A Double-Edged Sword: Side Effects of the Model Minority Stereotype on Asian Immigrants in the U.S.

A Double-Edged Sword: Side Effects of the Model Minority Stereotype on Asian Immigrants in the U.S.

Bita H. Zakeri (Indiana University – Bloomington, USA)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 28
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-7467-7.ch009
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Abstract

The model minority stereotype of Asian Americans creates a multitude of identity crises for Asian minorities. Asians who cannot meet the incredibly high standards set before them by such classifications face crises and end up either rebelling against their culture and the dominant White culture or wallowing in shame for their failure to meet said expectations. On a larger scale, the stereotype does not consider class or habitus and forms of capital that this heterogeneous and diverse community possesses. This chapter provides a theoretical examination of the effects of the model minority stereotype on Asian immigrants, with a focus on West Asians. The chapter reveals economic and cultural inequities the model minority stereotype causes within immigrant communities and the larger U.S. society, demonstrating how the stereotyping operates as a subsystem of Whiteness used to promote the inequitable ideology of achieving the American Dream through hard work while bringing racism to the forefront.
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Introduction

One of my Chinese students who received a C- on her paper came to see me during office hours complaining that she could not possibly have written a C- paper. After spending an hour going over the content, she suddenly burst into tears and began explaining, in broken English, that she could not afford to get a C- because she would be an embarrassment to her family and a failure in front of her friends. Suddenly I felt like I was looking into a mirror. As an Iranian whose life-long goals had always been set with respect to fulfilling the image expected from me by family, culture, and society, it was only two years ago that I was frustrated I had received an A- on a paper I wrote as a Ph.D. student and disappointed that I had probably not done my best. That was only the most recent experience I could recollect among the plethora of such experiences and feelings throughout my academic life. Here we were, two women from the continent of Asia, her being Chinese and me Iranian-American, both tormented once again by feeling we had underachieved in accordance with what is culturally and academically expected of us. This incident was not new to me. Being from an academically oriented family where all members of my family have a doctorate degree and higher, there was a lot of pressure on my siblings and me to do well academically. During my school years, there were numerous occasions where my Indian and Iranian friends faced similar sentiments with regards to their failure to meet the standards expected from a student of their ethnic background. But what are the premises of such expectations? Parents’ desire for their children to do well is understandable, especially in immigrant families such as mine who gave up everything they had in the hopes of gaining better opportunities for their children. However, the prominent questions that have led to my review of the model minority stereotyping of Asians are: 1.) Why should it matter in a society such as the U.S. that some ethnicities or, as the model suggests, races do better than others? 2.) What is the purpose of implementing racial categorization and stereotyping such as “The Model Minority”? As if the pressures of success in academia and life from one’s family and community are not enough, especially with regards to immigrants, the ideologies put in place by the model minority stereotype add yet another layer of pressures, expectations, failures, and inequities that lead to racism to which Asians and other minorities in the U.S. succumb.

The model minority stereotype of Asian Americans creates a multitude of identity crises for Asian minorities as well as other minority groups in the U.S. Asians who cannot meet the incredibly high standards set before them by such classifications face crises and end up either rebelling against their culture and the dominant White culture1 or wallowing in shame for their failure to meet said expectations. On a larger scale, the stereotype does not consider class or habitus and forms of capital (Bourdieu, 1983) that this heterogeneous and diverse community possesses (Gee, 1992). In order to properly address some of the issues theoretically, this chapter will examine the effects of the model minority stereotype on Asian immigrants, with a focus on West Asians and the notion of Asian identity, to reveal the economic and cultural inequities the model minority stereotype causes within immigrant communities as well as the larger U.S. society. Using Said’s (1978) theory of Orientalism, this chapter will discuss the centuries-old interplay and power struggle between the West and the East, showing how the model minority stereotype operates as a subsystem of Whiteness used to promote the inequitable ideology of achieving the American Dream through hard work while bringing racism to the forefront by suggesting intellectual supremacy of certain ethnic subgroups.

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