowners (much like Hurricane Katrina). Forced to flee from their native Ireland and the oppressive British landowners, many Irish came to the U.S.

Once in the U.S., the Irish were to negative stereotyping that was very similar to that of enslaved Africans and African Americans. The comic Irishman – happy, lazy, stupid, with a gift for music and dance – was a stock character in American theater. Drunkenness and criminality were major themes of Irish stereotypes, and the term “paddy wagon” has its etymological roots in the racist term “paddy,” a shortening of the name “Patrick,” which was used to refer to the Irish. However, this is also a gendered image and refers to Irish men, specifically. The masculine imagery of “paddy” hides the existence of Irish women, but did not protect Irish women from racism as they were often more exposed to such racism through domestic jobs. Women typically played a key role in maintaining Catholic adherence, which resonates closely with Irishness and difference. The “model minority” (if you will) stereotype of Irish-American women is of a “Bridget,” recognized for her hard work and contribution to Irish upward class mobility.

Simian, or ape-like caricature of the Irish immigrant was also a common one among the mainstream news publications of the day (much like the recent New York Post cartoon). For example, in 1867 American cartoonist Thomas Nast drew “The Day We Celebrate” a cartoon depicting the Irish on St. Patrick’s Day as violent, drunken apes. And, in 1899, Harper’s Weekly featrued a drawing of three men’s heads in profile: Irish, Anglo-Teutonic and Negro, in order to illustrate the similarity between the Irish and the Negro (and, the supposed superiority of the Anglo-Teutonic). In northern states, blacks and Irish immigrants were forced into overlapping – often integrated – slum neighborhoods. Although leaders of the Irish liberation struggle (in Ireland) saw slavery as an evil, their Irish-American cousins largely aligned with the slaveholders.

And, following the end of slavery, the Irish and African Americans were forced to compete for the same low-wage, low-status jobs. So, the “white negroes” of the U.K. came to the United States and, though not enslaved, faced a status almost as low as that of recently-freed blacks. While there were moments of solidarity between Irish and African Americans, this was short lived.

Over the course of the 19th and early 20th century, Irish Americans managed to a great extent to enter and become part of the dominant white culture. In an attempt to secure the prosperity and social position that their white skin had not guaranteed them in Europe, Irish immigrants lobbied for white racial status in America. Although Irish people’s pale skin color and European roots suggested evidence of their white racial pedigree, the discrimination that immigrants experienced on the job (although the extent of the “No Irish Need Apply” discrimination is disputed), the simian caricatures they saw of themselves in the newspapers, meant that “whiteness” was a status that would be achieved, not ascribed.

For some time now, Irish-Americans have been thoroughly regarded as “white.” Evidence of this assimilation into whiteness is presented by Mary C. Waters (Harvard) in a recent AJPH article, in which she writes that “the once-rigid lines that divided European-origin groups from one another have increasingly blurred.” Waters goes on to predict that the changes that European immigrants ahve experienced are “becoming more likely for groups we now define as ‘racial.'” While I certainly agree that the boundaries of whiteness are malleable – it is a racial category that expands and contracts based on historical, cultural and social conditions – I don’t know if it is malleable enough to include all the groups we now define as ‘racial’ Others.

As people rush to embrace even fictive Irish heritage and encourage strangers to “Kiss Me I’m Irish” today, take just a moment to reflect on the history of racism and the pursuit of whiteness wrapped up in this holiday.

From the archive (originally posted 03-17-2009)

Tiger Couple Gets It Wrong On Immigrant Success

[Shortened version of a review in The Boston Review (March 11, 2014)

Review of The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America by Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld

The tiger couple is chasing its own tail, which is to say, they are stuck in circular reasoning. In their new book, The Triple Package, Amy Chua, author of the best-selling Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, and Jed Rubenfeld tackle the question of why certain groups are overrepresented in the pantheon of success. They postulate the reason for their success is that these groups are endowed with “the triple package”: a superiority complex, a sense of insecurity, and impulse control. The skeptic asks, “How do we know that?” To which they respond: “They’re successful, aren’t they?”

But Chua and Rubenfeld proffer no facts to show that their exemplars of ethnic success—Jewish Nobel Prize winners, Mormon business magnates, Cuban exiles, Indian and Chinese super-achievers—actually possess this triple package. Or that possessing these traits is what explains their disproportionate success. For that matter, they do not demonstrate that possessing the triple package is connected, through the mystical cord of history, to Jewish sages, Confucian precepts, or Mormon dogma. Perhaps, as critics of Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism have contended, success came first and only later was wrapped in the cloth of religion. In other words, like elites throughout history, Chua and Rubenfeld’s exemplars enshroud their success in whatever system of cultural tropes was available, whether in the Talmud, Confucianism, Mormonism, or the idolatry of White Supremacy. The common thread that runs through these myths of success is that they provide indispensable legitimacy for social class hierarchy. . . .

Chua and Rubenfeld give us old wine in new bottles: they invoke the idea used the world over to justify entrenched systems of social stratification—that success comes to the culturally deserving. This was precisely the argument put forward by Thomas Sowell in his 1981 book Ethnic America. For Sowell, “Jews are the classic American success story—from rags to riches against all opposition.” For Chua and Rubenfeld,

the two million Eastern European Jews who immigrated to America in the early 1990s brought with them habits of heightened discipline, religious prohibition, and hard work that they not only practiced themselves but passed down to their children.

Furthermore, both books contrast Jewish success in overcoming persecution and poverty with a deeply ingrained “defeatism” among blacks who bear the scars of centuries of slavery and denigration. As Sowell writes:

Groups today plagued by absenteeism, tardiness, and a need for constant supervision at work or in school are typically descendants of people with the same habits a century or more ago. The cultural inheritance can be more important than biological inheritance, although the latter stirs more controversy.

There you have it: the problem is to be found, not in the genes, but rather in the cultural DNA, which is even “more important than biological inheritance.” Since 1981, however, anthropologists and sociologists have developed a large canon of work that dissects and discredits theories that reduce inequality to culture. This scholarship was reflected during their book tour when Chua and Rubenfeld were challenged with questions about the racist implications of their theory. Is their point that African Americans are culturally deficient? Are they using “culture” to blame the victim, and to deflect attention away from persistent racist barriers that limit opportunity? For that matter, what about the 99 percent of people in “successful groups” who do not reach the top 1 percent? Are they less Jewish, Asian, Cuban, Mormon than Jews, Asians, Cubans, and Mormons who have “made it”? Do they suffer from a paucity of the traits that make up the triple package? Chua and Rubenfeld invoke an idea that justifies entrenched systems of social stratification: that success comes to the culturally deserving.

If not culture, what does explain Jewish “success against all opposition?” As I argue in The Ethnic Myth (1981), Jewish success is chiefly the result of factors that go back to the condition of Jews in their countries of origin. The shtetls romanticized in Fiddler on the Roof were small towns, proximate to cities, where Jews carved out niches between rural and urban economies. Many were traders who purchased agricultural products, animal hides, and raw materials from peasants and sold them to factories in cities, eking out a small profit. By the end of the nineteenth century, there were large concentrations of Jews in cities, and they played a key role in the critical early phases of industrialization. A 1945 survey of “Jews in the Russian Economy,” assembled by a group of Russian-Jewish immigrants, reported the following:

By 1832 Jews owned 149 [textile] factories and plants out of the total 528 existing at the time in eight provinces. . . . From the 1870s until the First World War, the Jews played a major part in the development of the sugar industry. . . . Flour milling was quite widespread among Jews within the Pale of Settlement. . . . By the early years of the twentieth century Jews owned or leased 365 mills with an annual business of 20 million rubles. . . . The same can be said of tobacco production, which had long been concentrated in Jewish hands. . . . In the Russian leather industry Jews also played a substantial role. . . . In the woodworking industry, Jews were prominent chiefly in the sawmill business. . . . In the grain and timber trade, Jews . . . may be said to have brought Russia into the world market.

In short, Jews were on the forefront of commerce and industrialization in Eastern Europe, and Jewish immigrants to the United States arrived with previous industrial experience and a higher rate of literacy that gave them a decisive head start over other immigrants, most of whom came from peasant origins.

Jewish immigrants also had skills in a wide array of crafts. A study conducted by the U.S. Immigration Commission in 1911 found that Jews ranked first in thirty-six of forty-seven trades:

They constituted 80 percent of the hat and cap makers, 75 percent of the furriers, 68 percent of the tailors and bookbinders, 60 percent of the watchmakers and milliners, and 55 percent of the cigarmakers and tinsmiths. They totaled 30 to 50 percent of the immigrant classified as tanners, turners, undergarment makers, jewelers, painters, glaziers, dressmakers, photographers, saddlemakers, locksmiths, and metal workers in other than iron and steel. They ranked first among immigrant printers, bakers, carpenters, cigar-packer, blacksmiths, and building trades workmen.

These skills were in demand in the burgeoning economies of the cities where they settled. Many Jewish immigrants used their craft skills to establish small family businesses that allowed them to secure an occupational and economic foothold that served as a springboard of mobility for their children. Typically their sons went into the family business, and at the point that their grandchildren began streaming into college, there was a fortuitous expansion of American higher education, especially during the period after World War II. Jews were the right people in the right place and the right time, and this is why they were able to escape the poverty of the immigrant generation more rapidly than others.
None of this is to say that culture does not matter. The whole point is that culture does not exist in a vacuum, but rather is one factor within a large matrix of social and material factors.

As I write in The Ethnic Myth:

If Jews set high goals, it is because they had a realistic chance of achieving them. If they worked hard, it is because they could see the fruits of their labor. If they were willing to forgo the pleasures of the moment, it is because they could realistically plan for the future, for their children if not for themselves. In short there was much in the everyday experience of Jewish immigrants to activate and sustain their highest aspirations. Without this reinforcement, their values would have been scaled down accordingly, and more successful outsiders would today be speculating about how much further Jews might have gone if only they had aimed higher.

The fatal flaw of The Triple Package is that its authors treat their magic trifecta as disembodied values, putatively rooted in ancient cultures. But they provide no evidence that their exemplars are actually immersed in these cultural systems. Rather, there are more mundane reasons why they might exhibit the magic trifecta, connected with their social class and circumstances. Chua’s parents were not just struggling immigrants—they were educated professionals with the social and material resources that allowed them to sustain their aspirations for their children. Rubenfeld was raised in upper-middle class affluence, which put him on a fast track to success. Their circumstances positioned the tiger parents to raise two achieving daughters, one bound for the Harvard (their parents’ alma mater), the other for Yale (their parents’ workshop). In other words mobility is not an individual achievement so much as it is a family project that occurs incrementally across generations. . . .

The demystification of the Jewish success story has implications for rendering a more truthful account of the success stories at the center of Chua and Rubenfeld’s book. In each case, pre-migration factors and selective migration go a long way to explaining group success:

• Nigerian immigrants at Harvard Business School are no success story whatsoever. They come from Nigeria’s educated and affluent elite. If anything, this is a case of a transfer of human capital from one nation to another. Or, to put it bluntly, a brain drain. The same can be seen in Iranian and Lebanese immigrants.
• A socialist revolution made refugees of Cuba’s political oligarchs and economic elites and sent them in flight to Miami. Recovery was not easy, but neither were they the “huddled masses” of yore. From the Small Business Administration and other government agencies, Cuban refugees received credit and loans whose purpose was to showcase the superiority of American capitalism over Cuban socialism. In contrast the Cubans who arrived in the 1980 “Mariel Boatlift” came from the poorest segments of the Cuban population. Unlike in 1966, there were no articles in Fortune Magazine entitled “Those Amazing Cuban Émigrés.”
• The first wave of Asian immigrants after the 1965 Immigration Act consisted mostly of professionals who sought more lucrative employment in the United States. Later these immigrants were able to send for their poorer relatives under the family reunification provision in immigration law. Like Jews, many Asians found a niche in the enclave economy and used their success as entrepreneurs as a springboard of mobility for their children.
• Chua and Rubenfeld have a field day with the statistic that Asians comprise nearly three quarters of the students at Stuyvesant, New York City’s elite high school. They claim that many of these students come from parents who are restaurant or factory workers, but they have no evidence on the actual class background of students who make the cut for Stuyvesant. Their source is a single local news story about a school in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, where children, at great expense to their working-class parents, are enrolled for years in a test-prep program called “Horizons.” Nor is there mention of the cottage industry of test-prep programs in Chinatown, which are now cashing in by attracting non-Asians as well.
• The droves of foreign students in the nation’s colleges and universities who overstay their visas are another source of immigrant achievers. These students come mostly from middle-class or affluent families who can afford to enroll their children in American universities. Again, a case of selective migration, not a success story.
• As for the Caribbean students who succeed, whether in college admissions or in business, they rarely come from affluent families, but they still have class advantages that place them a rung higher on the ladder than African Americans, and they encounter less racism as a result. On the other hand, the Jamaican seasonal farm workers who harvest apples in upstate New York are no success story.
• Why Mormons, regarded fifty years ago as a fringe group, have made recent strides in the business world is mysterious, but one thing is certain: Mormon religion did not change. On the contrary, as was true of immigrant Jews, the Mormons who were catapulted to success probably had to break away from the strictures and doctrines of pre-modern religions in order to achieve the success they sought in the material world. Sure, like Mitt Romney and like the protagonist in Abraham Cahan’s 1917 novel, The Rise of David Levinsky—they look back nostalgically on their youthful allegiances, but the discontinuities are far more important than the continuities.

When the tiger couple appeared on Fareed Zakaria’s weekly show on CNN, Zakaria observed that the nations that supposedly embody the magic trifecta have, until recently, been “basket cases.” Without a moment’s hesitation, Rubenfeld averred that in their home countries, they had only two of the three requisite traits—an ingrained sense of superiority and impulse control. Only when they arrived on American shores did they develop the sense of vulnerability that allowed the trifecta to have its magical result. These are the absurd lengths that Rubenfeld must go to in order to save his pet theory from its glaring overstatements and fatal omissions. . . .

In their whirlwind interviews, Chua and Rubenfeld were often asked whether their theory has a racist flipside, and their prompt riposte was that blacks, too, could achieve success if only they cultivated the magic trifecta. It is worth pointing out, though, that most of the groups that Chua and Rubenfeld tout as exemplars of success would not be on American soil but for the 1965 Immigration Act that was passed on the heels of the Civil Rights Movement. Not only that, but thanks to the black protest movement, immigrants from Asia, Africa, and Latin America entered a nation with a far more favorable climate of tolerance than existed in times past. Finally, it is safe to assume that some of Chua and Rubenfeld’s exemplars reaped the advantage of affirmative action programs, which were developed in the cauldron of black protest and gutted by the Supreme Court.

There is bitter irony when the paragons in Chua and Rubenfeld’s narrative are used to make invidious comparisons to African Americans who, throughout American history, have been pushed further back from doors of opportunity by successive waves of immigrants. As Toni Morrison wrote years ago, their success comes “on the back of blacks,” whose struggles are similarly eclipsed in this facile and fallacious book.

Amy Chua’s “Triple Package”: Success Formula for Some?

Is success monolithic and limited to certain groups? Attributes of success cannot be monopolized by certain groups, cultures, ethnicities, or religious groups. Most people that are successful, in fact, appear to have characteristics in common and these characteristics are not driven by their membership in certain groups. The premise of the American democracy is based on the notion that all can succeed through hard work and access to opportunity. In Outliers, the Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell observes:

Nor is success simply the sum of the decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf. It is, rather a gift. Outliers are those who have been given opportunities—and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.

Yet according to Amy Chua and Jeb Rosenfeld in their new book, The Triple Package, the combination of three cultural characteristics has led to the success of eight groups in America (Chinese, early Cuban exiles, Indians, Nigerians, Mormons, Iranians, Lebanese and Jews): 1) a superiority complex; 2) a sense of insecurity; and 3) impulse control. In fact, they assert,

all of America’s disproportionately successful groups have a superiority complex; in fact most are famous for it” (p. 72).

This superiority complex, they state, is “deeply ingrained” (p. 83). And strikingly, the authors do not support these sweeping statements with research findings or empirical sources of evidence.

Chua and Rosenfeld’s thesis has distinct Orwellian overtones by suggesting that some groups have what it takes to be more equal or successful than others. As NYU professor Suketu Mehta points out in an article titled “The ‘Tiger Mom Superiority Complex’” in Time Magazine,the book represents “a new strain of racial, ethnic, and cultural reductivism,” a sort of “ethnocentric thinking writ large” or what he terms “the new racism.” And, he adds, “I call it the new racism—and I take it rather personally.”

The Triple Package touches on some important themes, but also suffers from a number of critical flaws. Most importantly, the book does not address the nature of structural discrimination that is reflected in disparate historical, economic, and social realities for minorities through the predominance of what social theorist Joe Feagin calls the “white racial frame.” According to Feagin, this frame is comprised of racial stereotypes, racial narratives, racial images, and racialized emotions that shape how many whites behave and interact with all Americans of color. Systematic, structural forms of exclusion of minorities have pervaded access to housing, education, distribution of economic resources, and job opportunities.

Arguably, the sense of superiority of any group is affected by forces of social oppression and the internalization of these forces has an impact on the psyche of affected individuals. Chua and Rosenfeld have correctly identified the fact that blacks have been systematically denied access to a group superiority complex and bear a significant cultural burden by susceptibility to stereotype threat. However, the omission of African Americans from the chapter on impulse control seems to do a disservice to hardworking African Americans who have been highly successful.

Second, the co-authors’ emphasis is on immigrant success. Factors in immigrant success, however, are not representative of the American population as a whole. For the most part, the legal immigration system has provided upper and middle class individuals the opportunity to emigrate to the United States. Take, for example, the fact mentioned by Chua and Rosenfeld indicate that 65 percent of Iranian Americans are foreign born. They also distinguish between the success of the first wave of Cuban immigration between 1959 and 1973 which included an influx of mostly white middle and upper class professionals “at the pinnacle of a highly stratified society” (p. 37) with the later wave of Cuban immigrants who were black or of mixed race or mostly poor. As the authors observe, these individuals were not successful in business and are absent from Miami’s power elite. Yet rather than cultural factors, the racism and classicism evident in the treatment of second-generation Cuban immigrants represent powerful structural, social influences in their relative lack of mobility and success.

Third, the authors assert that the Triple Package is a cultural explanation of group success that does not include education or hard work as core components. In their view, education and hard work are dependent and not independent variables. This dismissal of education flies in the face of Horace Mann’s view that education is

a great equalizer of the conditions of men,–the balance wheel of the social machinery” that “gives each man the independence and the means by which he can resist the selfishness of other men.

Or to put it in a more contemporary framework, as Jamie Merisotis, President and CEO of the Lumina Foundation points out, “college-level learning is key to individual prosperity, economic security, and the strength of our American democracy.”

And, in Chua and Rosenfeld’s view, America previously had the Triple Package culture, but,

in the latter part of the twentieth century, something happened. America turned against both insecurity and impulse control (p. 208).

As a result, the authors indicate that to recover the Triple Package, Americans would have to recover from “instant gratification disorder” (p. 218).

The basis for these statements is not explained, documented, or footnoted. In essence, individuals from oppressed groups, no matter which group, have similar aspirations and wish for a better life and to be part of the American dream. These aspirations are not driven by cultural characteristics and can be advanced through education, hard work, and structural and opportunity mechanisms that facilitate individual progress. Due to the lack of evidence offered for the assertions of the Triple Package, the book essentially provides commentary on a very complex subject rather than scholarship and, as such, lacks credibility. Should certain groups accept the unsupported premises of this book, self-fulfilling prophecies could set in, and public opinion and debate could be affected by unverified statements that are not grounded in empirical data or social science research.

IQ and the Nativist Movement: Richwine’s Report

The academic and policy worlds have been roiled by last week’s announcement that a Heritage Foundation study on the cost of immigration reform was co-authored by Jason Richwine, who wrote a dissertation on the purported low IQ of immigrants. It beyond belief that, in the year 2013, there are still some that want to posit that there is a genetic basis for race. Even more surprisingly, these arguments come endorsed with a seal of approval by some of the nation’s top universities, like Harvard in this case. As an alumnus of the Kennedy School and a scholar of race and Hispanic identity, I feel obliged to provide a response.

Having spent last week with some of the world’s premier scholars of race at a workshop on “Reconsidering Race” at Texas A&M University, in which we examined the interface of social science and genetics/genomics and health, I am stunned by the lack of rigor and intellectual depth evinced by Richwine’s dissertation. The work makes extremely simplistic assumptions about “race,” immigration, and the link between IQ and genetics. Even a neophyte in matters of genetics/genomics can see the gaping holes in Richwine’s logic. One would have expected his advisors, Professors George Borjas, Richard Zeckhauser, and Christopher Jencks to have been more cognizant of the complex nature of terms such as “race”, “Hispanic,” and “white,” as well as their tenuous links to genetics (assuming they actually read the dissertation). Richwine claimed in his Harvard dissertation that “the material environment and genes probably make the greatest contributions to IQ differences” (p. 4) and that “today’s immigrants are not as intelligent on average as white natives” (p. 134).

There are three basic points that have to be made to remind these scholars that such shoddy work should not easily pass at the doctoral level– or any level for that matter. One is the basic idea that “Hispanics” can be of any race (a concept that Richwine references in passing in his dissertation), so that it is not possible to simply oppose “Hispanic” and “white” as if they were mutually exclusive categories (a dichotomy that is crucial to his argument). In fact, Pope Francis is Hispanic; so is Rigoberta Menchu. The term is a politically- and socially-constructed category that has been shaped through historical ties between the US, Latin America, and the Iberian peninsula. There is nothing inherent, natural, or ‘genetic’ in the category of “Hispanic.” There are many people of European ancestry in Latin America, but there are also many of Amerindian origins, African descent, and a vast majority whose origins are a mix of ethnicities, including East Asian, Jewish, Arab, and practically every other group in the world (I myself, for example, am of Aymara, Spanish, German, Italian, and Portuguese origin).

The primitive binary taxonomy of “black vs. white” (emanating from the US one-drop rule) that has somehow become transformed into a spurious “white vs. non-white” Manichean logic is untenable. Not only has racial admixture always been the case (since, as work by Nell Irvin Painter reminds us, there were many ‘white races’ — not just one– at previous historical times), but ‘racial’ mixing has become even more prevalent even in the US in the last five decades as a result of the rapid rise of non-European migration. Even for those who consider “Hispanic” a race, the understanding of this term is cultural and historical, not genetic (for example, in the ideas of the eminent Mexican philosopher Jose Vasconcelos). Race is not a dichotomous variable. The Latin American experience shows us this, and the US would do well to heed that lesson to break down its dualistic racial paradigm.

The second point to be made is that the genetics and genomics revolution of the last two decades or so does have implications for what we understand as ‘race,’ but not in the way that people like Richwine want to argue. Our workshop examined the idea of ‘race’ in light of recent genetics and genomic research in order to see whether it has consequences for our conceptualization of ‘racial’ identities and categories, and also for policies related to health disparities. These are complex and as of yet unresolved questions, but they certainly do not buttress the idea that there are such things as natural entities called ‘’races’’ and that they are rooted in genetic grounds. Recent research shows that humans share about 97% of the same genetic material with orangutans (an animal beloved by visitors to this blog). It also tells us that orangutans are more genetically diverse among themselves than are humans. In other words, people are more alike, across regional populations, than we are different.

And even within the small areas of difference, no evidence exists that such differences make for strictly separate human categories that are essentially discrete. It may be true that some populations share some genetic markers among themselves more than with others, but these differences are minimal. As epidemiologist Jay Kaufman of McGill has argued, the more we learn about the human genome, the closer we are to individuated genetic understanding, not to the construction of broad, essentially-unchangeable human groups. Richwine’s error is to think that IQ is a stable phenotype that reflects universal intelligence. Yes, we should take the genomics revolution as a challenge to simple social-constructivist views of race, but we cannot make the error of thinking that it validates a reification of the complex sociopolitical categories that we call ‘races.’

The last point is that the rudimentary statistical analysis of the kind that Richwine carried out ignores the important interface between social realities and genetics. Besides the problems noted above, we can underscore that even IQ test results are culturally-shaped, and not some measure of a primordial, biological mental ability. Rather, they reflect the intertwining of some aspects of mental capacity with education, life experiences, socioeconomic status, and other contingent contexts. They are not measures of pure intelligence (a dubious concept as well). What we ought to be advocating is not some sort of eugenics-based retrograde Nativist policy that reminds us of the 19th century, but improved educational access for all, and a fair, uniform immigration policy that minimizes discrimination, not enhances it.

It is both morally and intellectually disingenuous to propose what Borjas et al. have been advocating for years now. To claim to favor more immigration of those with “higher IQ’s” or more human capital flies in the face of the fact that low-human capital immigrants contribute profoundly to US economic growth due to their low wages in key industries such as construction, agriculture, and also the service sector. In manufacturing, Hispanics are underpaid relative to their economic value, as sociologist Arthur Sakamoto has shown. Ethically, it is unacceptable for a modern liberal-democratic state to promote high-IQ selectivity in immigration, for this policy advocates unequal treatment rather than uniform standards for all (in this light, Canadian immigration policy, which makes distinctions based on human capital, may be suspect as well, owing to the brain drain that it induces in poorer nations).

As educators, we have a special responsibility to provide non-superficial answers to complex questions. The idea of race is a fraught one. As the Kennedy School is my alma mater, I must say that it is time that policy questions not be treated as merely quantitative or mechanical issues. Public policy schools must also provide coursework that deepens analyses, no thins them down. “Race” is a concept that involves normative, political, historical, cultural, economic, and social forces in a complex interplay. It cannot be bandied about willy-nilly with no sensitivity to them. This idea applies to all racial categories, but it is perhaps most salient for the term “Hispanic,” owing to the rich diversity of ethnic origins that have gone into its making over a long historical period. It is befuddling that no one on Richwine’s committee seems to have been aware of this (in particular Jencks, who has written on these issues in the past).

It is time for antediluvian academics to step aside and give more space to the new generations of scholars that are able to engage in a critique of the all-too-dominant idea that race is merely a social construct but without falling into an antiquated racial essentialism. It is time for a real national dialogue on race that will start new conversations. Our classrooms are a good place to begin these discussions.
___________________________

Diego A. von Vacano is Associate Professor of Political Science at Texas A&M University and author of The Color of Citizenship: Race, Modernity and Hispanic/Latin American Political Thought (Oxford UP) and is writing a new book on immigrant identities.

The Segregation of Seattle’s John Stanford “International” School

About 15 years ago, John Stanford became head of Seattle Public Schools. He had a vision. Recognizing the demands of a global economy and an increasingly diverse student body, he proposed an international language school. Key components included: proficiency in English and at least one other language, global perspectives infused into all areas of study (rather than being “add-ons”), and partnerships with parents, community leaders, and international sister schools. His vision led to Seattle creating a network of international schools, featuring immersion programs and curriculum that prepare students to be globally competent in the 21st century. The first, John Stanford International School (elementary), opened in 2000 with two immersion tracks, Japanese-English and Spanish-English.

 

International public schools, now seen across the nation, are a huge departure from trends of the recent past which discouraged multilingual learning based on the assumption that it would be confusing for young children. Implicit in this assumption was an insidious message about assimilation to mainstream culture through fluency in English and abandonment of native tongues. Immigrant parents were led to believe their children would suffer, be slow, or “dumber” than their monolingual counterparts. Many Americans today are all too familiar with our history of educational pressure to conform, and can easily recount personal and painful stories about loss of heritage language and access to culture.

Research on dual language development has grown substantially since the 1970s. We now know there are actually many cognitive benefits for young children simultaneously exposed to more than one language. These children have greater brain activity and denser tissue in areas related to memory, attention, and language. They have performed better on measures of analytical ability, concept formation, cognitive flexibility, and metalinguistic skills. Evidence also suggests that children who continue to learn academic concepts in their native language while gradually learning English outperform academically and socially children who are immersed in English-only programs.

So, did John Stanford lay the foundation for global elementary education in Seattle? Not quite. In her long awaited second book Can We Talk About Race? Beverly Daniel Tatum, Ph.D., alarmingly spotlights the slow resegregation of our nation’s schools over the last decade. She shows how a series of recent legislations reverting school assignments to neighborhood have led to the undoing of much achieved by Brown v. Board of Education. Given that much of the U.S. is still severely divided across racial lines when it comes to housing, schools have naturally fallen back into segregated patterns.

Seattle is no exception. After a decade of other unsuccessful efforts to desegregate its schools, Seattle School District instituted mandatory busing in 1977. reaching its racial-enrollment goals 3 yrs later. However the District ended busing in 1989 and the racial balance at Seattle schools began to unravel. In 2007 Seattle parents played a pivotal role in legislative resegregation in the Supreme Court case Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No.1. The Court prohibited assigning students to public schools solely for the purpose of achieving racial integration and declined to recognize racial balancing as a compelling state interest. For years, Seattle parents had been given wide latitude to pick and choose schools for their children. In June 2009 however, Seattle Public Schools adopted a new student assignment plan reverting to a community-based approach, sending students to schools closest to home. The plan was phased in from 2010-2011.

2010 Census results indicated that more than a third of Seattle residents were persons of color. This population grew 26% from 1990-2000, and 32% from 2000-2010. The largest non-White racial group in Seattle is Asian and Pacific Islander living predominantly in the South end (International District, Rainier Valley, Beacon Hill) and outside the city in parts of Bellevue, Redmond, Kent, Bothell, Auburn, SeaTac and Maple Valley. Despite these statistics, John Stanford’s visionary first International School and Japanese immersion program, is located in North Seattle, Wallingford. A predominantly White neighborhood. Originally parents from all over the city could apply to John Stanford. Children with Japanese heritage were given priority.

But since the district reverted to neighborhood assignment, only students within the assignment zone may attend. According to the School District’s own annual reports (before 2010) and school reports (2010-), while John Stanford’s Asian student body remained constant at about 23% from 2004-2010, its White student body grew from 41% in 2004 to 56% in 2009/10. When the neighborhood school assignment was phased in from 2010-2011, John Stanford’s White student body jumped up to 61% while it’s Asian student body dropped to 13% (though 10% newly identified as multiracial and some may have been part Asian). This racial demographic shift certainly doesn’t reflect what is happening in the city at large. When I called the school to confirm, an impatient woman curtly told me that the drop in Asian attendees was not true and that the school had just added a kindergarten class. When I told her my own son has Japanese heritage and I was interested to apply, she told me I couldn’t because we didn’t live in the zone.

Is John Stanford International School teaching students to be globally competent in the 21st century? Or is it teaching them racial exclusion and preferences of old?

Sharon Chang’s great blog is here.

Arizona’s Jan Brewer v. the Deferred Action Program

On Wednesday August 15, eligible undocumented immigrants throughout the nation began to apply for work permits under the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. As The New York Times put it, “The work permit young immigrants can receive with the deferral opens many doors that have been firmly shut. They can obtain valid Social Security numbers and apply for driver’s licenses, professional certificates and financial aid for college.” On the same day, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer issued an Executive Order aimed at keeping those doors firmly shut in Arizona.

Her order [pdf] directs state agencies to initiate any changes necessary to prevent “Deferred Action recipients from obtaining eligibility . . . for state funded public benefits and state identification, including a driver’s license.”

Brewer’s order contradicts Arizona’s current policy that provides driver’s licenses to undocumented individuals who have secured jobs and attorneys doubt that it will have any practical effects.

Brewer’s action might have been motivated by her notorious animosity towards President Obama (pictured above in an encounter in January, 2012).  An editorial in the August 17 issue of the Arizona Republic characterizes Brewer’s executive order as a “Move that Goes Too Far”.

in her efforts to oppose the president, “Even if the issue is something as seemingly straightforward as allowing Dream Act kids to obtain driver’s licenses, a fundamental precondition for Americans seeking to improve their lot in a mobile society.”

This is just another episode in Brewer’s relentless campaign against the undocumented. It is another instance of the racism that has tarnished Arizona’s reputation. Sadly, it delights racist voters, which evidently trumps human decency.

 

White Framing of Latinos: Nothing Subtle Here

My 72 year old neighbor helps my husband chop down a tree that had been damaged in a storm last winter, so as a thanks we invite him and his wife over for a BBQ. My neighbor, who is a retired Vietnam veteran asks me about my next book, which is on undocumented Latino youth. He responds with a statement that left me stunned and speechless. He says: “Mexicans are a unique immigrant group. They are the only immigrant group in U.S. history that isn’t interested in upward mobility. They are perfectly fine working in the fields.”

This is a perfect example of the social construction of Mexicans that leads to perverse, perverted policy design vis-a-vis tough on crime, mass incarceration, school tracking etc. It is also an example of what Feagin calls racism in the backstage as I’m not sure my neighbor knows my parents are Mexican. He knows I’m “something” but I believe that because he only knows I’m a college professor he isn’t sure what my race could be—certainly not a Mexican-American professional. So, I have been made privy to two racist comments about Mexicans in our neighborhood in the past week, but this is another blog. Returning to the belief that Mexicans lack the desire for social mobility. The consequences of this stereotype on Latinos are found in many public policies.

According to the well-known scholars and leading figures in the public policy studies area Anne Schneider and Helen Ingram, public policies are strongly implicated in the reinforcement of social stratifications of different target groups. Some groups get constructed (i.e., middle class and/or business) as being worthy of advantage, while other groups (minorities, feminists, or homeless) are often socially constructed as social deviants whose differences from the mainstream should be subject to scrutiny as potential threats to the public order and prevailing norms. A description of Schneider and Ingram’s book states, “Public policy in the United States is marked by a contradiction between the American ideal of equality and the reality of an underclass of marginalized and disadvantaged people who are widely viewed as undeserving and incapable.” That is how Latinos are impacted by public policy in America. This is explains why the Dream Act has not passed or comprehensive immigration reform for that matter, resulting in far greater obstacles through life than necessary for most Latinos.

Did I say anything to correct my neighbor’s perspective? I wish I could report that I responded with something witty such as, “I should have stayed in the fields like my parents working 12 hour days getting sprayed w/pesticides for less than minimum wage instead of going to college and then to grad school to become a professor!” Or something less sarcastic, more wise and kind such as, “Mexican immigrants and other Latinos are stuck in low-wage jobs because of large complex societal impediments that make upward mobility almost impossible.” But I said neither of these statements. Instead I just stared in stunned silence. Did his wife say anything? She “fixed” it by adding, “Well, at least the Mexicans we know are like this.”

In Policy Design for Democracy Schneider and Ingram explain that politics, culture, socialization, history, the media, literature, and religion all contribute to the social construction of societal groups and the individuals associated with those groups.

White Eurocentrism is expressed in candidate Mitt Romney’s comments about how “Culture makes all the difference” when describing the difference in economic development between the U.S. and Mexico. This statement was described as “ahistorical, prejudiced and very biased” according to Angelo Falcón, president of the National Institute for Latino Policy.

All this contributes to strong messages about the inferiority of Latinos and other ethnic and racial groups that my neighbors have learned quite well.

Latinos Still “Alien Citizens”

Today the U.S. Supreme Court decided that Arizona (or other states such as Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah which all have some type of tough state immigration laws) have little room to legislate regarding immigration policy. The Supreme Court declared immigration enforcement is a federal issue. However, the Court ruled that law enforcement officials in Arizona could still ask about immigration status if they had reasonable suspicion that the person being stopped was undocumented. I wrote about how this would target Latinos in my first blog on racismreview stating that I would not go visit my parents in Arizona without my passport.

 

Untitled
Creative Commons License photo credit: Ben Roffer

Based on today’s Supreme Court ruling, I will still not travel to Arizona without my passport.

The fact that the arguments of the case turned to issues of federalism rather than arguments about equal protection and/or civil rights violations should come as no surprise. It was set up that way from the start. Solicitor General Donald B. Verilli assured Chief Justice Roberts that this case was not about racism towards Latinos. CNN Supreme Court Producer Bill Mears tellingly states:

Even before the solicitor general began speaking midway through the argument, Chief Justice John Roberts framed the debate away from what has become a major complaint about the law: that it would target mostly Hispanic people for scrutiny and detention. “I’d like to clear up at the outset what it’s not about,” Roberts said. “No part of your argument has to do with racial or ethnic profiling, does it?” Verrilli readily agreed.

In this context the Court unanimously sustained the law’s section referred to as the “show me your papers” policy.

In doing so, it continued the larger policy that says it is okay to subject an entire ethnic and racial group of people to fundamental questions of belonging and acceptance by allowing law enforcement officials to question whether they belong here in this country legally or not.

This perpetuates and contributes to what Professor Leo Chavez refers to as the “Latino Threat Narrative” which situates all Latinos—whether legal immigrants, undocumented, or U.S. born—as outside of the American national community and sees them in a suspicious light. According to Leo Chavez, even U.S. born Latinos are seen as: “ ‘alien-citizens,’ perpetual foreigners despite their birthright”. Today’s Supreme Court decision reinforces that Latinos are seen and can be treated as “alien-citizens.”

Asian Americans: An Uncritical Pew Center Report

Some 18 million Asian Americans make up today nearly 6 percent of the population, a figure than has grown from one percent before the 1965 Immigration Act replaced an openly racist immigration system set up in the 1920s. This reform law of the 1960s allowed into the U.S. a much greater diversity of immigrants.

A recent report titled “The Rise of Asian Americans” has been published on the Pew Research Center website, with much interesting – if somewhat poorly assessed – statistical data on Asian Americans, much of it from a 2012 survey Pew did.

Much of the tone of the report is a “model minority” one, as in this opening statement:

Asian Americans are the highest-income, best-educated and fastest-growing racial group in the United States. They are more satisfied than the general public with their lives, finances and the direction of the country, and they place more value than other Americans do on marriage, parenthood, hard work and career success. . . .

The report accents the “milestones of economic success and social assimilation.” There are no qualifiers in this opening Pollyanna-ism that signal the racial and other societal problems Asian Americans face, including discrimination from whites with power over them and extremely heavy outside pressures on them as “forever foreign” to “assimilate.” Some discussion of barriers appears much later in the Pew analysis, and it is insufficient. Oddly, too, there is little citation of the relevant social science literature on the reality of everyday racism for Asian Americans, such as this recent book that Rosalind Chou and I did.

Still, there is much interesting data in the report. It cites data indicating that three quarters of Asian Americans are foreign-born immigrants, and that half say they cannot speak English very well. Being immigrants means a reality that some social science literature indicates makes publicly noting and organizing against discrimination they face much more difficult. Just getting situated in jobs and housing, and getting adjusted to a new country takes precedence in many cases—as the data on half not knowing English well indicates–and thus conformity to white folkways, to a white-dominated society, can become a passive anti-discrimination strategy. If you talk, dress, and act as “white” as you can, perhaps you will suffer fewer racial barriers.

The report notes that Asian American immigrants are the fastest growing group of immigrants, now surpassing Latinos in that regard. Especially interesting is the large proportion that come from the middle and upper middle class of their home countries:

More than six-in-ten (61%) adults ages 25 to 64 who have come from Asia in recent years have at least a bachelor’s degree. This is double the share among recent non-Asian arrivals….

They average more educational attainment than the populations of their home countries as well. While there are significant numbers of legal immigrants who are not from these relatively affluent backgrounds, a great many do come from such backgrounds–and that is one reason they tend to do better than the average American in terms of upward socioeconomic mobility:

. . . especially when compared with all U.S. adults, whom they exceed not just in the share with a college degree (49% vs. 28%), but also in median annual household income ($66,000 versus $49,800) and median household wealth ($83,500 vs. $68,529).

The report fails to note, like many other commentators, that a great many come with very significant socioeconomic resources. In some sense, our legal immigration system often “creams off” from the world’s middle and upper middle classes. That is also one reason that Asian American immigrants do better on average that Latino immigrants, many of whom are relatively poor and undocumented. One does not need racialized notions of “Asian culture” and “Hispanic culture” to explain this differential socioeconomic mobility.

The report uses the 2012 survey of Asian Americans to play up certain common images of Asian Americans, such as their “strong emphasis on family”:

More than half (54%) say that having a successful marriage is one of the most important things in life; just 34% of all American adults agree. Two-thirds of Asian-American adults (67%) say that being a good parent is one of the most important things in life; just 50% of all adults agree.

The survey also used some rather simplistic questions about “hard work,” and found that “Nearly seven-in-ten (69%) say people can get ahead if they are willing to work hard, a view shared by a somewhat smaller share of the American public as a whole (58%).” More than 90 percent thought their country-mates were very hardworking.

Down in the report they finally note significant socioeconomic differentials and problems faced within the “model minority”:

Americans with Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese and “other U.S. Asian” origins have a higher poverty rate than does the U.S. general public, while those with Indian, Japanese and Filipino origins have lower rates.

Not much discussion is devoted to this important finding, nor to the reality that large percentages of these Asian Americans do not yet know English very well (and thus do not seem to easily fit the “high assimilation” tone of the article).

The report offers some important summaries of variations in geographic patterns of residence, and religious identifications. There is also significant variability in how the immigrants came to the United States. The Vietnamese mostly came as political refugees, while

half of all Korean and Indian immigrants who received green cards in 2011 got them on the basis of employer sponsorship, compared with about a third of Japanese, a fifth of Chinese, one-in-eight Filipinos and just 1% of Vietnamese.

Educational and family reasons account for most of the others.

After noting in a cursory way that much Asian immigrants faced large-scale racial discrimination and being “othered,” the report concludes that the (problematical) Pew survey data questions show that Asian Americans do not face much racial discrimination. Only one in five said they faced “discrimination” because they were Asian, and only 13 percent said that “discrimination” against their group was a major problem.

One would have thought that these researchers might have looked at the research literature and realized that “discrimination” is often an intimidating word for (especially newer) Americans of color, and that there are much better ways to ask about the specific racial barriers they face—including often using softer language and, most importantly, asking about a significant list of possible racial mistreatments that have been reported in previous studies. The report also operates from a white racial frame in talking about the “perception of discrimination” on the part of their Asian American respondents–a common white-generated way to downplay the importance of discrimination as somehow just “in the minds” of those people of color who are targeted by it. And the white perpetrators of racial discrimination targeting Asian Americans , past and present, are never mentioned.

The report also discusses, as many other commentaries to, the relatively high level of outmarriage for Asian American newlyweds, a figure about 29 percent for those married from 2008 to 2010, more than for any other racial group. Women are much more likely to out-marry than men, a reality linked partially to the negative images of Asian American men in this society ( and ignored in this report) and fully explained in a new book by Rosalind Chou.

A very interesting report that deserves much more critical analysis and assessment in regard to immigrants and the U.S. future than the Pew researchers provide.

The U.S. Today: Still Diversifying



The MSNBC website has a nice summary of the new census data a lot of folks are talking about, titled “Census: Minorities now surpass whites in US births.”

According to census bureau figures for 2011 the children born, for the first time, are majority not white:

Minorities made up roughly 2.02 million, or 50.4 percent of U.S. births in the 12-month period ending July 2011. That compares with 37 percent in 1990.

And even with some decrease in Latin American and Asian immigrants, because of the economic downturn in the U.S. and some improvements south of the U.S. border, the population of the U.S. is still becoming ever more diverse.

There was this interesting bit of data as well:

. .the nation’s minority population continues to rise, following a higher-than-expected Hispanic count in the 2010 census. Minorities increased 1.9 percent to 114.1 million, or 36.6 percent of the total U.S. population, lifted by prior waves of immigration that brought in young families and boosted the number of Hispanic women in their prime childbearing years. . . . 348 of the nation’s 3,143 counties, or 1 in 9, have minority populations across all age groups that total more than 50 percent.

Still, the growth rate fell for Latino and Asian American populations to just two percent last year,

.. roughly half the rates in 2000 and the lowest in more than a decade. . .. Of the 30 large metropolitan areas showing the fastest Hispanic growth in the previous decade, all showed slower growth in 2011 than in the peak Hispanic growth years of 2005-2006…

Over at the NY Times, Thomas Edsall, has some interesting comments on the political implications of these shifts, which I recommend to you. Here is a sample:

. . . it’s interesting that the two-party system has not imploded. In the face of sustained centrifugal upheaval — including a proliferation of religious affiliations, the enfranchisement of substantial minority populations, rising levels of economic inequality, and the belief among a plurality of voters… that our economic system (capitalism) and the religious identification of three-quarters of the electorate (Christianity) are not compatible — we still are a nation of Republicans and Democrats.

He makes some interesting points about some opinion poll findings on how people see the Christian religion and capitalism (as in tension, a real surprise there) and also wonders out loud about the future of US parties and especially the Republican party. Can it adapt in this changing demographic world that

threatens its ability to compete nationally? As presently constituted, the Republicans have become the party of the married white Christian past.

This issue and related issues are ones I have dealt with deeply and historically in context in my new book, White Party, White Government.

There are clearly many political and policy implications to these demographic changes. Given the explosion of anti-immigrant nativism in this country in recent years, one can wonder if the mostly white nativists will take these data to heart and cut back at least on their anti-immigrant screed. One also has to wonder if the declining immigration will have any effects on the anti-immigrant legislation passed in numerous states. Especially with the looming Supreme Court ruling that will come down on the Arizona anti-Latino-immigrant law that has been celebrated in some white conservative circles.

Yet, many of us find these changes exciting and healthy for a country that has long depended on a diverse immigration for its social and economic health.