The article Deconstructing the Model Minority Myth lays out well the primary concepts behind the stereotype of the “model minority”, a term often applied to Asian-American populations. There exists a pressure for Asian-Americans to conform to a perfectionist stereotype, meanwhile other stereotypes such as the “Yellow Peril” and “perpetual foreigner” stereotype may cause Asian-Americans to feel less welcome in the United States. Myths and Mirrors, another reading for this class, describes how these stereotypes might affect Asian-American students.
One interesting component of the Myths and Mirrors reading was its chart contrasting typical American values with typical Asian values. One student commented that the American values listed were in fact male American values, including the “promotion of personal accomplishments” and “tough, individualistic, authoritative leadership”. We wondered if these values were inextricable from the way science is conducted or not, and tried to imagine a scientific community which espoused different values, perhaps ones more similar to those in the Asian values column.
The “bamboo ceiling” phenomenon occurs where Asian Americans are absent from leadership roles in the communities and companies in which they otherwise succeed. We struggled to come to a conclusion about to what extent Asian Americans’ differing cultural values might contribute to this phenomenon. On the one hand, it is true that values such as humility and anti-individualism might hamper one’s ability to be seen as a leader in the United States. On the other hand, it may be that non-Asians assume that Asian-Americans possess certain cultural values or attributes even though they may not. The way in which we talk about this particular issue is tricky; we don’t want to impose static cultural values on an entire group of people, or to use reductionist reasoning to explain the differences in achievement and perceptions of different racial or cultural groups. Still, some students thought it very likely that some foreign students genuinely have different values and expectations than domestic students (ex. How permissible do they find it to question authority figures?).
Overall we wondered why there isn’t much talk in general about racial issues and prejudices facing Asian Americans in STEM and at Brown. Perhaps, one student suggested, Asians preferred to be, as they often are, lumped in with Whites and not seen as a racial minority. In this way Asians might be able to more easily access whiteness and make their differences a bit more invisible. Another student suggested that foreign students with very strong ties to their home countries might not have as much stake in changing Americans’ perceptions of Asians while they are here.
Conversations that do take place about Asian-American racial issues are often unproductive. For instance, Asian-Americans are often pitted against African-Americans in an attempt to show that it is perfectly possible for racial minorities to succeed using the current systems in the United States. Just last week Bill O’Reilly used the performance of Asian Americans to argue that white privilege doesn’t exist in a conversation with Jon Stewart. This rhetoric (presuming all Asian-Americans are the same and all achieve the same level of success with little or no barriers) fails to properly address the experiences of actual people of Asian ancestry in the U.S.