June 13, 2008

Racial Tensions and Living In a Colorblind Society

author_cn By C.N. Le

In many ways, Asian Americans have achieved notable levels of socioeconomic mobility and success in American society. Nonetheless, despite (or perhaps because of) these successes, Asian Americans still confront ongoing instances of hostility, exclusion, and discrimination.

I've previously written about how Asian American students continue to face various obstacles in being treated fairly and justly on college campuses, whether it relates to dealing offensive "satire" or being violently attacked.

Some might be tempted to say that these were isolated incidents but as New American Media summarizes, these kinds of incidents are actually quite commonplace on college campuses around the country:

In recent months, incidents have proven this is not the tolerant and highly-evolved society we thought. Hate crimes against Asian students, racial remarks masked under the term “satire,” and institutional discrimination — are just a few causes triggering racial tension on college campuses. . . .

On Jan. 21, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Kyle Descher, a Korean American, headed out to a bar with his roommate after a Washington State University football victory over Oregon. Minutes after hearing a racial slur from one of three unknown men, Descher is “sucker-punched” in an unprovoked attack. Doctors add three titanium plates to Descher’s broken jaw and it’s wired shut. . . .

In [UPenn's quarterly student magazine "The Punch Bowl" winter 2008 edition's] “Where Asians Don’t Belong” section, staffers listed Math 104, in a panties drawer, on the basketball court, at a frat party, and behind the wheel. Imagine why the staff didn’t make jokes with the same glee for all the places African Americans “don’t belong.” In their defense, “Punch Bowl” editors said some of the writers of the “satirical” issue were Asian Americans themselves, even posing in photos poking fun at APIs.

The article goes on to list several other racially-charged incidents around the country involving a broad range of groups of color.color3 

It would be great if I could just focus on discussing the positive aspects of how American institutions such as higher education have made progress in alleviating racial inequality. Alas, these incidents only highlight what many scholars have been saying all along -- as we move forward into the 21st century, racism and racial prejudice are still alive and well in American society.

One difference between its nature today versus that of one hundred years ago is that in many ways, racism is now expressed in "colorblind" terms. That is, racists now apparently think that racial equality has been achieved (they'll point to Asian American socioeconomic achievements as one example), so it's perfectly fine to make fun of Asian Americans and other groups because we're all equal now -- we're all on a level playing field nowadays, so everybody is fair game.

In other words, this is what it means to live in a colorblind society these days-- historical legacies of systematic racism are completely ignored or "whitewashed" and we all pretend that all racial groups are perfectly equal. Or alternatively, racists act on their resentment that minorities have apparently achieved "equality" and physically attack those minorities.color4 

Unfortunately, I predict that this climate of "colorblind" prejudice will get worse before it gets better, especially as globalization continues to reshape the American society, the American economy, and as a result, the assumption of American superiority around the world.

As Americans, particularly many white Americans, continue to economically struggle as we enter a recession, and as demographic and cultural shifts take place all around them, their fears, frustrations, and anger will inevitably boil over. It’s likely that verbal and physical attacks on convenient scapegoats such as Asian Americans will continue.

I want to be optimistic and hopefully I'm wrong, but as these recent incidents show, racial tensions seem to be on the rise, not on the decline.


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I absolutely agree with your observation here. I see it in my classroom everyday. My hish school students tell me there is no racism amongst students in our school, as they sit in front of me in a room divided in half by color. I do not assign seats in my class yet you can draw a line down the center of my room and it would divide the minority students from the white students.

The observation is sadly correct, but not unique to any one race. I have seen such hate treatment aimed at all the difference races by the majority of the given race of that situation. I disagree with label races by their color or nationality. White no more describes who you are speaking of. Since in my schools the Hispanic and Asian are the majority, the "white" (which there are Hispanics' with very white skin) find themselves being the target of the hate treatment. I believe that we need to lift the veil of color coding humans, whether they are red, yellow, black, brown or white, and start focusing on what areas of being human, we are the same. People of every race can be evil and hateful to others that differ from themselves. But, I know more people of every race do not agree and act in those insane and aweful ways!
I have 9 different nationalities in my bloodline. America has more multi-mix races every year! I pass for Asian, middle eastern, hispanic and indian. Those are four of my ethnic background. I was never refered to as the minority. Afro-american, welsh, italian, and czech were the other five. There are more like me. WE sit where we are welcomed and stay away where we are not. Racism lives in those who hate others that are different. There lies the real problem. that is why it will not be solved until we stop All who hate and do hate crimes. Racism has no color, it is soulest person and their groups.

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