Exploring the nuances of race and racialization in the United States

This week in North Philly Notes, Diana Pan, author of Incidental Racialization writes about race, inequality, and professional socialization of Asian Americans and Latinos in law school.

Mention “race” in a conversation, and two things often come to mind: the history and current social experiences of black Americans, and the image of poor, urban communities. With regard to the first imagery, common topics might include the black Civil Rights Movement (there were in fact, other race-based civil rights movements as well), residential segregation, Black Lives Matter, and a host of topics perhaps learned in high school classrooms, or gleaned from mainstream media. Rarely do we consider how race matters for nonwhite racialized groups whose histories are not represented in standard curricula, and who are rendered invisible in conversations about race in America. Further, many Americans assume that if nonwhite individuals enter mainstream professions and interact with more white Americans, race would no longer be a heightened concern. The experiences of nonwhite Americans, across the socioeconomic spectrum, do not support this assumption.

Incidental Racialization engages the nuances of race and racialization in the United States. The purpose of this book is to:

  • explore how race matters in professional socialization
  • give voice to those racialized groups – Asian Americans and Latinos – who are often underrepresented in discourse on racial inequality
  • complicate understandings of inequalities that are sustained among elites.

I contend that we, as a society, cannot truly understand inequalities if we do not interrogate how they differ within and between social strata. Studying “up” (i.e. elites) then provides an opportunity to disrupt the “one size fits all” trope of economic success diminishing racial inequality. It also permits a lens to understand the various ways that racialization happens alongside professional socialization.

Incidental Racialization_smPerhaps not surprising, but certainly revealing, law school rank appears to influence how students talk about their racialized experiences. While students at the two law schools studied shared stories of race-based discrimination, or race-based interactions, the rhetoric used was different. For example, students from the lower-ranked law school frequently recount particular discrete treatment that made them feel like second class citizens or racial “others.” Yet, these lower-tier law students provide excuses for this same treatment. In a way, they appeared to rationalize race-based experiences in law school. This differed from the narrative provided by students at the elite law school. They were more affirmative about race-based discrimination, and recounted their experiences in the context of institutionalized cultures and norms. Privilege, in the relative prestige of the law school attended, seems to equip nonwhite law students with stratified language to convey and navigate their own racialization.

Studying social inequalities can take many forms, and Incidental Racialization demonstrates just one axis of intersection. The next step is to understand how racialization translates into the world of work. In other words, how does race matter for lawyers? In what ways is racialization sustained? And, what are the implications? Perhaps of note are the findings in a recently released report, A Portrait of Asian Americans in the Law, that while Asian Americans are the largest nonwhite group in major law firms, they have the highest attrition rates, and attain partnership at the lowest rate. There is a clear leak in the pipeline, and the question begs: how might racialization be a part of the problem?

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: