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#NotYourWedge: Asian Americans and Affirmative Action

#NotYourWedge: Asian Americans and Affirmative Action
Asian Americans are making headline news as the nation once again grapples with affirmative action. There are two precipitating incidents this time around: A lawsuit, originally filed in Nov 2014, accusing Harvard University of discriminating against Asian Americans in admissions.   An internal memo from the Justice Department’s announcing its intentions to pursue “investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions.”  Predictably, these headlines have generated a fresh round of discussions about the propriety        (constitutional or otherwise) of using race as a factor in admissions decisions. While disgruntled white students have traditionally been the most vocal opponents of doing so (witness the “politics of white resentment” or “Becky with the Bad Grades” — the plaintiff in last year’s Supreme Court affirmative action case), the focus is now on Asian Americans: an unnamed Asian American student who was denied admission to Harvard in 2014 is a plaintiff in that ongoing lawsuit and some 64 Asian American groups also filed a complaint against Harvard in March 2015 with the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice. While it is common to talk about high-achieving Asian Americans (à la the “model minority” myth) or to debate the merits of race-conscious admissions policies, the Harvard lawsuit has the following two novelties: For one, it’s the first time that a private institution’s affirmative action policies have been challenged by the courts. The nation’s largest legal and civil rights organization, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, fears that the case “could lead to another fight before the Supreme Court,” which is why they joined the legal fight to defend Harvard’s current race-conscious admissions policies. Secondly, it’s the first time that disgruntled Asian American applicants were specifically recruited to serve as plaintiffs (n.b., in the previous Fisher, Grutter, Gratz, and Bakke Supreme Court affirmative action cases, the featured plaintiffs were white and usually female). That members of the Asian American community were specifically targeted to serve as new poster children for purported “victims” of affirmative action can be readily seen by the following website (Harvardnotfair.org) that the president of the anti-affirmative action group suing Harvard (Edward Blum of Students for Fair Admissions) created in 2014. What’s my response to all of this? I must begin by acknowledging the ways I’m a stakeholder in these debates — as a fellow Asian American, parent of two (likely) college-bound kids, graduate of two elite private institutions (disclaimer: Harvard is one of them), and U.S. citizen who cares about the fair provision of quality educational opportunities for all. In a nutshell, I stand with the ¾ majority of the Asian American population who supports affirmative action while fully acknowledge that race-conscious admissions procedures remain an imperfect mechanism to counter institutionalized racism. Still, as a professional educator and ethicist since 2003, I have seen firsthand how increases in racial-ethnic diversity on campuses translates directly into enhanced learning outcomes for all.  To use a few examples drawn from my own experiences, there’s simply no substitute for having actual Puerto Rican students talk about the complexities of U.S. imperialism and colonialism, African American and Korean American students providing firsthand accounts of their communities’ responses to the 1992 LA riots, or students of either Cuban or Vietnamese heritage speaking of their family’s history of migration, wartime trauma, and beginnings in the U.S. as asylum-seekers or refugees. I also recognize how affirmative action policies benefited the Asian American community in the past (quick history lesson: the 1954 landmark case Brown vs. the Board of Education helped Asian Americans, not just blacks, overcome the legacies of de jure segregation in schools) and why particular sub-groups of Asian Americans still need it, which is why...
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Let’s Talk About White Supremacy

Let’s Talk About White Supremacy
Sometimes I come across a resource that’s so fantastic that all I want to do is promote it. This incredible graphic from the blog site Radical Discipleship recently made the rounds on my Facebook news feed.     Entitled “White Supremacy (Overt & Covert), the visual invites the reader to reflect on the many ways that we perpetuate white supremacist logic. For instance, in one of the closed Facebook groups I shared it with–Progressive Asian American Christians–several members pondered aloud with lamentation how “police murdering POC” became “socially acceptable.” The answer, of course is that such events are not (by the “unwoke”) framed in that way: under white supremacist logic, it’s not the police via institutionalized racism that is murdering people of color, it’s either “a few bad cops” who are OR the victims, for one reason or another, had it coming (e.g., they resisted arrest, had a long rap sheet). Either excuse, of course, totally sidesteps the fact that prominent human rights organizations such as Amnesty International have been criticizing the U.S. since 1999 for its problems with police brutality, particularly directed at racial and ethnic minorities, and all 50 states + the District of Columbia since 2015 for failing to meet international standards for the use of lethal force by law enforcement. Two other things about this post merit comment. The first is that the graphic alone prompted me to find out more about who and what “Radical Discipleship” is about. From my understanding of their “about us” description, they value what I as a feminist Christian value: they want to live out the prophet Micah’s call to “act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with God,” support “struggl[es] for church renewal and social change,” work for a world “defined by peace, justice, and dignity for every living being,” and embody all of that both collectively and concretely through practices that fall somewhere along the reformist/revolutionary spectrum. A glance at their “categories” provides an even better glimpse of what they’re about. My faves include art as resistance; biography as theology; feminist/womanist/queer liberation and theology; race, identity and history; sabbath economics; subverting empire. The second thing I noted was the range of comments the infographic generated (not on my closed FB group, but on its own page). At the time of this writing, Radical Discipleship’s post had garnered 36 comments, including this one that I could barely stomach [trigger warning: Nazi salute]: We, the chosen few, live in the “Socially Unacceptable” portion of the pyramid. We exist to balance our society against radicals that would see the White Man ghettoed and subjugated. We are not the Social Justice Warriors that the internet wants or needs, but the Social Justice Warriors that the internet deserves. Heil mein Fuhrer. I was aghast when I read that comment–and even more so when I noticed that the comment was signed (not anonymous, though I have not reproduced his first & last name here) and that Radical Discipleship had not blocked it. That wasn’t the only problematic comment, but clearly the one most beyond the pale. Radical Discipleship’s response to it, however, was fantastic: Truly an apocalyptic comment strand, “unveiling” an entire spectrum of white supremacy! This site continues to commit to hurrying and hobbling after Jesus, pledging allegiance to naming all forms of white supremacy as “unacceptable” and demonic. This requires, from each and all, confession–a practice opposed to justifying, rationalizing and glorifying what Dr. King called “the giant triplets of evil:” racism, militarism and materialism. Much love, respect, and gratitude to all who continue to oppose white supremacy in its many forms! *                *  ...
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Does the Term “Women of Color” Bother You?

Does the Term “Women of Color” Bother You?
I recently came back from a weeklong camping retreat for Christian faculty and their families in beautiful Catalina (an island an hour’s boat ride away from the Southern Californian mainland). This year’s conference theme was “Power Revealed: Gifts, Dangers, and Possibilities.” Not surprisingly, the topics of race, race relations, and institutional racism came-up repeatedly in sessions and informal conversations. As they had last year, the conference organizers again provided an optional time/space for faculty women of color to gather together for a luncheon. Last year’s meeting (which I also attended) had been so successful that an assemblage of faculty women of color in the greater LA-area have been getting together periodically ever since for networking, mutual encouragement, and fun. Without betraying the confidentiality of what was disclosed in our luncheon, something that surprised me was the ambivalence that a few attendees expressed about the very term “women of color.” I also became privy to some confusion—and even discomfort—that some other folks (outside of the luncheon) felt about the term. For example, one Asian American woman had not thought that the term “women of color” included her since she had assumed that the phrase was simply the newest (perhaps politically correct?) way of referring to black or African American women. And one white guy told me that he had long found the phrase “[X] of color” (e.g., “communities of color,” “people of color”) odd, because wasn’t it simply a reversal of the antiquated and maligned term “colored people”? The ambivalence, confusion, and discomfort I encountered at the conference about “women of color” was something I hadn’t anticipated. For in the academic and professor circles I frequent, the descriptor “[X] of color” is commonly used without comment (e.g., I’m on the steering committee of the Women of Color Scholarship, Teaching, and Activism group of my professional organization and arguably the most-respected leadership/professional development organization for Christian ministers and scholars in my field provides substantial grant and fellowship opportunities for students “of color,” by which they mean persons of African, Latino/a, Asian, and First Nations descent.) I have since done a quick internet search to see if the hints of dissonance I heard at the conference were echoed elsewhere. Sure enough, questioning the purpose, scope, and desirability of the term is a “thing.” Here are three examples: DiversityInc’s popular “Ask the White Guy” column has provided a response to the question “Is ‘People of Color’ Offensive?” (Short answer: no, “it’s a respectful-sounding phrase…in common use” that is reminiscent of “Dr. Martin Luther King[‘s] us[e] [of] the phrase ‘citizens of color’ in his 1963 ‘I Have a Dream’ Speech”). The NPR program “Code Switch” did a piece a few years back entitled “Feminism and Race: Just Who Counts as a ‘Woman of Color’”? (Short answer: the term is inclusive of Asians and Latinas, among others). The feminist digital media site Everyday Feminism recently introduced a video clip (reproduced below) about the origins of “women of color” with this lead-in: “Have you ever wondered where the term ‘women of color’ came from? Have you mistakenly assumed that it was created by white people? Are you unsure about how you feel about it?” I was heartened to see several sites pointing to well-known human rights and feminist activist Loretta Ross’s mini-history lesson of how the term came to be. Methinks the three minutes it’ll take to watch it will be well worth your time. [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=82vl34mi4Iw&w=420&h=315] For those wanting these ideas to simmer, gratefully Andrea (AJ) Plaid of Racialicious, has provided a transcript: Loretta Ross: Y’all know where the term “women of color” came from?  Who can say that? See, we’re bad at transmitting history. In 1977, a group of Black women from Washington, DC, went to the National Women’s Conference, that [former President] Jimmy Carter gave $5 million to have...
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What Feminists of Color Taught Me In the Wake of the Michael Brown Shooting

What Feminists of Color Taught Me In the Wake of the Michael Brown Shooting
Like many others, I’ve been following the aftermath of the recent shooting death of an 18-year old black teenager by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri with a mixture of shock and horror. Mainstream news coverage and my Facebook newsfeed have been appropriately flooded with commentary about systemic racism, racial profiling, civil unrest, and the militarization of the police. As several African American thought leaders have noted, Brown’s death was not an aberration but “just the most recent example of police officers killing unarmed black men.” I probably would have only continued to think about these horrific black-male-deaths-by-white-police accounts through these familiar lenses of racism, police brutality, parental grief, and communal protest had I not stumbled upon several reflections explicitly identifying Michael Brown’s shooting as a feminist issue. Xochitl Alvizo, for one, analogized between the “everyday existence of young black men, of boys in this country, and that of women” (viz., “the lack of safety in public places; the need to always be aware of one’s surroundings; the lack of trust in the intentions of another; living with the knowledge that people like you experience violence at much higher rates than others”). While any astute observer could have made this comparison, I’m not surprised that it was a queer feminist of color (Latina) who did so in this case.   Other feminists of color, including Dani McClain of The Nation, senior legal analyst Imani Gandy as quoted in Feminist Newswire, and Emma Akpan of RH Reality Check, explicitly named police violence against black and brown male youth as a “reproductive justice” concern in a way that I had not heretofore considered.   According to Loretta Ross, co-founder and National Coordinator of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective from 2005-2012, the term “reproductive justice” was coined by African American women in 1994 after the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, Egypt. While widely adopted and used by activists, academics, funders and others alike, the term is “not merely a substitute for the terms ‘pro-choice,’ ‘reproductive rights,’ or even ‘sexual rights.’” Instead, the framework is at once intersectional and holistic in seeking to go beyond the narrow “it’s my body, it’s my choice” language in attending to the harsh realities that disproportionately block underprivileged women of color from self-determination in crucial aspects of their lives. As black feminist activist Jasmine Burnett explains, “We look at the right to have a child, to not have a child, and to parent your child in a safe and sustainable community free from violence….If you aren’t safe in your community because you’re racially profiled by the police, and you can’t walk from your home to a clinic or to a hospital to access the services you need, then that’s not really a full articulation of reproductive justice.”   More specifically, the shooting death of Michael Brown (and others) violates the third of the three core reproductive justice principles for which SisterSong has stood since their founding in 1997: Decide if and when she will have a baby and the conditions under which she will give birth Decide if she will not have a baby and her options for preventing or ending a pregnancy Parent the children she already has with the necessary social supports in safe environments and healthy communities, and without fear of violence from individuals or the government This lesser emphasized third principle among those committed to reproductive rights seems entirely appropriate to me—a helpful corrective to the mistaken view that all that is needed on this front is legal, safe, and affordable access to reproductive healthcare for women. It both angers and saddens me to read of accounts from black feminists like Akpan that they “grew up listening...
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Asian Americans: A Mosaic of Faiths

Asian Americans: A Mosaic of Faiths
Sharon A. Suh and David K. Kim, co-chairs of Asian Pacific Americans and Religion Research Initiative (APARRI) recently sent an important e-mail, which I will reproduce below in full: Dear APARRI Community, We would like to announce the release of the Pew Forum Report, “Asian Americans: A Mosaic of Faith.” The report highlights significant findings from one of most extensive survey of Asian Americans and religious life to date.  The Pew Forum site also includes useful charts and graphs that are presentation-ready. Many former and current APARRI members participated on the project. Janelle Wong served as Special External Adviser and the external advisory committee for the religion report included Joaquin Jay Gonzalez III, Jane Naomi Iwamura, Khyati Joshi, Rebecca Y. Kim, Pyong Gap Min, Jerry Z. Park, Sharon A. Suh, Fenggang Yang and Min Zhou–all former attendees of APARRI conferences. Janelle Wong, Sharon Suh, Khyati Joshi, and Jane Iwamura participated in the Pew Forum call that introduced the report. Blogs about the report were written by Khyati Joshi (for Huffington Post) and Fenggang Yang (for the New York Times (China Edition).  Sharon Suh was quoted by the Washington Post.  Jerry Park and Janelle Wong wrote a blog for the Washington Post (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/guest-voices/post/is-the-gop-about-to-have-an-asian-american-evangelical-problem/2012/08/03/a01c5772-dd8b-11e1-8e43-4a3c4375504a_blog.html). Janelle was also interviewed by NPR http://m.npr.org/news/U.S./158168493?page=6). As many of you know, the first Pew Report, “The Rise of Asian Americans,” drew heavy criticism from Asian American advocacy groups and Asian American Studies scholars. The external advisors for this second report worked closely with Pew to contextualize the findings on Asian American religiosity and provide a more nuanced presentation. APARRI helped foster the scholarly foundations and collegial connections that allowed for this successful effort.  As a follow up to the study, please keep an eye out for an additional meeting at the American Academy of Religion in Chicago, November 17, 2012 (Time and Date TBA)APARRI Scholars Analyze and Interpret the Pew Report on “Religion and Asian Americans: a Mosaic of Faiths.”  Date: Saturday, November 17, 2012: This panel presentation will include analysis and interpretation of the recent report on Asian Americans released by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life (July 19, 2012). The panel will begin with an overview of the study by Cary Funk (Senior Researcher at the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life) followed by discussion and analysis of the study by current APARRI members who also served on the external advisory committee to the Pew study. Speakers from APARRI will include Janelle Wong, Sharon Suh, Khyati Joshi, and Jane Iwamura who also participated in the Pew Forum press call that introduced the report and David K. Kim as moderator. The external advisors for the report worked closely with Pew to contextualize the findings on Asian American religiosity and provide a more nuanced presentation. APARRI helped foster the scholarly foundations and collegial connections that allowed for this successful effort. _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ APARRI is the largest interdisciplinary research collective in the United States focusing on religion in Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. Annual APARRI gatherings bring educators, researchers, and students from the social sciences, the humanities, and the theological disciplines together with leaders of faith communities to share current scholarship and build networks. Multi-ethnic and inter-religious, APARRI fosters perspectives which emphasize intersecting histories and shared contemporary civic concerns.  APARRI is widely regarded by members of the American Academy of Religion and other scholarly associations as the central resource for critical and innovative work in Asian American religious studies. Take care, Sharon A. Suh and David K. Kim, co-chairs APARRI Managing Board This blog was originally posted on Feminism and Religion—a blogsite dedicated to exploring the “f” word in religion and the intersection between scholarship, activism, and community....
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Government “Apologies” for Historical Injustices: Why They Matter

Government “Apologies” for Historical Injustices: Why They Matter
“I rejoice in this most recent admission of institutional racism. I am not naïve enough to believe that this public acknowledgment, like previous ones to other racial-ethnic groups, was untainted by political calculations. But I am also not Kantian (so I reject the view that anything done out of mixed motives accordingly lacks moral merit).” On June 18, 2012, the United States issued a rare mea culpa to a racial-ethnic group for the wrongs it had committed against them. The House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution expressing “regret” for “the passage of legislation that adversely affected people of Chinese origin in the United States because of their ethnicity.” H. RES 683 chronicles six decades of federal legislation aimed at or against persons of Chinese descent. The most famous of these was the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882—the first and only federal law in U.S. history that barred a group of people from ever immigrating, becoming naturalized, or voting for no other reason than their ethnicity.  (It was not repealed until the passage of the Magnuson Act during World War II.) Lawmakers also acknowledged in the earlier (and longer) Senate resolution SR 201 that this framework of anti-Chinese legislation: (1)  resulted in the persecution and political alienation of persons of Chinese descent; (2)  unfairly limited their civil rights; (3)  legitimized racial discrimination; and (4)  induced trauma that persist within the Chinese community. Both resolutions named these federal statutes as contravening the nation’s founding principle of equality and as having legally enshrined the “exclusion of the Chinese from the democratic process and the promise of American freedom.” The sponsor of H. Res. 683, Representative Judy Chu, at a 6/13/12 press conference.                                               Chu is also the first Chinese American woman ever elected to Congress. While exceedingly rare, this wasn’t the first time that U.S. lawmakers have expressed regret to a racial or ethnic group for historical injustices committed against them and/or their descendants. African Americans, Native Americans, native Hawaiians, and Japanese Americans have also received national “apologies” (for slavery and Jim Crow segregation, “many instances of violence, maltreatment and neglect,” the “illegal overthrow” of the Kingdom of Hawaii, and forced relocation and internment during World War II, respectively). I rejoice in this most recent admission of institutional racism. I am not naïve enough to believe that this public acknowledgment, like previous ones to other racial-ethnic groups, was untainted by political calculations. But I am also not Kantian (i.e., I reject the view that anything done out of mixed motives accordingly lacks moral merit) So the feminist in me rejoices in these resolutions not only because the feminist movement has struggled (and still struggles) with racism, but also because the best feminist analysis has always been an intersectional one (e.g., anti-Chinese bias was based on class and not just race, Chinese men were and still often are feminized–even emasculated–by the white mainstream). And the Christian in me appreciates how difficult it is for either individuals or institutions to deal with the sin of racism; and how truth-telling and genuine remorse for wrongdoing are crucial ingredients for restorative justice. And the American, specifically Taiwanese American, in me has hope that a bipartisan, public admission of this ugly history will, to use the words of Senate resolution SR 201, allow “the public and future generations” to “acknowledge and illuminate the injustices in our national experience and help to build a better and stronger Nation.” Postscript 1: While my reaction to these resolutions has largely been positive, I would be remiss if I didn’t...
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