A Rose is a Rosie is a Rosalita

Are white names worth more than black names? That’s the question for Unemployed Black Woman Pretends to be White, Job Offers Suddenly SkyrocketAre Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal?, and black names and white ridicule. Two different questions emerge when this is framed in terms of institutionalized racism:

First, the economic ramifications. Does having a “white sounding” name make you more employable? Yes. Undoubtedly. A white name yields as many more callbacks as an additional eight years of experienceThat’s some serious economic inequality. How does that affect the accumulation of wealth across generations? Especially now, how does that effect unemployment during our economic recovery? I’ll let you guess that answers to those questions.

Second, the emotional ramifications. Does social ridicule of unique black names mean more than social ridicule of unique rich names (Moon Unit, Apple, Diva Muffin)? One might argue that ridicule is ridicule and therefore the effect is equal regardless of the cause. One might also argue that the stigma of being African American is greater than the stigma of being rich, and therefore the internalized racism and self hate that might develop through the former has a greater negative effect than the latter.

These are both interesting and important things to consider. You know what’s missing from this conversation though? An Asian American perspective! Specifically, mine. I’ve got a pretty white sounding name. Even my middle name, which is Chinese, is a homonym/homophone for a traditional white name. There’s often a moment of disconnect when people meet me in person, after connecting with me via phone or email. Sometimes it’s slight — a pause or a smile — and sometimes its downright ridiculous — people who walk straight up to a white coworker instead or say “NO, I’m looking for [WHITE LAST NAME].” Are these reactions their attempts to take back the white privilege they were ready to assign? That’s certainly an argument for the validity of hypodescent.

Do these personal slights make up for the advantages I might gain from having a white persona on paper? It’s impossible to prove where I might be if my name were different. Or where I’d be if I chose to not represent my commitment to racial representation and equality on my resume.

Do women who marry into white names deal with this?

All you need is love

Listening to Obama eulogize Nelson Mandela, I thought about what an extraordinary man Mandela was. It’s a common theme this week. For me, I’m struck by his commitment to love and forgiveness. Its quite a man who’s able to forgive his jailers and oppressors, and try to convince an entire country to do the same. Love. In the wake of our loss of Nelson Mandela I’ve been thinking about how powerful, how  amazingly revolutionary love can be. Not just for our personal relationships but also as a strategy in our work towards social justice and equality.

Then, as if by serendipity, I read this from The Last Word on Nothing in an article about a prototype incubator for premie babies:

But when Chen began her field studies of the technology in action, she found that doctors had thousands of patients and couldn’t spare the time to ensure the bags were being used correctly. The people to reach, realized Chen, were the mothers. Love was a great motivator for compliance. (Italics mine)

 

Love is a great motivator. 

The Breadth of Diversity

When I was in high school, I had a choice of several foreign languages that I could learn — Spanish, French, Italian, German, or Mandarin. As far as I knew, only one school had a bigger selection (in addition to our choices, they could also take Japanese). Now, I understand that those languages are logical choices because teaching materials exist and instructors can be found and they are major languages for international business and in some cases, also major languages in the United States.

But what a tiny portion of the world’s languages they represent! Have you ever thought about just how many languages there are in the world? And how many are being lost? Or how many are spoken by communities of people living in the US? Or how few of them most Americans can speak? or even recognize?

I am the first to admit my ignorance. Yesterday, I came across the Refugee Health Information Network (multicultural/multilingual health resources are fast becoming my new intellectual fascination). And do you know how many languages they produce information in? About 100. Think about how many that is — 100 different languages representing communities that the United States government recognizes as needing access to information in their home language.

Check out the list: Abkhaz, Acehnese, Achuar-Shiwiar, Afrikaans, Agaruna, Aja, Akuapen Twi, Albanian, Amahuaca, Amarakaeri, Amharic, Amuesha Yanesha, Anauk, Arabela, Arabic, Armenian, Assyrian, Azerbaijani, Belarussian, Bengali, Bosnian, Bulgarian, Burmese, Cambodian, Cantonese, Chin, Chin Hakha, Chinese, Croatian, Dongkha (Bhutanese), Farsi, French, Georgian, German, Greek, Gujarati, Haitian Creole, Hausa, Hebrew, Hindi, Hmong, Igbo, Ilokano, Indonesian (Malay), Italian, Japanese, Karen, Karen (S’ghaw), Kazakh, Khmer, Kinyarwanda, Kirundi, Korean, Kunama, Kurdish, lao, Laotian, Liberian, Maay Maay, Macedonian, Malayalam, Mandarin, Marathi, Marshallese, Mende, Mongolian, Montenegrin, Nepali, Nuer, Oromo, Pashto, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Romanian, Russian, Samoan, Serbian, Serbo-Croatian, Shona, Slovak, Somali, Spanish, Sudanese, Swahili, Tagalog, Tamil (Malabar), Temne, Thai, Tibetan (Bhotia), Tigrinya, Turkish, Ukrainian, Urdu, Uzbek, Vietnamese, Wolof, Yoruba

 

Meaningful Work

In the midst of my graduation from a Master’s program and job searching, I’ve been thinking a lot about the kind of work a) that I want to do, b) that I’m qualified for, and c) that I’ll settle for.

At the time that I applied for grad school, I spent a lot of time thinking about the ways that stories told by Asian Americans are marginalized and lost– college papers written but never read (let alone published), Asian language newspapers that weren’t being digitized, stories buried with generation that never told them, etc. I wanted to make sure that Asian American primary and secondary sources got the care and attention that they deserved.

While I was in library school, I met some really cool people who approach diversity and information sciences from different directions– a multicultural librarian who taught Asian American Studies and information literacy at a community college; several children’s librarians devoted to making multicultural literature available to multicultural families; a medical librarian who managed a project that produced culturally sensitive patient information (like a guide to cooking traditional Cambodian food while managing diabetes); and two MLIS (Masters of Library and Information Sciences) students who built a site to help deportees find basic resources in Mexico.

I envisioned starting up my own library, one that combined multi-lingual books for/by/about Asian Americans, archived community histories, and hosted public events like children’s story times and open mics.

But I’ve graduated now. I’m working temporary jobs to pay the bills and wondering when my ship will come in. So I find myself thinking a lot about how I can advocate for underrepresented communities and resources no matter where I find myself. Because working with diversity doesn’t have to mean finding a job with a kickass organization committed to social justice and equality (although that would be great). But it does mean finding a way to pursue social justice and equality within all kinds of organizations.

Is this problematic yet?

I like promoting Asian American men. I like good looking men. But at some point, when have we crossed the line from promoting good looking Asian (American) men into casual male objectification that would be totally unacceptable to me if someone were doing it to Asian American women? Case in point, BuzzFeed posted 27 Asian Leading Men Who Need More Airtime today (BF twice in two weeks? What’s going on?).

 

The constant objectification of women as things to be stared at is totally problematic. If someone were posting a list of Asian American women in various states of undress saying how hot they were (and oh, yeah! Some of them are really good at acting, too!) I’d be perturbed. I’d be blogging away about treating sisters with respect instead of eye candy, even with the back handed “We want more” premise. Yes, I want more leading Asian American male and female actors. Yes, they’re good looking and I love that the recognition of Asian American men as sex symbols is mainstreaming. But I worry, all the same. Casual sexual objectification is good for no one, right? We need to strike a balance between supportive/appreciative and creepy/uncomfortable.

Bias By Default

There’s a lot of literature written on biases that exist in knowledge organization systems. I mean that the Library of Congress, social tagging, and good old Dewey Decimal, among others, are full of historical biases that offend and render invisible vulnerable populations. The problem is not that the people who make these systems are terrible people dedicated to oppressing women, LGBTQs, and racial minorities, but that knowledge organizations systems (KOSs from now on) reflect the biases held by the people who make them. And those people, like all people, have issues.

Solutions? Some people suggest turning away from oppressive, patriarchal systems (see Websters’ First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language, dedicating to creating a thesaurus free from the masculine oppression of the English language), but I wonder about the impracticality of such ventures. A related suggestion is THE INTERNET. Come on people. Google is not the answer to everything. See the first paragraph.

What then?

Proof that I’m Behind the Times

I saw the season premiere of “Once Upon a Time” and my mind shot into blog mode–

Hey, an Asian American woman! I was worried that the Lucy Liu (as Watson in that Sherlock Holmes show) might be the only Asian American lady this season… oh wait, no! There’s also Maggie whats-her-face on Hawaii Five-O. Hmmm, should I address the issue now? What would I say? Asian American woman exists on television?  That’s not exactly a gripping headline. I’ll wait until she actually does something on the show and then let me judgement rain down.

And then weeks went by and I didn’t get around to watching the show again. Sorry, Jaime Chung/Mulan. I promise I’m really excited to see you do stuff and compare you to Disney’s version of Mulan and hopefully be pleased that there’s a strong, well defined Asian female character on TV.