50 Years Later: Renewing the All-Inclusive Dream and March — and Thinking About Oprah’s Purse - Higher Education

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50 Years Later: Renewing the All-Inclusive Dream and March — and Thinking About Oprah’s Purse

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The 50th anniversary of the March on Washington is coming up this weekend. And you can bet Asian-Americans will be there.

But sometimes I wonder if Asian-Americans aren’t left out of the mix unfairly.

The other day I heard a former colleague, the talk host Joe Madison on Sirius XM, discuss the march, and as he read off the march participants in what I like to call the ‘grand litany of peoples of color,” guess what?

He left out Asian-Americans.

He’s no different from others who have seen that much-ballyhooed fact that Asian-Americans are at the top of the heap with the highest household incomes in America, $66,000, compared to the $49,800 of the U.S. in general.

We’ve got it made right?

Not so fast. The income numbers are one-dimensional and don’t tell the whole story. In Asian-American families, more people tend to live in a household, thereby pumping up the income number. Eight to 10 people working fast-food shifts adds up, but isn’t quite “making it.”

The misleading use of household income actually goes back to Ronald Reagan, but it’s even more misleading now, considering the greater diversity within the community. With more than 50 countries represented and different waves and types of immigration (personal/political), it’s much harder to peg Asian-Americans these days. For example, the poverty rates of the Hmong and Bangladeshi rival the levels in the African-American community.

If there’s a march for jobs and economic justice, you bet Asian-Americans should be there.

Of course, no matter what your race, you may be of a mind that your money is enough to inoculate you from the evils of racism. If that describes you, let us recall the recent Oprah handbag story. Oprah has apologized for the story getting out of hand, but she doesn’t deny how she felt when she wanted to see a pricey purse and was shown a lesser brand.

The Swiss clerk involved denies it was racism, but that still doesn’t change how the clerk’s action made Oprah feel.

It doesn’t matter how much money you have, they only see the color of your skin.

When I heard that story, it reminded me of going into a restaurant outside of D.C. in 1991. I had just finished eating with my family and went up to the register and asked for the check.

The waitress looked at me, thought check, and said, “The busboys get paid next week.”

It’s still all about race, not class.

Fifty years later, there’s lots of reasons to keep marching and dreaming.

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