Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Writing an Abstract Is Hard

(I should be returning about 5 emails, but they're all blog related, and I figure that means I should keep on blogging too, especially if it'll help me with my paper.)

Today began my third week here. The first week I spent unpacking and settling in. The second week, a few administrative things like visiting the school, getting financial aid, saying hi to a professor, and entertaining a houseguest. Somewhere in all of that I broke out some files and articles and sat down to a few hours of reading a day. Just to get back into the swing of things, since month before the move was just packing and child care. Not bad for 2 weeks. I moved here the second weekend of July, had a houseguest the third weekend, and on the fourth weekend I did some work and went to temple. Not too shabby.

But reading is not writing. This is the third week. I'm back to doing research, trying to write and refine (i.e. cut down) the introduction to a paper I started before I moved so that I can distill it into an abstract. Why is it so much work writing short things? I must practice that. The art of the good abstract. A very difficult art to master.

I think this would have been a more fluid process had I written this before I left Orange County. That is, if I been able to work for the past few months at my parent's home (you try taking care of two kids four days a week and see if you get any work done on the other three). This would have been easier had I not had to pack up everything (research, files, books) and unpack it again. This would have been easier had I remembered to pack a few articles I need and am now printing out again. There was something to be said about going to a law school only one or two hours away from your parent's house. I could have gone back for all these things I need (not to mention a mini-fridge). But I think I would be doing less work than I am now. I don't know why my three years were so unproductive at Bourgie Metrosexual Law School. Maybe it was because I was there only 4-5 days, going home from Friday to Sunday. Again, you try doing work with kids around and you're the primary caretaker (and not your 65 year old mom).

So what's the point to this ramble? I'm on deadline. I have enough to click "send" to the conference organizer but not something I'm ready to send. I don't want to click "send." I never click "send" until I have to. I never submit anything I don't 100% like, which is why I never "cleaned up that seminar paper" to publish. Law profs: have you taught a seminar lately at somewhere other than Harvard or Yale? You know that for the 1, 2 brilliant papers every other year or so, your other students were writing their papers at the last minute, juggling the seminar, bar classes, a clinic, and 1-2 student organizations. Or was that just me. No, my old papers are crap. I wasn't on law review, but I have enough seminar papers and independent studies to constitute a working vitae if they were published. I've never even submitted them. I don't want them associated with my name. Yes, they are that bad.

None of my old papers I would send to anyone. For one thing, they're dated now (who wants to read another paper on Grutter and critical mass theory?), and better papers on the same topics have been published. The one independent study paper that was "good," and it's just preempted in the field (federalism joke!). And the seminar papers just suck (why, oh why did I do a cheap "law and lit" paper on the Myth and the Metonymy of the Asian Woman in Graham Greene's The Quiet Man?) And by cheap, I mean I basically wrote an English lit essay (that, I can churn out relatively quickly and it'd still be decent) and made some CRT-ish arguments about intersectionality analysis (but of a fictional character), which is basically just using race-conscious deconstructionism--not very law related, not very useful, not very insightful really. No, that one is not going to be submitted anywhere. I'd rather revise my undergraduate senior thesis on Flannery O'Connor: Race Relations and “The South” as Literary Subject Matter and the Historical Context for the Short Fiction of Flannery O’Connor as a law and lit paper. (I was 20 years old and into long, dense titles--give me a break) . Even that paper is better than the one I wrote in law school.

No, what I want to do is write this paper I'm working on now, which might actually be good and useful. It's on Asian American stereotypes in the workplace, which are "subtler" and outwardly "less negative" than those attributed to other races, and thus open to more subtle forms of discrimination--all of which is an invitation to reconsider areas of ED law that may need revision if it is to consider "subtle" discrimination (again, see Kenji Yoshino's Covering) such as what constitutes an adverse employment decision. FOr example, if a stereotype of Asian males is that they are inferior supervisors and team players (being shy, insular, socially awkward, non-assertive, effeminate), how would that impact traditional ED jurisprudence? The plaintiff has the burden to show a prima facie case of discrimination because of ____ (insert race), and the employer can then show that the "adverse employment decision" (again some interesting work could be done here, e.g. promotion, pay, tenure) was actually because of a "legitimative non-discriminatory reason" (LNR). So I want to explore "subtlety" in the way Yoshino explored non-obvious racial, gender, or homosexual discrimination, when the discrimination forced people to "cover" their marginalized identities. In a sense, I want to make an argument for bringing the subtle to the fore: to recognize that "subtle" discrimination that masquerades as LNRs is still stereotype-based discrimination. If a woman can claim gender discrimination because in her performance review she was said to be "too aggressive" and "needs to wear more makeup," what about a performance review that says something like "not of managerial quality" or "too quiet" or "not assertive enough"? It's really difficult to talk about Asian American stereotypes as being race-based because they sound like race-neutral evaluations of performance or character. Yet, if Asians are the perpetual other, unassimilable and unrelatable, to what degree do social network based employment decisions affect promotion and pay? It's that "old boys club" redux. So my paper will incorporate sociological and management research (thank you, JSTOR) about wage and promotion rates for Asians, and will hopefullly include a section on the intersection of race and gender (although hard to find data on that) as one last nod to CRT before I get into my federalism and hate crimes master's thesis.

I'm still trying to make a coherent paper around all of this, dividing the paper into the various sections, looking at various cases, reading the literature in the field. Weirdly, not much research in the field specific to Asian Americans and employment discrimination and personality/behavior based discrimination, which is why I'm writing this. Well, that and it interests me and I think I can write it. That's all important. Only write on a subject you think you could produce a publishable paper on--and this is why I do not write about, I dunno, property law. So the novelty and feasibilty of the project are what attract me. There are a fair number of articles that are similar in that they argue against the "immutability" requirement of equal protection law (Yoshino) or when they argue against the performative aspects of race or gender (Carbado, Angela Onuachi, tons of others on makeup and dress). But I want to explore the ideas of how evaluations of intangible aspects of self (not merely the manifestations of appearance like hair, dress) like personality or behavior may produce racially disparate effects (not too far fetched, remember assimilationism, "acting White," etc.) particularly within social network based employment. And again, I want to bring in some sociological and management (and something called the Journal of Industrial Labor or something) studies about wage and promotion discrimination.

One analogy is gender stereotyping, in which men are fired for acting too effeminate, women for being too masculine, or either for being too gay-friendly. But that lacks an intersectional component--again, I wish to focus on Asian American stereotypes, in which effemininity is only but one part of the "model minority" myth. Also, this paper will focus soley on employment discrimination law, rather than violence against Asian Americans or I am thankful that sociologists and various journals on management and industrial labor (who knew?) are interested in this though. But so far, not finding one that gives proscriptions about Title VII cases or compares "subtle" cues of discrimination to other employment rules/actions that have disparate racial effects but are not considered racial discrimination per se. Employee appearance codeslike those discussed by Yoshino and Carbado, for example. If appearance codes are not considered racial, then is "personality" also not considered racial? Particularly when it's not blatantly pejorative ("Blacks are lazy," "Mexicans are not trustworthy," "Asians make good workers but not managers")?

I have a lot to think through. I have to find more/better cases to analyze so that my arguments make real world sense. I am, you know, interested in writing useful papers nowadays. I should really write my employment discrimination professor for help. That is, unless he reads this blog and is reading this request now and has already guessed who I am because there are only so many Vietnamese Yentl LLM students out there who write in the areas of "federalism, hate crimes, and employment discrimination law." If so, email me, Professor! I only told 5 friends about this blog, almost none of them from law school (to be honest, I don't think they would read it, my best friends rarely do). I have no clue who reads this blog apart from the 10-15 people who have emailed me or commented. And so I defintely didn't tell any of my professors at Bourgie Metrosexual Law School, since this blog does incorporate a fair amount of the personal along with the academic. But I wonder who reads my blog from my old school. I see the domain name pop up (freaks meout). And I really, really wonder if my employment discrimination prof does, because I have actually blogged about how he is the one who has done the most to encourage me to pursue academia. I'm a small blog though, after all, not so widely read. But he reads other blogs, and they sometimes link to me. He knows I'm applying to get into this conference for employment law professors (the chutzpah of LLM students and Vietnamese Yentls). I wonder if he does read this blog. If so, he probably read the allusion to going to weekly office hours bearing banana bread and apple turnovers with a chuckle. Again, lest ye chuckle yourself at this bit of "schoolgirlishness", I got awesome letters of rec that got me into Liberal College Town Law School and can call my former professors my friends because I've spent hours talking to them about law, life, everything. Can you say that? You can? Rock on!

In any case, I've just realized that I've written paragraphs, and am no closer to really refining my basic thesis or choosing a case or two for close analysis. I've got plenty of stuff to read and cite, but I need stuff to write about. I need to organize this paper and figure out how to do an intersectional analysis without taking away from the coherence of the paper's thesis about "subtle" adverse employment actions (like failure to promote or wage discrimination ) based on "subtle" racial stereotypes (personality/behavior assessments based on racial/ethnic group stereotypes) within social network based employment. I mean, you could write another paper about discrimination against Asian Amerian women in the workplace. But some cases and stats would be helpful.

This could be a decent paper, if I get around to making it decent (you know, once I'm done reading, delaying writing, and thinking abstractly---ED professor said that one thing I had going for me was my ideas, the unspoken sentence that should have followed is "all you need to do is actually write them into a paper"). And I've been looking and looking, but I don't think it's been written yet. And I hope the "subtlety" thing is not too wacky or too derivative of Yoshino's "covering"--I don't want to go back to the days when my arguments were not-insightful and useless. I don't know. So far, this is what I've got. Well this, and a deadline. So this is what I'm going for, but I want to make it better than it is now.

Comments are appreciated, but remember I'm a young aspiring scholar with not too thick skin. So give me a break--be honest, critical, supportive, give suggestions, but don't be so mean that I end up not writing this paper at all. Seriously, I do have somewhat thin skin. It took me a while to get over being called a "statist control phreak posing as a liberal" (dude, do you read this blog?!), and that was a few months ago. If accepted, this will be the first time I've workshopped a paper. Man, that will be as freaky as guest-lecturing in my sociology professor friend's Sociology 1 class to five hundred students next Spring. (Liberal arts college graduates: yes, that's like half of your entering class)

Here's to a year of firsts.

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