Monday, June 19, 2006

On Being A Young Legal Academic

As a young scholar, I can't really say I have a specialization right now, other than "anti-discrimination law." I don't do straight-up Critical Race Theory anymore--that is, I don't really theorize about the meaning of race, racial categories, or how the law creates and reifies such classifications. Actually, I've written two posts about how I've become somewhat disenchanted with and exhausted by theory. Even now, I don't focus as much on traditional anti-discrimination law topics, instead choosing to analyze how a different area of law--currently, federalism, in the future, welfare law--produces disparate racial outcomes. But I do write CRT-influenced articles, and I figure I'll find my way back to creating some grand theory about the meaning of race. Like maybe an article about Asian American feminism. One day.

And in a strange turn of events, I've found myself interested in going back to CRT-ish articles. I've been doing some research (not in the writing phase yet) on Asian American stereotypes in the workplace. I could write on almost anything employment related, not necessarily employment discrimination (ERISA, pregnancy discrimination)--but for some reason, I feel compelled to try my hand at this topic. Being an Asian American woman, with the attendant stereotype of Tokyo Rose or Madama Butterfly, I know what's out there. I had a friend called "Tokyo Rose" to her face, which is a hyper-sexualized trope (she did not take it well). I knew a guy who openly said he liked Asian women for their "fragility." Half the Asian girls in my section (including me) were semi-stalked by this creepy guy who tried to hit on us by talking to us in our native language and following us around. Whether we're fetishized or dismissed as demure shy violets, I don't like it. I know that Asian males are commonly emasculated into "bookish, introverted" stereotypes or as lacking "interpersonal" skills. We are the workers, but not the managers or team players. I don't like that either. And I want to interrogate the ways in which the case law on racial stereotyping has treated stereotypes about Asian Americans, and whether the Black-White paradigm of anti-discrimination law should be expanded to recognize more subtle cues of discrimination, such that what might pass for a "performance review" isn't discrimination unchecked.

It's an exciting time to be a young legal academic. There is nothing to hold you back, except for your fear of being accused of dilettantism and the desire to be able to market yourself as broadly but specifically as you can [e.g. "I can teach contracts (good first year course), employment discrimination (good second year course), and welfare law and policy (good seminar course)"]. But since I'm not going on the market for a while, it's fun to experiment a bit and try to find my way. My current master's thesis will focus on how current federalism jurisprudence affects state and federal initiatives regulating hate crimes. I just can't imagine doing anything else right now--I spent all day today reading about hate crime initiatives, and I found myself alternately disgusted by the potential for animus and inspired by the ways in which society can collectively punish those whose crimes are driven by hate. So I'm still an anti-discrimination scholar. Sort of.

I just hope my future advisor, whoever he/she is (I sent in my list of 1-2 professors I'd like to work with, I just hope they'd like to work with me) likes the idea. There are about 5 paper topics floating around in my head--that's the fun part, thinking up the ideas and reading the literature in the field. The hard part is the daily slog of writing the paragraphs and the extensive footnotes. And the part about making sure your argument is novel, interesting, and above all coherent and sound. Actually, the worst is this Crit's worst nightmare--making sure the argument is useful, and not likely to be brushed aside as radical and impractical. I want my papers to produce a real policy recommendation that can be implemented by judges or law makers.

Okay, so it's tough being a young legal academic. It's difficult work that requires a lot of time (and it can be mindnumbingly boring trying to Bluebook every footnote). There's a lot to consider about how what you write affects your marketability. There's a lot of catches about making your writing "good." But it's still exciting, and a pretty great time to be a young academic.