Recently, the New York Times released a feature titled “The Faces of American Power, Nearly as White as the Oscar Nominees” and revealed a startling trend. The feature compiled a list of “503 of the most powerful people in American culture, government, education and business, and found that just 44 are minorities,” which is approximately 8% of all the people surveyed. The categories stemmed from CEOs of powerful American companies, to leaders in government, education, and entertainment. Organized into a neat, visual list, the message was far from subtle.
Ever heard of the Glass Ceiling? In light of the new wave of social justice movements sweeping the country (particularly the Black Lives Matter movement), more and more Americans are becoming aware of just how difficult it is for minorities to grab a foothold in American society. According to the 2014 US Census, almost 6% of the Americans are Asian/Pacific Islander and about 23% of Americans are either a racial minority or of mixed race. Over the last decade, there has been some “progress” in representation: Satyha Nadella was appointed CEO of Microsoft in 2014, Kevin Tsujihara was named CEO of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment in 2013, and in 2008 Barack Obama became the first Black President of the United States. Shonda Rhimes, one of two minority heads (both of whom are black) in “People Who Decide Which Television Shows Americans See,” is responsible for hit shows such as Greys Anatomy and Scandal—both of which have cast minority actors such as Sandra Oh and Kerry Washington. But think about it this way—there are over 318 million people in the United States today (from the 2014 census data). That means there are 73 million Americans that are racial minorities and 19 million of those that are Asian/Pacific Islander. How is it possible that with 73 million people who are considered racial minorities, only 44 of them hold positions of power? And among those 44, only 10 of those are of Asian/Pacific Islander decent. Don’t even get me started on minority women.
So what does this mean for Asian-Americans? Despite accounting for 15-20 percent of the student population at Ivy League schools, there are currently no AAPI Presidents of Ivy League Universities (Jim Yong Kim left his position at Dartmouth in 2012), and AAPI’s lead only a fraction of the nation’s Fortune 500 companies. Even with groundbreaking shows like Fresh Off the Boat, Dr. Ken, and Master of None along with other AAPI stars in actual leading roles, AAPI actors represent less than 4% of all film and television roles. In athletics, less than 5% of AAPI athletes play in the largest sports leagues such as the NFL, MLB, and NBA. On top of this, AAPIs hold only 11 seats in Congress: 10 being in the House and 1 in the Senate. What about the other 19 million of us that are living in the US today? The message the New York Times highlights in their feature is not only a stunning lack of representation, but is also a nod to the larger conversation of systemic racism in America. Racism extends far beyond hate crimes or rude slurs. Racism is also the model minority myth, the refusal to understand our culture, and the bias that exists because of the color of our skin and the shape of our eyes. Sadly, where there is systemic racism, there will be a glass ceiling regardless of conscious intention. So what’s the solution?
It really doesn’t (and shouldn’t) take much effort to see that minorities are whole and varied people, just like everyone else. While many of us study to be doctors and lawyers, an equal amount of us strive to become artists, writers, and actors. Some of us like science, and some of us like humanities. Some of us strive to become leaders, while some of us don’t aspire to be, but most importantly, many of us are starting to realize that the game is rigged, and figuring out how to play on our own outside of the established status quo, looking for places (or creating them from scratch) where we will be valued for what we bring to the table. In fact, studies have shown that companies with diverse leadership perform better in general. Perhaps for those in power, it is time to stop asking minorities to merely “work harder” and “play along” for that non-existent carrot, and instead take a hard look at the systemic barriers that may be keeping their minority peers from unlocking their full potential. In the end, we’ll all be better for it.
See the full New York Times interactive article here