Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't.....

 The Chinaman's Chance.

Via Angry Asian Man, this very interesting article in the Atlantic on a study that provides evidence of anti-Asian discrimination in the workplace. According to the article....
The dominant East Asian employee was more disliked than the non-dominant East Asian employee, the non-dominant White employee, and the dominant White employee. A separate trial showed that participants held descriptive stereotypes of East Asians as being competent, cold, and non-dominant, while another showed that the most valued expectation of East Asians was that they "stay in their place."
This really doesn't surprise me. As any Asian man like myself who has been in a position of authority over non-Asian people, assuming a supervisory role often brings out the anti-Asian racism in co-workers.

But this is not all. Here's the full study which reveals some very interesting findings. According to the study.......
.....the stereotype of East Asians as less dominant than Whites is prescriptive in addition to being descriptive: It was considered significantly less desirable for East Asians than for Whites to be dominant......... The discrepancy between the characteristics East Asians are perceived to have (more competence and less warmth than Whites) and the characteristics considered desirable for East Asians to have (similar competence and warmth to Whites) lends support to our idea that a prescription for East Asians to be relatively nondominant helps to mitigate the social and economic threats posed by descriptive stereotypes of East Asians.......
  ......The dominant East Asian employee was relatively disliked as a coworker compared to the non-dominant East Asian employee, the non-dominant White employee, and the dominant White employee.
Even in this majority Asian sample, people preferred a White coworker over an Asian coworker if that coworker had a dominant personality......
These results suggest that dominant East Asians are unwelcome and unwanted by their coworkers. Employees who are unwelcome and unwanted are at greater risk of being mistreated and harassed in their work environments.......
Prior research has shown that employees who violate prescriptive gender stereotypes are more likely to be sexually harassed, consistent with the idea that disparate treatment is triggered by the violation of prescriptive stereotypes. We propose that the same dynamic is likely to occur for violations of prescriptive racial stereotypes, so that employees who violate these stereotypes are more likely to be racially harassed at work......
East Asians reported experiencing more racial harassment at work than other employees, highlighting the importance of studying discrimination against East Asians in the workplace despite the portrayal of East Asians as a “model minority” that escapes discriminatory treatment. Importantly, East Asians who violated racial stereotypes were the ones targeted for racial harassment; East Asians who “stayed in their place” did not experience more racial harassment than other employees........
As predicted, East Asians who were dominant, and thereby violated a descriptive and a prescriptive racial stereotype, were subjected to more racial harassment than other employees. East Asians who were warm, and thereby violated the descriptive stereotype of being cold, were also subjected to more harassment. 

The short response to this is that it is all pretty fucked up, and in a number of ways. In summary, Asians who behave in ways incongruent with the irrational and racist stereotypes (meek and  distant) created by American culture are liked less than those whose behaviour adheres to these stereotypes. Subsequently, Asians who exhibit leadership qualities or who otherwise behave in unstereotypical ways become targets of racial harassment from their white co-workers. Furthermore, Asians are more likely to be subject to racial harassment in the workplace than other groups. Most insidious of all is the finding that Asians whose behaviour contradicts the stereotype of Asians being distant and cold (by being warm), are actually liked less than Asians who are perceived to be cold and distant.

Hence, the title of this post. The phrase "the Chinaman's Chance" is believed to have been coined during the  start of the Golden Era (which perhaps continues to this day) of anti-Asian prejudice and hatred in the mid-nineteenth century. In short, it  expresses the idea of having absolutely zero chance. This study strongly suggests that the sentiments embodied in the phrase "the Chinaman's Chance" are going strong in American society and affect the experience of Asian-Americans in the 21st century. American society promotes hostility towards Asians for being meek, cold and distant, but also expresses hostility when Asians are warm, and exhibit leadership qualities.

America's stereotypes of Asians serve the purpose of creating a cultural filter that provides a framework or template that guides the behaviour of mainstream America towards its Asian minority. Because these stereotypes are demeaning, dehumanizing, and xenophobic, they promote hostility and distrust of Asian people and normalize racial baiting and harassment - it is considered perfectly normal for America's media and its personalities to promote racial harassment of Asians through casual but pervasive mockery.

Thus, stereotypical qualities like submissiveness, and emotional coldness serve to allow mainstream America to feel justified in its anti-Asian hostility - if you deny a deserved promotion to an Asian worker it's not because you don't like Asians but because (true to stereotype) they lack leadership qualities, or if you express racially inflected dislike of your Asian co-worker it's not racism  because (true to stereotype) they are just cold and distant. The latter is even a justification for racial baiting because you are not actually being racist after all - your cold and distant Asian co-worker just needs to lighten up! Thus, casual anti-Asian racism has a socially legitimate and normalized avenue of expression.

This study adds another layer to this casual anti-Asian prejudice in that overcoming stereotypes is less about overcoming ignorance - if it was about ignorance then people wouldn't have a problem with Asians with warm personalities - and is more about overcoming the apparently overwhelming  desire of American society (and the individuals who comprise it) to maintain their anti-Asian hostility. They just don't want to let go of their anti-Asian racism. Why else would the normally strongly desired qualities of human warmth and strong personality cause white Americans to increase the expression of their hostility towards Asian people?

I think that many Asian-Americans would like to believe that stereotypes are the product of ignorance and not malice because this is, quite simply, easier to take than accepting the reality that anti-Asianism is a cynically nurtured attitude that is profoundly embedded in the worldview of America. Just like any belief, when Asian stereotypes are challenged by observeable reality, its adherents become enraged and attempt to re-assert the worldview that they have become comfortable with and which, perhaps, reinforces their own view of themselves relative to the reality facing them.

Similarly, it might be the case that some Asians are also too comfortable with the idea that America's cultural anti-Asianism doesn't exist as a malicious endeavour propagated with careful deliberation and intent. After all, addressing attitudes that are propagated with malicious intent is far more difficult and oppositional than simply dismissing them as ignorant. And as reflected in some of Asian-America's most mainstreamed cultural output it is easier if you characterize the Asian experience as the fundamental failure of Asians to adapt, or the backwardness of Asian cultures and not so much the result of hostility with intent. Of course, this may help to partially explain the aversion (uncovered in the study) that Asians themselves seem to hold towards Asian leaders.

Of course, none of this means that Asian-Americans have an insurmountable task in overcoming prejudice - it simply offers us an insight into the potential (or probable) obstacles we might face as we, no doubt will, assume more positions of leadership in society. Understanding the nature of a problem is a primary step in learning how to overcome it. If we continue to pretend that anti-Asian prejudice is the result of ignorance, and not malicious intent, then we will continue to miss the opportunity to confront it effectively as individuals, communities, and as an autonomous culture.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


"What Did You Call Me?"

This is not Asian specific but it's hilarious. The video is from a Turkish soccer match and the backstory is that in the two teams previous meeting the Turkish player in the yellow and blue shirt, had used a racial slur against the black player. In the following video you will see the black player's response in their next meeting. Enjoy..........

MLK he isn't but he is definitely concise. LOL!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A Perfect Crime.......

The L.A Riots.

It's hard to believe that twenty years have passed since the Los Angeles riots erupted into the most violent urban disturbance in recent history. Although the US has seen many riots in its cities over the years, the LA riots were somewhat unique because the racial antagonism went beyond the traditional white/black hostility and brought to light racist attitudes between ethnic minorities.

Of course, although it was the acquittal of the policemen who participated in the beating of Rodney King that sparked the rampage, in the ensuing days it was the tension and hostility between the African-American and immigrant Korean community that became the focus of the media's commentary and attention. During the unrest, Korean businesses were targeted by the mob who first looted and then set fire to them.

Naturally, the disturbance was turned into a major television event by a media who, with a good degree of cynicism, chose to spin the riot like an old-time movie in which the various parties involved were characterized as good-guys and victims (the rioters), bad-guys (the Koreans), and the well-meaning but helpless (the police). Its fair to say that fair and unbiased reporting seemed to go out the window - particularly in their coverage of the reaction of some Korean shop-owners.

As you may discern from this report from 1992 - which to me is a good example of the uncompromising and reproachful character of the media's attitude towards the Koreans - the fact that these shop-keepers were defending themselves and their property elicited much sickening condemnation from many self-righteous observers whose own lives and livelihoods were not under threat, but who seemed to insist on a saintly martyr approach to racially motivated mob violence by those who were targeted.

What is most striking to me is how, both then and now, the racist targeting of the Koreans by the mob has been either ignored, denied, or justified as an understandable act by a frustrated minority. Even coverage of the riots in Europe, where I was living at the time, sought to villify the Korean immigrants and characterize the violence being committed against them as somehow deserved.

Of course, in truth, the 1992 riots came at a time when anti-Asian hostility in America was particularly prevalent. The 1970's and 80's had seen some of the most overt and blatant anti-Asian rhetoric in politics and mainstream American culture. The 1970's and 80's had been a time of anxiety for the American economy because of stiff competition in the manufacturing sector from several East Asian countries. Resentment caused by the perception that these Asian competitors were taking American jobs was compounded by xenophobic attitudes that these nations were being diabolically underhanded or unfair in the way that they were developing their economies.

Consequently, American attitudes at the time reflected this hostility. The period was was full of anti-Asian political rhetoric, calls for boycotts, and retaliatory measures (often martial in nature) against Asians supposedly "cheating" their way to economic power. Culturally, the Asian bad guy became a staple for movies throughout the era and a general hostility towards Asian people was pervasive (in fact this is largely still true). This was the backdrop to the racist murder of Vincent Chin in 1982. Chin was bludgeoned to death by two very angry and unemployed white men, because they apparently blamed their unemployment on Asians and wanted to vent their anger through violent murder.

In a strange way, the targeting of Korean immigrants during the LA riots is fundamentally a crime of similar character as the murder of Chin, the only difference being that the Koreans were able to defend themselves more effectively - if this had not been the case my guess is that dozens of Koreans would have been killed. In both cases, widespread cultural xenophobia and hostility towards Asians that had been nurtured in the media, society, and politically, served to normalize the resentment and irrational anger that drove the mob violence. In the aftermath, the anti-Asian racism that made violent anger inevitable also served as a justification for the violence - after all, the Asians are sneakily taking jobs and money out of American communities.

And this is how it was possible to commit the perfect crime. Fully televised, and in full view of the entire world, a racially motivated pogrom that would have made the Nazis proud was carried out against a Korean immigrant community with the full perverse approval of the watching media and a resentful society seemingly rabid about the prospect of hitting Asians where it hurts. In some ways, in the pogrom of 1992, Korean immigrants became the focus for the simmering rage of an economically affronted America. Thus, the hate crime committed against Korean immigrants - and the general anti-Asian racism that enabled it - was marginalized from the story. Instead of becoming a means to highlight pervasive anti-Asian prejudice, the riots highlighted America's tolerance and full acceptance of it and made certain that this aspect of the story would not become part of the accepted history.

Like a perfect crime in an Agatha Christie novel in which a crime of murder becomes hidden within a crime of theft, the story of racist victimization of Korean immigrants was buried (and remains largely buried) and given lesser significance than the stories of the mob who committed it. America's anti-Asian racism ensures that empathy towards their experience will be rejected and their desperate (and brave) acts of self-defence - made necessary by police indifference - will continue to be irrationally and self-righteously condemned.

There were two perpetrators in the pogrom against Korean immigrants - the mob but also (and perhaps even more significantly) the general cultural racism that first enabled it, then provided the means to justify and downplay the racist crime that it was, and finally re-wrote history to exclude this aspect of the story from the accepted accounts.