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March 2, 2006 – Incidences of workplace discrimination
The Washington Post describes a recent study conducted by the Gallup Organization that measured self-reported incidences of workplace discrimination. Among other things, the report notes that the APAs report the highest rates of discrimination in the workplace. There is overwhelming evidence to show these cases have merit to bring action. For example: 31 percent of APAs surveyed report incidents of discrimination, the largest percentage of any racial or ethnic group with African Americans the second-largest group at 26 percent. However, APAs generally file fewer discrimination complaints than other racial groups according to the EEOC.
The Gallup poll found that the most frequent type of discrimination cited by respondents reporting bias (26 percent) was gender bias, followed by race (23 percent) and then age (17 percent). Women were more than twice as likely as men to say they had encountered some sort of prejudice and/or bias. Some types of discrimination reported in the poll are not clearly covered by federal law, including favoritism, nepotism, sexual orientation, and language.
The most frequent reports of discrimination were in promotional decisions (33 percent of those claiming bias) and pay differences (29 percent). However, workers interviewed during the poll also reported prejudice manifested in harassment via work conditions and hazardous assignments.
[A Gallup survey in 2005 found that] 31% of APAs surveyed reported incidents of discrimination, the largest percentage of any ethnic group. . . . [However, EEOC data] shows that only about 2% of all charges in the private sector and 3.26% in the federal sector are filed by APAs. “There is far more discrimination occurring in the workplace than is being reflected in our charge/complaint statistics.”
Although the treatment has slowly improved in federal government positions in the United States, local municipality and the private sector still lack the spirit of equal treatment towards APA employees in working environments. This includes hiring, working assignments, advancement, and promotion. The “Glass Ceiling” still exists. Other forms of discrimination and harassment continue, when APA employees complain of unfair and unequal treatment. This almost always results in retaliation.
The growth and proliferation of the Chinese American population in the last three decades also aroused resentment and hostility in cities and suburbs and in the spheres of education and employment. Since the early 1980s, there has been a steady increase in incidents of racial violence reported. These trends have been viewed and increasing alarm by Chinese American across the United States.
The mainstream media had portrayed APAs as the “Model Minority” because they are hard working, “Keep Quiet”, and “Don’t Complain” about management’s violations of the law. Historically, when they were victimized by discrimination or unfair treatment, they most likely would not complain. This further encourages the employer to act more negatively against APAs, especially those that are female due to their ‘Asian Submissive Image”. Of the extremely low percentage of those APAs filing complaints, most find it hard to find an attorney willing to take on the case against the employer, especially if it is against a state or municipal employer.
Ethnic Competition Leads to Violence
As the section on Asian American history discussed, numerous acts of discrimination against Chinese immigrants culminated in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. For the first and so far only time in American history, an entire ethnic group was singled out and forbidden to step foot on American soil. Although this was not the first such anti-Asian incident, it symbolizes the legacy of racism directed against our community.
It was followed by numerous denials of justice against Chinese and Japanese immigrants seeking to claim equal treatment to land ownership, citizenship, and other rights in state and federal court in the early 1900s. Many times, Asians were not even allowed to testify in court. Perhaps the most infamous episode of anti-Asian racism was the unjustified imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II — done solely on the basis of their ethnic ancestry.
One may think that as the Asian American population becomes larger and more integrated into the mainstream American social and political institutions that incidents of anti-Asian racism would occur less often. In fact, the opposite has been true. The last 20 years or so has seen Asian Americans become the fastest-growing targets for hate crimes and violence.
It seems that whenever there are problems in American society, political or economic, there always seems to be the need for a scapegoat — someone or a group of people who is/are singled out, unjustifiably blamed, and targeted with severe hostility. Combined with the cultural stereotype of Asian Americans as quiet, weak, and powerless, more and more Asian Americans are victimized, solely on the basis of being an Asian American.
2002 – Asian American Don’t Know What to Do About Racial Discrimination
APAs’ lack of collective effort to address racism except for extreme crises indicate we are pursuing the wrong strategy
by Frank H. Wu, Howard University
Asian Americans don’t know what to do about racial discrimination. When-ever I give a speech about Asian Americans and civil rights, at least one per-son of Asian descent in the audience comes up afterward to ask for legal ad-vice about their civil rights case. Whatever their ethnicity or gender, profes-sional status or political outlook, whether they are immigrants or the first-generation native-born, and whether they have an accent or could pass the “telephone test,” they share a common grievance.
In graduate school or at the workplace, they have gained direct experience of racial prejudice. They have lost a job, a promotion, or an opportunity of some sort because of bias toward their race or for no apparent reason but within a context that strongly suggests race was the crucial factor.
Often enough, they add that they never believed it could happen to them, or they had been convinced before it did that other people complained too much about these matters. Ironically, sometimes they continue to insist that even though they now understand what it means to confront bigotry, they still do not wish to make a fuss about the matter. They say that they just weren’t raised that way, or they remark that perhaps they are imbued with Asian cul-ture to a greater degree than they realized before.
I am saddened by these reports. Of course, without investigating the details, I would not assume that every individual in fact has a substantial claim based on their side of the story alone. Nonetheless, due to the overall statistics and my own life, I believe that despite our progress there remain problems that demand action.
I am troubled by more than the possibility of stereotyping and subjugation. I am worried that Asian Americans’ responses, especially our lack of collective efforts to address problems except if there is an extreme crisis such as the Los Alamos spy controversy, indicate that we are pursuing the wrong strategy.
We celebrate our accomplishments and deny our setbacks. It is as if we would pretend that we are the model minority rather than ask critically whether it is worthwhile to play that ambiguous role. We are reluctant – well beyond the reasonable ambivalence of any human being to initiate conflict and particu-larly legal conflict – to pursue the allegations for which we possess proof. We seem to prefer to live up or down to the image of an ethnicity which is defer-ential and submissive, rather than demonstrate that we can be as demanding and aggressive as our neighbors and colleagues.
The glass ceiling is unmistakable. It is one example of a multi-faceted prob-lem. It deserves attention because it is acute, but it also should not become the sole emphasis of attacks on discrimination because that would concentrate at-tention on the issues of the relatively elite while not acknowledging the equally if not more severe problems of the economically disadvantaged.
Asian Americans who enjoy being a quarter of the population on a college campus on the East Coast or West Coast can easily find that they are alone – the first and only – when they start work at a company in the Midwest or South. Even if they are among a handful of Asian American engineers, scien-tists, researchers, or other professionals, they can then even more readily dis-cover that there are no Asian American managers, supervisors, directors, or owners in the corner suites and board rooms. On top of that, some Asian Americans avoid others like them in these situations. They overreact and try to avoid looking like a conquering yellow horde, so they become isolated and leave each other without peers, mentors, or proteges.
Women face the double barrier of gender inequity as well. The Asian Ameri-can women who is in charge is more common in the portrayal of a dragon lady than in the reality of a leader.
In 1995, the federal Glass Ceiling Commission found that Asian Americans make less money than whites in many occupational categories – even control-ling for educational level, immigrant status, and other variables. In strict social science terms, the data is robust: Asian Americans and whites are not treated equally, and the difference can be attributed either to race or nothing at all. The particular finding that should give us pause: Asian Americans who par-ticipated in the focus groups conducted by the bi-partisan blue-ribbon Com-mission chaired by Elizabeth Dole reported their belief that they were treated like white males. In other words, we have foolishly persuaded ourselves that we are better off than we actually are.
Scholarly studies confirm the same pattern. Asian Americans are doing rela-tively well. They have achieved economic parity with whites in some situa-tions. But Asian Americans attain this status and compensate for the discrimi-nation imposed on them by becoming more highly educated than their co-workers or putting in more hours. It could not be called fair and it cannot be dismissed as subjective perceptions on the part of Asian Americans.
Perceptions are self-fulfilling. If nobody of Asian background has held a lead-ership position at a company, then it makes sense even if it reveals a lack of imagination coupled to a focus on race when a critic says they cannot see an Asian as a leader. It takes a conscious effort for the earliest Asian to break through to the top. It becomes easier for the following Asians. They do not need to set precedent and they need not fear being a token.
Paul Igasaki, the vice-chair of the United States Equal Employment Opportu-nity Commission, has lamented that Asian Americans appear to underreport allegations to his agency. He has tried to explain to them that doing so is not only accepted but also encouraged.
Many Asian Americans, like many people of all races, lead lives without be-ing affected in an obvious manner by racial conflicts. It would be a mistake, however, for those who have had good fortune to assume that they are an ex-ample for a group.
In urban legend, Asian Americans who are not treated well on the job gain vengeance by quitting, starting competitors to their former employers, and de-feating them in the marketplace. They ultimately are able to acquire the very firms that abused them.
It is a commendable ambition for an individual but not an ideal solution for a community. The Asian American who founds a high-technology manufactur-ing outfit according to this script, though, has achieved merely payback for herself or himself without improving society. Such individuals leave others vulnerable to the very risks which they have overcome through sacrifice and struggle.
In some versions of this anecdotal tale of triumph, the immigrant must return “home” to Asia in order to fulfill the American Dream. It would be pessimistic and cynical to rely on this reverse migration to reverse discrimination.
The better approach celebrates the potential of the New World, while insisting that its ideals be realized. The Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the other great documents which set forth the core values of our civic culture – these are an inspiration and an aspiration. They can be given meaning only with exercise and effort.
Some of us must become activists, protesters, and even plaintiffs in lawsuits. We do not all need to take on these challenges, but the few of us who do so, more likely by circumstance than choice, deserve respect and support from the rest of the community. Their challenge to the status quo will produce benefits for everyone else as well.
We have rights – if only we would assert them.
IMDiversity.com’s Asian American Village and is author of the book Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White.