Friday, May 11, 2012

Asian Americans as Model Minorities - A Socially Constructed Stereotype

The voices of Asian Americans are often unheard in discourses surrounding racism and inequities in society, presumably because of the model minority stereotype, a widely accepted belief that their hard work and motivation has enabled them to achieve the American dream. Growing up as a second-generation Indian American, I found myself struggling with the overgeneralizations associated with the stereotype. Even from an early age, I questioned why I was forced to check off boxes identifying myself as “Asian American,” when I never referred to myself in this way and felt it masked my true ethnicity. As I grew older, I became frustrated with people asking me where I was really from, when my response to their original question was ‘upstate New York.’ Society always assumed I was a foreigner, based on the color of my skin. Furthermore, my decision to pursue education as a career was met with much surprise, as Asians were ‘supposed’ to become doctors or engineers. Through these personal experiences, I became aware of society’s negligence to recognize the vast diversity apparent among the ethnicities, identities, achievement levels, needs, and interests of individuals labeled as Asian Americans. 

Through my review of the literature, it became apparent that the model-minority stereotype was socially constructed as a means of maintaining a hegemonic society. It was during the midst of the civil rights movement when this new narrative on Asian Americans began to emerge. In the 1960s, African Americans in particular began claiming that disadvantaged environments and racist educators were to blame for their inability to excel. At this point, a slew of mainstream media articles began to recognize Asian Americans as a minority group who managed to succeed, despite living as a minority in American society. Even though some may argue that the portrayal of Asian Americans as model minorities resulted in more favorable attitudes towards these individuals, many researchers believe the widely accepted stereotype was merely a means of maintaining hegemony and silencing the claims that America was a society built on racial inequalities. 

Here are some mainstream media articles that contributed to the construction and maintenance of the model-minority stereotype: 

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