“I Hate My Own Race. The Teachers Just Always Think We're Smart”: Re-Conceptualizing the Model Minority Stereotype as a Racial Epithet

“I Hate My Own Race. The Teachers Just Always Think We're Smart”: Re-Conceptualizing the Model Minority Stereotype as a Racial Epithet

Sophia Rodriguez
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 26
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-7467-7.ch008
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The chapter examines how Asian American female youth resist the Model Minority Stereotype (MMS). The author reports findings on the identity struggles of three youth who are raced as the “smart Chinese girls,” gendered as “the Chinese sorority sitting in the back of the room,” and classed as “low-income kids at a ghetto school in Chicago.” The findings discuss how teacher-student relationships impact youth identity formation, and how youth desire cultural identities free from racist discourse perpetuated through “racial epithet” (Embrick & Henricks, 2013). Re-conceptualizing the MMS as a “racial epithet” challenges educators to disrupt racialized discourses.
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Educational researchers continue to problematize and attempt to unravel the model minority stereotype (Conchas & Pérez, 2003; Ngo, 2010; Ngo & Lee, 2007). Studies in the sociology and anthropology of education about the model minority stereotype engage with the dominant discourses relevant for larger studies of immigration issues, and connect students’ educational experiences with identity and achievement (Lee, 2009). Additionally, Conchas and Pérez (2003) argue, “The model minority has been the dominant folk model of Asian American school performance and social mobility” (p. 42). While research on the model minority stereotype often focuses on whether or not Asian Americans live up to this stereotype, and the ways in which middle-to-upper-class Asian and Chinese immigrants have been “ideologically whitened,” which mirrors their status and characterization as model minorities (Lee, 2009; Ong, 1999), more recent research in education attempts to capture variation across Asian immigrant students and their levels of achievement. In particular, identity formation of Asian students is shaped by how students interpreted the nature of their interracial relations relative to non-Asian and Asian groups by issues of social class and by their perceptions of future job opportunities (Lee, 2009). This view supports Ogbu’s (1978, 1987) and Ogbu and Simons’ (1998) claim that voluntary minorities tend to recognize the importance of schooling in shaping their social and economic mobility. In spite of this, not all Asian students in Lee’s (2009) study accept this model minority identity that places them as identifying with the dominant, host society’s values. The point overall is that the model minority stereotype is not explanatory of Asian students’ achievement levels or desire for school success. Rather, multiple factors shape school success, and research needs to account for variation in achievement in school within and across Asian American groups.

Similarly, Staiger’s (2006) study found that some Cambodian minorities chose identities of the dominant racial group in the schoolyard such as African American students. These African American students did not maintain an academic identity; rather, their social identity as the tough ones in the schoolyard was appealing to Cambodian minorities. The pattern among Cambodian immigrants’ choice to live up to the model minority stereotype was not consistent, but Staiger found that most of the time Cambodian (and Latino, too) immigrants chose identities of dominant racial groups in the schoolyard for self-preservation reasons. Staiger’s (2006) study showed that Cambodian students did not always choose the academic identity that would lead to positive achievement, contrary to what the model minority stereotype would assume about this group given their connection to an Asian background. Additionally, other scholarship that complicates the model minority stereotype can be seen in Lee’s (2009) study. Lee (2009) found that Asian- and Korean-identified students’ choice to live up to the model minority stereotype did lead to positive academic achievement. In contrast, other Asians in Lee’s study rejected the model minority identity because they perceived it as racist, and harmful to their interracial relations. The considerable variation in how identity formation occurs in Lee’s and Staiger’s study suggests that identity formation occurs through social relations and discourses about ethnicity, e.g., the model minority stereotype, instead of what the dominant, cultural-ecological model theorists characterize Asians—as a “monolithic entity devoid of within-group variation” (Conchas & Pérez, 2003, p. 43)

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