Young Elite Asian Americans and the Model Minority Stereotype: The Nativity Effect

By Park, Jerry Z.; Martinez, Brandon C. | Studies on Asia, March 2014 | Go to article overview

Young Elite Asian Americans and the Model Minority Stereotype: The Nativity Effect


Park, Jerry Z., Martinez, Brandon C., Studies on Asia


Introduction

The contemporary roots of the model minority stereotype date back to William Petersen's use of the term to describe Japanese American upward mobility in the early 1960s.1 Shortly afterward, immigration laws underwent significant change. Prominent among these was the retraction of the Asian Exclusion Act of 1924 that barred most Asians seeking to migrate to the US.2 Petersen likely was unaware of the selectivity bias of the "new immigrants" (a term used to describe the post-1965 wave of immigration)3 from Asia which favored those with greater human, social and cultural capital. These advantages usually resulted in greater likelihood of upward mobility.4 Meanwhile persistent structural racism, despite the passage of the Civil Rights Act, revealed a significant lag among African Americans in their aims for upward mobility. Thus the impression that Japanese and other Asian Americans reflected superior work ethic, intelligence and perseverance relative to other minorities persisted over the decades ahead.5 Since the 1980s, American scholars have repeatedly shown the socioeconomic and migration realities that complicate the stereotype, but such findings have had little resonance in the media.6

Over the past two decades, some scholars have investigated the degree to which white Americans accept the model minority stereotype, and their findings conform to what one might expect: white Americans tend to think of Asian Americans as smart and hard-working, but also foreign or different from them. 7 Less well known are the views of Asian Americans themselves regarding this stereotype and its potential relationship to other racial attitudes. In this study we investigate the attitudes of a sample of young elite Asian Americans regarding the model minority stereotype and their beliefs about black inequality. Given the persistent high rate of Asian migration8 we pay close attention to the role of nativity in this sample and the implicit socialization differences experienced by foreign-born and native-born Asian Americans.

Literature Review and Hypotheses

Mapping and Measuring the Model Minority Stereotype

What we know about belief in the model minority stereotype largely comes from studies of white survey respondents. In this literature stereotypes of Asian Americans comprise two cognitive dimensions which together form the model minority stereotype. The dimension receiving the most empirical validation is what social psychologist Susan Fiske and colleagues describe as perceived competence,9 and what social theorist Claire Jean Kim termed relative valorization. 10 This cognitive axis aligns groups into a status hierarchy where some groups are perceived as more competent or intelligent than others. In several studies of predominantly white respondents, Asian Americans were ranked lower than whites in perceived competence but higher than African Americans and Latinos.11 The other dimension which forms the cognitive map of stereotypes is described as perceived warmth (using Fiske et al.'s frame), or civic ostracism (using Kim's frame). In both frameworks this dimension is a measure of social distance, the perception of closeness between the ingroup and a particular outgroup. Fiske et al. found that respondents (most of whom were white non-Hispanic) rated Asian Americans as less warm than African Americans and Latinos. From Kim's (1999) model of racial triangulation, Asian Americans are perceived as outsiders or foreigners relative to whites and African Americans. We assert that these two frameworks coincide with one another such that the social perception of coldness of a particular group is associated with racialized ostracism of that same group. In both of these frameworks we see evidence of two dimensions to the model minority stereotype as applied to Asian Americans. Ho and Jackson12 specifically turned attention to stereotype characteristics associated with Asian Americans and identified similar dimensions of perceived high competence and low warmth or greater ostracism as articulated by both Fiske et al. …

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