I’m organizing a conference tentatively with the theme ‘religion in the public square’ for keynoters. Trying to think of women who’ve worked on this topic I’m drawing a blank. And I do NOT want to run a men-talking-about-religion-in-the-public-square conference! Can anyone think of some names? We meet tomorrow to discuss keynoters so soon would be good. I know I should have thought about this sooner, but I was poking around on the ground asking colleagues for suggestions–and drawing more blanks.
David Shih, a professor in the English department at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, has written an excellent post on the idea of a ‘model minority’. I quote from it extensively below, but I encourage you to read the original post — among other things, he connects this issue to the seeming double standard at play in the indictment of NYPD officer Peter Liang, versus failures to indict white officers in other cases. The full post, You’re The Model Minority until You’re Not, is here.
My students sometimes aren’t sure how to feel about “positive” stereotypes of Asian Americans. What’s wrong with being known as educated, hard-working, and law-abiding? The problem with positive stereotypes is the same problem with negative ones: the dominant group gets to decide what they are. It decides who gets to be a part of the favored racial group and why. What this means is that you’re the model minority until you’re not. The history of Chinese Americans is a crash course on the social construction of race in America. Stereotypes come and go. From the beginning of significant Chinese immigration during the California gold rush to the present, Chinese Americans have been racialized as undesirable or desirable depending on circumstances at home and abroad. The Exclusion era, the World War 2 era, and the Korean War era all racialized Chinese Americans differently according to the historical needs of white supremacy. It took the Civil Rights Movement to shift the social meanings of Chinese Americans once again. Like negative stereotypes, the model minority stereotype is also a tool of white supremacy.
The model minority stereotype has always been less about praising Asian people than it has been about shaming black people. From its lede, the unsigned “Success Story of One Minority Group in U.S.” is interested in more than the state of Chinese America; it aims to compare Chinese Americans to black Americans. The article lists off the admirable qualities of a monolithic Chinese American community: low crime rate (especially among juveniles), strong work ethic, traditional family structures, value on education, low public assistance usage, etc. However, comparisons with black communities quickly become conspicuous . . .
White supremacy spins the tale of the model minority because it is a story of American meritocracy. As late as 2014, the rags-to-riches model minority stereotype was the core talking point Bill O’Reilly used to rebut the argument that white privilege is real. O’Reilly cites Asian American rates of education and income that exceed those of all other groups, including white Americans. But the conflation of “Asian American” and “model minority” identities masks the poverty of many ethnic groups within Asian America. Coverage of the LA uprising tended to cast Korean American immigrants as successful entrepreneurs despite unique institutional barriers that produced wide economic disparity within the community. In 2010, Hmong Americans had the lowest per capita income of any racial/ethnic group, including Latinos. As the story of meritocracy, the model minority stereotype can disempower Asian Americans themselves by linking low social status to cultural deficiency. Positive stereotypes are a two-way street.
Today, model minorities can be too good to be true. Highly-skilled immigrants from India and China make possible the Asian demographic O’Reilly describes, and industry demand for them is so great that tech firms must enter a lottery for their H-1B visas. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) questions whether the perception of a perpetual shortage of tech workers is, in fact, accurate. The “Silicon Valley STEM Hoax,” he claims, is a ploy of American tech firms to hire lower-paid foreign labor instead of home-grown American labor. This fear of cheap foreign labor, mostly Asian, is not new. The economic “yellow peril” stereotype that defined 19th-century Chinese immigrants conjured the problem of an endless stream of labor against which the white workingman could not compete. The devastating solution to the problem was the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, in effect until 1943. While Sessions’ concerns are, by all accounts, marginalized, they do illustrate how readily the assets of the model minority–hard work and frugality–can be reimagined as deficits. New yellow perils. You are the model minority until you are not.
Wendy Williams and Stephen Ceci have just published an article in PNAS titled “National hiring experiments reveal 2:1 faculty preference for women on STEM tenure track” (here). The article is striking, and seems to show a great deal of progress in gender equity in hiring (notwithstanding worries that some have expressed that this study demonstrates “reverse discrimination”). There has been interesting discussion of the article on Facebook (FB), the Daily Nous, and New APPS, and most of what I say here is a reworking of points that others have already made. First I’ll make a couple positive points about the article; then raise a worry about the authors’ interpretation of their data; and then raise a few questions about the data.
On the positive side, W&C’s data tells us more than we knew before about how gender attitudes and gender discrimination work. As Edouard Machery said on FB, we need to know the facts in order to create effective interventions. This seems right. The question, I think, is what exactly the study shows, and whether it shows what the authors think it shows.
Does sexual activity always require the capacity to consent? I’ve started to wonder.
Suppose you and your beloved spouse, both middle-aged and abled-body, arrived home from a party and realize one of you has had too much to drink. More than either of you had realized. But, curling up in bed, both of you feel that hugs and kisses wherever they may lead are very appealing. Should the sober one refrain on the grounds that the other can’t really meaningfully consent?
There are many possible complicating factors with sexual encounters, which is why I added in marriage, age and ability. A similar scenario could quite easily become a legal nightmare. And what about a specific disability, dementia? Right now this issue may be addressed in a court:
Henry Rayhons, 78, has been charged with third-degree felony sexual abuse, accused of having sex with his wife in a nursing home on May 23, 2014, eight days after staff members there told him they believed she was mentally unable to agree to sex.
It is rare, possibly unprecedented, for such circumstances to prompt criminal charges. Mr. Rayhons, a nine-term Republican state legislator, decided not to seek another term after his arrest.
There is no allegation that Mrs. Rayhons resisted or showed signs of abuse. And it is widely agreed that the Rayhonses had a loving, affectionate relationship, having married in 2007 after each had been widowed. They met while singing in a church choir.
Unpleasantly in the other corner is the fact that many, many people think sex among the elderly is nearly unthinkable, and step-children, such as Mrs Raybons’ daughters by a previous marriage, may take very active steps to stop it. (We should note the article provides no evidence of the children’s’ motives; we do not know how sincere was their belief in her peril.)
Almost everyone in the article discussing the issue assumes that consent is needed before sex can be undertaken legally. I’m wondering now if this is so. What do you think”
That this got as far as two committee members actually resigning after two years without a woman nominee, while reportedly the museum still does not understand the objectors’ counter-proposal, suggests organizational problems and failures of internal communication.
Two female researchers tasked with helping to recognize the top scientists in the country have stepped down from their duties to protest lack of recognition for other women in the field.
Judy Illes and Catherine Anderson resigned from the selection committee of the Canadian Science and Engineering Hall of Fame this month after realizing that no women had been nominated for induction two years in a row.
There’s a lot of buzz this morning about a new study which seems to show a preference for women over otherwise identical men. I haven’t had a chance to look in detail yet, but so far I am struck by one fact about the study: Rather than giving subjects CVs to evaluate, the experimenters gave them vignettes which included marital status and history and number of children– that is, precisely the stuff you’re not allowed to ask about in hiring. In reflecting on why this study has obtained such different results from all the CV studies, I find myself suspecting this played a role. Perhaps being explicitly given such prejudicial information put people on guard in a way that led them to overcompensate for possible biases.
At any rate, this certainly doesn’t count against my view that as much of hiring as possible should be conducted anonymously. Indeed, it shows that such anonymity may be necessary to block the operation of different biases under different circumstances.
A teenaged woman, call her Amy, reports her frustration and even her despair at constantly having the least valued opinion when talking with men and boys. People will sit around and BS; alleged facts will be pulled out of thin air (or worse places); strong opinions will be conjured on topics of little prior reflection. That’s all good. But even this BS is at least taken seriously enough to be worth counter-argument when it comes from men. Whether the dismissal of her opinion is scornful, or indulgent with a patina of affection, she finds her (relatively rare) contributions in social situations treated as silly or naïve by default. And when she tries to point out that this is happening, this observation too is treated as silly or naïve, and dismissed out of hand as well. She can’t break through the attitude of dismissiveness, even to point out its existence. “What do I have to do to at least make you recognize that I’m serious about this?” she muses. “Do I have to stab you to get your attention?” Amy is the least violent person I know, making this both very funny and a clear sign of her being truly fed up.
“Is this just how it’ll always be?” she wonders. Smiling avuncular pooh-poohing of her contributions to social discourse dominated by men?
On one hand, my conversation with Amy is a spur to continued activism, including micro-level social awareness. On the other hand, it leaves me at something of a loss when I consider what advice and guidance is available to Amy.
I can listen sympathetically and validate her experience, certainly. We can talk about epistemic injustice, and I can help explain how that connects with epistemology and justice more generally. I can help situate the failed uptake of both her conversation and her remarks about the conversation relative to notions of speech-act silencing or quieting. On these topics I count as relatively expert; and helping her to theorize or understand the phenomena more richly is plausibly some form of assistance. But what about practical suggestions? Amy would prefer to be able to improve or repair social situations, rather than blowing them up; firebrand is not usually her style. I can offer my own personal take on how to broach socially hard topics or correct anti-social behaviour; or talk about things I’ve seen other people do that worked (or didn’t). But this all feels pretty idiosyncratic. There is a huge range of strategies that people marginalized by social prejudices use to confront and mitigate the situations that trouble Amy, the success of which vary according to all sorts of factors. Is there already a sort of online clearinghouse of strategies that people have used to good effect when facing this sort of dismissiveness? Or a good book that gives practical advice of this sort? (Something aimed specifically at young women would be particularly valuable in Amy’s case.)
Or could people share their favoured approaches here? Choices of tone, gesture, turns of phrase… broader social strategies (including “get better friends”) — what has worked for you?
Just a quick reminder that Shelley Tremain’s series of interviews with disabled philosophers is due to start soon. The interviews will be posted at the Discrimination and Disadvantage Blog. There is a definite need for this sort of thing, as the following message attests:
I was recently tipped off to the Discrimination and Disadvantage blog and the upcoming series on “Dialogues on Disability.” When the email was forwarded to me, I just let out a big sigh of relief. I’m really grateful, already, for this series, especially as a resource for what often is still experienced as if it (being in graduate school with a disability/illness) is happening for the first time ever.
In the context of a SSHRC partnership development grant directed at developing networks and resources to promote the development of New Narratives in the History of Philosophy, and in particular narratives that include women, Lisa Shapiro has started an email list. The purpose of the list is to exchange information on events and activities around early modern women philosophers. You can join the list by sending an email to email@example.com with subscribe in the subject line. You will be sent a confirmation email. To complete the subscription process, click Reply in your email client and send the reply. Do not edit the subject line. If the confirmation was successful, you will get a welcome message from the maillist.