Capitalism and Racial Identity
July 15, 2015 1:01 PM   Subscribe

Beyond the Model Minority Myth : "Discussing certain Asian groups’ material advantages today as a type of transhistorical “privilege” or “complicity” with power — rather than the result of a specific set of immigration and domestic policies that have aligned with shifting national attitudes — mystifies the mechanisms of capitalism rather than elucidating them."
posted by Conspire (29 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
 
Excellent article. I need a second read to get to the denser parts, but one thing that occurred I me is that I think we have a fundamental ordering problem on the relationship between prejudice and systemic discrimination.

For a long time, I thought that prejudice led to systemic discrimination. Now I think, and I think this article supports, that the practical discriminations come first, and the prejudice follows on as a self-justification by the people choosing to discriminate.

I think what his means is that more practical policies might do a better job of combatting inequality than winning hearts and minds via rhetoric.
posted by Deoridhe at 1:24 PM on July 15, 2015 [10 favorites]


Sociologist Jennifer Lee ... argued recently ... that the Asian immigrants who enter the US are “highly selected, meaning that they are more highly educated than their ethnic counterparts who did not immigrate.” According to Lee, this hyperselectivity also means that those who are admitted to the US have the capital to create “ethnic institutions such as after-school academies and SAT prep courses” that then become available to working-class co-ethnics, boosting rates of education for the entire group.

In order for that to be true, it would mean that if you look back on the day-to-day experience of students in Asian countries, we would not see a similar, widespread drive toward academic achievement, test-prep courses and after-school academies. After all, those are all the self-satisified dunces that the smart people left behind, right? This wouldn't be so common, right, because it wouldn't be so hyperselective?

Oh wait.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:27 PM on July 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


It seems pointless to have opinions on the canonical US views on what races exist as it's so easily picked apart, but the notion of "Asian" as a meaningful group descriptor is just so bad. India, China and a dozen-plus countries in between? It's like half the population of the world.

But I suppose it's no more terrible than any of the other census racial categories.
posted by GuyZero at 1:27 PM on July 15, 2015 [7 favorites]


the "Highly Selective Immigrant" myth also overlooks the experiences of refugees from wartorn nations that were resettled in the US and would like the capital or even schooling that would permit them entry to the middle class; but are still subject to model minority expectations.

Growing up there were always certain tensions between the Hong Kong and Japanese immigrant kids with wealthy parents who came from private school educations, and the Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees whose educational foundations were far more rudimentary, but were still somehow expected to be math whizzes or classical music prodigies.

I'm interested in the article, but holding off on further comment until I have time to RTFA.
posted by bl1nk at 1:37 PM on July 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


In order for that to be true, it would mean that if you look back on the day-to-day experience of students in Asian countries, we would not see a similar, widespread drive toward academic achievement, test-prep courses and after-school academies. After all, those are all the self-satisified dunces that the smart people left behind, right? This wouldn't be so common, right, because it wouldn't be so hyperselective?

I would caution against arguing that line of thought. After all, Asian immigration to the US has happened in different waves from different countries, during different periods, for different reasons, some by choice and others not so much.

The sociologist's generalization might be a bit too broad, but retorting that just because the Chinese in the Anhui province have test prep necessarily means that they're just as highly educated without factoring in any other contextual details (culture, opportunity, GDP per capita, historical moment) does an enormous disservice to your argument.
posted by qcubed at 1:37 PM on July 15, 2015 [5 favorites]




That said, there does seem to be a growing fracture line in the AA community as a whole, as much as one exists, with some wondering why they should fight against anti-Black bigotry--with their reason for refusal often being couched in subtle bigotry, or, less often, in a tit-for-tat "they hate us too!" mentality, which often focuses on things like sa-i-gu.
posted by qcubed at 1:42 PM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


It seems pointless to have opinions on the canonical US views on what races exist as it's so easily picked apart, but the notion of "Asian" as a meaningful group descriptor is just so bad. India, China and a dozen-plus countries in between?

Sincere confusion: IME "Asian" in the US does not include Indians. At least growing up in Houston in the 90s, "Asian" always meant "East/SE Asian". This was the way it was casually, and for things like student groups or events (e.g., an Asian Student Group would be made up of East/SE Asians, there would be a separate group for Indians/South Asians). That was true in college as well.

I understand that in the UK, "Asian" includes South Asian. Has "Asian" come to include them as well in the US, or was my experience regarding the term "Asian" not the norm for the rest of the US?
posted by Sangermaine at 1:43 PM on July 15, 2015


Sangermaine

Weeellll it depends on who you talk to and what context it's in. For obvious reasons, the more political leaning Asian-American activists would like to include South Asians in the greater "Asian American" identity.

Your average AA my not really be including Desis when they use the term, and your average Desi may not be using that term to describe themselves.

Then again, this is the problem when you try to forge a political bloc from disparate groups hailing from different portions of a fairly large, populated continent, whose ethnicities have been treated somewhat more granularly by Americans (as opposed to "black people" from the "country" of Africa).
posted by qcubed at 1:49 PM on July 15, 2015


I wonder how the typical results of East Asians on typical psychometric cognitive tests (IQ, SAT, etc) plays into this "model minority" concept.

With a persistently observed cognitive advantage of +0.5SD relative to the mean, this might be able to explain some part of the collective success of these populations, even in the face of the so-called "Asian SAT penalty".
posted by theorique at 1:51 PM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Has "Asian" come to include them as well in the US, or was my experience regarding the term "Asian" not the norm for the rest of the US?

When high-tech companies report racial diversity data yes, they include both "south asians" and "asian asians" as "Asians", yes. The US Census defintion is "Asian – A person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent including, for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam."

In common usage most people mean "maybe Chinese" when saying "Asian" but most US demographers use it like the UK usage (AFAIK).
posted by GuyZero at 1:51 PM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Second what qcubed said. You can see this in the tweets of Ayesha Siddiqi, whose family is from Pakistan.
posted by peripathetic at 1:58 PM on July 15, 2015


With a persistently observed cognitive advantage of +0.5SD relative to the mean, this might be able to explain some part of the collective success of these populations, even in the face of the so-called "Asian SAT penalty".

I don't think East Asians always had that +0.5SD "advantage"--and I don't know how useful those would be for comparison, either, given that IQ scores seem to rise as a country gets more developed. I also think this is where the "highly selected" stuff can come into play, because a lot of East Asians who came here in the mid-to-late 20th were richer and better educated (the whole brain drain thing, as well as in some cases not wanting to be murdered by students with red books), whereas a lot of the Southeast Asians didn't quite have the luxury of deciding whether or not they wanted to save up and then move across an ocean--and you can see this in the different results between, say, Korean-Americans and Hmong-Americans.
posted by qcubed at 2:03 PM on July 15, 2015


I'm Indian and it always annoys me when Americans use Asian to exclude South Asians. I'm from Asia, obviously I'm Asian. Especially since as noted above, census forms only have Asian and not South Asian, so where else am I supposed to fit. This causes weird situations where I get emails for "Asian" employee resource groups at work, but somehow feel I'm not the target audience (photos of their events include maybe two South Asian looking people).
posted by peacheater at 2:03 PM on July 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


I sometimes wonder if there is a such thing as an "Asian identity." Like, do Filippinos have the same experience of "being Asian" that people of Vietnamese heritage in the United States or Canada do?

I also think that perhaps the author of the Jacobin piece conveniently excluded South Asian folks from their hypothesis, since to do so makes drawing a conclusion so much easier.

It's also a little unusual to discuss this topic on MetaFilter, since not everyone commenting here has any experience or knowledge of "what it means to be Asian."

Do I have the experience or knowledge? My kids are Asian, according to the author of this piece...
posted by Nevin at 2:14 PM on July 15, 2015


hey guys, I think that we've raised a lot of valid points about how the "Asian" label is a blunt tool for describing a variety of cultures, nations, and peoples. And I think that the conversation about how this bluntness is a result of bureaucratic laziness in things like census forms or old fashioned prejudice or desires to artificially create voting blocs and unions of otherness can be interesting.

but the thread is about an essay illustrating how some Chinese, Indian, Korean, Filipino, and Pakistani immigrants, have been, in varying degrees, complicit in the maintenance of white supremacy by submitting to the dominant culture and not challenging injustice for the sake preserving the prosperity they've been permitted to keep. So maybe we shouldn't get hung up on labels in this thread and refocus on how our experiences have or haven't been different from other peoples of color?

There's a part of this that feels a bit like the I, Racist Medium post that was linked previously, but specifically targeted at how non-white immigrants may also see their role in this dysfunction.
posted by bl1nk at 2:20 PM on July 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


Thank you for posting this; lots to ponder here in terms of locating ourselves within the racial landscape of the US.

I've heard it said that there's a political divide among younger Asian Americans, with some being progressive and others extremely conservative. This seems to be true among my friends and acquaintances, along with a third (larger, maybe) group that's apolitical. And I think it does say something about our place in society that "conservative Asian" doesn't strike most people as an automatic contradiction in terms or an indication of hypocrisy or self-hate, the way that "gay Republican" or "black Republican" might. That we even feel able to adopt conservatism in large numbers without the reservations that, say, Latinos might have about today's Republican party. In this way, I think we do act like whites, but "not-black" sounds like a much truer and more accurate description of the place we've been made to occupy.

Also, #ModelMinorityMutiny is perfect. I love a good hashtag that combines subversion AND alliteration.
posted by sunset in snow country at 2:28 PM on July 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Well, "Asian American" identity is very different from "Asian" identity. I've never met anyone in Japan who would think of themselves as having an "Asian" identity, much like how Americans don't have an "American continent" identity. But in America, I think people from various countries (or their children, grandchildren, etc) can have more in common than they would have before. Conspire's comment in this thread makes the point much better than I could.
posted by thefoxgod at 2:31 PM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Also, I'd argue that the "Asian" label is meaningful precisely because it's been imposed upon us. I have nothing culturally in common with a Filipino immigrant or a second-generation Vietnamese American or a Korean 1.5 kid, but we have the shared experience of being treated as "Asian" in America, and it's quite a significant one. In the context of this article, it means that we have all collectively been pointed to as a way to shame black people for their circumstances. Some of us adopt and internalize that and some of us fight it, but it is still an experience we share.

On preview, what thefoxgod (and Conspire) said.
posted by sunset in snow country at 2:39 PM on July 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


While I respect and agree with a lot of what Conspire said, I just cannot get behind using the term "yellow".

It's too much like "fag" for me.

If they want to take it back... but that's not a line I can follow.
posted by qcubed at 2:45 PM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Not sure how to make these statements in the article consistent:

"As a result of both the immigrant selection process and domestic policies, Asian Americans currently hold the highest median income and education levels of any race today, with climbing wealth levels projected by the Federal Reserve of St. Louis to overtake those of whites within two decades."

"Yet even in tech and other fields in which they are purported to “dominate,” Asians consistently make less than their white counterparts."

Weird.
posted by polymodus at 2:57 PM on July 15, 2015


Well, when you get down to it, there's 63.7% non-Hispanic white, and 4.7% non-Hispanic Asian, in the 300m population of the United States.

So you can square it with this simple truth: there are just a lot more poor white people. More, probably, than all of the Asians in the US combined.
posted by qcubed at 3:06 PM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Median is the central value in a population. If you were to arrange income/education of all Asian-American adults on a ladder, the one at the 50th percentile--where half of the values are higher and half are lower--would be higher than if you did the same for white Americans. However, the high end of income is consistently higher.

On preview, what qcubed said
posted by kagredon at 3:19 PM on July 15, 2015


Not sure how to make these statements in the article consistent:
There's no contradiction. They combine to state that asian-americans are more likely than average to be in certain high-earning fields, but that they make less money in those fields, on average, than those white people who are also in those same fields.
posted by kickingtheground at 3:22 PM on July 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


But in America, I think people from various countries (or their children, grandchildren, etc) can have more in common than they would have before.

My understanding is that the Murder of Vincent Chin caused Asian-Americans to be more accepting for a singular label; the murder of a Chinese American man by people who thought he was Japanese American made it clear that the difference between Chinese-American and Japanese-American wasn't obvious to everybody else.
posted by Comrade_robot at 3:54 PM on July 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


That reinforces how much of "racial identity" is actually a reaction to how one is treated rather than an internal identity (unless the identity is internalized young).
posted by Deoridhe at 4:01 PM on July 15, 2015 [7 favorites]


I had a hard time following the flow of this piece to figure out just what is being argued. All sorts of contradictory statements are made and then a call to action for raadical redistribution of wealth. This jumped out at me:

"The United States’s struggle for global ascendency [sic] after World War II and through the Cold War prompted liberals to argue for the loosening of racial restrictions on Asian Americans in order to better forge ties with Asian nations and model the kind of egalitarian democracy they claimed to promote overseas."

Is there any evidence for that? I ask both out of ignorance and with a bit of skepticism. The Magnuson Act was 1943. "Liberals" were arguing against exclusionary laws as early as the 1880's (probably before).
posted by Cassford at 4:40 PM on July 15, 2015


Perhaps the experience of immigration and assimilation is contributing to a sort of "generic Asian" American identity, much as earlier immigration and assimilation contributed to a "generic White" American identity. That is, in the old country, being Dutch or German or Swedish (or Chinese or Japanese or Laotian) was the principal ethnic identity, but after three or four generations in America, that distinction has likely blurred into a more generic American identity.

The key difference here would be that the White ethnic groups blur into the extant majority, whereas the Asian ethnic groups are ethnic minorities in America even post-assimilation.

(Slightly related: I wonder how linguistics and cultural practices play into this process.)
posted by theorique at 3:21 AM on July 16, 2015




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