10.11.2019

Angry Reader of the Week: Janelle Wong

"I am a university teacher and researcher. I am a political scientist."



Hey, everybody! It is time, once again, to meet the Angry Reader of the Week, spotlighting you, the very special readers of this website. Over the years, I've been able to connect with a lot of cool folks, and this is a way of showing some appreciation and attention to the people who help make this blog what it is. This week's Angry Reader is Janelle Wong.


Who are you?

Janelle S. Wong (The "S" is for Staci -- yes, with an "i" -- I am a child of the 1970s)

What are you?

6th and 3rd gen Asian American, Chinese American. I am a university teacher and researcher. I am a political scientist. I am a parent of two kids, ages 9 and 15.

Where are you?

I am in my office (no windows!) at the University of Maryland, College Park, Department of American Studies

Where are you from?

I am from Yuba City, California, about 3 hours north of San Francisco.

What do you do?

I am a professor at the University of Maryland, College Park. I teach classes in Asian American Studies and Comparative Race and Ethnicity.

What are you all about?

I am about studying race and politics, so I do a lot of research using surveys and interviews. I started doing surveys of Asian Americans in 2000, including in different Asian languages. Over the years, I've gained experience surveying smaller Asian American groups, such as Cambodian, Hmong, and Bangladeshis, as well as Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. I seek to understand and highlight AAPI participation trends in U.S. politics and use data about AAPIs to challenge long-standing assumptions that prop up the "model minority myth" and other misconceptions about AAPIs.

I am also about community -- one of the best parts of research is that it is collaborative. I have formed friendships throughout my career through different research partnerships. Many of my closest friendships have grown out of collaborations with researchers who also have the goal of using research to help inform public debates, to challenge stereotypes, and/or to work together for a more just world. I have also met many non-academics through this work and it is truly life sustaining to connect with community organizers, writers, non-profit leaders, political staffers, journalists, lawyers, teachers, and others so dedicated to standing up to injustice.

I am also about my new book, Immigrants, Evangelicals and Politics in an Era of Demographic Change (shameless plug). This book looks at growing numbers of Asian, Black, and Latinx evangelicals and how and why White evangelicals continue to set a very conservative racial agenda in politics in the face of massive demographic change.

What makes you angry?

When members of my own community, Asian Americans, dedicate their political energies toward tearing down opportunities for others, it really makes me angry. So, when (mostly) Chinese Americans challenged a measure (SCA-5) to reinstate affirmative action in California in 2014, I was horrified and angry. After being confronted by anti-affirmative action Chinese American activists, several Asian American state senators who had initially voted for the measure to reinstate affirmative action then called for the bill to be withheld. I wrote to one of these state senators in frustration claiming that "If I were still a California resident, I would start a recall campaign against you!" I was so disappointed that Asian American electeds were not doing the right thing, but I felt powerless to do anything about it. It's been really dismaying to see the Asian American anti-affirmative action movement that started with this measure morph and grow into attacks on other kinds of educational equity reforms (such as reforms to integrate competitive-admission public high schools or "gifted and talented" programs) as well as challenges to immigrant sanctuary legislation and even the collection of detailed data on Asian American groups.

I have since tried to channel my anger into countering the harmful misinformation coming from this relatively small, but very active and effective, group of Asian Americans who are anti-affirmative-action. We have seen this group rise-up as part of conservative activist Ed Blum's attempt to take down race-conscious admissions at Harvard and beyond. With colleagues, I've co-authored amicus briefs, circulated petitions, written opinion pieces, and given presentations to defend race-conscious admissions. And, more generally, I've screamed and shouted to anyone who will listen that Ed Blum and his Asian American cronies do not represent all Asian Americans. Data collected as part of the National Asian American Survey show that Asian Americans are much more likely to support than oppose affirmative action.

I have also tried to battle the assumption that Asian Americans face an unfair penalty in college admissions for being Asian. This assumption is based mainly on the false but super tenacious idea that Asian Americans must score higher than other groups on standardized tests to get into highly selective institutions. Research shows tests like the SAT and ACT are poor predictors of college performance, but great predictors of parents' income and parental education. We should not rely on these tests to tell us anything about student aptitude, let alone anything about discrimination against Asian Americans! They really are a waste of time and money! And I don't want to see Asian American applicants, including my son who will soon be applying to college, reduced to a test-score in admissions. Four years of high school grades will capture so much more about him then a test taken over four hours on a Saturday.

I believe Asian Americans face discrimination, but the place to look for it is not in the admissions process. In the case that Ed Blum and his organization recently brought against Harvard, Blum's team implied that only Asian Americans received comments on their applications that fit the model minority stereotype -- comments like "quiet" or "strong and quiet." But, guess what? White, Latinx, and Black applicants also received the same type of comments! Plus, the model minority stereotype cuts both ways -- Asian Americans benefit from the presumption of competence in ways other groups do not. And, this can be advantageous in admissions. To paraphrase my colleague Claire Jean Kim, when we as Asian Americans contemplate the very real discrimination facing our community in social interactions, corporate and government leadership opportunities, political representation, and beyond, it is critical that we remind ourselves that anti-Asian discrimination is not the only racial discrimination that matters.