Speaking of Diversity


Racism Still Exists in North America

Michael Soon Lee - Thursday, March 29, 2012

Question: While racism towards various ethnicities has become unacceptable in public, many openly racial comments and slurs are a daily reality for Asians. Often these comments are hidden under a veil labeled “comedy”. Why is this happening and why do many individuals and pop culture sources see this as ok?

Answer: Obviously, racism still exists in North America and elsewhere but it has gone underground where usually people don’t say discriminatory things openly in public. However, for some groups like Asians, there’s less fear of a backlash such as the “Chink in the armor” headline about Jeremy Lin whereas a comment about being “niggardly” regarding Charles Barkley would never be tolerated.
There’s less fear and less sensitivity about Asians for two main reasons:

  1. Asians in the U.S. have been less militant than Blacks or Hispanics choosing to promote our causes more through the political and legal systems rather than riots, boycotts and other more visible venues. This has hurt us in some respects as is evidenced by the lack of fear around making fun of Asians.
  2.  Asians tend to be thought of and promoted as, “The Successful Minority” in the U.S. because our average incomes are higher than even Whites in this country and so we become the targets of jealousy and insensitivity by many people including other minorities. What many don’t understand is that Asians in the U.S. have higher educational attainment than any other group. We also have larger families than Whites or Blacks making the average income number a bit skewed.

Luck Around The World

Michael Soon Lee - Thursday, March 15, 2012

St. Patrick’s Day is supposed to be lucky. For example, if you find a shamrock on St. Patty’s day it is believed you will have good luck the entire day. The term “The Luck of the Irish” stared in the mid-1800’s during the U.S. gold rush when many Irish immigrants found gold and silver. It is also said that if you catch a Leprechaun he must grant you three wishes.

In other cultures there are different forms of good luck. For example, in China the number eight is believed to be lucky because when pronounced in Chinese it sounds much like their word for “rich” or “fortune”. They believe in this so much that a gentleman in Taiwan recently paid $1.5 million for the personalized car license plate “8888”.

In the Philippines the number seven is thought to be lucky. For instance, when anyone came to visit former President Ferdinand Marcos he would make them wait for seven minutes and he wrote all of his laws in seven parts.

In Japan one of the most famous good luck symbols is that of the beckoning cat. The most popular of those is the one where the cat has one forepaw raised. If the left paw is raised then it is meant to attract customers to a business whereas a raised right paw brings in the flow of money.

Among those who follow the Hindu religion in India elephants are believed to be good luck. In Mexico, white roosters are thought to bring good luck especially if they crow inside the house!

Everyone around the world has symbols for and beliefs in luck. While they vary from place to place it just shows how similar we are no matter where we live.


How Do You Celebrate Valentine’s Day?

Michael Soon Lee - Tuesday, February 14, 2012

An important step in becoming culturally competent in marketing is to recognize our own cultural biases.

In other words, what we do in this country is not necessarily how other people operate. The implication for multicultural marketing is that people from other cultures who are living in the United States may celebrate holidays and other special occasions differently from the mainstream.

Remember that what other people do that is different from the majority of Americans is not necessarily wrong it’s just different. Let’s take the simple example of Valentine’s Day:

In Japan, it is only the women who give presents (mainly chocolates) to men. In the past, Japanese women were often too shy to openly express their love so Valentine’s Day was thought to be an opportunity to let them express their feelings. Men are supposed to return gifts to women on a day called “White Day” (March 14th), a day totally made-up by the Japanese but certainly is an additional marketing opportunity!

In South Korea, like Japan, women give chocolate to men on February 14th, and men give non-chocolate candy to women on March 14 (White Day). April 14th is called “Black Day” because men who did not receive anything on the 14th of February and women who did not receive anything on the 14th of March go to a Korean restaurant to eat black noodles and “mourn” their single life.

In Taiwan the situation is the reverse of Japan and South Korea. Men give gifts to women on Valentine’s Day, and women give gifts to men on White Day.

In China, Valentine’s is celebrated on the 7th day of 7th lunar month (August 23rd in 2012). On this auspicious day people in love like to go to the Temple of Matchmaker and pray for their love and the possible marriage in China. People still single will do the same thing to ask their luck of love in the Matchmaker temple.

In the Philippines, Valentine’s Day is called “Araw ng mga Puso” or “Hearts Day”. It is usually marked by a steep increase in the prices of flowers (just like in the United States).

In India, Hindu and Islamic generally consider the holiday to be a form of cultural contamination from the West, so religious leaders often ask their followers to shun the holiday and the “public admission of love” because they are “alien to Indian culture”. Despite these obstacles, Valentine’s Day is becoming increasingly popular in India

While sending cards, flowers, chocolates and other gifts is traditional on February 14th for Valentine’s Day in the United Kingdom in Denmark and Norway it is known as Valentinsdag and not celebrated to a large extent. However, some people take time to eat a romantic dinner with their partner, to send a card to a secret love or give a red rose to their loved one.

In Finland Valentine’s Day is called Ystävänpäivä which translates into “Friend’s day”. As the name implies, this day is more about remembering your friends, not only your loved ones. In Estonia Valentine’s Day is called Sõbrapäev, and has the same meaning.

In Slovenia, a proverb says that “St. Valentine brings the keys of roots”, so on February 14th, plants and flowers start to grow. As a result, this day is celebrated as the day when the first work in the vineyards and in the fields commences.

In Romania, the traditional holiday for lovers is Dragobete, which is celebrated on February 24. In Lithuania and Latvia, it is common for people to put stickers on faces and clothing of a friend or a relative.

In Greece and Cyprus, Valentine’s Day are not major holidays but each year there are more red and white stuffed bears and heart-shaped candy boxes sold in stores.

According to Jewish tradition the 15th day of the month of Av – Tu B’Av (usually late August) is the festival of love. It is a popular day to pronounce love, propose marriage and give gifts like cards or flowers.

In some Latin American countries Valentine’s Day is known as “Día del Amor y la Amistad” (Day of Love and Friendship). For example Mexico, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Puerto Rico, as well as others. It is also common to see people perform “acts of appreciation” for their friends. In Guatemala it is known as the “Día del Cariño” (Affection Day).

In Brazil, the Dia dos Namorados (literally “Lovers’ Day”) is celebrated on June 12th, probably because it is the day before Saint Anthony’s day, known there as Saint of Marriage. Also, February 14th would fall too close to the biggest celebration in the country – Carnival.

In Egypt celebrating Valentine’s Day is a relatively new trend. On February 14th stores sell big red hearts and teddy bears for people in Cairo and other big cities who started taking it seriously during the late 1990s, as younger generations became more exposed to Western culture.

In Iran, the Sepandarmazgan, or Esfandegan, is an age-old traditional celebration of love, friendship and Earth. It has nothing in common with the Saint Valentine celebration, except for a superficial similarity in giving affection and gifts to loved ones, and its origins and motivations are completely unrelated. In fact, in 2011 the production of Valentine’s Day gifts as well as any promotion of the day celebrating romantic love between a man and a woman has been banned by the country’s leaders.

In most other Muslim countries practitioners of this religion are regularly warned against celebrating Valentine’s Day since they believe it is linked it with vice activities.

So happy Valentine’s Day wherever you live! Just keep in mind how differently this day is celebrated (or not) in other parts of the world


African American Assaults on Asians Increasing

Michael Soon Lee - Monday, May 02, 2011

Physical assaults by Blacks on Asians have been increasing in San Francisco and Oakland leading to at least one death. While the news media has been quick to point out the increasing tension between these two minority communities they are at a loss to explain why. What they don’t understand is the fact that Blacks and Asians are at opposite ends of the cultural spectrum. For instance, Blacks tend to prefer very direct eye contact while many Asians avoid eye contact to show respect; Blacks use frequent and very broad hand gestures when talking while most Asians use very little; and Blacks often speak to each other in loud tones while many Asians prefer more subtle communication. These differences and many others have created uneasiness between the two groups in America for centuries. 


Is the New York Times Holiday Gift Guide Racist?

Michael Soon Lee - Tuesday, December 15, 2009

This year the New York Times added a section to its holiday gift guide intended to cater to its readers who are potentially looking for “gifts created for and by people of color"

Among the collection of gift suggestions were:

  • “The Mocha Manual to Military Life: A Savvy Guide for Wives, Girlfriends and Female Service Members,” a guidebook for Black relatives or girlfriends of military personnel
  • “Hair Rules,” a product line for those with “problem hair”
  • “Asian Faces: The Essential Beauty and Makeup Guide for Asian Women”
  • “Ash Kumar’s Bollywood Henna Kit,” a DIY makeup kit
  • “A Wise Latina” T-shirt
  • “Baby Jamz,” “an interactive hip-hop and rhythm-based toy line.”

Some bloggers have been greatly offended by these. For instance, Gawker.com, said: “It’s a celebration of the racist assumption that ‘people of color’ are defined by their colors—but white people get to self-define with their interests, hobbies, and desire for ‘Home and Decorating Gifts for $25 and Under.’” They add that “these gifts are mostly backhanded insults, and not just to one’s race.

I disagree. I think the Times is trying to help shoppers be aware of the unique needs of people from different cultures whose skin, hair and tastes ARE different from Caucasians. However, I do believe they could have been more sensitive to people of color. For instance, instead of implying that Blacks have “problem hair” they could have called it “African American hair” which most people would recognize as having special requirements. I have always had difficulty in finding a stylist who understands the differences that Asian hair can present.

It’s okay to be different and to have unique needs because you are different from the mainstream. There seems to be a move afoot to water down the discussion around diversity to merely “human differences” and I find that truly dehumanizing.


Selling to Multicultural Customers

Michael Soon Lee - Thursday, August 13, 2009

Selling products and services to Hispanics, African Americans, Asians and others isn’t difficult but it does take some training. Meeting the needs of people from diverse cultures means adjusting your practices to accommodate them. Many salespeople believe they can just “treat everyone the same” which is a nice thought but lousy customer service. For instance, if a blind customer walked into your store would you simply hand her a brochure to read because that’s how you treat all of your sighted customers? Of course not, you would probably spend more time verbally explaining how a product works and describing how it looks. In other words, you would adjust your practices to meet the unique needs of that buyer which is exactly what you should do with multicultural customers.