Category Archives: Discourse

Published: “The Misuse of Asian Americans in the Affirmative Action Debate”

I have a short essay called “The Misuse of Asian Americans in the Affirmative Action Depate” just out in the UCLA Law Review Discourse — the online companion to the UCLA Law Review — about the way opponents of affirmative action have attempted to leverage Asian American identity and experience in support of their position. Of course, some Asian Americans do oppose affirmative action, as is to be expected in a large and very heterogeneous community, but the larger point of my essay is that the claim that “Asian Americans” are “harmed” by affirmative action is not supported.

Khaled Beydoun on Reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in Arabic

Khaled Beydoun (Barry) has a thoughtful analysis of the controversy over reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in Arabic. He traces the reaction to Islamophobia; it’s highly recommended reading.

I interviewed Khaled for Episode 4 of The RightsCast, “Legal Construction of Arab American Identity,” during which we touched on some of the same themes relating to discrimination against Arab Americans. Watch here:

Selected to the 2014 ABA Blawg 100

I’m pleased to announce that this blog — which is still less than a year old — has been selected to the ABA Blawg 100. The 100 selected blogs are now competing against one another in 13 categories. Mine is in the “Prof” division. If you’re so inclined, please check out the full list of 100 blogs and consider voting for me.

If you’re new to this blog and made your way here from the ABA Journal site, here are a few posts from the past year that, I think, collectively capture what my blog is about:

Labels, or, Why It is Not Helpful to Call Someone a Racist

In both the media and public discourse, the question of whether a particular public figure “is a racist” is an extremely common one. Is Justin Bieber a racist? Is Donald Sterling a racist? Is George W. Bush a racist? Is Barack Obama a racist? Is Paula Deen a racist? Is Cliven Bundy a racist? Is George Zimmerman a racist? Is Miley Cyrus a racist?

For several reasons, I do not think this is a helpful question.

One reason is that — in at least one sense of the term — pretty much everyone is a racist. By this I mean that, inadvertently or otherwise, people often treat other people differently because of race. Consider a few examples of research from the past few months. One study found that law firm partners who were asked to evaluate a writing sample gave it significantly higher ratings when they thought the author was white than when they thought the author was black, even though the resume attached to the writing sample was identical in both instances. Another study of 6500 professors at 259 different colleges and universities found that professors respond more frequently and more positively to requests for mentorship from male students with white-sounding names than they do to identically-phrased requests from female students and students with non-white-identified names. Still another study found that twice as many drivers failed to yield for black pedestrians at crosswalks versus white pedestrians, and that black pedestrians waited on average 1/3 longer to cross the street at crosswalks.

Again, these are just a few examples from the past few months. I could list literally thousands more, but I won’t because this is a blog post. And while some people might devote effort to poking holes in any individual study, at some point the most straightforward explanation — Occam’s razor, if you will — is simply that implicit racial bias exists and that it affects most, and perhaps all, people in at least some situations. Continue reading

Editorial Discretion and Private Lives

Recent events have caused me to think about the ethics of editorial discretion. In particular, how should authors, editors, and publishers take into account the harm caused by publicizing information about other people’s private lives?

Over the weekend, an online magazine made a very poor editorial choice. A writer for the magazine wrote a piece about the proper use of the term “bro.” The piece included the sentence: “And I just don’t think the diminutive label of ‘bro’ should be to describe more insidious sexism, let alone violent aggression like rape threats.” The words “rape threats” were hyperlinked to a single tweet by a female journalist.* The tweet was addressed directly to another person on Twitter, in which the journalist had used a variant of the word “bro” in briefly alluding to rape threats she had received. (For non-Twitter-users: when a tweet begins with the “@” symbol and the username of another person on Twitter, only the sender and recipient of the tweet, and any people who happen to follow both users, will see the tweet. Other people can then find the tweet, which is technically public, but doing so requires a specific search.)

When the magazine published the piece, the female journalist objected, understandably, on several grounds: (1) the piece suggested that she had talked about her own rape threats the “wrong way”; (2) the piece gratuitously drew attention to those rape threats in a way that would likely provoke more threats; (3) the piece alluded to her rape threats casually, like any other material that might be thrown into a piece to make a point; and (4) the piece made an example of something that she had chosen to keep mostly private and that was undoubtedly disturbing to her. Continue reading

Men and Empathy

A complex and important dialogue has emerged in the wake of the UCSB shootings, including the #YesAllWomen hashtag on Twitter. I have many thoughts on the hashtag and the issues to which it gives voice. Today I wanted to focus briefly on a narrow issue: why I think that men who speak out against sexism and misogyny are valuable and important allies, and why men who sit silent are part of the problem.

Men who speak out on these issues deserve credit for their willingness to stand up for something that they haven’t directly experienced and that doesn’t directly benefit them. (I say not directly because I believe that a society in which men and women are equal is a better society for everyone, but that benefit is not an immediate one.) My point isn’t that men deserve special praise for vocally supporting gender equality. Everyone should support gender equality as a matter of principle. My point is a somewhat different one: that empathy is difficult no matter who you are and with whom you’re empathizing. It’s hard to understand what it’s like to be a woman if you’re not a woman. It’s hard to understand what it’s like to be gay if you’re not gay. It’s hard to understand what it’s like to have a particular disability if you don’t have that disability. Empathy is hard work, and men who undertake that work — and then undertake the further work of speaking out against sexism and misogyny — should be commended. Continue reading