Tuesday, June 9, 2009

the model minority myth

Nicholas D. Kristof. Well known for his Sunday OP-ED Column in the NY times where he usually writes about a social and/or economic problem in third world countries. He has focused a lot on the sex trafficking industry I think he's actually pretty well known for bringing national attention to the sex trafficking industry through his blog. I think Hilary Clinton even used Kristof's blog for something... I tried looking for it. But there's a research paper that's waiting to be researched.. so maybe I'll insert some links after I have a little more time to look around...

Oh and his blog is featured as one of our links on the side. I read his blog a lot in the winter just cause we were working on the conference so I was kind of more engaged in issues about sex trafficking. Well for one of my research papers I'm actually going to focus on the sex trafficking industry, so I thought a starting point would be to check out Nicholas Kristof's blog, especially since I haven't checked out his blog in awhile... so I was a bit caught off guard when reading this in his most recent entry.

My Sunday column looks at three groups that have been unusually successful in the United States — Asian Americans, Jews and West Indians. Read the column, but in a nutshell it argues that they have succeeded in part because of an emphasis on diligence and education.

I think it's obvious what I was kind of surprised by, so of course, before I jumped to any conclusions with the hopes that Kristof and all the work he does in third world countries he would be a little bit aware of the ways the model minority myth actually functions as a stereotype which places a lot of limitations on asian americans. why does kristof racialize asian americans but for the other groups of people discussed, they are identified with their ethnic identities... but anyway, so I clicked on the link to his Sunday column.. and was, ...disappointed. Maybe it was cause based on the excerpt above I sort of made up my mind about what his sunday column was going to be like, so I was unable to read it in an unbiased manner. However, I guess I'll lay it down about what I think about it and then you can make up your mind yourself.

Firstly, I get the purpose of his Sunday Column (I think), it seems like he wants to reiterate the idea that education is the solution to a lot of our societal problems both here in the U.S. and in third world countries. So he gives examples of three groups of people that have made it in the U.S., especially, he emphasizes, due to their cultural focus on education (with no mention about economic advantages). Overall though I feel like the entire article carries a bunch of implications about who the article is targeted to (minorities who aren't making it.) There is a strong focus on behaviorial factors that might have been culturally influenced, although these "behaviors" are the reasons why these groups have made it. I mean I think it's especially interesting that there is no mention of the economic factors that play into some of the successes of these groups. I will offer some quotes that show this:

One large study followed a group of Chinese-Americans who initially did slightly worse on the verbal portion of I.Q. tests than other Americans and the same on math portions. But beginning in grade school, the Chinese outperformed their peers, apparently because they worked harder.

A common thread among these three groups may be an emphasis on diligence or education, perhaps linked in part to an immigrant drive.

Among West Indians, the crucial factors for success seem twofold: the classic diligence and hard work associated with immigrants, and intact families. The upshot is higher family incomes and fathers more involved in child-rearing.

and on a quick side note, I dont really understand why in the beginning of the column, and in his little blog entry about the column, he uses "asian americans" as an identfier when he's actually strictly talking about Chinese Americans. I mean, when discussing Asian Americans, Chinese Americans are the only ethnic group he cites in his article. How did Asian Americans become Chinese Americans? where as the west indians and jews remain west indians and jews throughout the article??... I know being "politically correct" can get annoying and pointless, but I think language matter. I think Kristof's slip of using Asian Americans when he really meant Chinese Americans, or East Asians contributes to the stereotype that Asian Americans in the U.S. are of a similar experience. He is somewhat on point in talking about China's history in confucianism, a lot of East Asian countries share this history, but definitely not all asian countries.. I actually don't know that much about Asian history though..

But I mean aside with the issue of language and stereotyping, Kristof definitely picked three minority groups to focus on, but that is not how he frames his article. He simply states:

In the mosaic of America, three groups that have been unusually successful...

So he just says, three groups, but the three groups are minorities, well I mean it's arguable about whether or not Jews are minorities, maybe more so 2 of the three groups are racial minorities. Just cause there is a focus on racial minorities, as the reader, I can't help but assume that there are some implications with that. I mean why not cite why white people are successful. Kristof says that Asians take up 20% of the student population at Harvard, who's the 80%, white people probably...

There's just a harmful stereotype that perpetuates cycles of poverty within communities of color, which is the whole work hard ethic thing which blames those in poverty for their problems. This overlooks a lot of factors that can play into one's life, esp. societal factors. So in reading this article, besides the obvious problems with the ways he used the "asian americans" when he's really just talking about "chinese americans,"... I'm just worried about the reeeeaaalllly subtle implications this article suggests about ppl of color who haven't made it, and still aren't making it. .....

Anyway, I'm just creating tangents. The main point is, Nicholas Kristof should stick with issues of the third world.


Christian "Ian" Paredes said...

i don't know a thing about asian americans in general, but i do know that filipinos are typically "social conservatives." my parents were immigrants and had a "pull ourselves by our boot straps" mentality, and i'm definitely influenced by it quite a bit.

but yes, i think the author still ignores the societal element, and i also don't think that education is THE solution to the problem, though i would definitely figure education as a large part of the overall solution. it's tough, however, to succeed without the piece of paper, and so that's why i think education should be emphasized above all else; how one succeeds in gaining knowledge from their education, however, depends solely on their appreciation of education... and this, i believe, is where the societal influences arrive.

Olives said...

glad to hear from you christian! hope you're doing well. thanks for the comment, I appreciate it.