The Real Problem When It Comes to Diversity and Asian-Americans

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The lack of Asian leadership in tech sheds light on a larger issue: Asians are excluded from the idea of diversity

Years ago… they used to think you were Fu Manchu or Charlie Chan. Then they thought you must own a laundry or restaurant. Now they think all we know how to do is sit in front of a computer.

It was 1987 when Virginia Kee, then a 55-year-old a high school teacher in New York’s Chinatown, said the above words. She was one of several Asian-Americans who discussed the perception of their race for TIME’s cover story, “Those Asian-American Whiz Kids.” The cover story would elicit small-scale Asian boycotts of the magazine from those who found offensive the portrait of textbook-clutching, big-glasses brainiacs. To them, the images codified hurtful beliefs that Asians and Asian-Americans were one-dimensional: that they were robots of success, worshippers of the alphabet’s first letter, study mules branded with their signature eyes.  read more ……



Guest Post: A Law Professor’s — and Mother’s — Perpsective on Race



Guest Post: A Law Professor’s — and Mother’s — Perpsective on Race

Posted in Discrimination & HarassmentHighlight

After my first year in law school, I clerked for Professor Kimberly Norwood at Washington University in St. Louis Law School during the summer. (If editing a law review article on statute of limitations is your thing, the experience was nirvana — I even made it to a footnote.)  We’ve kept in touch since then and have shared holiday cards and notes as our families have grown.

Earlier this week, I came across a column that Professor Norwood wrote for CNN about her family’s experiences in St. Louis.  I was touched by that article and reached out to her to see if I could cross-post it here.  She agreed.

I post this piece not to discuss the issues in Ferguson, Missouri – those are best covered by a criminal law blog like A Public Defender – but to share the salient perspective that people in America are still “treated differently based on the color of their skin.” 

For those of us who are committed to eliminating discrimination in the workplace, this perspective should inform our thinking in how we can make sure the employer-employee relationship isn’t tainted by such biases — explicitly or implicitly.   Professor Norwood has also talked about the implicit bias that exists in the legal profession and I recommend that article as well

I thank Professor Norwood for the opportunity to repost her article here.

I am a 54-year-old black woman — a mother, lawyer and law professor. I teach at the Washington University in St. Louis Law School and live 12 miles away from Ferguson, Missouri.

The median household income in my suburb is $85,000 per year. In Ferguson, it is $36,000. In my suburb, 3.5% of the people are black. In Ferguson, almost 70% are black. These are stark contrasts. Yet I share things in common with black people in Ferguson and, indeed, throughout the United States.

When I shop, I’m often either ignored as a waste of time or scrutinized as a potential shoplifter. In June, my daughter and I walked into the china and crystal department at a Macy’s department store. I was about to speak to the salesperson directly in front of me. She walked right past me to welcome the white woman behind us.

My daughter looked at me and said: “Really? Did she just ignore us?” My daughter is a young teenager at the crossroads of “skin color doesn’t matter” and “oh yes, it does.” She is in transition. I felt hurt, anger and embarrassment.

But this kind of encounter happens routinely.

Driving, I tend to have a bit of a lead foot — hitting 45 in a 35 mph zone. The few times I have been stopped in my suburb, the first question I’m asked is whether I live “around here.” Not one of my white friends has been asked that question when they were pulled over by a police officer.

Last summer, my teenage daughter was shopping with four white friends at a mall in an affluent St. Louis suburb. As they left the store, two mall security guards approached my daughter. They told her the store had called them and reported her as a shoplifter, and asked her to come with them. After a search, they found she had nothing. So far in her young life, mall security guards have stopped her on suspicion of shoplifting three times. Each time she was innocent.

I also have three sons. My two oldest are 22. They are 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-4 and each weighs more than 220 pounds. One recently graduated from college; the other will graduate in 2015. The youngest is 13. All three like to wear jeans and the latest sneakers. They love hoodies. They like looking cool. These three young men have never been arrested or even been in a fight at school.

Every time my sons leave the house, I worry about their safety. One of my sons loves to go out at night to clubs. I worry about potential unrest at the clubs — yes, black-on-black crime is a problem, and despite what many people think, black people complain about it all the time in their communities and churches and in newspapers and on radio stations.

I also worry about his drive home and his being stopped by police.

The data in Ferguson are an example of the larger picture in the St. Louis County area. Police stop, search and arrest black people at a disproportionate rate, even though they are less likely to possess contraband than white people.

This son of mine who likes to go out at night is big and tall and he has brown skin. He graduated from college in May but cannot find employment. He is an intelligent, clean-cut young man.

But the negative stereotypes automatically assigned to his skin color follow him everywhere, even in job interviews, like extra weight. It reminds me of the airline employee who asks before you can check your suitcase: Did a stranger ask you to carry something or pack your bag? In my son’s case, the answer is yes. He is carrying extra weight, unfairly, and without his knowledge or consent, packed in his luggage.

A few years ago my husband and I went on a cruise. My older boys were teenagers at the time and were taking summer enrichment classes at a school about a mile from our home. They planned to walk to school in the morning. At the top of a long list of things to do before we left for our trip was “e-mail chief of police.”

I explained to the chief that my husband and I were going on a cruise, I was a member of the community and that my two sons would be walking to school. I attached pictures of the boys, explaining that only a couple of black families lived in the neighborhood. My sons did not normally walk in the neighborhood, so they would draw attention.

I offered to bring my sons to the police department so officers could meet them. The police chief and I met and all went well.

But I’ve asked myself: How many parents of white sons have thought to add to their to-do-before-leaving-town list, “Write letter to local police department, introducing sons and attaching photos, so police do not become suspicious and harass them”?

Even though my older boys are men, I still worry about them. I worry about my 13-year-old. This worry is a stressful, and sadly normal, part of my daily existence. My youngest will be 6 feet tall in the coming weeks. He has brown skin.

These young black men have arrows pointed and ready to shoot at them daily — black-on-black crime, police encounters, societal bias and mistrust. Shortly after the Michael Brown shooting, I met with a group of my 13-year-old’s black male friends to explain to them what happened in Ferguson, and what to do and how to respond if they are ever stopped by the police. My words reminded me of stories and fears my grandfather used to share with me about his encounters with police during the Jim Crow era.

These are just a few of the many ways in which people in America are treated differently based on the color of their skin. This has been going on for a long time. I hope the events in Ferguson will encourage people to see the stark differences in the experiences of black people — not just black people who struggle economically but also black people like me — and white people as they go about their routine, daily lives.

Why Asian Americans hate hearing “Where are you from?”

This has been a good week for sometimes contentious but bracing conversations on Facebook. The latest one started when I posted a link to an excellent Forbes article by Ruchika Tulshyan titled “‘Where Are You From?’ And Other Big Networking Racial Faux Pas”

The article raises the oft-aired complaint by Asian Americans that asking “Where are you from?” (sometimes linked to the even more irritating “You speak English so well…”) is a social, racial no-no.

I certainly can’t argue with that. I’ve written plenty about this very topic. I once criticized Martha Stewart for pulling the “Where are you from?” card, and in the post also included the conversation from my book, “Being Japanese American” that so many Asian American are all too familiar with, which starts with “You speak English so well” and veers off into “where are you from?” territory.

The Forbes piece quotes a South Asian news producer making a point that many Asian Americans should learn by heart and recite whenever we’re asked the question:

“I’m American – just like our president is American, just like the actress, Mindy Kaling is American, just like Abraham Lincoln is American. I am also American. I think once people realize that being American doesn’t mean being white, then we can move the conversation forward and we can have a better dialogue about race.” says Shefali Kulkarni, digital producer at PRI’s The World.

Tulshyan offers these suggestions for more appropriate ways to learn about someone’s ethnic heritage (I generally ask people “What’s your ethnic heritage?”):


Leonard Pitts: Race is the stupidest idea in history.

Leonard Pitts: Race is the stupidest idea in history



On New Year’s Day, it will be 150 years since Abraham Lincoln set black people free from slavery.

And there is no such thing as black people.

The first of those statements is not precisely true; a clarification will be offered momentarily. The second statement is not precisely false. And the clarification begins here:

It is a clarification needed not simply because it helps us to better understand the milestone of history we commemorate this week, but also because it helps us to better understand America right here in the tumultuous now. The Republican Party, to take an example not quite at random, enters the new year still nursing its wounds after an election debacle most observers laid upon its inability to sway Hispanics, young voters and, yes, black people. Then there is the Trayvon Martin shooting, the mass incarceration phenomenon, the birther foolishness.

A century and a half later, in other words, race is still a story. Black people are still a story.

How can that be, if there is no such thing as black people?

Granted, most of us think otherwise. The average 18-year-old American kid, says historian Matt Wray, thinks of race “as a set of facts about who people are, which is somehow tied to blood and biology and ancestry.”

But that kid is wrong. If you doubt that, try a simple challenge: Define “black people.”

Maybe you think of it as African ancestry. But Africa is a place on a map — not a bloodline. And, as the example of Charlize Theron, the fair-skinned, blond actress from South Africa, amply illustrates, it is entirely possible to come from there, yet not be what we think of as “black.” Indeed, Theron, who became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2008, is by definition an African American. Yet, she fits no one’s conception of that term, either.

Read more here: