AAA201 Miami University The Model Minority Article Discussion Read Frank H. Wu’s article “The Model Minority” make a discussion post. 300 words. Frank H. W

AAA201 Miami University The Model Minority Article Discussion Read Frank H. Wu’s article “The Model Minority” make a discussion post. 300 words. Frank H. Wu, “The Model Minority: Asian American ‘Success’ as a Race Relations
Failure,” from Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White (New York: Basic
Books, 2002): 39-77
2
The Model Minority
Asian American “Success” as
a Race Relations Failure
Student: “Asians are threatening our economic future .
. . . We can see it right here in our own school. Who are
getting into the best colleges. in disproportionate numbers?
Asian kids! It’s not fair.”
Teacher: “Uh … That certainly was an unusual essay.
.. Unfortunately, it’s racist.”
Student: “Urn … are you sure? My parents helped me,”
-GARRY TRUDEAU
Recycled Doonesbury: Second TIfOughts on a Gilded Age
Revenge of the Nerds
I am not the model minority. Before I can talk about Asian American experiences at all, I have to kill off the model minority myth because the stereotype obscures many realities. I am an Asian American, but I am not good with
computers. I cannot balance my checkbook, much less perform calculus in
my head. I would like to fail in school, for no reason other than to cast off
my freakish alter ego of geek and nerd. I am tempted to be very rude, just to
39
YELLOW
44
breakthroughs in biology and chemistry, and publishing papers that make the
faculty envious as they strive toward a Nobel prize. If they engage in frivolous activities after hours, as they rarely do, they are betrayed by their telltale
red faces, which they develop after drinking just half a glass of beer.
Eventually, they land a job at a high-tech company Of they start their own.
Making millions, they buy big houses in the suburbs or build monstrosities
right up to the property line on vacant lots. They bring their relatives over,
starting the cycle over again.
In the view of other Americans, Asian Americans vindicate the American
Dream. A publicity campaign designed to secure the acceptance of Asian
Americans could hardly improve perceptions. They have done better here
than they ever could have dreamed of doing in their homelands. They are living proof of the power of the free market and the absence of racial discrimination. Their good fortune flows from individual self-reliance and community
self-sufficiency, not civil rights activism or government welfare benefits. They
believe that merit and effort payoff handsomely and justly, and so they do.
Asian Americans do not whine about racial discrimination; they only try
harder. If they are told that they have a weakness that prevents their social
acceptance, they quickly agree and earnestly attempt to cure it. If they are subjected to mistreatment by their employer, they quit and found their own
company rather than protesting or suing.
This caricature is the portrait of the model minority. It is a parody of itself.
In The Abilities and Achievements of Orientals in North America, 11 University
of Calgary psychologist Philip E. Vernon perfectly captures the prevailing
opinions about Asian Americans. Vernon describes Chinese and Japanese
immigrants to the United States and Canada:
The experiences of oriental immigrants in the United States and CanadaChinese andJapanese–provide a remarkable example of adverse environment
not affecting the development of intelligence. There is no doubt that, in the
past, they were subjected to great hardships, hostility, and discrimination. They
‘1lere regarded as a kind of inferior species, who could be used for unskilled
labor and menial jobs, but could never be accepted as equals into the white
community. And yet Orientals survived and eventually flourished until they
came to be regarded as even higher achievers, educationally and vocationally,
than the white majority. I”
Vernon’s research is typical of the tradition of the model minority myth. He
contrasts past discrimination against Asian Americans with the present suc-
The Model Minority
45
cess of Asian Americans. He reviews copious quantities of seemingly objective data from the United States and elsewhere. He emphasizes intelligence
tests suggesting that Asians outperform Caucasians both in the United States
and overseas. He falls back on stereotypes about Asian behavior. Vernon
explains, “Chinese people still appear to whites as being exaggeratedly humble and deferential, and as oblique or devious in their business and other
communications and interactions.” He notes that “because they have different ways of expressing emotions from whites, they still seem to us inscrutable
and reserved.”!9
Avoiding the debate over whether nature or nurture is more important to
human development by assuming that race and culture more or less correlate, Vernon writes that “any genetically different groups always differ too in
their cultures.”2o In later work, Vernon published findings that Asians have
larger heads than Caucasians and Africans and suggested that larger head size
correlates to higher intelligence. 21 Whatever the root causes for individual
achievement, Vernon links the status of Asian Americans to their identity as
Asian Americans. By his account, Asian Americans flourish because they are
Asian Americans, and they continue to thrive only to the extent that they
behave as archetypal Asian Americans. Vernon summarizes the major factor
in their “educational and occupational success” as “family upbringing” that
stresses seven elements:
1. Adherence to accepted conventions of social behavior.
2. Cohesion not only within a family but also with kin and the family
ancestors.
3. Discouragement of egocentricity and recognition of obligations to
others.
4. Loyalty and obedience to the authorities, employers, and the state.
5. Motivation for educational achievement from fmt entering school
until maturity.
6. Firm control, not permissiveness, from about three years up.
7. The need for hard work to gain success and honor the family.!?
ByVernon’s reckoning, these seven elements are distinctly Asian. “In spite
of the important differences between Japanese and Chinese cultures … child
upbringing is similar … in most respects
. and both differ greatly from
Western models,” he writes. “There are also resemblances to the Puritan
work ethic … but Orientals would probably not accept the Calvinistic view
that man is responsible for the effects of his own actions, or that he is funda-
42
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adoptive land, they hold,the potential not only to add to Republican rolls but
to define a bon’a-fide American language of civil rights.”16
According to the model minority myth, Asian immigrants have followed
the beacon of economic opportunity from their homes in China, Japan,
Korea, the Philippines, India, Vietnam, and all the other countries on the
Asian continent and within the Pacific Rim. They might be fleeing despotism or Communism, backwardness or the deprivations or war and famine,
but whatever the conditions of their past they know that the legend of Golden Mountain, to use the Cantonese phrase, guides their future.
They arrive in America virtually penniless. They bring barely more than
the clothes on their backs. Their meager physical possessions are less important than their mental capacity and work ethic. Thanks to their selfless
dedication to a small business or an advanced degree in electrical engineering-or both-they are soon achieving the American Dream.
They run a corner grocery in Manhattan, offering the freshest fruits and
vegetables and serving up a take-out luncheon buffet priced by the pound.
They buy a dry cleaning establishment in Los Angeles, featuring one-hour
turnaround times and giving discounts to police officers. They start a motel
franchise, which spreads throughout the Midwest, boasting such low rates
with amenities like free cable television that other proprietors have no choice
but to post signs identifying their accommodations inaccurately as “Native
American Owned.”They begin a computer chip manufacturing plant in the
Silicon Valley, inventing the hottest miniaturized gadgets before selling their
shareholdings and retiring at thirty-five. Or they open a boutique in Washington, D.c., with a display case of real-hair wigs on the wall above a bevy
of manicurists chatting among themselves in another language while painting their customers’ nails.
They were doctors, nurses, engineers, scientists, professors, and librarians,
but they have problems pursuing their professions because the requisite
license is denied to them owing to their foreign education, or they are discriminated against because they have a heavy accent. Even if they are reduced
to the drudgery of jobs for which they are overqualified, they are earning
what they could never have in conditions of a developing country. Although
they may be sweating as a janitor despite holding a doctorate, the toil is on1y
temporary, until they can secure the patent for their discovery. In the interim, they can save enough to send remittances home to kinfolk who want
very much to come here, too.
Whatever endeavor they pursue, Asian Americans are astonishing for their
gung-ho enthusiasm. They remain busy with the chores called for by their
The Model Minority
43
enterprise twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, through the holidays.
After they sweep out their storefront entryway, they wash down the public
sidewalk.
They come to dominate their trades after less than a decade, reducing
their competition to the verge of bankruptcy and then buying up their
warehouse stocks. Their associations become monopolies, lending money
cooperatively among their own members to preserve their collective advantage. In some cities, they hold more than half the commercial Iicenses and
operate a majority ofthe downtown “mom and pop” retail outlets. Hospitals and universities have departments wholly staffed by Asian immigrants.
Private industries ranging from automobile manufacturers to software
developers to government agencies, such as the Defense Department,
depend on them for research and development.
In turn, their American-born progeny continue the tradition with their
staggering academic prowess. They start ofT speaking pidgin, some of them
even being held back a grade to adjust. They are willing to do as they are
told, changing their given names to Anglicized Christian names chosen with
the help of their teachers and their friends and told matter of factly to their
parents. Above all, they study, study, study.
They are brought up under the strict tutelage of parents who have sacrificed everything in the hopes that their children will garner more than what
they themselves have lost. The parents defer everything for themselves and
invest it in their young, giving them the mission of redeeming the family.
They maintain that anything less than a straight-A report card will shame the
ancestors, and they beat their children for receiving a single B-plus. The elders have faith in the school system. They instill respect for educators. They
take their children to weekend language lessons instead of allowing them to
watch Saturday morning cartoons on television.
The no-nonsense regimen works wonders. A parade of prodigies named
Chang, Nguyen, and Patel takes the prizes at piano recitals and proceeds to
graduate from high school with honors as valedictorian, salutatorian, and the
rest of the top ten of the class, receiving full scholarships to the Ivy League
colleges en route to graduate school and advanced professional training.
In any course on campus, Asian Americans are the best (or worst) classmates. In a physics class, they wreck the grade curve, idly twirling their pens
back and forth with thumb and forefinger during lectures, solving problem
sets late into the night with their peers, breaking for fried rice seasoned with
pungent fish sauce and accompanied by smelly kim chee. In the laboratory,
they are polishing up projects begun when they were adolescents, making
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demonstrate, once and for all that I will not be excessively polite, bowing,
smiling, and deferring. I am lazy and a loner, who would rather reform the
law than obey it and who has no business skills. I yearn to be an artist, an athlete, a rebel, and, above all, an ordinary person.
I am fascinated by the imperviousness of the model minority myth against
all efforts at debunking it. I am often told by nice people who are bewildered
by the fuss, “You Asians are all doing well. What could you have to complain
about anyway? Why would you object to a positive image?” To my frustration, many people who say with the utmost conviction that they would like
to be color blind revert to being color conscious as soon as they look at Asian
Americans, but then shrug off the contradiction. They are nonchalant about
the racial generalization, “YoLl Asians are all doing well,” dismissive in asking
“What could you have to complain about anyway?,” and indifferent to the
negative consequences of “a positive image.”
Even people who are sympathetic to civil rights in general, including
other people of color, sometimes resist mentioning civil rights and Asian
Americans together in the same sentence. It is as if Asian American civil
rights concerns can be ruled out categorically without the need for serious
consideration of the facts, because everyone knows that Asian Americans are
prospering.
Consider the term “overachiever.” I am reluctant to accept the title for
myself, and not out of Asian modesty. To be called an “overachiever” begs the
question: What, exactly, is it that individuals have achieved over-what others expected of them or what they deserve?
In either case, overachievers have surprised observers by surpassing the
benchmark, and their exploits are not quite right. They will get their comeuppance sooner or later. Applied to an entire racial group, as “overachiever”
is to Asian Americans, the implications are troubling. Asian Americans, often
thought of as intellectuals, will be consigned to the same fate as intellectuals.
As Columbia University historian Richard Hofstadter stated in the opening
pages of his Anti-Intellectualism in American. Life, “The resentment from which
the intellectml has suffered in our time is a manifestation not of a decline in
his position but of his increasing prominence.”l
And so it is with Asian Americans. “You Asians are all doing well anyway”
summarizes the model minority myth. This is the dominant image of Asians
in the United States. Ever since immigration reforms in 1965 led to a great
influx of Asian peoples, we have enjoyed an excellent reputation. As a group,
we are said to be intelligent, gifted in math and science, polite, hard working, family oriented, law abiding, and successfully entrepreneurial. We revere
TIle Model Minority
4′
our elders and show fidelity to tradition. The nation has become familiar
with the turn-of-the-century Horatio Alger tales of “pulling yourself up by
your own bootstraps” updated for the new millennium with an “Oriental”
face and imbued with Asian values.
This miracle is the standard depiction of Asian Americans in fact and fiction, from the news media to scholarly books to Hollywood movies. From
the 1960s to the 19905, profiles of whiz kid Asian Americans became .~o common as to be cliches. In 1971, Newsweek magazine observed that we were
“outwhiting the whites.”2 People magazine one year made celebrities of the
five Asian American teenagers who swept the highest prizes in the annual
Westinghouse science talent search in an article headlined “Brain Drain
Boon for the U.S.,” and it followed up the next year by profiling an entire
family of Asian American winners.3 Brown University history professor
Stephen Graubard wrote an op-ed for The New York Times asking “Why Do
Asian Pupils Win Those Prizes?”4 The Asian refugee who was a finalist in a
spelling bee, but who lost on the word “enchilada,” has become legendary.’
Time, Newsweek, Sixty Minutes, and other media outlets have awarded Asian
Americans the title “model minority.”(‘ Fortune magazine dubbed us the
“superminority.”7 The New Republic heralded, “the triumph of Asian Americans” as “America’s greatest success story” and Commentary magazine referred
to Asian Americans as “a trophy population.”~ The New York Times announced
that we are “going to the head of the class.”ry The Hltlshington Post said in a
headline, “Asian Americans Outperform Others at School and Work.”w
Smith College sociologist Peter Rose has described Asian Americans as making a transition “from pariahs to paragons.”” Memoirist Richard Rodriguez
and Washington Post columnist William Raspberry have wondered whether
Hispanics and blacks, respectively, might be able to emulate Asian immigrants. n A minority group could become the equivalent of a white real estate
developer: Advertisif1g Age quoted a consultant who opined that Asian Americans were “the Donald Trumps of the 1990s.”‘·1
Conservative politicians especially like to celebrate Asian Americans. President Ronald Reagan called Asian Americans “our exemplars of hope.”‘4
President George Bush, California Governor Pete Wilson, House Speaker
Newt Gingrich-all have been unduly awed by the model minority myth.
In a brief for the Heritage Foundation Policy Review, California politician Ron
Unz said that Asian Americans come from an “anti-liberal Confucian tradition” that “leaves them a natural constituency for conservatives.”‘”‘ In the
National Review, author William McGurn made the model minority myth a
partisan parable: “Precisely because Asian Americans are making it in their
YELLOW
mentally evil, but can overcome this and achieve both grace and economic
success,” he adds. To make the point as adamantly as possible, he warns,
“When the tradition has yielded to modern American fashions, it does
appear that educational achievement is lowered, and that there is more delinquency, though still much below the white norm.”1J
With his twenty-three-page bibliography of sources spanning the twentieth century and the globe, covering the whole history of intelligence testing,
Vernon looks reputable. He cannot be dismissed as a crackpot, and his work
becomes troubling only upon a thorough reading. He was funded by the Pioneer Fund, which has promoted eugenics and racial separatism. 24 He worked
with the notorious Arthur Jensen, the University of California at Berkeley
physicist who claims that African Americans are genetically inferior.
However, if the message were true it would remain true regardless of the
messenger, and ad IWlnil1e111 attacks would be inappropriate. Likewise, if the
assertions are incorrect they remain incorrect even if espoused by other messengers, lacking the same ideological connections. Indeed, many researchers
share Vernon’s convictions about Asian American behavior as well as its causes. Furthermore, they have impeccable credentials and cannot be impugned
as biased. Their work, however, should not be regarded as persuasive merely
because it lacks an overt racial agenda. It may be imperfect because of its
racial assumptions. The flaw is embedded as an integral part of the research
methodology and the worIdview it represents.
Julian C. Stanley, a researcher at Johns Hopkins specializing in the academically gifted, has written a single-page article posing the title question,
“Do Asian Americans Tend to Reason Better Mathematically Than White
Americans?” His answer is emphatic in the opening line: “The answer … is
a resounding ‘yes,’ or even ‘of course.”‘” Stanley operates a center for mathematically precocious youth, which carries out annual nationwide searches
for subjects who at the age of thirteen score 700 or higher on the math portion of the SAT. For decades, he has been finding children who, before they
have entered high school, have abilities equal to the top 5 percent of seniors
about to graduate from high school. His samples have been as high as onequarter Asian American.
The same tendellCies have been documented among other Asian ethnicities; it is not only Chinese and Japanese immigrants who have shown spectacular skills. A group of scholars, for example, found abo…
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