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Affirmative Asian American Action

By Kiljoong Kim

Editor's Note: Beachwood contributor Kiljoong Kim submitted this testimony last Friday to the Chicago City Council Subcommittee on MBE/WBE Affirmative Action Matters in support of proposed changes to the city ordinance. I added the links.

I. Introduction
My name is Kiljoong Kenneth Kim. I have been a freelance research consultant in Chicago for the past 11 years. My clients include various corporations and law firms in Chicago area as well as Metro Chicago Information Center (MCIC), Northwestern University, and Chicago Public Schools. I have served as a faculty member in department of sociology for 12 years and also as research director for seven years at DePaul University. I have co-edited and co-written critically acclaimed book New Chicago: Social and Cultural Analysis in 2006; the same year I began writing online columns about demographic trends in Chicago on The Beachwood Reporter. My work has been cited by such prestigious academic journals as Harvard Law Review and has been positively reviewed by top tier journals in sociology, urban planning, and geography. Finally, I am a product of Chicago Public Schools, Clinton Elementary and Stephen T. Mather High, as well as University of Wisconsin-Madison and DePaul University. Currently, I am a doctoral student of sociology at University of Illinois at Chicago, where my dissertation will examine how ethnic communities in Chicago are formed and how they impact racial and economic segregation.

In this document, I'd like to discuss Chicago's MWBE program and Asian American contractors. In order to do so, I'd like to revisit the larger historical landscape of Chicago. The history of Chicago is a history of underdogs, whether it be Irish, Italian, or Polish immigrants who built proud traditions of several generations of firefighters and policemen despite the fact that those were the only government positions they could attain when they were looked down upon by others; or African Americans who fought hard to elect their own mayor despite the fear and resistance of those who doubted that a black man could be the leader of this city.

Despite the dramatic increases in the black middle class and vitality of ethnic communities, there are number of indicators of inequality. Sharon Collins, a professor at UIC, has studied African American corporate executives in Chicago and her study has found that many of these executives are in symbolic positions, such as vice president of diversity or community relations, which meant that many were in incredibly vulnerable positions during economic hardships or during the downturn of organizational or societal economies. A local university in Chicago has a fair number of minority professors; however, the institution has only a handful of full professors who are African Americans, Latinos, or Asian Americans. While the mobility of racial minorities has been great in this country for the past 50 years, it is a long way from achieving social equality.

The answers to the questions why African American executives are more likely to lose their jobs and why minority professors struggle to obtain higher levels of prestige are rather complex. The barriers to equality we see today are no longer acts of overt racism where crosses were burned or separate water fountains were installed. Inequality is now represented by all of us who took, and continue to take, social dynamics and racial stereotypes for granted. It is all of us who became content with symbolic and ceremonial gestures that are ultimately hollow.

II. Minority Experience
The experiences of African American executives and Asian American contractors are an accumulation of everyday experience. I see my brother-in-law, whose credential as an attorney does not mean a thing to cab drivers who refuse to serve African Americans; or my father, who was turned away from a tax preparation job despite scoring at a 98 percentile on the test, due to his heavy Korean accent. While these anecdotes may be annoyances for most of us, for Asian American contractors, these simple, momentary interactions amount to their livelihood. Just as Irish and Italian immigrants resorted to dangerous occupations a hundred years earlier because all other doors were shut, some Asian immigrants turn to entrepreneurship because their human capital from their respective nations do not necessarily translate to comparable jobs in our society. And just as those African American corporate executives found their upper-middle class status to be vulnerable, Asian American contractors sustain their well-to-do status despite their daily struggles.

While Dr. Blanchflower's report provides solid evidence supporting the City of Chicago's M/WBE program from an econometrics standpoint, I strongly recommend that the city also pay careful attention to the process and continue to support research, programs and policies that are conscious of sociological factors. The rationale behind sustaining the M/WBE program ought to be evaluated regardless of the economic condition. Though I could not agree more with Dr. Blanchflower's assessment that the current recession can be damaging to M/WBE contractors, it is important to note that discrimination - and not just the recession - causes harm to Asian American contractors; the disparities and discrimination found in Blanchflower's current analysis were also detected in past studies even when the economy was deemed healthier.

Also, Dr. Blanchflower lists previous studies that have proven that the black-white disparity in self-employment can be attributed to discrimination. However, it is important to note that there is no study available to evaluate the Asian-white disparity in the same manner. Dr. Blanchflower cites a study that indicates that Asian firms outperform all other racial and ethnic groups, but the study does not measure the stability of their performances. At the moment, we have no reliable way of knowing the stability of minority businesses that participate in MWBE program.

III. Conclusion
The City of Chicago currently has a sufficient evidentiary basis to enact the proposed amendments to the M/WBE program and to include Asian Americans as a presumptive category in that program. However, government policies ought to be based on empirical facts obtained through rigorous scientific research. And these empirical facts ought to include a comprehensive evaluation of a program that measures the direct impact of discrimination. In the future, the city should endeavor to base its M/WBE program on more than revenues and profits. The city commissions should assess whether there are fair government contracting opportunities for all of those who are ready, willing, and able, and whether there are sufficient opportunities for minority contractors to branch out from their own network and enclaves to enhance the level of interactions and cultivate even greater networks.


See also:
* There Are No Asian-American Aldermen Here


Posted on July 14, 2009

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