The Links between Skin Tone and Self-Esteem

Gordon Parks' American Gothic. Portrait of gov...

Gordon Parks’ American Gothic. Portrait of government cleaning woman Ella Watson. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Mikaella Hahn

As I was reading Verna Keith’s “A Colorstruck World: Skin Tone, Achievement, and Self-Esteem among African American Women,” I started to wonder if myself as a Korean American being able to distinguish amongst Asians is similar to what was mentioned regarding African Americans being more sensitive to different shades of among African Americans—a distinction that is not significant to the dominant majority.

Well frankly, a Korean person would be insulted if they were asked whether they were Chinese. To the dominant majority in America (which is white), these distinctions probably do not matter, because the main distinction to the majority is whether the person is White or Asian. In general the dominant group doesn’t realize the importance of intra-differentiation is to the minority groups. They don’t have to be able to differentiate, so they don’t learn to, and this contributes to the continued frustration of minority groups in America.

My initial thought after reading the first paragraph was that, self-esteem of African Americans would be low when living in white dominant society due to the discrimination against them, however as opposed to my first thought, the reading revealed that African Americans rather tend to have lower self-esteem when they are living in black dominant society than living in white predominant society. The evidence from this paper provides that the light skin African Americans get better education with better job prospects with higher income.

According to the way I was educated about racism, the inherited, unacknowledged racism in a white dominant society is what I thought would lead to lower self-esteem for African Americans. To live in a society where the color black is associated with something negative, and to be portrayed as harmful to the society by media, it seems to me that people colloquially called “black” would evaluate themselves more poorly. Watching a number of videos about both white and black children favoring white dolls only reinforced my belief.

However the author says this is not the case because after the 1960s’ and 1970s’ racial activism inspired young African Americans to appreciate their natural beauty, which led them to have higher self-esteem.

On the other hand, after the hardships that African Americans have faced, it is hard for me to believe that this movement would do such widespread affect in such a short term. Compounding my disbelief is the number of empirically unproven theories presented by the author. Thus, while this chapter provided stimulating claims, it should be read with other evidence-based papers.

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Thai-isation: Removal of Chinese traces in Thailand

Anonymous student post

Although it is stepping back a few weeks, I would like to look at the assimilation of ethnic Chinese in Thailand. I think it is an important case to consider as it generally accepted that Thailand has successfully overcome the difficulties of incorporating the Chinese into the Thai national identity. Balasegaram (2001) writes of how “integration … of the community has been the greatest in Thailand and Philippines”.

To begin, we have covered the theoretical approaches to assimilation and segmented assimilation, which have been generally centred around Milton Gordon‘s “Seven Stages of Assimilation” as a linear process, in one way or another. For example, Alba and Nee (1997)

Garuda as national symbol of Thailand

Garuda as national symbol of Thailand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

presented highly influential work concerning the “causal mechanisms” that generate assimilation, but this all still lays on the foundations that Gordon laid out. Some have called for a fresh direction of assimilation, not by completely rejecting Gordon’s initial work, but argue that it is outdated in current circumstances, at least in the United States that is. Moon-Kie Jung (2010) offers that we should move away from “assimilation” and instead give greater attention to the “politics of national belonging”.

We have additionally looked at the effects of the assimilated or semi-assimilated, both first and second generation, such as their progression in the educational institutions, the workplace and society’s acceptance at large, including self-identity. From this, I became curious in how assimilation, or attempted assimilation, takes place at the policy-making level. Prof. Moorehead’s link regarding Amy Chua‘s most recent work, The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America (2014), reminded me of a particularly outstanding chapter in her 2003 book, World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability, which is titled “Mixing Blood: Assimilation, Globalization, and the Case of Thailand”.

Chua notes that Thailand’s population of ethnic Chinese stands at 10% of the Thai population, but the Chinese are practically invisible following years of assimilation. A closer look however reveals that the “ethnic Chinese” in Thailand account for a “wildly disproportionately wealthy, market dominant … minority” (Chua 2004:179). According to Chua, they dominate the largest banks and conglomerates and “all of Thailand’s billionaires are ethnic Chinese”. Yet, there is a distinct lack of resentment. Intermarriage is much higher compared to surrounding countries, such as Indonesia and Malaysia. So how did this come to be?

Chua answers this question quite simply; “through decades of coerced assimilation” (p. 180). Following immigration from China to Thailand in the 19th century, Thailand began to take a nationalist stance against the Chinese, and it was in fact King Rama VI of Thailand that coined the term “Jews of the East” due to their economic dominance. The Thai government‘s solution to this issue took the form of what we can call “Thai-isation”, through a “systematic and ruthless campaign” (p. 183). Chinese schools in Thailand initially faced severe restrictions, and then were closed down. Chinese books were banned, as were newspapers and social organisations. Thai dress was enforced, Chinese industries were nationalised, remittance of money to China was criminalised and harassment ensued for anyone still showing signs of “Chineseness”. Those with a Chinese surname began changing their names to be more “Thai”, but as one of Chua’s students notes: “You can tell who the Chinese are because they’re the ones with the longest last names. That’s because they felt that had to “out-Thai” the Thai and because the Chinese weren’t allowed to take on a Thai surnames that already existed” (p. 184).

These events clearly show a more extreme angle of assimilation from a state-level. The repression of the Chinese in attempt to erase a minority’s dominance has only really made the issue cloudy and obscures a great deal. I wonder now to what level other national governments have gone to in order to try and create a more “harmonious” society. Japan? Britain? Australia? Have they followed routes like Thailand in the past, and do they today present a more politics of belonging approach?

References

Alba, R. and Nee, V. (1997). Rethinking Assimilation Theory for a New Era of Immigration, International Migration Review, Vol. 31, No. 4, pp. 826-874.

Balasegaram, M. (2001). ‘Analysis: South-East Asia’s Chinese’, BBC News, 29 August 2001. Retrieved from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/1514916.stm on 22 June 2014.

Chua, A. (2004). World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability. London: Arrow Books.

Jung, M, K. (2009). The Racial Unconscious of Assimilation Theory, Du Bois Review, Vol. 6, No. 2, pp. 375-395.

A counter-narrative to the Chinese exclusion policies of the US

English: Racist US political cartoon: Uncle Sa...

Racist US political cartoon: Uncle Sam kicks out the Chinaman, referring to the Chinese exclusion act. image published in 19th century (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anonymous student post

During the late nineteenth century, immigration to the United States from East Asia, particularly China, saw a massive influx, much to the surprise and eventual dismay to the American white population. For a population that were also inherently immigrants, built on the foundations of native population extermination before and after independence from the British, their indignation could be seen as quite hypocritical and in some sense, ironic. At the time, the Chinese were seen as a threat to ordinary, hard-working US citizens and “overlapped with domestic fears about American race, class, and gender relations and helped fan the fires of organized anti-Chinese sentiment … Chinese workers were blamed for competing unfairly with white workers. Chinese as a race were charged with being inassimilable, inferior, and immoral” (Lee, 2007, pp. 546-547).

Different states had different laws regarding the Chinese, and it is important to realise that at this time racism was rife in the country with the black population facing the brunt. In 1854, the State of California recategorised the Chinese to the same level as black and Native Americans, which meant that they did not have the right to testify against a white man in a court of law (Bancroft, 2005). In 1882, the infamous Chinese Exclusion Act was passed, country-wide, which severely prohibited the movement of Chinese citizens to the US, a law which was only repealed in 1943.

As all this went on in the foreground, there was other events taking place in the background. Seemingly at odds with the official stance of the US being “anti-Chinese”, there was however a few openings on the education front. Hsu (2014), in her work on educational exchange during this period of exclusionary policies, highlights what she calls a “counter-narrative” (p. 315) to the prevailing view of this time. She writes that “… even in the depths of restrictive fervor, Chinese students—seen as a leadership class that eventually shaped the future of modern China—were not only welcomed in the United States, but funded and protected by powerful American and Chinese interests”.

English: Editorial cartoon showing a Chinese m...

Editorial cartoon showing a Chinese man being excluded from entry to the “Golden Gate of Liberty.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Previous historical circumstances had made China wary of foreign influence, encapsulated by the “Boxer Rebellion”, a strong backlash against western Christian missionaries and foreigners in general. (At the time, China was the predominant country for US missionary work). In the Qing dynasty, there were worries that students sent abroad would become “denationalized” and China would see no benefit (Hsu, 2014, p. 319). Through the creation of the China Institute, however, the US saw a climb in foreign students from China, as well as an acceptance that China would face an inevitable decline if they did not attempt to familiarise themselves with Western education. Even during the height of exclusion, Chinese students made “were among the most numerous of foreign students on U.S. campuses” and such a exchange managed to persuade “Americans not only to invest in positive experiences of the United States for Chinese, but also to rethink racialist ideologies of exclusion against Asians.” (Hsu, 2014, p. 322). In essence, student exchange helped to counter-balance xenophobic attitudes towards China.

The Cold War threatened to undo most of these relations, however, with a communist China considered a threat. Plus that to today, with increasingly paranoid US afraid of losing their Number 1 status, economically and politically, could there be similar sentiments rising? This video echoes of the late nineteenth century. And the US currently operate an anti-Chinese exclusion policy for NASA, and do not forget the Huawei “national security concerns” story. Will more Chinese students studying in the US help to ease tensions, or have times changed too much?

References

Bancroft. (2005). ‘Anti-Chinese Movement and Chinese Exclusion’, Bancroft Library, The Regents of University of California. Retrieved from http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/collections/chineseinca/antichinese.html on 8 June 2014.

Hsu, M, Y. (2014). Chinese and American Collaborations through Educational Exchange during the Era of Exclusion, 1872–1955, Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 83, No 2, pp. 314-332. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/phr.2014.83.2.314 on 8 June 2014.

Lee, E. (2007). The “Yellow Peril” and Asian Exclusion in the Americas, Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 76, No. 4, pp. 537-562. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/phr.2007.76.4.537 on 8 June 2014.