Zhou,%20Min.%20Are%20Asian%20Americans%20Becoming%20White -...

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1 Are Asian Americans Becoming “White”? Min Zhou [ Context 3 (1): 29-37, 2004.] Context: Asian Americans have been labeled a “model minority” for their high rates of achievement, and widely seen as on their way to becoming “white.” These expectations are a burden and the predictions surely premature given that Americans still see Asians as foreign. “I never asked to be white. I am not literally white. That is, I do not have white skin or white ancestors. I have yellow skin and yellow ancestors, hundreds of generations of them. But like so many other Asian Americans of the second generation, I find myself now the bearer of a strange new status: white, by acclamation. Thus it is that I have been described as an “honorary white,” by other whites, and as a ‘banana’ by other Asians… to the extent that I have moved away from the periphery and toward the center of American life, I have become white inside.” —Eric Liu, The Accidental Asian (p. 34) Are Asian Americans becoming “white?” For many public officials the answer must be yes, because they classify Asian-origin Americans with European-origin Americans for equal opportunity programs, while other under-represented groups such as blacks, Latinos and Indians are not. But this classification is premature and based on false premises. Although Asian Americans as a group have attained the career and financial success equated with being white, and although many have moved next to or have even married whites, they still remain culturally distinct and suspect in a white society. At issue is how to define Asian American and white. The term “Asian American” was coined by the late historian and activist Yuji Ichioka during the ethnic consciousness movements of the late 1960s. To adopt this identity is to reject the western-imposed label of “Oriental.” Today, “Asian American” is an umbrella category that includes both U.S. citizens and immigrants whose ancestors came from Asia east of Pakistan. Although widely used in public discussions, most Asian-origin Americans are ambivalent about this label, reflecting the difficulty of being American and still keeping some ethnic identity: Is one, for example, Asian American or Japanese American? Similarly, “white” is an arbitrary label having more to do with privilege than biology. In the United States, groups initially considered non-white such as Irish and Jews have attained “white” membership by acquiring status and wealth. It is hardly surprising, then, that nonwhites would aspire to becoming “white” as a mark of and a tool for material success. However, becoming white can mean distancing oneself from “people of color” or disowning one’s ethnicity. Pan-ethnic identities—Asian American, African American, Hispanic American—are one way
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2 the politically vocal in any group try to stem defections. But these group identities may restrain individual members’ aspirations for personal mobility. Varieties of Asian Americans
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This note was uploaded on 04/22/2010 for the course SOC 40187 taught by Professor Robert during the Fall '09 term at UC Davis.

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Zhou,%20Min.%20Are%20Asian%20Americans%20Becoming%20White -...

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