80/20 and Asian American Salaries in the Sciences

Followers of this blog will remember that I’m not the world’s biggest groupie of 80/20, a political action committee (or P.A.C. as the lingo goes) that I find self-promoting and an embarrassment to the grassroots Asian American political movement. As far as I can tell, 80/20 sends poorly worded, all-caps emails (with lots of red text, because we all find red text more persuasive than black text) imploring listserv members to donate after stirring up rage over poorly cited and often misguided statements describing real (or not-so-real) forms of discrimination that we as a community face.

80/20 excels at stirring up political awareness; no one can criticize the fact that this single P.A.C. stays in business by taking money from a large swath of West Coast Asian Americans who want to see improved civil rights. In fact, the very success of 80/20 is an indication that there is a hunger for political change within the APA community. It’s how 80/20 goes about doing it that bothers me; most of their communications to their members are self-promoting, and frequently riddled with errors.

Case in point, this morning, I received an email from 80/20 telling me that Asian Americans in the sciences receive the lowest wages of all ethnic groups. Donate $50, said the email, because 80/20 will protect me and you from this kind of discrimination.

Do you believe in equal pay for equal work? What if YOU are denied your due? It’ll not happened to YOU? Hope not! However, if it does, what are YOU going to do abut it?

   Look at this SALARY SURVEY published by The Scientist in its September, 2009 issue. We again came out on the shortest end.It shows that Asian Am. M.Ds. and Ph. Ds in life science are paid the lowest salaries when compared with all other races. Visit http://www.the-scientist.com/salarysurvey/

    Combine this knowledge with Chart 1 shown below, where we again came out on the shortest end in terms of the odds to be promoted to managers, then ask yourself

(1) Which organization brings to you information of such vital bearing on your life?
(2) Which organization is working effectively to keep you from being shortchanged like that in the future?

   JOIN 80-20. Help 80-20 to help YOU and YOUR children.

[insert payment methods, with random red text, here]

Your payment of $35 or $50 is not even 1/100th of your salary. Don’t let yourself get stepped on and be paid less! JOIN 80-20 and forward this info to every Asian Am. you know. Why? TO STOP SUCH DISCRIMINATION AGAINST YOU FROM CONTINUING ASAP!

Being an Asian American, who will soon be getting a PhD and working in the life sciences, I was curious to see this survey. It’s been long known that Asian Americans have a hard time breaking the glass ceiling into management positions. However, it’s not clear that this translates into the sciences, where doctoral holders have a choice between being a “primary investigator” (managing a lab) or a post-doctoral (not managing a lab). I have yet to track down statistics that break down presence of Asian Americans doctorates into “management” and “non-management” positions. 

That being said, I hadn’t yet seen a study that had also shown a salary discrepancy for Asian American doctorates in the sciences. So, I clicked on the attached link and saw that The Scientist has indeed published a chart claiming that Asian doctorates make less money than non-Asian degree-holders. In fact, according to the chart, we make less money than all other ethnic groups! Oh, no!

scientist-salary

(According to the graph accompanying this one, women also make less money than men).

Then, like any good scientist, I did my homework. Actually, before I even went and clicked on the results of the survey, I checked the methodology. And here’s what it is:

The survey was conducted via a web-based survey which was open from March 5 to May 31, 2009. Participation in the survey was promoted by e-mail and advertising to readers of The Scientist and visitors to The Scientist web site. It was also promoted by participating member societies to their members. Usable responses were received from 4,738 individuals in the United States. Since many individuals are subscribers to The Scientist, and/or registrants on their web site, and/or members of one or more of the sponsoring societies, it is not possible to compute an accurate rate of response.

Respondents were asked to provide demographic data about themselves in 18 categories, and give their base annual salary and other cash compensation. The responses were carefully filtered to eliminate duplicate or misleading responses. Not every participant provided all of the information requested. If the participant provided income data, plus information concerning at least one demographic characteristic, the response was included in the study.

Let me emphasize the important points: this is a voluntary. web. survey. that The Scientisthelped run. In other words, it’s about as scientific as CNN’s daily web poll. Sure, the study collected information from more than 4,500 respondents, but none of the summary information contains sample size. More galling, none of the bar charts contain a single error bar. Oh, and did I mention that this was a voluntary. web. survey.?!?

Lest we forget, the science of voluntary surveys was debunked decades ago when one voluntary mail survey conducted by a woman’s magazine concluded that an obscenely high percentage of female respondents have cheated on their husbands (I can’t find the link now, will try again later). It was later determined that this conclusion was due to a faulty assumption that the respondents were a random sampling of all women. Unfortunately, they weren’t: a high percentage of angry or dissatisfied women found the time to answer the survey compared to women who were satisfied with their marriage.

The basic premise as to why you’re liable to obtain faulty conclusions from voluntary surveys is that you’re sampling from a non-randomized (and thus non-representative) population. You can’t be certain that all the people who responded a certain way didn’t choose not to respond to the survey, in part because the way they would have responded biased them against responding. For example, if you wear a “Vote Liberal” button and try to conduct a non-partisan exit poll at a polling station, you’re likely to get more Democrats than Republicans opting to stay and tell you who they voted for. Since more Democrats responded than Republicans, you might therefore conclude that Democrats will win the precinct when in fact the majority of folks who voted might have voted Republican and walked right past your pollster. Thus, care must be given to experimental design to try and control for variables of self- and voluntary reporting, and all results have to be taken with a grain of salt (and with a mind for methodology). The fact that there is no error or sample size included in the survey data suggest to me that The Scientist‘s “scientific” survey was decidedly non-scientific.

Take, instead these data compiled from the National Science Foundation, which is based on national survey data collected from (among other sources) the U.S. Department of Education. In short, the data was compiled by some poor intern sitting in a dark, stuffy office inputting data about every doctoral degree awarded in this country — by definition, a representative sampling. I don’t envy that dude’s job, but I do know that we’re not talking about some voluntary. web. survey.

This PDF shows that while females in the sciences still make about $6,000 less in median income than their male counterparts, Asians in the sciences make $5,000 more than the median income for all races in the sciences. This trend holds true across all industries within science and engineering.

Why? Because, compared to virtually all other workforces, Asians are grossly over-represented in the sciences. While Asians are roughly 5% of th national population, we represent more than 17% of scientists, and more than 30% of engineers.

asian-scientists

The problem for Asians in the sciences just isn’t as simple as 80/20 would have us believe. There is no vast (right-wing?) conspiracy to under-pay Asian scientists. 

Rather, the problem for Asians involves underrepresentation of specific Asian ethnic groups. Demographic studies such as those shown above don’t distinguish within Asians: it’s very likely that American-born Asians are underrepresented compared to foreign-born Asians. And some Asians are underrepresented, such as Pacific Islanders, Hmong, and other groups who tend to have reduced access to higher education.

In addition, Asian scientists tend to face workplace discrimination, prejudice and stereotyping that’s difficult to quantify in numbers from national surveys. Because English is the language of science, I’ve often seen an ingrained distaste for Asian accents or a presumption that a person with a foreign name will suffer from an inability to communicate with English-speaking investigators. There’s also a culture gap that Asians in science deal with: Asians are occasionally perceived as less willing to challenge their scientific peers because of our culture of collectivism, which is perceived as a detriment in establishing a forum for scientific debate.

And as with women of other ethnic groups, Asian/Asian American women face difficulties being taken as seriously as their male counterparts, let alone receiving equal wages.

Asian/Asian American scientists also lack access to specific grants, awards, and funding geared towards improving Asian/Asian American participation in science, since most Asians are not able to apply for any funding set aside for underrepresented minorities. What we really need is for 80/20 and other organizations to establish travel grants or small young investigator grants specifically focused on aiding Asian American scientists.

So, 80/20 gets it partially right: Asian/Asian American scientists face discrimination in the workplace. But it’s not due to salary iniquity — it’s about challenging a culture of stereotypes. This stereotyping will not be defeated by a $50 donation to 80/20, but by a collected effort on the part of all Asian Americans to start a national dialogue about the falseness of anti-Asian stereotypes.

And, with all of the money 80/20 rakes in from Asian immigrants hoping for a more equal tomorrow, they should really shell out the money to hire a fact checker and a PR person. I think 80/20’s persistent inaccuracies, not to mention their shoddily written emails (that, thankfully, contain fewer typos and spelling errors now than they have in the past), make one of the more visible Asian American P.A.C.’s look unprofessional and incompetent. If a mere blogger like myself was able to poke a gaping hole in 80/20’s argument regarding discrimination against Asians in science, than what hope does 80/20 have lobbying Washington? And if 80/20 presents such an easily debunked argument to the powers-that-be, how does that do anything but hurt those of us who actually do experience a real, if different, form of discrimination in science? 

Personally, I’m keeping my $50, thank you very much. Besides, it is a significant chunk of my salary and I’d rather use it to buy groceries.

Asians Behaving Badly: Tufts University

(Hat-Tip: Asian Pacific Americans for Progress)

In a way, on-campus student body elections are a telling glimpse into how important political strategists and marketing people are for politics; every fall semester, we get to see just what happens when a bunch of folks try to run their very own campaigns for campus senate/assembly/etc. Twenty, even thirty, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed wannabe politicians (who think being an elected representative will look great on their law school apps) break out the Crayola chalk and colourful Xeroxs to advertise why they deserve your vote for student representative.

I’m no stranger to the whole process. Electroman ran twice for Cornell University’s student assembly. Once, as a freshman representative, he garnered the most votes of anyone in the race (a vote total virtually unheard of at the time, too!) — all with a risque campaign slogan (“Give a Damn!”) a willingness to skip every class he had for two weeks, and an expensive oil-based chalking that remained on the sidewalk long after the votes were cast (courtesy of yours truly). After his first term as a freshman rep, Electroman gained greater notoriety running as an At-Large representative, the hardest race for student reps to win because they couldn’t limit their campaigning to a single college, but to the entire student body (thus they required a greater number of votes in general in order to win). Electroman came in second after a guy named Uzo (there were four At-Large seats total, so Electroman still got elected in)– and let’s face it, it’s pretty hard to win an on-campus race against a guy armed with buckets of chalk whose name is “Uzo”.

Like a microcosm of real world politics, the name of the game for on-campus elections is distinguishing oneself from the pack. “Uzo” had a distinctive name, Electroman had a great campaign slogan, and others performed on-campus stunts like driving around  in a car emblazoned with his name bassing popular hip-hop music as students left class. One guy campaigned on an all-gyro (yes, the Greek food) platform.

And some minority candidates, seduced by the circus of student campaigns, go racial.

Cornell Republican candidates delighted in writing racist articles in the on-campus student newspaper version of Fox News, attacking Cornell’s minority program houses and lambasting African American studies professors. One Asian American candidate capitalized on the popularity of the movie “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and adopted the campaign slogan “Crouching [First Name], Hidden [Last Name]” (which, when put together with her actual name, sounded disturbingly like an advertisement for an all-nude strip club).

And this year, at Tufts University, one freshman Asian American candidate named Alice Pang, in her zeal to be elected to the school’s student Senate, put up posters with the campaign slogan: “Small Person. Big Ideas.”  Next to Pang’s photo, she also wrote “hurrah!”

tufts-posters1

Clearly, Pang is trying to distinguish herself with a play on her status as a vertically challenged person. “She’s little,” says the slogan, “but she’s oh-so-smart!” Sadly, if that’s not an Asian American stereotype, I’m not sure what is. Ms. Pang’s poster manages to conjure up images of the working stiff, brainy Asian model minority, while simultaneously jamming a short joke in there for good measure. To top it all off, she’s got the inexplicable “hurrah!” — which I’m tempted to believe is a reference to the infamous “Yatta!” catch-phrase of Heroes‘ Hiro Nakamura.

So, if I were a politically conscious Asian American, I’d probably be pretty pissed about Pang’s poster. But, I wouldn’t do do what In-Goo Kwak, another freshman at Tufts University, did.  

I’m not sure if Kwak thought Pang’s poster was hysterical or offensive, but he and a couple of his friends made a parody poster that they printed up and posted around campus.

tufts-posters2

Kwak’s “slogan” is “Squinty Eyes. Big Vision.” and instead of “hurrah”, Kwak has written “kimchi!”, a traditional Korean dish. And, rather than include the “Vote on Thursday” information that Pang has below “2013 Senate”, Kwak wrote “Prease vote me! I work reary hard!”, complete with “r/l” slurring.

Okay, first of all, yes this is a clear  parody of Pang, who shouldn’t come out unscathed in this whole fiasco. But, this is an offensive, racist, parody that only adds flame to the fire. Rather than articulate why Pang’s posters play on racial stereotypes of Asian Americans to distinguish Pang from the crowd of students vying for a seat on the Senate, Kwak came up with a deliberately racist poster that he circulated to the entire student community. The poster is funny — if you think that anti-Asian racism is hilarious.

Kwak defended his poster in an article on Inside Higher Ed

“Though this was a satire of [Pang’s] poster, this was not a personal insult in any way,” Kwak said. “I thought it would be funny to satire the oppressive environment of political correctness at Tufts. I think it’s unhealthy that people feel afraid to express their views. One of the Asians on my hall saw the poster and showed it all over campus and eventually the director of the Asian American Center contacted me, but not one of the students who found this offensive contacted me directly. Instead, they had someone else do it.”

[…]

“People are so afraid to talk about this or to express their support of my poster because they’re afraid of getting in trouble with one of the groups on campus,” Kwak said. “And this is happening on a college campus, where people should be comfortable sharing their views. I mean, I was [comfortable]. I put my name on the poster in big letters. There’s this taboo against the discussion of racial issues. I’m not going to be afraid to talk about them, and I’m not going to back down.”

Arguably, Kwak’s explanation is worse than his poster. Rather than to acknowledge the racism of the poster, Kwak takes a line from the playbook of student Republicans. He’s a martyr for the First Amendment, claims Kwak. Because, really, why shouldn’t he be allowed to spout racist bullshit against his own community in Xerox form?

The problem with that argument is that it’s a no-holds-barred red herring. No one is telling Kwak that he can’t put hatespeech up on a hallway. In fact, university campuses remain one of the few environments where students and faculty have relative freedom in exploring and publicizing unpopular ideas. But, while the First Amendment protects a person’s right to spout unpopular speech, it does not protect you from public mockery and condemnation over the content of that speech (or, by extension, the “fear” of being publicly mocked as a result). The First Amendment establishes a marketplace of ideas, not a provision that the least popular (and most hateful) idea be allowed to exist free of criticism.

So, Kwak is no martyr for the First Amendment. His second charge is that his critics are cowards, who are unwilling to confront him on why they think his poster is offensive. Yet, Kwak was apparently unwilling to write an email to Pang, telling her why he thought her posters were worthy of parody; instead, he took the indirect route of mocking Pang publicly rather than to confront her privately and directly. (Kwak now claims he apologized to Pang directly, but Pang hasn’t commented on the whole fiasco, so maybe Kwak is making that up.)

If he wants direct criticism, here’s my direct criticism. The “squinty eyes” reference is a direct reference to the monolid eyes of Asians, and has been used countless times in schoolyard fights to denigrate Asian American children. Miley Cyrus, one of the Jonas Brothers, and even two entire sports teams, has been put on-notice by the Asian American community for mocking the so-called Asian “squinty eye” — so turning the “squinty eye” thing into a joke made by an Asian American against an Asian American not only conjures up painful memories of racism that many Asian Americans faced as children, but also appears to validate the “squinty eye” slur by making a public demonstration that an Asian American does it and finds it funny.

Secondly,  I only presume that Pang’s inclusion of “hurrah!” is a veiled reference to Heroes and “yatta!”. But for all I know, maybe Pang’s favourite word is “hurrah!”. Maybe her middle name is “hurrah!”. Maybe she’s got warm, fuzzy memories of her mother rocking her to sleep with lullabies where every lyric  was replaced with “hurrah” and now this word encapsulates Pang’s entire reason for being. Who knows, and bottom line, who really cares?

Kwak includes “kimchi!” as his random word. Not “toast!”. Not “winnebago!”. Not “scissors!” nor “venison!” nor “minestrone!” nor some other non-racialized word. No, Kwak chose to use “kimchi!” — a food that has clear references to Asian culture, and as a further emphasis that the poster is designed to mock Asian-ness as much as it is designed to mock Pang. And finally, Kwak uses the “r/l” slurring which makes the poster a clear insult towards Asians by using a joke that has been employed ad infinitum against Asian/Asian American people. What racist comedian and wannabe morning shock jock hasn’t honed their “r/l” slurring as the basis for a sketch where the punchline is how weird Asian Americans are?

There’s been a series of responses from Tufts on the whole fiasco. The on-campus Asian American student group organized a group discussion on Postergate, while Linell Yunagawa, director of the Asian American Center, released a statement by email to the student body:

“Many Asian/Asian Americans and individuals of other racial backgrounds have been angered, hurt, and offended by these posters,” Yugawa wrote in a letter co-signed by directors of other groups at the university, such as the Latino Center and the LGBT Center. “The posters not only mocked an authorized campaign poster, but used negative and racist stereotypes that correlate with the discrimination and dehumanization of Asians. These posters go beyond affecting one individual or group, but offend all who have an understanding of how racist stereotypes impact our lives.

“Some may argue that we need to ‘lighten up’ and/or ‘reclaim’ the stereotypes and words that have harmed us and our communities. While it is one thing to mutually engage in this type of conversation, it is another to post stereotypical and racist language that is open to interpretation and hurtful to many. We cannot truly know how the content of these posters have triggered members of the Tufts community.”

I’m squarely in the “this shit is racist” camp. And, while I don’t expect that Kwak is going to receive any sort of formal action for his racism (nor am I certain that it would be appropriate), Kwak is being soundly denounced around the Asian American blogosphere for his apparent enjoyment in playing the anti-Asian minstrel for the non-Asian student body of Tufts University. In effect, Mr. Kwak’s only punishment is being called a moron publicly and by total strangers, in a far more extreme and expansive form than he perpetrated against Ms. Pang. And I think that’s punishment enough. The Asian American community should not be tolerant of anti-Asian hatespeech, whether emerging from within or outside the community; and while Kwak is free to say whatever the hell he feels like, I hope he understands that he will not be protected from looking like a jackass for spouting jackassery.

And Mr. Kwak, my friend, right now you look like a jackass.

International Non-Violence Day

Today is the anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday, and is marked by International Non-Violence Day. Today is a day for remembering the lives lost in social oppression and violence, and a day to appeal to the better nature in all of us. Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence as a method for resistance and uprising inspired political leaders around the world, including Martin Luther King, Jr.

Yet, International Non-Violence Day falls this year during a time when America is still fighting wars in the Middle East. More than 5,000 troops have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. At home, men and women still suffer and die every day due to social injustice: the sick are denied life-saving healthcare while politicians quibble in Washington, inner-city children don’t have access to adequate public education, and people of colour are shot to death by those who are sworn to protect us.

The anger I feel at these injustices challenge the principles of non-violence; yet it is imperative that the anger that would tempt us away from non-violence be used to funnel political activists towards effective, and yes peaceful, action. I think what that action is can differ for everybody. However small the act, a protest is still a protest: the important thing is that one acts, and does not remain passive. For me, this blog is my protest — sparking discussion, I believe, can overthrow a system of inequity by helping raise awareness and stir political activism.

President Obama released a statement today about Gandhi’s influence on modern world history:

THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 1, 2009

Statement by President Obama on
Mahatma Gandhi’s Birth Anniversary

On behalf of the American people, I want to express appreciation for the life and lessons of Mahatma Gandhi on the anniversary of his birth. This is an important moment to reflect on his message of non-violence, which continues to inspire people and political movements across the globe.

We join the people of India in celebrating this great soul who lived a life dedicated to the cause of advancing justice, showing tolerance to all, and creating change through non-violent resistance. Americans owe an enormous measure of gratitude to the Mahatma. His teachings and ideals, shared with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on his 1959 pilgrimage to India, transformed American society through our civil rights movement. The America of today has its roots in the India of Mahatma Gandhi and the nonviolent social action movement for Indian independence which he led. Tomorrow, as we remember the Mahatma on his birthday, we must renew our commitment to live his ideals and to celebrate the dignity of all human beings.

###

What are you doing to end social injustice, today?

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Bao Phi on Race, Violence, and Police Brutality

Hat-tip: Racialicious

Bao Phi writes about the little-known stories of victims of police brutality. Here’s an excerpt:

We all have our fears.  Some of these fears are consciously and subconsciously taught to us by society, some of them may be reinforced by personal experience. And these fears are absolutely impacted by race, gender, class, sexual orientation.  Those of us who are people of color, women, from poor and GLBTT communities have the added fear that if we are victimized by violence, we will be harmed more than helped by law enforcement and the criminal justice system.

Take the case of Michael Cho, a 25 year-old artist who was shot 10 times and killed by two La Habra police who claimed he was unresponsive to their demands and was threatening them with a tire iron.  However, Michael Cho was physically disabled and found it difficult to walk quickly, let alone threaten two police officers.

Or Marlo and Romel Custodio, who were shot with tasers and beaten by 8 San Jose police officers for allegedly possessing less than half an once of marijuana, and who were cooperating with their arrest.  They managed to call their 50 year-old mother, Marilou Alvarado Custodio, who was violently restrained when she arrived on the scene, her head repeatedly banged into a squad car’s door.

And “The Quincy 4,” young Asian American activists who were brutalized by Boston police as they returned from an engagement party.  They were talking to a state trooper in the parking lot of a supermarket when a police squad car rolled up and without warning they were pepper-sprayed and attacked.  One of the victims, a young woman named Karen Chen who is just above 5 feet tall, was tackled and beaten by three male police officers, giving her a black eye and numerous bruises.  Not only were the police officers unpunished, they filed false charges of resisting arrest and disorderly conduct, of which a Boston judge found them guilty and sent one of these young people, who had done no wrong, to prison.

Unfortunately, we don’t have to look far for incidents involving police brutality.

Read the full column here: Fong Lee, and Violence

Act Now! Bao Phi, along with other artists and poets, are putting on a fund-raising performance for the family of Fong Lee, a Hmong-American boy who was shot and killed by a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Proceeds from the performance will go towards legal costs for the Lee family. Here are the details:

UP IN ARMS: A Night of Hip Hop and Spoken Word to Honor Fong Lee and End Police Brutality

Saturday, October 3rd, 8 p.m. (doors at 7:30)
Kagin Commons at Macalester College
1600 Grand Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55105

Featuring performances by Magnetic North (NY), Nomi of Power Struggle (Bay Area), Michelle Myers of Yellow Rage (Philadelphia), Maria Isa, Blackbird Elements, Guante, Rodrigo Sanchez-Chavarria, e.g. bailey, Tou SaiKo Lee with PosNoSys, True Mutiny, Shá Cage, Kevin Xiong with Pada Lor, Tish Jones, Maipacher, Logan Moua, Bobby Wilson, Poetic Assassins, Hilltribe, and special guests. Tou Ger Xiong and Amy Hang will emcee and DJ Nak will be on the one’s and two’s.

$5-$10 suggested donation.  All proceeds go towards legal costs for the Family of Fong Lee.