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About Longstanding Stereotypes and the Issue of How Asian Americans Fit Within the American Identity

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From the beginning, a diverse population has impacted history in America. From the original explorers and settlers to the present day, America has been a land of immigrants. Distinct waves of immigrants have swept ashore in the United States at different stages, helping to shape and build America in significant ways. Diversity has not only shaped America and its history, it has also impacted the cultural groups that have had an enduring influence on America. It has basically become an endless cycle of groups entering and shaping American society over and over again. As such, there are three significant causes for why these diverse peoples have sculpted this country’s history and influenced its society.

One is through evaluating the power of white privilege over the African American community and they continually face to form their own identity. Another is the exploration of longstanding stereotypes and the issue of how Asian Americans fit within the American identity. Lastly, Mexican immigration, whether legal or not, has been the backbone of this country’s workforce and has led to one of the greatest impacts on American society, because of their strong sense of identity. Understanding the role of identity in the context of these different ethnic groups helps to reveal why they were so influential to American society throughout history.

The concept of identity is important to discuss because it is responsible for how an individual sees the world. Identity is a major factor in how we comprehend and perceive the world and can shape our life’s experiences. Beverly Daniel Tatum indicates in article, “The Complexity of Identity: Who Am I?”, that the aspects of identity that people most resonate with are those that catch the notice of others, and the self (Tatum, 2013). She then puts into view the concept of dominant versus inferior groups. The perception that within each key aspect of identity in a society, such as gender, race, and sexuality, there is a group which is labeled by society to be fundamentally dominant, the male, white, and heterosexual. Tatum states that it is with these dominant groups that the authority within a society lies, so much so that those of a submissive group may decide to copy the characteristics of the dominant. (Tatum, 2013). It is important to comprehend the dominant and submissive nature of diverse groups within society, as well as the dominant and submissive features of our own identities. By doing so, we will be able to properly know both our own sense of selves, and society as a whole.

Identity is very influential when it concerns the power struggle between different cultures. As evidenced by Peggy McIntosh’s “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” belonging to the white majority is a monumental advantage in our society. This power dynamic sees whites as the superior and thus having the greater impact on the organization of society, especially over African Americans. She identifies forty-six distinct ways she believes there are advantages to being white. To give a few samples:
06. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see
people of my race widely represented.
I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.
I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to the ‘person in charge’, I will be
facing a person of my race.
I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against
Me (McIntosh, 2018).
The list goes into many other ways that McIntosh believed she had advantages over people of color in American society, particularly over African Americans who are impacted on a daily basis by white privilege.

Discrimination and racism have been blemishes on American culture since the nation’s establishment, when the founders chose against banning slavery while outlining the first set of laws for the newly created country. With that resolution, people of colored ethnicity in the United States would be perceived as less than whites from early on, namely property, not people. Moving to the 19th century, whites in the United States maintained a number of legal benefits over people who were unlucky enough to be born with darker skin. In this period of lawful discrimination and intolerance the concept of white privilege was outwardly unknown in American popular culture. However, privileges included having the opportunity to be a legal citizen of the country, to exercise voting rights, and to possess land.

The government of the United States progressively and physically preserved these advantages.
The milestone legislation that tried to genuinely end discrimination in the United States and turn years of racism and prejudice around was the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Lecture, 2018). The years of unfair treatment, however, appeared to have become more intensely embedded in American society than previously thought, leading to the use of white privilege. During this time, the scholar W.E.B Du Bois began to study what it meant to be white in America. Writing many of the influential pieces investigating the concept of whiteness, Du Bois said that many whites in America started to presume being regarded preferentially was because of their whiteness and the fundamental privileges being awarded to them (Du Bois, 2018). An individual’s subconscious is where white privilege existed. As such, most were blind to the benefits they enjoyed.

This is in direct contrast to the African American experience. To begin with, they are the only group of people that arrived at the continent by force. In contrast to most other racial groups that came to the United States, they did not depart Africa looking for a better life or in search of the American Dream. African Americans are a people that were torn from the African continent and most have little knowledge about their African roots, so many African Americans do not see themselves as Africans. Nonetheless, centuries of intolerance and being considered as second-class citizens has also showed African Americans that they still are not completely American either. In reality, the history of African Americans up until today has mainly been a history of straining to be acknowledged by America and, as organizations such as Black Lives Matter make evident, this fight for tolerance and respect endures.

In the aftershock of Hurricane Katrina, thousands of locals in the city of New Orleans were trapped in the flooded city with apparently no relief being afforded by the federal government. This inactivity created a blaze of terrible press for the Bush administration at the time. Not improving matters was the fact that many of the citizens still in the city were minorities. Americans viewing news broadcasts watched on as many minorities not fortunate enough to have escaped the city before the storm hunted for food and dry ground. Reactions to how the media depicted those groups, however, would be a point of argument for many years. News shows indicating blacks as thieves and whites as simply looking for food would have influenced any viewer watching. Referring to whites as lawful citizens and blacks as criminals continued the notion of blacks being inferior to whites and was precisely the kind of privilege McIntosh and others were indicating as still being prevalent in American society.

When examining American identity, it is also necessary to delve deeper into race and stereotypes in order to better understand the melting pot that is our country. The two most familiar stereotypes of Asians in America began in the 1800s with the arrival of Chinese immigration. In the beginning, these initial immigrants found lots of work in areas like California. Businesses were expanding, the economy was thriving, and cheap labor was in great demand. White employers at the time welcomed the Chinese as model workers who labored hard and never complained. However, as financial circumstances declined, the demand for cheap labor began to fade, and anti-Chinese attitudes escalated. Before long, the Chinese were blamed for being a “yellow peril” rather than a “model minority” and, by 1882, were excluded from entering the country (Lecture, 2018).

The yellow peril stereotype is thus viewing Asians with fear and a threat to Western Civilization. Initially, Asian immigrant groups were accepted as cheap laborers and then rejected as possible risks to American society and culture. Over time, the media subscribed into this double identity of Asian immigrants by making videos of how diligent and docile they were even when confined in internment camps as the Japanese were. They were depicted as either the model minority or a yellow peril, depending on the shifting financial and political circumstances of the day. Currently, the most destructive stereotype for Asian Americans remains to be that of the model minority.

A model minority can be defined as a non-white group that has attained financial success and social recognition through hard work and conformist values. Particularly, Asian Americans have gotten praise for their academic accomplishments, large family earnings, seriousness, low levels of criminal conduct, and stable family dynamics. Inspiring some of this admiration was the indirect view that Asian American success sprung from the natural supremacy of the Asian race. Some worried that Asians were inherently gifted with higher intellect and initiative. Conversely, the inability of other minorities to prosper could be credited to their lack of these characteristics.

If Asian Americans were able to realize the American dream within the borders of racial identity, reason would follow that other minorities could presumably take accountability for the problems troubling their neighborhoods. Thus, the model minority stereotype successfully redirected necessary attention from issues in the economy and social organizations that affected African and Latino Americans another way from Asians. Dependence upon the model minority stereotype permitted white Americans to deny liability for making or prolonging conditions that raised such problems. Politicians who accept that the model minority stereotype is true ultimately end up ignoring low-income Asian Americans on social agendas. By maintaining the flawed assumption that Asian Americans have mostly succeeded, the model minority stereotype essentially blocks eligible Asian Americans from inclusion in programs intended to aid minorities. The model minority stereotype also strengthens rivalry and racial hostility towards Asian Americans. The stereotype is frequently used to criticize other minority groups, explicitly African Americans and Hispanic Americans, for not having accomplished the same levels of financial and social success.

As Ellen Wu argues in her article “Asian Americans and the Model Minority Myth,” the model minority stereotype in its current state is different from want it meant after World War II in that it incorporates a broader range of groups. Not only Japanese and Chinese Americans are included but also Filipinos, South Asian, and Southeast Asian Pacific Americans. Thus, these stereotypes became embedded and endured for generations, persisting to weaken race relations in the U.S. today. Despite significant advances that Asian American males have made in the past few decades as professionals, politicians, entertainers, musicians, and other positions, Hollywood still presents few options to Asian and Asian American actors beyond the conventional martial artist roles occupied by actors such as Jackie Chan and Jet Li.

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