Asian students guilty of 'colorblind racism,' prof claims

A professor claims that Asian American students reinforce “colorblind racism” by taking responsibility for integrating Asian international students on campus.

“We problematize this schema not only because it places undue responsibility upon Asian American students but [because] it also renders the experiences of racial marginalization and discrimination invisible for international and domestic racial minority students,” writes Soo Ah Kwon, a professor of Asian American Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, in the recent issue of Race, Ethnicity, and Education (REE).

“In other words, efforts to mitigate racial difference is understood and marked as belonging to non-white students in a colorblind society,” Kwon and her two co-authors elaborate, basing their conclusion on interviews with students at Midwestern University (MU) and data from a four-year research project.

[RELATED: Entire class punished for ‘microaggressive’ comments]

Kwon’s team paid special attention to members of Asian American cultural clubs, which have ramped up their efforts to reach out to international students over the last few years, given a recent major influx of such students to MU.

Noting that “Asian American students and their organizations took on the responsibility of integrating Asian international students on campus,” the article contends that “this institutional arrangement reflects the university’s management of difference by affirming the value of diversity...while overlooking the larger patterns of racial segregation on campus, and the marginalization of racial minority students, both domestic and international.”

To her dismay, Kwon discovered that despite such efforts at integration, many international Asian students preferred to spend time with classmates of their own nationality, and that most didn’t express concern over the matter.

While international students responded that self-segregation was a “preference,” Kwon was troubled by the notion, casting doubt over whether their choices are based on “past historical injustices” and “contemporary racism under normative whiteness.”

[RELATED: STUDY: Social justice activism is ‘rife’ with ‘oppression’]

In other words, Kwon’s theory suggests that “normative whiteness” in America actually causes Asian students to self-segregate. For instance, when a student named Sam expressed an “inability to make friends beyond his fellow circle of Asian Americans,” Kwon observed that he didn’t stop to consider that this issue is caused by “forms of racial discrimination.”

The fact that international Asian students didn’t see self-segregation as a problem was troubling for Kwon, who argued that their passivity can serve to “reinforce colorblind racism.”

According to Kwon, colorblind racism occurs when “contemporary racial inequality is reproduced through ideologies, practices, and policies that support nonracial dynamics,” meaning that failing to take race into account when confronting various issues can be problematic because it ignores the “structures of power that privileges whiteness and white supremacy.”

To fight this, Kwon argues that international students’ preference for self-segregation should be actively addressed by college administrators, arguing that right now, the “labor of diversity management” unfairly falls on domestic students, many of whom try to make friends with international students but fail.”

Fixing this “must be an institutional responsibility that takes serious stock of racism and marginalization of domestic minority and international students on campus,” Kwon concludes, though she does not make any specific recommendations.

[RELATED: Students required to pay for own ‘social justice’ training]

The article was published in a special issue of REE on “rectifying” academic research through the incorporation of more critical race theory.  

Kwon’s team also included Xavier Hernandez, an administrator at Purdue University, and Jillian Moga, a graduate student at the University of Illinois.

Campus Reform reached out to Kwon, Hernandez, and Moga for comment, but did not receive any responses in time for publication.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen