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.


  1. Hah. My dad actually started a conversation with me about this the other day. He was telling me how he was happy that I went to pharmacy because there is no (or at least not much) coworker harassment in that field. He said that all that cubicle environment was full of bull and office diplomacy was fake as hell. And he's seen a lot of office sexual harassment as well. But at least when I'm a pharmacist I start off on the higher end of the ladder...? And I get to stay away from most of this B.S.

  2. Your Dad sounds really cool! I wonder is he first generation or was he born or raised in the US? Because his awareness of the issues is awesome and I wouldn't (for some reason!)expect that from first generation.

  3. My dad is first generation. I think a lot of first generations DO notice these things, but just don't know how to articulate on these things and don't know how to pass it on to their kids. Maybe.

    But yes, I agree that my dad is pretty cool lol. I'm lucky to have someone like him, although we did fight for the first 21 years of my life. I'm 22 by the way lol....

    1. Yes, that's an accurate observation - I also think that most people (1st gen or otherwise) don't really have the tools to deal with racism.

      Damn - you've been giving your Dad shit since you were ONE! Shame on you!!

  4. Lol Ben... I meant to say we didn't get along much until recently, but I think you kind of figured that out ;)