In the United States, it is well-established that generally Asian Americans have done well from a social, economic, and academic perspective. There are many stereotypes about this population that contribute to such beliefs, and there is widespread assumption that Asian Americans have overcome past instances of prejudice and discrimination without resorting to political or violent confrontations with white people (Le, 2016.) In addition, it is also believed that the success of Asian Americans provides a powerful example for other minority groups that it is possible to overcome obstacles in order to achieve the American Dreams. In fact, although there is some basis for these stereotypes, this paper will discuss the challenges facing Asian Americans which include being targets of racial inequality and institutional discrimination that dispel the myth of the model minority image that burdens them.
Because of the myth that all Asian Americans are successful from an economic perspective, often Asian Americans who are in need are prevented from gaining access to public assistance programs. This myth perpetuates the idea that Asian Americans are monolithic and a homogeneous entity by aggregating statistics of several different groups (Kothari, 2013.) The fact is that Asian Americans frequently confront racism in US society, and experience underachievement in academic and professional circles that are frequently minimized or completely ignored. Another complication of the myth that Asian Americans are always successful is that it creates tension between this population and other racial groups who are perceived as being less successful. It can become dehumanizing to regard the identity of a person based on very few common, yet often inaccurate, perceptions that include high social economic status and educational, accomplishments.
Another assumption about Asian Americans is that they are apolitical, passive, and are perfectly comfortable helping to maintain the status quo. The belief that all Asian Americans will be superior in terms of their achievements in school or professional life forces Asian-American students to have to cope with tremendous expectations of their success, pressure which can result in psychological harm. Another phenomenon affecting Asian Americans is known as “breaking the bamboo ceiling”. This refers to the fact that frequently, Asian Americans are left out of executive positions in corporations or other organizations as well as being passed over for promotions because of negative stereotypes (Kothari, 2013.) They are often viewed as lacking leadership potential, creativity, or personal charm. There are assumptions that they are quiet and complacent, and therefore are not likely to pursue getting raises and promotions. This is perceived as being unwilling to take risks or be aggressive in rising to the top of the corporate ladder.
Unfortunately, this implies that Asian Americans are lacking in confidence when it comes to being assertive. Another result of this problem is that frequently Asian Americans are stuck in positions based on the stereotypes of being proficient in math and science, the character of the Asian nerd that is often portrayed by media (Kothari, 2013.) Even Asians who are born in America are typically viewed as being less proficient in speaking English and having adequate interpersonal and communication skills. When this population attempts to dispel these myths, they run the risk of being seen negatively by others in the US for attempting to deny their being Asian.
Because this population is generally seen as being successful financially, there are fewer policies established that protect the rights of Asian Americans than those that protect other minorities (Kothari, 2013.) In addition, because this is a group that has emigrated to the United States relatively recently their political standing is much less established so that there are fewer Asian-American role models holding political office. In part, this is because many citizens that are Asian-American do not feel secure speaking English and so it is difficult for them to exercise their right to vote, hence the underrepresentation in state and federal government positions. Regardless of the amount of time that Asian Americans have lived in the United States, frequently they are treated as foreigners and unable to assimilate. People often ask them, “Really, where are you from?” All of these myths contribute to a feeling of helplessness experienced by many Asian-Americans in relation to being able to affect the system; in addition, the Asian-American community is so diverse, it is very difficult to find ways to organize the community politically.
Contributing to the difficulties faced by Asian-Americans are the media stereotypes perpetuated in US culture. As stated, often the only obvious role on television or in movies for an Asian-American man is the stereotype of the “nerd” who is socially awkward. Another stereotype often seen in movies and on TV is that Asian Americans are misogynistic or culturally backward in many ways (Kothari, 2013.) For instance, many plots that involve Indian-American women revolve around arranged marriages or subservient women in their marital relationships. That is because Asian-American women are too often presented as obedient and submissive. On the other extreme, many Asian-American women appear as geisha girls or China dolls that represent the exoticism of Asian women who are completely loyal to and in love with their oppressors, who are generally white colonial men. Another negative stereotypes about Asians, in particular Indian Americans, is that they have stolen jobs because of outsourcing and are working in call centers in jobs involving customer service. This is often a way to provoke anti-immigrant sentiment among the American population who believe that their jobs are being taken by the people working in these settings.
The “bamboo ceiling” raises its ugly head in Silicon Valley, for example. Because of the perception of Asian-American success, many people working in the IT area assume that Asian Americans are among the highest ranking officials in large companies. While Asian-Americans do indeed outpace other American ethnic groups in terms of bachelors and masters degrees, the overall picture is much more complicated (Askarinam, 2016.) A study released in May, 2016, called “Hidden in Plain Sight: Asian-American Leaders in Silicon Valley” and conducted by an Asian-American nonprofit organization for business professionals found many troubling statistics. Asian-Americans employed at five Tech companies in Silicon Valley represented a much greater proportion of the professional ranks than the executive suite; the findings were that Asian-Americans made up more than one quarter of the professional workforce but under 14% of positions as executives. In order to provide guidance to large companies surrounding this issue, the study attributed the findings to a lack of awareness about discrimination against Asian-Americans regarding promotions among employers. In addition, the study recognized a need to make changes in the behaviors of potential hirees, and a general lack of role models that might be able to supervise the implementations of these newer policies.
Many Americans mistakenly believe that because Asian-Americans are perceived as successful in academic, economic, and professional arenas, they do not experience any difficulties regarding living in America. As has been discussed here, those stereotypes are far from the truth. This population experiences discrimination in the workplace, feelings of alienation and helplessness because of a lack of inclusion into mainstream American life, and media stereotypes that perpetuate negative ideas about Asian-Americans. Unless this population is able to become more powerful politically and socially by electing Asian-Americans into political office, and seeing them named as CEOs of large corporations, it is unlikely that these challenges will disappear. Too many people view Asian-Americans as foreigners, despite the fact that they were born in this country, and as a result they have not been able to share equally in the bounty that is known as the American Dream.
- Askarinam, L. (2016, January 26). Asian-Americans feel held back at work by stereotypes. Retrieved from The Atlantic.com: http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/01/asian-americans-feel-held-back-at-work-by-stereotypes/458874/
- Kothari, M. (2013, September 18). What are some prominent Asian-American issues? Retrieved from Quora.com: https://www.quora.com/What-are-some-prominent-Asian-American-issues
- Le, C. (2016). The model minority image. Retrieved from Asian-Nation.org: http://www.asian-nation.org/model-minority.shtml