An original version posted on 5/28/2010 as "Masculinity and Being a Young Ethnic Male in Los Angeles Academic Conferences, Public Lectures, and Public Basketball Courts" @ AMMMO
In my quest to pinpoint my real, definitive academic interests to determine my career path, I've observed around 60-70 lectures, conferences, symposiums in the past 4 years all across LA and across many topics of interests.
Topics of these lectures, conferences, and symposia have ranged from the possibility of opening a street car on Broadway in Los Angeles to 3-day conferences on transcultural psychiatry. There were random interest talks I attended just for the fuck of it, like the one about freeing the mustang, or a conference on the History of the Pacific. I went to a bunch of public policy panels dealing with health care, higher education access, local government. I was very interested in the histories of everything from sciences to Los Angeles. I went to Caltech for random neuroscience-related discussions. All of this was basically just food to feed my thinking, which I'd hope to use later in my career.
Who goes to these things?
As far as conferences and symposia go, it's professors and graduate school students. Middle-aged and older people blended in with young people.
As far as public lectures, it's also mostly middle-aged - older white people and perhaps a contingent of younger people, depending on the topic or school project.
When you take race and ethnicity into consideration, however, there aren't too many people who fit my demographic in these spaces: the young ethnic male, AKA the people who are more likely to be in prison than in school and get accused all the time of being gang members, particularly the blacks and Latinos. Being a Chino, I'm not harassed to the extent that they usually are, but on a handful of occasions, police have wanted to know what I, a 20-something year old college grad (completely unbeknownst to them), was doing in the middle of the day out of [high] school and instead on sidewalks or Metro stations. Sadly, neither academics nor long-term employers have not matched the level of police curiosity in me when out and about.
My demographic's absence was most glaringly apparent at a very small conference at USC on the history of the Pacific and when I was attempting to sit-in on an Albert Einstein symposia at Caltech.
I stuck out like a sore thumb --- a young, hip-hop habitus-ed (i.e. wearing baggy clothes), teenage-looking, no-monied kid walking amongst accomplished, middle-aged or hipper, on-the-ball younger white people with an occasional dropping of smarter, smugger ethnic females. It's not like I'm trying to antagonize people by wearing baggy clothes, it's just kind of how my clothes are and have been.
In settings like this with the exception of ethnic studies' events, it was a constant mental battle of questioning whether I belonged. Without that feeling of "belonging" or "ownership/expertise in a field", I felt a social anxiety about talking about anything and so I just kinda sat through a lot of these events indulging in my note-taking. I only asked questions if I was really really really compelled to, and even then I was quite scared doing it.
Questions of "belonging" or "ownership/expertise" are not as glaring however when I take off the academic thinking cap and go play basketball in Eagle Rock on Fridays or Sundays. Playing basketball at a public park, I'm exchanging elbows with the very young ethnic males absent from these aforementioned lectures, conferences, symposia.
This is pretty much the only demographic at many public parks and basketball courts around LA. That's our domain.
I remember an idea from The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down about how gender and power dynamics for Hmong immigrant families change once they migrated to the US. Generally, in the old country, the eldest man in the family would be the highest status individual while the youngest female would be at the bottom.
However, in the US, the dynamic of eldest being the most respected would be flipped on its head. The youngest female Hmong would likely be the highest status individual. Meanwhile, poor grandpa would be lowest because he's not likely to speak English and can't really participate in the workforce.
What this example shows seems reflective of a larger trend I've noticed: ethnic males are having a hard time breaking into positions of upward mobility.
At non-ethnic studies academic and public lecture functions, I am and have always been looking for other males of color to be like "aye, what's happening cuz" with. Latinos are somewhat hard to tell, but the ones that I kick it with don't seem to match the social habits of the ones I might see at the conferences. I've only seen like 2 black dudes at all the academicky non-ethnic-studies-related conferences. I was damn near shocked and mentally celebrating to see a dreadlocked black guy attend the transcultural psychiatry conference, but understood his plight when he interacted with almost no one. At that same conference, I also saw my very first Filipino who wasn't me, but actually ended up not being affilated with the conference and all and was some kind of CSUN Business douchebag.
In contrast to this absence, ethnic women are a pretty fast emerging group of academics. Maybe it's because they tend to be more flexible in the US as far as broadening their careers to different things. Maybe males have a more rigid way of doing things which is harder to jibe with the cultural norms in America.
Sometimes on the court I'm thinking, what we as ethnic males are all doing, besides playing basketball. In my basketball group, I know one engineer, one freshly-minted nurse, a tutor, a few bank employees, and the self-employed alpha player taking accounting classes. Not the worst, but still not in positions of power (i.e. policy-making --- politics and knowledge-making --- academia). It feels like we have a glass ceiling.
Why is this all important?
Well, I think that human beings in general tend to make life decisions based on their social groups and networks of influence. Whatever is "normal" around you becomes almost a glass ceiling, difficult to break out of for groups of people and possibilities limited. With limited possibilities means less representation in important legislation, and decisions about what gets counted as knowledge.
I wonder what keeps us from getting into these positions of upward mobility. Are we either one of or either too practical, too egotistical, too impatient? If we are, what makes our groups like that, especially in academia?