Harvard Study: Racial Identity Formation, Self Hate, and ‘White worship’ among Asian American youth in High Schools



from angry asian man’s blog: Check out this piece by education columnist Jay Mathews in the Washington Post, examining a study by a student at Harvard on academics, ambition and Asian American identity formation: ‘Asian American Students and School Stereotypes’:

The study, ” ‘Too Many Asians at this School’: Racialized Perceptions and Identity Formation,” was written by Jenny Tsai as her senior college thesis for the social studies department at Harvard last year. If you e-mail Tsai at jenny.tsai@post.harvard.ed

u, she will send you a copy. What she describes is not a cabal of brainiacs trying to steal all the academic glory from their non-Asian competitors, but a collection of industrious and ambitious American teenagers trying to emulate their equally achievement-oriented white classmates, while society and government shove them into an artificial group called “Asians and Pacific Islanders” on the census forms.

As part of her research, Tsai, who is Chinese American, interviewed 27 Harvard undergraduates, including 15 Asian Americans and 12 whites, plus one Asian American student at Boston College. All but one had attended one of four very selective public high schools — Boston Latin in Boston, Lowell in San Francisco and Hunter College and Stuyvesant in New York. She chose graduates of those schools because of their large Asian American contingents — roughly 75 percent at Lowell, 50 percent at Hunter College and Stuyvesant and 25 percent at Boston Latin — and because each of those schools had struggled with racial issues sparked by the fact that many students who want to attend can’t get in.

Though the study sounds a bit limited—Tsai only interviewed 27 Harvard undergraduates—the results reveal some interesting dynamics. She found that many people thought Asian American students were having no problem getting into these super selective magnet schools at a high rate. However, she apparently observed very little racial solidarity among Asian Americans at these schools, instead noting an effort to fit in with what they considered “white” American values. Basically, among the Asian American students Tsai interviewed, “acting white” was a good thing.

Twinkies. Bananas. Not really terms I like to use, but I’m sure many of us are familiar with this phenomenon. For these Asian American students, because “acting Asian” is equated with acting foreign or like nerd, “acting white” becomes sound kind of source of pride, and is valued as the ability to assimilate into American society. A lot of this stems from the perception among non-Asian students that the increasing percentage of Asian American students poses some kind of threat to the culture of their school. Basically, some Asian American students find themselves rejecting their cultural identity to counteract this negative perception. Needless to say, that’s pretty sad.

For a lot of us, this isn’t really news. I didn’t need a Washington Post column to inform me that such perceptions about Asian American students exist. Hell, a lot of these feelings extend into higher education and the workplace. Still, every now and then, it’s interesting to see these cultural conflicts being studied and acknowledged in a mainstream paper like the Post.


11 responses to “Harvard Study: Racial Identity Formation, Self Hate, and ‘White worship’ among Asian American youth in High Schools

  1. Hi there,
    One of the biggest myths of American and other Western societies is the myth that academic success alone is enough for upward class mobility and the esteem that goes with it. America is still an (informal but strong) class system with multiple gradations of ‘status’ based on the possession of legitimate cultural capital. Everyone in the middle-classes competes for social status, including white people (yes they compete too). Those with unprivileged (working-class or migrant) social origins are at a disadvantage. These Asians who want to “act white” are playing the same game that every other middle-class person plays; seeking to increase their store of cultural capital (ways of dress, speech, tastes, etc.). The game is challenging for those whose backgrounds were working-class one or even two generations ago. It takes at least three generations to make a fully upper-middle-class person (with corresponding tastes, dispositions, outlook). What you call ‘rejection of cultural identity’ is a logical consequence of the desire for upward class status mobility in America. Trying to acquire legitimate cultural capital is no less rational than studying hard for good grades – both are necessary for people who want to move upwards in America. Middle-class Black people are often accused of “acting white”, but still they are respected, not derided the way Asian ‘twinkies’ are. What these kids call “acting white” really means “acting upper-middle class”. (The upper middle-class, which is culturally accustomed to having leisure time, IS mostly white.) These Asian kids are not exactly trying to assimilate into communities of poor working-class whites. Maybe try seeing their aspirations as logical, rather than ‘self-hate’. After all, in many cases it’s their parents who wanted upward mobility (‘success’) for them. Almost every middle-class person “worships” the upper-middle-class and their lifestyle (whether they admit it or not). Would you feel comfortable accusing a middle-class Black American of ‘self-hate’…?

  2. Korean American

    @American-born Chinese aka ABC

    Interesting points there. I agree somewhat, but not fully. So you’re categorizing all groups in the U.S., regardless of ethnicity, of aspiring to experience upward mobility not only in the economic sense, but “culturally,” right? For example, you pointed out how even working-class whites subconciously make efforts to become more like upper middle class to affluent, cultured whites. “Cultured white” identity denotes speaking a certain way (w/ less jargon and subcultural ‘street talk’); attaining a higher level of education; dressing in clothes befitting of those who can afford them; living in neighborhoods in which home prices are lofty; associating with people who demonstrate similar traits.

    But the fundamental problem is that Asians-Americans, primarily East Asians, are immersed in the dominant white culture during their formative years; hence them acting whitewashed aka “twinkies” or “bannanas.” They attend the same elementary, middle and high schools as white kids. Thus they emulate white kids in dress, speech, pop culture and so forth. Then Asian-American guys get angry and bitter when they see their Asian-American sisters throwing themselves on white guys. Asian-American guys demonstrate their “small penis syndrome” to white guys and their Asian sisters who “betrayed” them, both literally and figuratively, by overcompensating in driving expensive cars; “I got accepted to an Ivy, you’re going to a lame state school”; “I can get a 95 on a calc or physics exam w/o studying, but you can’t white guy!” inferiority-complex driven 1-ups. Then white guy is laughing at “angry Asian man” thinking in his head, “I’m sleeping with all the hot Asian girls while you wear your mathematical prowess on your sleeve.”

    Asian-Americans need to be more like niggas if they want to gain more respect. Oh, did I use the n-word? and I’m not black. You see, African-Americans don’t push over when whites expect them to acquiesce to their Protestant-influenced culture. Blacks openly reject it. I read Amy Uyematsu’s essay in how Asian-Americans so often demonstrate their self-hate both culturally and physically. I understand Asians’ fear of how they’ll fall out of favor with whites if they act in the same manner of African-American activism. Alas, Asian-Americans’ ignorance or indifference perpetuate the model minority myth and how it de facto works against them and against African-Americans. Whitey wins both ways.

  3. Pingback: Other Asian-American Blogs « Adolescent Development's Blog

  4. We used to read pornography. Now it’s the Horchow collection.

  5. It would be nice if Asian females didn’t treat Asian guys like second class citizens and make it obvious.

  6. My parents insist the I marry a white guy. They believe a white guy will bring prestige and honor to our family. Also they want some white in their grandchildren. White is right, they tell me. I’m pretty nice looking but the white guys that hit on my white girlfriends never hit on me. Only the loser type white guys pursue me. I’m really torn, because I’m just not into white guys, but I love my parents very much. The parents ask why marry a poor/middle class Asian man when I can have a rich white guy. Hopeless.

  7. I hope you can be stronger than your families belief system. If you marry the rich white guy and loose your soul in the process how much will you really gain. At some point in your life you will have to think for your self.

  8. Spot on with this write-up, I truly believe that this website needs far more attention.
    I’ll probably be back again to read more, thanks for the information!

  9. @Red, Asians should strive for equality on the big screen and everywhere, still if the Whiteyis rich(Blacks, Green who care!) marry him sister! No basis intra AA coupling leads to everlasting happiness. Hitching with whoever you want regardless of color!

  10. asianamericangfonskype

    Reblogged this on In the Mind and Soul of an Asian American Girl Growing up in America and commented:
    Research to back up my experience!

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