Meanwhile, On TumblR: Latinas, Lean-ing In, And Asian Privilege

By Andrea Plaid


Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer and author Sheryl Sandberg has faced quite a bit of criticism about her new book, Lean In: Women, Work, And The Will To Lead, a “feminist manifesto” for professional women in the workplace, namely that her book and feminist movement wouldn’t appeal to all women. Racializens really liked what Dr. Angélica Pérez-Litwin had to say about Sandberg’s book:

I did what Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO, encourages women to do in her book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. In a self-proclaimed feminist movement to address current gender disparities in leadership, Sandberg aims to galvanize women with a call to action to lean in and step up in the workplace.

I did step up. I leaned in at staff team meetings, sat at the table and contributed to the dialogue. I explored and pursued research opportunities. I asked for mentorship. I scheduled meetings with key players, and asked for their support and guidance in moving my research career forward.

But leaning in has its limitations for women in the workplace, and especially for Latinas.

When Latinas lean in at work, they are often examined through a lens blurred with ethnic prejudices, and socially prescribed roles and expectations. God forbid she has a Spanish accent…

Racialicious Crush alum Scot Nakagawa did a great two-part analysis on the limitations of “Asian privilege”:

Privilege is also a tough word to describe the situation of many Filipino immigrants in the U.S. Many were encouraged to migrate by the Philippine government because it is managing so much foreign debt that debt service is their single largest expense. The terms of the loans made from organizations like the International Monetary Fund have imposed austerity measures, including wage freezes, cuts to healthcare and education, and privatization of water and electrical service. Filipinos often leave to survive and to provide for their families abroad because the Philippine economy just can’t afford them.

Yet, for some of us, the privileges, though conditional, are real. I recall growing up in Hawaii, profiled as Japanese American in a school system in which we were expected to succeed, and in which Japanese Americans were over-represented among authority figures. I surrounded myself with friends who didn’t share in the protection afforded me by my light skin and Japanese surname. We felt one another, but they suffered the kind of racism reserved for those profiled as problem minorities – Native Hawaiians, African Americans, and darker skinned immigrants from Polynesia and the Philippines.

Yet when the time came to be held accountable, I almost always escaped the worst punishments. In spite of doing poorly in school, I was passed from grade to grade, even tracked into college prep classes. I was considered a troubled child with potential where my often much more talented but darker skinned friends were perceived to just be trouble.

Reflecting on all of this I realized, part what makes being Asian American so complicated is that Asian privilege is really white privilege, conferred conditionally on some of us in order to maintain white power. If that’s true, we’re being used. And if being used, even lightly, is what this is about, the question is, are we really in control of how and over what damage that use might do to us and to others?

Check out the other people and ideas on the R’s Tumblr!

About This Blog

Racialicious is a blog about the intersection of race and pop culture. Check out our daily updates on the latest celebrity gaffes, our no-holds-barred critique of questionable media representations, and of course, the inevitable Keanu Reeves John Cho newsflashes.

Latoya Peterson (DC) is the Owner and Editor (not the Founder!) of Racialicious, Arturo García (San Diego) is the Managing Editor, Andrea Plaid (NYC) is the Associate Editor. You can email us at

The founders of Racialicious are Carmen Sognonvi and Jen Chau. They are no longer with the blog. Carmen now runs Urban Martial Arts with her husband and blogs about local business. Jen can still be found at Swirl or on her personal blog. Please do not send them emails here, they are no longer affiliated with this blog.

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  • Ike

    No, there is no “Asian privilege”. There is a combination of light skin privilege (benefitting whites mostly), economic/educational privilege (due to immigration policies set by whites), and exotification (mostly perpetrated by white men onto Asian women and benefitting white men) that masquerades as “Asian privilege”. Take away any of these, and you get large amounts of violence against Chinese restaurant workers (lack of economic privilege), profiling of South Asians and Southeast Asians (lack of skin color privilege, linked with assumed lack of Christian privilege), and the general stereotyping of Asian-Americans in American media (exotification) which serves to paint us as subhuman and therefore deserving of violence and discrimination.

  • Elton

    I have problems with Nakagawa’s “Asian Privilege” series. I wholeheartedly agree that the model minority stereotype is racist and damaging. I disagree with the implication that “Asian privilege” therefore exists. Perhaps there is a particular kind of dominance that comes from being Asian in an Asian-majority place like Hawaii. But blacks outnumber whites in South Africa. Many American cities are majority black. Does “black privilege” exist in those places?

    I also agree that Asian immigrants are being used by an America where the American Dream, according to what I’ve read, is essentially over. The historic rise of the middle class and suburbia were spurred by the post-WWII GI Bill. Today, it’s nearly impossible to break into the middle class, especially if you’re a working class immigrant who speaks limited English and has little formal education, like many Asian Americans. As with everyone else, there is a huge class divide in the Asian community. For every Chinese American physician or lawyer, there are a great deal more Chinese Americans working in the back of a restaurant.

    And I’m not convinced that affirmative action benefits Asians, as Nakagawa asserts. I usually see scholarships and educational programs for people of color conspicuously omit Asians. Someone please prove me wrong so I can get in on some of those sweet Asian benefits and privileges.

    • observing

      affirmative action benefits all races since it benefits women of all
      races. all races have privilege, just some privileges are better than
      others and in different areas, so yes blacks have “black privilege” from time to time.