MAILED: Jan. 3, 2001
In an effort to analyze interpersonal discrimination between two ethnic groups, a University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire faculty member conducted basic research that focused on the groups daily living experiences.
Dr. Jeremy Hein, associate professor of sociology and anthropology, conducted research for sociological and intellectual purposes titled Interpersonal Discrimination Against Hmong-Americans: Parallels and Variation in Microlevel Racial Inequality.
Hein paralleled the research of Dr. Joe R. Feagin, professor of sociology at the University of Florida-Gainesville and past president of the American Sociological Association. Feagin conducted research and analyzed interpersonal discrimination against African-Americans and their experiences of everyday racism. In his research, Feagin developed a typology of public discrimination against African-Americans. It distinguished five types of unequal treatment in face-to-face situations: avoidance, rejection, verbal harassment, physical harassment and police mistreatment.
Hein extended Feagins research by using data from interviews with 48 Hmong-Americans in Eau Claire, a city of predominantly Caucasian-Americans.
Hein assumed the Hmong-Americans in his study might have been hesitant to disclose information and discriminatory experiences to someone who did not speak Hmong. Therefore, he employed Touly Xiong, a Hmong research assistant and former UW-Eau Claire student who has a masters degree in psychology and who worked for the Hmong Mutual Assistance Association. During 1996-1997, Xiong used a questionnaire developed by Hein and conducted interviews with the 48 subjects.
During 1997-1998, Hein conducted follow-up interviews with seven of the subjects four men and three women to obtain additional data and to verify they had interpreted key questions correctly. The Hmong respondents were asked to specify which of Feagins five types of public discrimination they had experienced.
Hein found that of the 48 Hmong-Americans in the sample, only seven reported they never had experienced any type of interpersonal discrimination, mostly because they were isolated from contact with Americans due to old age. He also found that verbal harassment was the most common form of interpersonal discrimination experienced and the one most likely to be remembered as the worst incident by Hmong-Americans.
When looking at the results, Hein was surprised at the similarities of experiences between African-Americans and Asian-Americans (i.e., Hmong-Americans) because the media and social scientists often portray the two groups as very different. The two groups do not have the same histories, but strong similarities were found in their daily lives. The stories shared from the African-American and Hmong-American subjects were almost the same.
It hit a fundamental theme of what their everyday lives are like, Hein said.
Because Hmong-Americans reported all of the forms of interpersonal discrimination Feagin recognized for African-Americans, the study suggested that minorities in general face a similar inequality structure in public face-to-face situations.
Heins said he was happy his study was published in the August 2000 Sociological Quarterly, the official journal of the Midwest Sociological Society.
It allows my work to be available for other sociologists, as well as the public to view and reference, Hein said.
Hein said he first became interested in this topic when he was a college student in 1982. He also has been conducting research with Southeast Asian refugees since he attended graduate school at Northwestern University. He currently teaches a special topics sociology course titled Hmong-Americans in Wisconsin, which uses information gathered from his research.
Hein has been invited to serve on the Eau Claire Community Task Force for Racial Justice. The task force will assess the extent of racism in Eau Claire and recommend actions and strategies the city should take to promote racial justice in the community. Other UW-Eau Claire faculty on the task force are David Gregorio Fleitas, Hispanic/Latino program coordinator; Dr. Cynthia Gray-Mash, assistant professor of foundations of education; and Dr. Bonnie McCarty, assistant professor of foundations of education and special education. The task force begins meeting this month.
Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: Jan. 3, 2001