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Author Topic: Discrimination against Asian-Americans  (Read 13522 times)
Depressed and angry
« on: April 05, 2002, 8:39:56 am »

I am wondering if anyone can shed light on my situation. I am an Asian American (born and raised in the U.S.) who has just received her doctorate in English from a very old and prestigious British university (I was under the supervision of a world-renowned scholar).

I have had exceptionally poor luck these past two years in applying for positions and postdocs at good liberal-arts colleges (although the fact that one of my references sent his recommendation two months after the deadlines didn't help). I was told in person by the head of one search committee at a very prestigious college that I had "impressive and top-notch credentials," but that since they never received the missing reference, they could not interview me at the Modern Language Association's annual meeting. The same goes for a visiting position for which I applied. The question, though, is why the other colleges to which I applied did not even bother to ask for my dossier.  

All of the feelings of disappointment and despair resurfaced when I  received a well-intended query a few weeks ago from the editor-in-chief of a refereed journal (which just accepted my article): "With your CV, why on earth don't you have a tenure-track job?!" (This is an exact quote!) It's possible that this was only a friendly, rhetorical question, but I was just reminded all the more of my unhappy search.

I am wondering if I have been subjected to anti-Asian discrimination in my job search here with people assuming that because my surname is Asian, English couldn't possibly be my first language, and therefore I would be unfit to teach any Western literature. (Many of these people probably would not flinch at the idea of a Westerner teaching Asian literature!)

When I was at my Oxbridge university, I actually had less difficulty getting teaching opportunities from the Cambridge and Oxford colleges (each has around 30 or so colleges) than I did from the American satellite programs there (universities and colleges such as Stanford, Williams, etc. with branch campuses there). It was the other way around for most of the Americans I spoke to. Indeed, my own thesis supervisor and college adviser could not understand why I was getting more offers from the Oxbridge colleges than the American ones.

There is a lot more here, which I am not going to get into, but the fact is that I was already left with a very bad taste in my mouth. When I complained about my experiences to one person, she replied, "Oh that's just too bad. I hope being a minority will pay off for you one day."

I have noticed that nearly all persons with Asian surnames at English departments are teaching Asian-American literature. Am I supposed to repackage myself as an Asian-American scholar even though my work focuses on British political reform and popular fiction of the 18th century?

Sorry to have to rant, but I had to vent these feelings somewhere.
« Reply #1 on: April 06, 2002, 2:35:22 am »

Make it clear in your CV that you were born and raised in the United States (include this under the heading "Languages"). Meanwhile, you could look for a lectureship in the United Kingdom as well. But the best thing to do is to broaden your research interests, towards Asian-American literature. Write a path-breaking paper in this area!
Professor Daddy
« Reply #2 on: April 13, 2002, 3:50:34 pm »

An anonymous author suggests that your solution is to repackage yourself as an Asian-American scholar.

With all due respect, that's the most poorly thought out response I've ever heard to a query on these boards.

In the first place, your experiences on the job market are by no means exceptional -- the average job search in the humanities takes two to three years these days (see the Modern Language Association's well-documented studies for support), and in some not-so-hot fields of English literature, the struggle for that perfect job can take even longer.

Contrary to your impressions, I doubt you're suffering from anti-Asian bias, since many colleges and universities are eager to broaden their ethnic (and other) diversity. You also shouldn't believe that you're going to be immediately pegged as only appropriate for positions studying Asian literature -- try telling that to Alan Liu, one of the world's best Romanticists, as well as arguably the leading scholar of internet resources in English studies. If your CV is as impressive as you claim (and keep in mind that a lot of people have excellent CVs from fine schools) then you shouldn't have trouble convincing people that you're trained in your field.

No, if you're suffering any discrimination, I'd guess it might be geographic. Even if an M.L.A. interview goes well, a college is going to have to pay a lot more to fly you over from England to a campus interview in the States than it would have to pay to fly over a comparable scholar on this side of the Atlantic.

Still, as I mentioned at the beginning of this missive, your job-market experiences are entirely typical so far. Lots of fine scholars with lots of publications are competing for a very limitted pool of jobs, and folks from Princeton, Yale and Berkeley are almost as likely to face dissapointment on the market as those from Greensboro, West Virginia, and other less highly ranked schools (maybe more so, since they may be a good deal more picky or unrealistic about their prospects).  I attended a session on alternative jobs outside academe at the M.L.A. a few years back, and the nametags in the desperate audience read like a top-20 list of U.S. News and World Report's top schools.

As for the suggestion that you suddenly entirely switch careers and become an Asian-Americanist ... can that last poster have been serious? Do you think it's that easy, after mastering a sub-discipline of literature through exams, presentations, a dissertation, and publications, to suddenly just declare a new specialty? Would you respect the academic credentials of someone who thought that was an easy shift to make?
Anonymous, too
« Reply #3 on: April 16, 2002, 7:07:53 am »

It was previously stated that, "Contrary to your impressions, I doubt you're suffering from anti-Asian bias, since many colleges and universities are eager to broaden their ethnic (and other) diversity. "

I am on the faculty at a top-notch institution in the United States, and I must say, the statement above (that we are eager to diversify) is a myth. We keep on hiring European-Americans when it comes to important tenure-track jobs (the numbers don't lie!).

Also, the suspicion of anti-Asian-American bias may be a valid one; for example, search committees tend not to expect Asian-American candidates to be good teachers and/or be great with students/invested in committee work, which may hurt the chances of Asian-American applicants.
« Reply #4 on: April 16, 2002, 8:37:19 am »

As an Asian/Hispanic/French-American who was born in the U.S. (never thought I'd ever have to say that), I agree wholeheartedly with you that the move to diversify is a myth! I have a doctorate and have had some tremendous interviews, but I'm still without a job in the South.

I, too, have read the numbers from the U.S. Department of Education and the National Center for Education Statistics, and they are shocking! Just because human-resources offices document the ethnicity/race of people who apply to positions doesn't mean the institutions are hiring them. They are just playing with the fudged stats to show intent. I recall one human -resources office at institution that classified applicants by their visual appearance, in case applicants did not fill out the race card. One can only imagine what someone with an off-white appearance was classified as, since many people wouldn't know one race from another.
Depressed and angry
« Reply #5 on: April 16, 2002, 11:54:21 am »

Thank you for confirming my suspicions of anti-Asian bias. Of course, I will never know if I myself was a victim of discrimination in my job search, but at least I know that I was not altogether unjustified in suspecting it.

Not that I would actually need the confirmation: over the years, as a daughter of an academic in the sciences, I have heard numerous cases of less-qualified Europeans/European-Americans being favored over Asians/Asian-Americans. A white female friend in chemistry has also made similar observations. At Oxbridge, I had the "joy" of seeing Europeans who spoke and wrote English poorly get teaching opportunities in undergraduate English literature before I did.

By the time I did get a teaching opportunity, I felt almost paranoid. What would these white, British undergraduates think of having an Asian-American tutor them in their own literature? Would they feel suspicious or ripped off? Thankfully, none of my students seemed to mind and they even went on to do very well -- nearly all of them got either firsts or upper-seconds (no embarrassing 2:2's or 3's), and some even got their highest mark on the course/paper I taught them. (By the way, their undergraduate careers are almost entirely determined by seven public exams, all of which are identified by candidate number and marked by an exam committee.)

I realise in retrospect that I was probably excessively worried about any discrimination on the part of my students, but the difficulty I encountered in getting teaching opportunities made me feel extremely self-conscious. No wonder members of ethnic minorities have higher stress levels than whites!

From grammar school through graduate school, I have come to realize that educated elites from the upper-middle classes can sometimes be the most narrow-minded and prejudiced. They may not use racial slurs, but they can be most disdainful and indifferent to you when you look...well, different.  I guess what I find most appalling is the hypocrisy of those in academe -- particularly those at elite and top-notch institutions -- who discriminate against ethnic minorities. They might not mind minority students, but they certainly mind having a minority peer and colleague. Elitist bigots (what an oxymoron!) are far worse than the uneducated boors whom elites enjoy ridiculing. Bigots of the "Archie Bunker" ilk are circumstantially, not willfully, ignorant.  

This is not to say that most or even many academics are card-carrying members of the Ku Klux Klan. I have found some truly stellar mentors, friends, and colleagues along the way. However, there are still far too many misguided academics who assume that Asians are only good at the sciences or Asian studies.
By the way,  I know that the respondent who suggested that I write a path-breaking Asian-American literature paper stated that with the best of intentions (I am not being ironic or facetious), but I couldn't help but think that no one would expect an Italian- or Irish-American to build up a specialty in either literature.

In the end, I suppose, academics are not all that different from their much despised counterparts in the corporate world: the ones who claim that Asians have no people or managerial skills or the ones who like to stress that Asians are hard-working, but not necessarily clever. (Good excuse to make them work harder, right?) It is sad to find the same bigoted academics banging on and on about America being the country of equal opportunity, affirmative action, and how  their college helps the historically underrepresented, blah, blah, blah. But for whom is America the country of equal opportunity? For those of European descent, of course. In fact, sometimes only for European males.

Now I've come to realize why my father put such emphasis on good grades, finding the best schools, etc. And why he's told me, "if everyone else is publishing just two papers, you need four. If four, then eight." The race of life -- pun intended -- has always been rigged in America. And it doesn't matter if you're a fifth-generation American, it seems.

Well, back to my papers. Guess I'll need 20 just to make part-time lecturer.
« Reply #6 on: April 17, 2002, 12:50:39 pm »

I'm Asian  (I have an obviously Asian name), specializing in Renaissance literature, and have managed to land a tenure-track job. My husband, who is American and white, also has a Ph.D., but has had a much tougher time on the job market.

While there's racial discrimination in academe, I do think it's true that the job market is very tough, and I'm not sure that white Americans are necessarily faring much better than American minorities. This year the job market for 18th-century specialists was especially poor, I think.  I know a friend who was on a search committee for an 18th-century position at a non-prestigious school, and the search committee, I'm told, had so many excellent candidates to choose from.  

I'm wondering if the problem that the author of the post signed "Depressed and angry" is having has to do, in part, with translating a British experience into an American context. Getting a doctorate in a British university requires no classroom teaching (i.e., other than tutoring), and American colleges, especially liberal-arts colleges, are very concerned about getting teacher-scholars and they are likely to prefer someone with teaching experience.
Asian-American Asst Prof
« Reply #7 on: April 17, 2002, 2:14:08 pm »

I am an American-born Asian-American female who received my Ph.D. in political science in 2000 and went through a job search as an A.B.D.  

In response to "Depressed and angry," I feel the need to caution against blaming the outcomes (or lack thereof) of your job search on anti-Asian racism (or for that matter, sexism, or any other -ism).  

As "Professor Daddy" pointed out, many factors, including geography, come into play in the hiring process. Perhaps, on some occasions, some biases against members of various groups also exist. However, my experience seems to provide at least some anecdotal evidence to the contrary.  

As an A.B.D. from a top-10 university in my field, with a well-known and respected adviser, I applied to about two-dozen job openings in my area, American (yes, American, not Asian-American) politics. I had eight interviews at the American Political Science Association conference, five on-site interviews, and one telephone interview. Four of those resulted in job offers at respectable universities. I accepted the job I now hold, at a private liberal-arts institution on the West Coast.  

Incidentally, the political-science department that hired me also happened to hire one other person that year, also an American-born Asian. Perhaps I am naïve or simply unusually lucky, but I honestly do not believe I encountered anti-Asian bias in my nationwide job search. Sure, I didn't get interviewed at any of the Ivy League-caliber universities that I applied to, but neither did 300 or more of the other applicants for the same job.

Now that I am on the other side of the table and see the unbelievable arbitrariness that goes into job-search decisions, I realize that it is essential not to take things too personally and not to assume that those who do not interview or hire you have insidious motives. In the interview process especially, a lot of subjectivity comes into play. Like it or not, search-committee members often think along the lines of questions like these: Does this candidate seem like a team player? Would I like to spend the next 20 or more years working side by side with this person? If I got the impression that a candidate generally had a depressed and angry attitude, I would not favor her candidacy, even if she were an Asian-American sister.
Depressed and angry
« Reply #8 on: April 18, 2002, 2:43:12 pm »

Your points are well taken. I know the job market is difficult for everyone and even know two Caucasian males who got denied tenure despite winning teaching awards and having books published by Oxbridge presses.

However, I did state, "Of course, I will never know if I myself was a victim of discrimination, but at least I know I was not altogether unjustified in suspecting it." I hope you realize that this is not the same as saying that those of European descent have it easy!

In the end, race may not have had anything to do with my experiences this year and last, but my past searches for teaching opportunities at American satellite programs at Oxbridge -- programs which distinctly favored those of European descent -- inevitably inclined me to assume that race can be a problem. Certainly, the difficulties encountered by other Asians at Oxbridge have led me to wonder if race does make it difficult to open doors at high-calibre institutions. (The anonymous writer from the top-notch institution seemed to affirm this view.)

As for Oxbridge teaching, not all of it takes the form of individual tutorials. Frequently, you do end up teaching classes in addition to individual tutorials when you have more than eight students at a time so that they will have a sense of the period they are studying. Moreover, the teaching is, in some ways, more challenging than American teaching, since you are essentially preparing the students for their public exams. Each examinee is identified by candidate number, and each exam, whether it covers Shakespeare, the English Renaissance (excluding Shakespeare), or Victorian literature, is marked by two specialists so that there will be more or less strict impartiality in grading. In other words, the students' marks depend quite a bit on the tutor's abilities. I have always made this clear in my CV.

In the end, I don't think the problem of race/sex discrimination should be trivialised or swept under the rug. I hope the political scientist who signed his or her post, "Asian-American Asst. Professor" realizes this. The experiences of one fortunate Asian person do not speak for all Asians, just as the experiences of one fortunate woman do not speak for all women. Many successful women in academe still feel that women have not yet attained full parity with their male counterparts. As long as discrimination continues to exist in this country -- just think of racial profiling today -- discrimination cannot be handily dismissed and denied.
Terry Bradley
« Reply #9 on: April 19, 2002, 7:53:32 am »

Good grief, where is the pity party? As someone who worked in the mines during the summer just to graduate from a land-grant institution, I always had to fight the coal-mining hick from West Virginia stereotype. No big deal. You seem very talented. Things will work out. Is there discrimination? Certainly. Rise above it, regardless of your frustrations.
« Reply #10 on: April 19, 2002, 9:14:02 am »

The poster, Asian-American Asst. professor, has some good points in her message cautioning about minorities taking rejections too personally. From reading a variety of the posts in the Forum, it appears that most everyone is experiencing discrimination of one sort or another. I am pleased to see, however, that others (who are not necessarily responding to issues or venting in this Forum) are gainfully employed.

Certainly, many of us have had on-site interviews and have been offered jobs of one sort or another, but it's evident in the statistics** that a smaller percentage of all minorities are hired in executive/administrative/managerial and faculty positions, across all higher-education institutions. This, of course, may be due to the lack of candidates applying, a perception of the candidate not being able to fit into the hiring institution's environment, a preference for a truly more qualified non-minority candidate, current large numbers of tenured non-minority personnel on staff, or many other various and sundry reasons, including discrimination.

It is understandable that one poster is depressed and angry, but I hardly think that this attitude would be carried into an interview. (It wouldn't do much good, but thank goodness we can vent in the Forum.) I would expect that a candidate going into a coveted interview would be positive, energized, and well-qualified and well-versed in his/her field, moreso than most search-committee members. At least that's been my experience.

With the changing demographics in this nation, it behooves institutions of higher education (as funds are again budgeted by state legislatures and for the good of their institutions) to put their strategic-planning diversity measures and goals into serious practice, rather than merely including them as lofty ideals. The truth is in the numbers.

**U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Fall Staff 1999 survey, with latest Table 225, prepared July 2001.
Soon to be asst. prof.
« Reply #11 on: April 21, 2002, 10:00:51 am »

Dear Depressed and angry,

I wonder if part of the problem arises from the differences between British and American ways of doing things -- especially in terms of the letters of recommendation. From what I understand, British letters of recommendation often understate the quality of the person (for example, "My student's work is perfectly adequate"), while American letters of recommendation tend to be more effusive ("My student is absolutely brilliant!").  If a search committee is not used to reading British letters of recommendation, it could be easy to infer from them that the candidate is just "O.K." as opposed to one who is "fabulous!" Based on the information you provided in your post, I believe that the cultural differences in writing styles may be your biggest drawback.

As for being a minority in a non-traditional field, I understand exactly where you are coming from.  Actually, I am also a non-white person in a non-traditional area of literature, and I was fortunate enough to have a very successful job search. I had 22 interviews at the Modern Language Association's annual conference and 10 on-campus interviews. I went to 8 before finally accepting a job at the school that was my first choice (I will start in the fall). I don't have an Ivy League degree, but my degree is from a solid state school.

It is hard to say what role my race played in the job search, but I can say that working in an area of literature that was not written by "my people" was definitely not a hindrance. Good luck in the future, and do not give up.  If possible, when you approach your British professors for letters of recommendation try to hint to them that you would prefer that they write the letters in a more American style if you are applying to American universities.
C. L.
« Reply #12 on: April 27, 2002, 3:45:32 pm »

I was not born in the United States, but I taught at a college in a western state for many years. (I moved to another state for health reasons.) Most of my colleagues were sincerely nice to me and did not treat me like I was Asian, but those who didn't know me well sometimes would treat me like a foreign student.

On the first day of each semester, most of my students would look puzzled as they watched me walk to the teacher's desk. However, I never felt any negative vibes from them because of my race. In fact, all my Asian students were delighted to see me as their English-as-a-second-language teacher. I truly believe that race was not an issue when I was hired.

Have you looked in California? I've seen a ton of job announcements from colleges and universities there.
« Reply #13 on: May 02, 2002, 9:42:26 am »

Let me start by saying that, as a white person, I am deeply offended that you so easily fling the accusatory mud of racism. I can guarantee you that on my campus, in the Midwest / Midsouth / Bible belt / heart of ignorance, a substantial number of non-white, non-European, non-American postdocs, professors, and graduate students are having very successful and unimpeded careers.

Please, get a grip on reality.  Assuming all applicants are equally talented, if the majority of people applying for a position are of a certain race, the probability that a person of that race will get the job is very high, don’t you think? There is no valid way you can take the statictics of who is being hired and justify a claim of racism, or even bias, without taking many, many, other factors into account.

Here are a few other reasons, other than racism, that you may not have been offered a postdoctoral position:

  1. Your references weren’t sent on time (you already told us this happened).
  2. Because your references weren't sent on time, you didn’t make the first round of many of the selections (you already told us you missed out on the Modern Language Association interviews).
  3. As mentioned by another poster, search committees may not have had the budget to bring people from overseas.
  4. As mentioned by another poster, your references may have sounded less than stellar due to cultural writing-style differences.
  5. Perhaps one of your references gave you a poor referral.
  6. Maybe your record isn’t as spectacular as you think it is, and you are an average applicant.

If you go around treating white people like they are all racists, they will pick up on your hostility, but not be sure of where it’s coming from. Then you will be avoided, or not hired, because you are a disagreeable person, not because of your race.

Of course, you will have already determined that they weren’t going to hire you anyway -- those racist pigs -- and your suspicions will have been confirmed, in your mind. That's called a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Depressed and Angry
« Reply #14 on: May 03, 2002, 11:44:15 am »

Please read more carefully before you criticize. I am quite appalled by your careless, if not purposely obfuscatory, misreading of my posts. I have always been careful to qualify anti-Asian bias as a possible, not sole, determining factor.  Indeed, I have done this in my three previous posts on anti-Asian discrimination.  

On April 16, for instance, I clearly stated that "Of course, I will never know if I myself was a victim of discrimination, but at least I know that I was not altogether unjustified in suspecting it." I'm certain that many careful readers will understand that  I am not singling out anti-Asian bias as the only reason for my poor luck -- especially since I already acknowledged in my first post that one of my references did not appear on time. Moreover, I not only reiterated my point on racism not being a single, deciding factor in my post of April 18, but was also willing to acknowledge that times are difficult indeed for many folks, including males of European descent.

Now as to what you allege as “treating white people like they are all racists,” I suggest you take your own advice and get “a grip on reality.” In my post of April 16, I stated that, "From grammar school through graduate school, I have come to realize that educated elites from the upper-middle classes can sometimes be the most narrow-minded and prejudiced." Now, note that I used the word, "elites" -- which only constitute a small percentage of the population at large --and that I further qualified it with the word, "sometimes." Note too, that I pointed out my supportive friends, mentors, and colleagues in the same post. Tell me, how does all this amount to alleging that all whites are prejudiced and racist?

As for my qualifications, I didn’t come to this forum to brag about them, so I played them down. I was not going to mention the highly selective conferences at which I presented papers; an international conference I chaired; awards; journals I’ve guest-edited; book contracts, etc. -- all before I completed my doctorate. (And yes, I do know people with fewer qualifications who’ve been granted interviews in the last several years.)

If you'd read more carefully you would have observed in my very first post that several faculty members from very prestigious colleges (here, let me add that they were top-10 liberal-arts colleges) praised my “impressive and top-notch credentials.” Now, we all know that there is a certain degree of flattery that goes on in academe and in any profession indeed, but I highly doubt that these folks would have said these things to me if my qualifications had been merely "average.”

Before I conclude, let me add that the problem is not a matter of how many minorities are hired, as you put it simplistically -- of course, there are more whites than ethnic minorities (hence, the term “minorities”) -- but rather, what percentage of these minority applicants are chosen in comparison with whites, especially in subjects in which there is an underrepresentation of minorities.

As I said, I could not help but notice how Asian-Americans and African-Americans are usually made to teach ethnic studies; this has been observed by people in the Modern Language Association as well -- although things seem to be changing as some of the posters here have pointed out.

I am sorry if you chose to read my remarks on acknowledging the persistence of racism as dismissing whites as "racist pigs." Let me remind you once again that recognizing the possible perpetuation of institutional racism, especially when racial profiling of Arab-Americans and other minorites persists, and claiming that all whites (or blacks, or Asians) are prejudiced are two entirely different things. Please make the distinction.

The fact is academic, institutional racism does exist. Please read Anon, too's post dated April 16, which you seem to have conveniently ignored:  "Also the suspicion of anti-Asian-American bias may be a valid one; for example, seach committees tend not to expect Asian-American candidates to be good teachers," etc. There are many articles that back up this claim; see, for instance, Peggy McIntosh’ s “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” on http://modelminority.com/society/whiteprivilege.htm. Also see, Where is your body? And other essays on Race, Gender, and the Law (Beacon Press, 1996), by Mari J. Matsuda.

To sum up: as I’ve stated many times before, I will never know why I was turned down. I will repeat, for the fourth time, that it may be because of racism, it may not be. I am not going to dismiss either possibility. No one, with the exception of those on the search committees, will know why I was turned down. But it is important to remember that institutional racism unfortunately does exist and it will always have to be taken into consideration.
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