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Behind the Headlines: APA News Blog

Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.

Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.

March 19, 2010

Written by C.N.

Academic Research: Asian Americans as Model Minorities

As part of this blog’s mission of making academic research and data more easily accessible, understandable, and applicable to a wider audience, and for readers who like to keep on top of the latest sociological research, I highlight new research and studies in academic journals about Asian Americans and other racial/ethnic groups as I hear about them. An article’s inclusion is for informational purposes only and does not necessarily mean a full endorsement of its complete contents.

The following articles focus on different aspects of Asian Americans portrayed as the “model minority” and how such perceptions on the part of White society and social institutions affect how Asian Americans are treated in daily life.

Chao, Melody Manchi, Chi-yue Chiu, and Jamee S. Lee. 2010. “Asians as the Model Minority: Implications for US Government’s Policies.” Journal of Social Psychology 13:44-52.

Asian Americans are often perceived as a ‘model minority’– an ethnic minority that are high achieving, hardworking, self-reliant, law-abiding, as well as having few social and mental health problems. Although the impact of the model minority image on the US government’s redistributive policies is a widely contested topic in public discourses, there has been little research on the association between the model minority image, people’s worldviews, and attitudes towards the US government’s redistributive policies.

In an experiment that measured American participants’ worldviews and manipulated the salience of the model minority image, we have demonstrated that those who believed in a malleable social reality were relatively unsupportive of government policies that help the Asian American (vs African American) communities. Theoretical and practical implications of this finding are discussed.

Brettell, Caroline B. and Faith Nibbs. 2010. “Lived Hybridity: Second-Generation Identity Construction Through College Festival.” Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power 16:678-699.

Recent research suggests that the children of recent immigrants, the so-called second generation, no longer choose to emphasize one identity over the other but that their identities are more fluid and multifaceted. College campuses are often the arenas in which a new hybrid identity develops.

This article addresses how South Asian American college students make sense of and control their various identities through the celebration of Diwali, an event sponsored each year by the Indian Students Association (ISA) on a college campus in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area. South Asian students use performative space to help them make sense of their backgrounds in ways that both differentiate them from and allow for association with the majority student population.

They also use this space as a safe place for ‘coming out,’ that is, for communicating their hybrid identity to their parents. This hybrid identity is expressed through a discourse of ‘brownness’ that marks something distinctive and that reflects the process by which the children of immigrants choose among a range of identities to create integrated selves. The campus Diwali festival is the expression of those selves.

Johnson, Brian D. and Sara Betsinger. 2009. “Punishing the “Model Minority”: Asian-American Criminal Sentencing Outcomes in Federal District Courts.” Criminology 47:1045-1090.

Research on racial and ethnic disparities in criminal punishment is expansive but remains focused almost exclusively on the treatment of black and Hispanic offenders. The current study extends contemporary research on the racial patterning of punishments by incorporating Asian-American offenders. Using data from the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) for FY1997-FY2000, we examine sentencing disparities in federal district courts for several outcomes.

The results of this study indicate that Asian Americans are punished more similarly to white offenders compared with black and Hispanic offenders. These findings raise questions for traditional racial conflict perspectives and lend support to more recent theoretical perspectives grounded in attribution processes of the courtroom workgroup. The article concludes with a discussion of future directions for research on understudied racial and ethnic minority groups.

Oh, David C. and Madeleine Katz. 2009. “Covering Asian America: A Content Analysis Examining Asian American Community Size and Its Relationship to Major Newspapers’ Coverage.” Howard Journal of Communications 20:222-241.

This study attempts to determine whether 4 decades after the Kerner Commission, newspapers report more accurately on an increasingly diverse population. Specifically, it studied whether the size of the Asian American population covered by a newspaper influences the coverage of Asian Americans in newspaper articles.

It appears that although newspapers situated within larger Asian American communities report more frequently, at more depth, and with more prominence on Asian Americans, the quality of that coverage is not influenced by the size of the Asian American community. In cities with larger Asian American populations, newspapers have responded with increased stories and length but not with increased quality of coverage.

This is likely because of newspaper fears of alienating European American readers, leading to a ‘White flight’ in circulation and because of news practices that lead to distorted reports of Asian Americans. These findings renew calls for the newspaper industry to more fairly represent the diverse range of its readership and not just its most favored demographic.

December 10, 2009

Written by C.N.

Posts from Years Past: December

You might be interested to read the following posts from Decembers of years past:

  • 2008: The Impact of Racial Diversity on College Students
    A new study shows that having a college roommate of a different race increases overall racial tolerance, except when your roommate is Asian American.
  • 2007: The Rise of the Nguyens
    New Census data points out that one of the fastest-growing surnames in the U.S. is the most common one among Vietnamese Americans.
  • 2006: Rejected Asian American Applicant Sues Princeton
    An Asian American applicant sues Princeton University for rejecting his admissions application and how his suit has evolved into another battle over affirmative action.
  • 2005: Model Minority Expectations and Suicide
    The intense pressure from families and society of living up to standards of high achievement can be overwhelming and has led many young Asian Americans to take their own lives.
  • 2004: Inter-Asian Sentiments
    Examples from popular culture in both Japan and South Korea illustrate the contradictory nature of inter-ethnic relations between Asians of different ethnic groups.

September 10, 2009

Written by C.N.

Posts from Years Past: September

You might be interested to read the following posts from September of years past:

  • 2008: What Exactly is a Hate Crime?
    How a recent racial attack against an Indian American symbolizes the injustices people of color have experienced through the years.
  • 2007: Using Religion to Unite Racial Groups
    In times of economic insecurity, demographic change, and political conflict, common religious beliefs might be the social glue that bonds groups from different backgrounds together.
  • 2006: Indian Americans: Model Immigrants?
    The socioeconomic success of many Indian Americans in recent decades is due to their individual and collective hard work and existing advantages that they brought with them as immigrants.
  • 2005: “Anti-Asian” Laws Passed by APA Politicians
    Looking at the racial, ethnic, and political complexities of laws and regulations proposed by Asian American politicians that seem to disproportionately hurt other Asian Americans.

July 20, 2009

Written by C.N.

Academic Research: Social Justice for Asian Americans

To complement my earlier post on recent studies on the second generation, another special issue from an academic journal focuses on issues related to social justice and activism among Asian Americans: “Asian American and Pacific Islander Population Struggles for Social Justice” in the journal Social Justice: A Journal of Crime, Conflict, and World Order (2008-2009, Volume 35 Issue 2):

This issue of Social Justice offers an overview of the struggle for social justice in the United States by Asian and Pacific Islanders, including the factors that shape oppositional consciousness and the possibility for collective action. Authors address Asian American activism in urban communities — particularly traditional Asian ethnic enclaves — around land use, affordable housing, as well as labor and community preservation.

Articles address grass-roots efforts to launch an anti-drug offensive, an environmental justice and leadership skills organization, to develop tools for Muslim women of South Asian descent to fight anti-Islamic sentiment, to confront the marginalization and stereotyping of Asian Americans in popular culture, to critique the racial differentiation of the Asian and Latino immigrant populations, and to expose how the model minority myth reinforces established inequities and places second-generation Asian Americans within a precarious, defensive dilemma in which they must constantly prove their worth as “real” Americans regardless of their legal citizenship status.

  • Adalberto Aguirre, Jr., and Shoon Lio: “Spaces of Mobilization: The Asian American/Pacific Islander Struggle for Social Justice”
  • Michael Liu and Kim Geron: “Changing Neighborhood: Ethnic Enclaves and the Struggle for Social Justice
  • Jinah Kim: “Immigrants, Racial Citizens, and the (Multi)Cultural Politics of Neoliberal Los Angeles”
  • Diane C. Fujino: “Race, Place, Space, and Political Development: Japanese-American Radicalism in the “Pre-Movement” 1960s”
  • May Fu: “‘Serve the People and You Help Yourself'”: Japanese-American Anti-Drug Organizing in Los Angeles, 1969 to 1972″
  • Bindi Shah: “The Politics of Race and Education: Second-Generation Laotian Women Campaign for Improved Educational Services”
  • Etsuko Maruoka: “Wearing ‘Our Sword’: Post-September 11 Activism Among South Asian Muslim Women Student Organizations in New York”
  • Lisa Sun-Hee Park: “Continuing Significance of the Model Minority Myth: The Second Generation”
  • Meera E. Deo, Christina Chin, Jenny J. Lee, Noriko Milman, and Nancy Wang Yuen: “Missing in Action: ‘Framing’ Race in Prime-Time Television”
  • Gregory Shank: “Paul T. Takagi Honored”

June 29, 2009

Written by C.N.

The Model Minority Image: Balancing Praise and Caution

As I and many other scholars have written, Asian Americans are frequently portrayed as the “model minority” — a group of Americans who have worked to overcome difficulties in our way in order to achieve socioeconomic success, who have quietly persevered to get ahead in American society rather than resorting to political confrontation, and therefore, stand as examples for other racial minority groups to follow and emulate. As I’ve also summarized in my linked article above, there are numerous problems with this characterization, such as the blanket assumption that all Asian Americans are successful and no longer experience any form of racial discrimination.

But what about the assertion within this model minority image that Asian Americans have worked extremely hard to achieve success? Isn’t that true?

The short answer is, of course. Throughout this site and blog, I’ve described the various ways in which Asian Americans (individually and collectively) have indeed used hard work, patience, and determination to overcome various barriers in our way in order to achieve our goals in various pursuits of life and professional fields, such as political power, education and academics, professional sports, high-tech entrepreneurship, the entertainment industry, and corporate leadership, to name just a few examples. With this in mind, Asian Americans should absolutely be recognized and congratulated for our hard work.

In fact, a recent op-ed column in the New York Times from Nicholas Kristoff highlights this idea of Asian American success based on hard work and determination, rather than inherent cultural traits such as intelligence:

One large study followed a group of Chinese-Americans who initially did slightly worse on the verbal portion of I.Q. tests than other Americans and the same on math portions. But beginning in grade school, the Chinese outperformed their peers, apparently because they worked harder. The Chinese-Americans were only half as likely as other children to repeat a grade in school, and by high school they were doing much better than European-Americans with the same I.Q. . . .

A common thread among these three groups may be an emphasis on diligence or education, perhaps linked in part to an immigrant drive. Jews and Chinese have a particularly strong tradition of respect for scholarship . . . the larger lesson is a very empowering one: success depends less on intellectual endowment than on perseverance and drive.

Having said that, we also need to recognize that the dynamics of political, economic, and cultural success are more complicated than just hard work. First, Asian Americans benefit in many ways from our“honorary White” status. This refers to how Asian Americans are situated below Whites in the U.S.’s racial hierarchy and that based on our levels of socioeconomic success — and to put it bluntly, our relatively light-colored skin — are slightly more socially accepted from the White majority than other (darker skinned) racial minorities such as Blacks and many Latinos. This idea is similar to the “middleman minority” theory that Asian Americans serve as a buffer zone that insulates the White majority from Blacks and Latinos.

Second, the drive to work hard ultimately has its limits. Along with the stories with happy endings that I mentioned earlier, the drive for success unfortunately can become obsessive, counterproductive, and even tragic. Some examples of the pressures of working hard gone wrong include high rates of mental illness, cheating scandals, eating disorders, intentionally breaking up families, domestic violence and even murder, and suicides.

The take-home message is that, by all means we should celebrate and encourage the hard work within the Asian American community that has resulted in many forms of success and accomplishment. We as Asian Americans should rightfully feel proud and inspired by all the historical and contemporary examples in which we’ve used our individual and collective resources and determination to overcome the barriers in our way on the road to achieving our goals.

At the same time, we also need to understand that not all racial/ethnic groups have the same circumstances and that these historical and contemporary characteristics lead to different challenges that each group faces. Secondly, the push for hard work can and has gone too far at times and when it does, can lead to disastrous consequences.

In the end, I hope that just as many of our cultural traditions teach us, Asian Americans should strive to achieve balance with these different elements of determination and reflexivity in our lives.

July 8, 2008

Written by C.N.

New Book: Myth of the Model Minority

As American society in general and Asian Americans in particular continue to evolve in the increasingly globalized and transnational 21st century, it becomes even more important to understand the unique details that are included within both collective categories.

With that in mind and following up on my recent post about differences among Asian Americans when it comes to education, a new book entitled The Myth of the Model Minority: Asian Americans Facing Racism written by Rosalind Chou and Joe Feagin promises to be a very useful and enlightening resource on the Asian American experience:

In this pathbreaking book sociologists Rosalind Chou and Joe Feagin examine, for the first time in depth, racial stereotyping and discrimination daily faced by Asian Americans long viewed by whites as the “model minority.” Drawing on more than 40 field interviews across the country, they examine the everyday lives of Asian Americans in numerous different national origin groups.

Their data contrast sharply with white-honed, especially media, depictions of racially untroubled Asian American success. Many hypocritical whites make sure that Asian Americans know their racially inferior “place” in U.S. society so that Asian people live lives constantly oppressed and stressed by white racism.

The authors explore numerous instances of white-imposed discrimination faced by Asian Americans in a variety of settings, from elementary schools to college settings, to employment, to restaurants and other public accommodations.

The responses of Asian Americans to the U.S. racial hierarchy and its rationalizing racist framing are traced—with some Asian Americans choosing to conform aggressively to whiteness and others choosing to resist actively the imposition of the U.S. brand of anti-Asian oppression.

This book destroys any naïve notion that Asian Americans are universally “favored” by whites and have an easy time adapting to life in this still racist society.

I have not read the book yet and I have to admit that I do not know Rosalind Chou’s work very well, but I am a huge admirer of Dr. Feagin and respect him and his work immensely.

Therefore, but I have no doubt that this book will be a very enlightening and useful resource for faculty, students, and anybody else who seeks to understand what it means to be an Asian American in 21st century American society.