Figure 1. Demographic composition of the United States (2003 estimate).
Source: Based on tabular data in World Factbook, 2007 (no separate listing is maintained for Hispanics).
From a strictly percentage perspective, it would seem that Asian-Americans do not represent much of a threat at all to mainstream American society, but these mere numbers do not tell the whole story of course. For one thing, Asian-Americans are one of the most diverse and fastest growing groups in the United States today (Hong, Kim & Wolfe, 2005). According to Alvarez and Kimura (2001), studies have documented time and again that, consistent with their historical treatment, Asian-Americans continue to be the targets of racially motivated property vandalism, verbal harassment, theft, physical assaults, and in some instances, homicide; furthermore, other studies have confirmed that a persistent pattern driving anti-Asian violence is the perception of Asian-Americans as foreigners who present an economic, academic, social, and/or cultural threat to the mainstream white majority (Alvarez & Kimura, 2001).
While Sue had not been the victim of any such violent encounter, some of her friends had told her about such experiences and this always concerned her that she might become a victim in the future as well. In fact, these numbers might be even higher because the analysis of the incidence of violence against Asian-Americans is complicated by a number of factors, not the least of which is the manner in which crimes involving them are categorized. For example, Moran (2003) reports that, "In the prototypical image of a hate crime, for example, the victim is attacked by a stranger based on hatred for a social group, the violence is extreme, and the perpetrator gains little of material value as a result. This prototype hampers efforts to define victimization more broadly, for instance, by acknowledging that some bias crimes are opportunistic" (p. 2365). Therefore, violent crimes committed against Asian-Americans may not be identified as a hate crime, even if the criminal involved elects to steal from Asian-Americans rather than whites out of racial antipathy (Moran, 2003).
The research shows that Asian-Americans continue to experience the adverse effects of widespread discrimination as Sue has encountered at Flexco, but these practices may not be well identified or discernible without citing some specific examples and trends concerning where and how these practices play out in other workplace settings across the country today. Based on the types of experiences encountered by Sue at Flexco, Asian-Americans have become increasingly vocal in their demands for equitable treatment in the American workplace. For example, in her study, "Comparing the Voting Participation of Chinese to Other Asian-Americans in Recent U.S. Elections," Lien (2003) reports that in spite of popular images of political complacency and apathy on the part of many Asian-Americans, Chinese-Americans in particular have a long history of participation in the American political process, and for good reason: "In addition to formal participation in elections, they have participated through indirect means such as lobbying, litigation, petitioning, protesting, boycotting, civil disobedience, contacting public officials and the media, and contributing to political campaigns," the author advises (Lien, 2003, p. 1). The compelling reasons behind these heightened levels of political activism have been "rampant legal, political, economic, and social discrimination on the domestic front as well as concerns for the people and welfare of the overseas homeland" (Lien, 2003, p. 1).
Being a "stranger in a strange land" is not without its joys and excitement, but as Sue learned the hard way, it can carry with it some profound implications when culture shock and repeated encounters with discriminatory practices are the norm. Many Asian-Americans, for example, may or may not embrace the individualistic cultural values that are characteristics of American culture (Chan & Henderson, 2005). The manner in which Asian-Americans respond to discriminatory practices may be gauged in part through development processes that are akin to Freud and other developmental psychologists that use stages to describe how people progress through the human condition in another country. For example, citing Helm's 1995 study, "An update on Helms's white and people of color racial identity models," Alvarez and his associates provide five so-called "ego statuses" that are typically employed by minority members in the United States to develop a healthy racial identity:
Conformity, characterized by a trivialization of race as well as a denigration of Asian-Americans and an idealization of whites and white culture;
Dissonance, defined by a sense of confusion or ambivalence about race;
Immersion-Emersion, characterized by a dualistic racial worldview involving an idealization of Asian-Americans and Asian culture;
denigration of whites and white culture; and,
Internalization, defined by a selective re-appraisal of Asian and white Americans and their respective cultures (Alvarez et al., 2001).
From a theoretical perceptive, the authors suggest that each status of identity is characterized by qualitatively unique affective, cognitive, and behavioral reactions to race and racism (Alvarez et al., 2001). Furthermore, the studies of values acculturation/enculturation (i.e., acculturation and enculturation along the cultural values dimension) to date indicate that Asian-Americans that are further removed from immigration (for example, sixth-generation Asian-Americans) will tend to subscribe to European-American cultural values more closely than will Asian-Americans that are recent immigrants (Hong et al., 2005). By contrast, Asian-Americans that are closer to immigration will subscribe to Asian cultural values more strongly than their counterparts who are many generations removed from immigration; these studies also suggest that adherence to these values influences the ways in which Asian-Americans behave, including how they manifest their psychological problems, express their emotions, and seek psychological help (Hong et al., 2005).
In addition, there are some important different constructs of the self between mainstream Americans and Asian-Americans that represent the basis for an understanding of the differences between their respective individualistic and collectivistic cultures. In this regard, Chan and Henderson (2005) define individualism as "the subordination of the goals of the collectivities to individual goals, and a sense of independence and lack of concern for others" (p. 180). By contrast, the authors define collectivism as:
grouping of a diverse array of beliefs and behaviors that fall under seven categories: Consideration of implications (costs and benefits) of one's own decisions and/or actions for other people, sharing of material resources, sharing of nonmaterial resources, susceptibility to social influence, self-presentation and lacework, sharing of outcomes, feeling of involvement in others' lives. (Chan & Henderson, 2005, p. 180)
These concepts mean that although everyone is of course unique, there are some fundamental differences between Asian-Americans and mainstream American concerning temporality, aesthetics, the need to belong to a group and how a person feels about subjugating one's one interests for the greater good that must be taken into account when searching for clues as to why people act the way they do or respond differently to the same motivational initiatives in the workplace. For example, as Ino, Sue and Sue (1990) emphasize, "Deference, the suppression of self-assertion, and passivity are thought to stem from cultural norms and values that emphasize the need for self-control, inhibition of strong feelings, attention to the reactions of others, modesty, respect for authority, and a family or group rather than individual orientation" (p. 156). Not surprisingly, in their study of passivity and self-assertiveness among Chinese-American women, these authors found that, "Chinese-American women behaved as assertively as their Caucasian counterparts" (Ino et al., 1990, p. 160).
Indeed, these different worldviews suggest that people from different cultures simply think about things differently but they can certainly feel the same way about the same things nevertheless. In other words, it is possible for someone from one culture to experience the same events as someone from a different culture and perceive the events is a significantly different fashion, with different responses called for because of these different worldviews, but with a common reaction to the events themselves. It is reasonable to assert that almost everyone finds certain things repugnant, but what should be done about the situation may differ from culture to culture.
When people react in a knee-jerk fashion to preconceptions and stereotypes about others, then, discrimination can take place without any conscious effort being made to do so by the perpetrator. In this regard, Covey emphasizes that, "Discrimination exists in large measure out of concern for self-preservation of identity and comfort. For example, I know what it is like to be female, Caucasian, Irish, Catholic, and able-bodied. I have no idea what it is like to be male or Afro-American or Chinese or Islamic or a wheelchair user" (p. 84). This, of course, does not mean that one person is absolutely right and the other is absolutely wrong when considering the same events and interpreting them differently (far from it); it does mean, though, that in an increasingly multicultural society, people who ignore these fundamental differences do so at their peril.
Unfortunately, there remains a glaring dearth of timely studies on the how different cultures perceive the same circumstances and this type of research is especially needed today because of the rising incidence of discrimination against Asian-Americans in general and Chinese-Americans in particular. The extant studies…