Chinese American Identity
In American society, Asian immigrants are viewed as the ‘model minority’ and are placed under a homogeneous group labeled as hard working and timid, despite the various cultural differences that exist among them. Race and ethnicity is a complicated subject in the US and the various stereotypes associated with minority groups create many cultural and ethnic tensions. The stereotypes directed towards ethnic minorities and the resultant racial profiling, poses unique challenges to the identity of Chinese Americans, and there is a need for multiracial coalitions to combat the evils of racial profiling.
The United States is an extremely diverse country and is becoming even more so, with 24 percent of the population being ethnic minorities and further 16 percent being Hispanic. Wu in his book, Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White, explores how social perspectives pertaining to an ethnic group affect race relations and the damages inflicted on the identity of the Asian –Americans, because of the tags such as ‘perpetual foreigner’. He scrutinizes various concepts in his book that not just examines the traditional evils of racial discrimination, but also offers future directions for handling the growing ethnic diversities in the American society.
Wu argues that,
“No matter how idiosyncratic one’s individual identity, one cannot overcome the stereotype of group identity”
Asian American students, for example, are generally viewed via the lens of ethnic stereotypes, whereby they are as a group perceived to be having impeccable work ethic, family values, and are hard working. So, they are naturally expected to have better academic performances than the other students, which may in some cases prove to be detrimental to the students’ performances. Robert K Merton, a renowned sociologist, coined the term “self-fulfilling prophecy”, which denotes to the above mentioned social phenomenon. He explicates that, common definitions of situations/groups gradually become an integral part of the group and influence the ensuing outcomes.
In America whenever the topic of racial discrimination is discussed it more often concerns the plight of the African Americans. While the Black Americans have undergone extremely oppressive discrimination practices, Wu opines that the Asian Americans too are disadvantaged by the color line running through the American society. He says,
“Asian American examples can enhance our awareness of the color line between black and white., because Asian Americans stand astride the very color line and flag its existence for all to see.”
Chinese Americans are also victims of racial profiling, which is a term used to denote the unfair treatment meted out to people of a particular ethnic origin, because of the perceived traits associated with that ethnic group. In his book, Wu recollects how political antagonism between the US and Asian countries translated into ethnic tensions among the American public. He conveys that in 2001 when there were political tensions, “Commentators argued that loyal Americans should stop eating at Chinese restaurants.”
Wu delineates how racial profiling is considered to be mere common sense by a faction of people, and he argues that ‘racial profiling works as a form of racial discrimination’. Examples of racial profiling include decisions such as, which drivers to stop for questioning in minor traffic rules violations, or the example given in Wu’s book of customs officer choosing to question a particular ethnic group people.
The pattern of unfair treatment based on race, has led to the exclusion of many Asian Americans from positions of power and influence, for example, managerial and leadership positions. This relative invisibility has excluded Asian Americans from public policy decisions, and this will not just impact the identity of the present generation Asian Americans but also will leave a bitter legacy for the future generations as well. Racial profiling/discrimination have reduced the Chinese Americans to being inconvenient political necessities in public policy, rather than an integral part of the American society.
In order to overcome these racial inequalities, Wu and other such experts propose coalition building as a way forward. Wu says,
"Civil society either founders on factions or is founded on coalitions. We all share a stake in the healing of the body politic.”
Coalition building among Chinese Americans and other minority groups will provide an opportunity to express their views on racial discrimination, in a better and effective manner. It will especially help the Asian Americans in their efforts to attract and preserve funding and legislation, for programs and services significant to their community.
Chinese Americans should consider the value of coalitions and intensify their efforts towards forming multiracial coalitions. There is no doubt that centuries of discriminative policies have marginalized and excluded Chinese Americans in many ways. However, Chinese Americans, on their part too, have distanced themselves from the evils of the color line, while in reality their status in the American society is not very different from that of African Americans, Latinos, and other such minority groups. The way forward is to keep faith in the pluralistic and accommodating nature of the American society, and galvanize the entire minority ethnic communities to form alliance and coalitions, which would monitor how the minority groups are treated, and mobilize resources to fight for justice against racial discrimination.
Mah, Theresa. Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community. 28 March 2011. web. <http://www.ilga.gov/senate/Committees/Redistricting/CoalitionForABetterChineseAmericanCommunity.pdf>. 19 May 2014.
Merton, Robert K. "The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy." The Antioch Review Vol. 8, No. 2 (Summer, 1948): 193-210. Web. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/4609267>.
Schaefer, Richard T. Race and Ethnicity in the United States, 7th Edition. Pearson Inc., 2012. Web. <http://www.pearsonhighered.com/assets/hip/us/hip_us_pearsonhighered/samplechapter/0205949797.pdf>.
Wu, Frank H. Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White. New York: Basic Books, 2003. Print.