Soh: Attacks on Asian-Americans reveal a strange racial double standard

While I agree that having heirarchies–ethnic, racial, religious etc–are unhelpful, my sense of Canadian media coverage is that anti-Asian attacks have received extensive and appropriate coverage as race-based attacks.

Not sure why the Globe would publish an op-ed focussed on the US without mentioning similarities and differences with Canada. :

The surveillance-camera video is horrifying to watch. In broad daylight, Vicha Ratanapakdee, an 84-year-old Thai man, was slammed to the ground while on a morning walk in San Francisco; he never regained consciousness. In Oakland, a man attacked a 91-year-old man, a 60-year-old man, and a 55-year-old woman in Chinatown. Nearly two dozen violent incidents in the area have been recorded in recent weeks.

These incidents are just part of a recent and unfortunate trend, particularly during the Lunar New Year. In a Pew Research Center study conducted last July, about 30 per cent of Asian-American adults said they have experienced discrimination because of their ethnicity or race since the pandemic began.

Former U.S. president Donald Trump’s rhetoric has been blamed for stoking anti-Chinese resentment. He repeatedly referenced the “China virus,” the “China plague” and the “Kung Flu” while in office, holding the country responsible for the pandemic.

And yet, as these crimes continue, there has been a failure to see these attacks as racially motivated. Mr. Ratanapakdee’s homicide, for instance, is not being prosecuted as a hate crime. It wasn’t until Hollywood actors spoke up that media attention was drawn to these incidents, with Daniel Wu and Daniel Dae Kim offering a US$25,000 reward for information. That led to the arrest of 28-year-old Yahya Muslim, who is not facing hate-crime charges.

Being level-headed about emotional subjects is never a bad approach, as it prevents us from jumping to conclusions about unclear events or any legal concerns. But in this case, what is the likelihood that multiple victims, targeted randomly, just happened to all be Asian? If an alarmingly high number of people belonging to another visible-minority group had been violently assaulted and murdered, would anyone doubt that the attacks were racially motivated?

It feels like a double standard. And it can feel, broadly speaking, as if racism against Asians is not taken as seriously as racism against other groups. Take, for example, a job listing posted by a Bay Area tech company recently, which explicitly sought “non-Asian” applicants. Or consider the debate on affirmative action sparked most recently by the case of Students for Fair Admissions versus Harvard; in 2019, a federal judge ruled against Asian-American applicants who believed they had been systematically discriminated against by university admissions officials, and who sought a race-neutral process.

That’s where it can feel like obsessions with race are erecting a bizarre racial hierarchy – one in which apparently only white perpetrators can commit racist or hateful acts, and one where discrimination against certain groups counts less or hurts less than discrimination against others.

Because the general economic success of Asian diasporic communities in Canada and the U.S. is dissonant with the narrative that societal white privilege limits and is hostile to visible minorities, we are too often stripped of any progressive clout afforded to “people of colour.” In the eyes of some, we are being recategorized as “white.” From this ideological view – one I disagree with – it isn’t possible to be racist toward white people.

Further complicating this lack of logic is the history of strained relationsbetween Asian and Black communities in the U.S., most notably between protesters and Korean business owners in the Rodney King riots. Asian-Americans have been long held up as an example of successful assimilation, and by doing so, they become used to dismiss the genuine concerns of Black Americans, pitting one group against another.

But protecting racial groups is not a zero-sum game; ensuring the safety of one does not need to come at the expense of another. We can identify racist acts while advocating that they should not be used to justify retaliatory harassment or prejudice against others.

Since the start of the pandemic, I’ve been asked whether I think claims of Sinophobia have been overblown to forward an agenda of race-baiting. In short: No. Because I am often mistaken as having a different Asian ethnicity, it’s been amusing and sad to see what some will say in my presence, only to furiously backpedal their opinions once I tell them that I’m a Canadian of Malaysian-Chinese descent.

For those who remain skeptical, I’d ask how they would feel if people who shared their racial ancestry were being violently targeted and terrorized, and then made to feel that their concerns weren’t legitimate, especially during a time of the year that would normally be celebratory. Acknowledging where the coronavirus originated can be done without blaming or discriminating more widely against people of Asian descent.


We’ve studied gender and STEM for 25 years. The science doesn’t support the Google memo. – Recode

Of all the commentary written about Google’s firing of James Damore, this long read and assessment of the science and evidence appears to me the most comprehensive and convincing one given the range of studies cited.

Most of the op-ed type commentaries – Jon Kay’s The Google Manifesto contained truths that we can’t say, Debra Soh’s No, the Google manifesto isn’t sexist or anti-diversity. It’s science, David Brooks’ somewhat hysterical Sundar Pichai Should Resign as Google’s C.E.O. – tend to be overly simplistic and selective in their presentation of the issues involved.

I am also less than convinced by free speech arguments, perhaps reflecting my time in government where it was clear that any public comment should not undermine, or appear to undermine, the government. While the rules may not be so ironclad in other organizations, employees in all organizations need to be mindful of the impact of their public commentary on the overall reputation, image and policies of their employer.

For the account of the Google board deliberations, see How CEO Sundar Pichai made the decision to fire James Damore was just as hard as Google’s all-hands meeting today will be which highlights the superficialiity of Brook’s piece in particular:

James Damore, 28, questioned the company’s diversity policies and claimed that scientific data backed up his assertions. Google CEO Sundar Pichai wrote that Damore’s 3,300-word manifesto crossed the line by “advancing harmful gender stereotypes” in the workplace. Pichai noted that “To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK.”

Damore argued that many men in the company agreed with his sentiments. That’s not surprising, since the idea that women just can’t hack it in math and science has been around for a very long time. It has been argued that women’s lack of a “math gene,” their brain structures, and their inherent psychological traits put most of them out of the game.

Some critics sided with Damore. For example, columnist Ross Douthat of The New York Times found his scientific arguments intriguing.

But are they? What are the real facts? We have been researching issues of gender and STEM (science, technology engineering and math) for more than 25 years. We can say flatly that there is no evidence that women’s biology makes them incapable of performing at the highest levels in any STEM fields.

Many reputable scientific authorities have weighed in on this question, including a major paper in the journal Science debunking the idea that the brains of males and females are so different that they should be educated in single-sex classrooms. The paper was written by eight prominent neuroscientists, headed by professor Diane Halpern of Claremont McKenna College, past president of the American Psychological Association. They argue that “There is no well-designed research showing that single-sex education improves students’ academic performance, but there is evidence that sex segregation increases gender stereotyping and legitimizes institutional sexism.”

They add, “Neuroscientists have found few sex differences in children’s brains beyond the larger volume of boys’ brains and the earlier completion of girls’ brain growth, neither of which is known to relate to learning.”

Several major books have debunked the idea of important brain differences between the sexes. Lise Eliot, associate professor in the Department of Neuroscience at the Chicago Medical School, did an exhaustive review of the scientific literature on human brains from birth to adolescence. She concluded, in her book, “Pink Brain, Blue Brain,” that there is “surprisingly little solid evidence of sex differences in children’s brains.”

Rebecca Jordan-Young, a sociomedical scientist and professor at Barnard College, also rejects the notion that there are pink and blue brains, and that the differing organization of female and male brains is the key to behavior. In her book “Brain Storm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Differences,” she says that this narrative misunderstands the complexities of biology and the dynamic nature of brain development.

And happily, the widely held belief that boys are naturally better than girls at math and science is unraveling among serious scientists. Evidence is mounting that girls are every bit as competent as boys in these areas. Psychology professor Janet Hyde of the University of Wisconsin–Madison has strong U. S. data showing no meaningful differences in math performance among more than seven million boys and girls in grades 2 through 12.

Also, several large-scale international testing programs find girls closing the gender gap in math, and in some cases outscoring the boys. Clearly, this huge improvement over a fairly short time period argues against biological explanations.

Much of the data that Damore provides in his memo is suspect, outdated or has other problems.

In his July memo, titled, “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber: How bias clouds our thinking about diversity and inclusion,” Damore wrote that women on average have more “openness directed towards feelings and aesthetics rather than ideas.” And he stated that women are more inclined to have an interest in “people rather than things, relative to men.”

Damore cites the work of Simon Baron-Cohen, who argues in his widely reviewed book “The Essential Difference” that boys are biologically programmed to focus on objects, predisposing them to math and understanding systems, while girls are programmed to focus on people and feelings. The British psychologist claims that the male brain is the “systematizing brain” while the female brain is the “empathizing” brain.

This idea was based on a study of day-old babies, which found that the boys looked at mobiles longer and the girls looked at faces longer. Male brains, Baron-Cohen says, are ideally suited for leadership and power. They are hardwired for mastery of hunting and tracking, trading, achieving and maintaining power, gaining expertise, tolerating solitude, using aggression and taking on leadership roles.

The female brain, on he other hand, is specialized for making friends, mothering, gossip and “reading” a partner. Girls and women are so focused on others, he says, that they have little interest in figuring out how the world works.

But Baron-Cohen’s study had major problems. It was an “outlier” study. No one else has replicated these findings, including Baron-Cohen himself. It is so flawed as to be almost meaningless. Why?

The experiment lacked crucial controls against experimenter bias, and was badly designed. Female and male infants were propped up in a parent’s lap and shown, side by side, an active person or an inanimate object. Since newborns can’t hold their heads up independently, their visual preferences could well have been determined by the way their parents held them.

Source: We’ve studied gender and STEM for 25 years. The science doesn’t support the Google memo. – Recode