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Challenging the Politics of the “Model Minority” Stereotype: A Case for Educational Equality

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Abstract

This article examines the political rationale of the “model minority” stereotype about Asian Americans and its ramifications on education. Created by white elites in the 1960s as a device of political control, the model minority stereotype continues to serve the larger conservative restoration in American society today. By over-emphasizing Asian American success and misrepresenting it as proof of the perceived equal opportunity in American society, proponents of the stereotype downplay racism and other structural problems Asians and other minority groups continue to suffer. The theory that Asians succeed by merit (strong family, hard work, and high regard for education) is used by power elites to silence the protesting voices of racial minorities and even disadvantaged Whites and to maintain the status quo in race and power relations. In education, the model minority thesis has always supported conservative agendas in school reform. Now it goes hand in hand with the meritocracy myth and promotes educational policy that emphasizes accountability, standards, competition, and individual choice, while trivializing social conditions of schooling and unequal educational opportunities facing different student groups. It is the responsibility of educators to deconstruct the “model minority” stereotype and any other stereotypes or myths prevailing in education discourse, and seriously challenge racism, class division, and other structural problems. Social justice and equality must become a guiding principle for school reform and educational policy.
... The "model minority myth" is a stereotype that groups and labels Asian Americans as "diligent," "intelligent," and "docile"--traits that are generally perceived as "positive." The term arose during the 1960s when researchers claimed that Asian Americans had higher household incomes and completed more years of schooling in comparison to the average U.S. family (Yu, 2006). From this claim that was later proved false, Asian Americans were then put on a pedestal as the most "successful" minorities and used as a political tool by the people in power as false evidence that racism has decreased. ...
... The myth continues to instill beliefs that all Asian Americans have achieved high educational attainment and socioeconomic status, which may appear to shine a positive light on the Asian community. However, these perceptions mask the reality of the myth's harm in obscuring racism that is seen through forms of microaggressions, lack of representation in American political leadership, and implementation of a racial hierarchy (Yu, 2006). As the model minority myth continues to be embodied, Asian Americans face generalizations that invalidate their individual experience. ...
... poverty, yet society chooses to focus on the specific portion of the population to continue the model (Yu, 2006). A similar sentiment applies to the idea that Asian Americans do not face discrimination due to the false conception that the community overcame racism by becoming the model minority. ...
... Recent critiques of the model minority stereotype continue to question the political motivations of such a construct as well as the pernicious effects of it (Ng, Lee, & Pak, 2007;Suzuki, 2002;Yu, 2006). In revisiting his original challenge to the notion of a model minority from two decades ago, Suzuki (2002) notes that today the media are less likely to promote this stereotype and contemporary social scientists who study Asian Americans are less apt to invoke it. ...
... 24). Yu (2006) casts his challenge to the model minority stereotype from a political angle. According to Yu, "The model minority stereotype emphasizes individual values and efforts while trivializing social problems and educational equity. ...
... 332). Embracing Apple's (1996) notion that there has been a "conservative restoration" of American society, Yu (2006) suggests that this has led to the reaffirmation of Asian Americans as a model minority for the purposes of silencing the protests of racial minorities and maintaining the dominant structure of race and power relations. Power elites' misrepresentation and over-emphasis of Asian American success has enabled a veneer of equal opportunity, thereby skirting issues of racism and structural inequalities that continue to plague minority groups. ...
... This myth was perpetrated in the 1960's when publication outlets like the New York Times reported on the relative success of Chinese and Japanese immigrant populations as being due to their emphasis on hard work and family connections. Overall, Asian Americans are the embodiment of the meritocratic "American dream" which asserts that constant effort leads to success, and have been perceived as the racial group other racial/ethnic minority groups 2 should aspire to become (Yu, 2006). As mentioned previously, this myth does not account for the diverse experiences within the Asian group, and may lead school administrators or counselors to erroneously believe that Asian American students do not require as much academic, personal and programmatic support. ...
... Additionally, as found in the investigation described in Chapter 4, those students who report more bicultural competence were likely to report more psychological wellbeing and less depressive symptoms. More positive psychological adjustment overall coupled with a positive campus cultural climate can have beneficial effects on how much students feel they belong in their school settings, how confident they are in their studies, and how strongly they hold intentions to persist to graduation (Arbona, 2016 to better inform university policies and serve students (Poon et al., 2016;Teranishi, 2012;Yu, 2006). ...
Thesis
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The purposes of this dissertation were to better understand how South Asian American college students conceptualize biculturalism, how bicultural competence relates to coping and mental health outcomes, and how the campus environment can support bicultural competence through the testing of the Culturally Engaging Campus Environments (CECE) model. South Asians make up one-third of the Asian American population, though many studies within the fields of psychology and education on Asian Americans focus primarily on East Asians or fail to disaggregate the Asian category, lacking a nuanced understanding of the experience of Asian Americans. Additionally, South Asians face unique risk factors caused by the current, hostile political climate in the United States against Muslims and immigrants, and by the propagation of harmful stereotypes. Thus, this study aimed to bring the experiences of South Asian American students to the forefront and better understand how to support these students' identity development through the theoretical lens of biculturalism theory and the CECE model. Students from three different university settings were recruited to participate in a survey assessing mental health outcomes, coping styles, and thoughts about their college environment. Site 1 was a medium-sized, private university, Site 2 was a large, public university, and Site 3 was a medium-sized community college. The survey was completed by 196 students across the three sites, and 25 students (who filled out the survey from Site 1) participated in a 30 to 35-minute interview discussing their bicultural identity including how the college environment supported their bicultural identity development. Study analyses yielded significant results in three major different areas: (a) conceptualization of biculturalism, (b) biculturalism and mental health, and (c) environmental support for bicultural identity development. In regards to the first area, two theoretical contributions were noted through qualitative analyses of student interviews through a combination of inductive and deductive coding. First, the conceptualization of biculturalism by South Asian American students spanned six different components rather than one singular definition as commonly conceptualized in previous literature. These six components were (a) active participation in cultural traditions, (b) internalization of cultural values, (c) interpersonal factors, (d) flux and connection with cultural background, (e) relations between cultural identities, and (f) comfort and pride. Second, three potential external factors that contribute to bicultural competence were identified -- exposure to cultural settings, parents' bicultural competence and physical appearance. Additionally, analyses revealed that a potential outcome of demonstrating high bicultural competence was self-awareness or a more developed bicultural identity. In the second area, quantitative analyses revealed significant relations between bicultural competence, mental health, and coping. More specifically, bicultural competence was significantly related to positive mental health outcomes. Those who had high bicultural competence were more likely to report utilizing the reflective, acceptance/reframing/striving and family support coping styles, and were less likely to report utilizing reactive coping than those with low bicultural competence. Additionally, there was an interaction occurring between bicultural competence, family support coping, and psychological well-being, such that those who had low bicultural competence benefitted the most from using extensive family support coping. Finally, in the area of institutional support for bicultural identity development, quantitative analyses demonstrated how the campus environment can support bicultural competence through the testing of the CECE model. A structural equation model including bicultural competence as a mediator in the CECE model demonstrated good fit for the data. This significant fit suggests that the CECE indicators contributed to bicultural competence, and that bicultural competence partially mediated the relation between the CECE indicators and outcome variables -- sense of school belongingness and academic self-efficacy. Interviews also revealed which indicators of the CECE model were currently utilized by the university and best supported students' bicultural identity development. These indicators were culturally relevant knowledge, meaningful cross-cultural engagement, cultural familiarity, and cultural validation. Altogether, these findings contribute to current theory and research on biculturalism, demonstrate the positive benefits of bicultural competence on mental health, and highlight how aspects of the campus environment can support students' bicultural identity development. Results support and add to biculturalism theory through identification of factors that can contribute to and result from bicultural competence. Additionally, six different categories that compose biculturalism were found, contributing to the current literature on biculturalism. Explicit relations between bicultural competence, coping styles, and mental health were revealed. Through testing the CECE model, potential areas for intervention in campus environments were identified to support South Asian American students' bicultural identity development.
... Among AA students, underutilization of counseling services may stem from the model minority stereotype, that is, a belief that all Asian Americans excel in academic, social, and career areas relative to other minority ethnic groups. Moreover, this stereotype is a tool that helps maintain White supremacy, blaming AA students' failures on themselves or their family; in doing so, there is a failure to place accountability for structural racism on factors in educational settings that contribute to children's academic failure (Yu, 2006). It is not surprising then that AA students who internalize the model minority stereotype may feel a sense of shame or embarrassment, which prevent them from seeking counselors for help (Kim & Lee, 2014, Kim et al., 2018b. ...
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