ONTD Political

Why Do Asian Americans Win So Many Spelling Bees?

12:23 am - 06/14/2012
Why Do Asian Americans Win So Many Spelling Bees?
Why the archetype of the "model minority" is a load of BS.

When Snigdha Nandipati became the fifth consecutive Indian American to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee last month, the 14-year-old did it by successfully spelling out "guetapens," a French-derived word that means trap or snare.

In fact, Nandipati is the 10th Indian American to nab the title in the last 14 years. What a model minority, right?

Ah, don’t fall into the guetapens.

The myth of the “model minority,” typically applied to Asian Americans (including Indian Americans), is a fiction that reinforces a single stereotype of an extraordinarily diverse community. This myth falsely suggests that Asian Americans have overcome the same challenges other communities of color have failed to surmount and ignores the history of selective immigration and the significant number of Asian Americans who are struggling to make ends meet.

In “The Karma of Brown Folk,” Professor Vijay Prashad credited the disproportionate success of certain Asian American communities to the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, passed by Congress to actively recruit more scientists to the United States. For instance, between 1966 and 1977, 83% of the Indian immigrants to the U.S. were professionals such as engineers and medical doctors.

More recently, the information technology boom has created a new wave of Indian American professional immigrants, including the parents of the past five Spelling Bee champs (all IT professionals or professors). Further explaining Indian American success in the Bee, an entity called “North South Foundation” acts as a sort of minor-league circuit for aspiring Indian American spelling champions, training thousands of children every year, including the past five winners.

These hand-selected, highly educated immigrants ensured that their children would get the best educational opportunities and the resources to take advantage of them.

If the Slave Trade had centered on Thailand instead of West Africa, if China happened to border the United States to the South, or if Columbus had actually colonized (Asian) Indians, Asian Americans would likely have a very different reputation today.

Prashad theorized that the American (white) establishment created the “model minority” concept to blame traditionally disenfranchised communities of color for their economic plight: “These non-white people are successful, why aren’t you?” This tactic diverts attention and culpability from actual factors that perpetuate poverty in these communities: past government injustices, such as land theft and slavery, and more recent discriminatory actions, such as redlining and predatory lending.

Despite the relative success of some Asian Americans, others are struggling to get by. 2010 American Community Survey data estimate that 16.4% of Asian Americans live in relative poverty and 18% of Asian Americans live without healthcare. According to a recent study by the Economic Policy Institute, Asian Americans suffer from the highest rates of long-term unemployment when compared to whites, African Americans, and Latinos. The widespread and false notion that all Asian Americans are successful, however, allows policymakers to ignore this segment of the community when crafting policies to help Americans get by.

Furthermore, Asian Americans, having origins in markedly dissimilar regions and countries and immigrating to America under widely different circumstances, are too diverse to lump into one demographic category. For instance, Cambodian American and Bangladeshi American families often have more difficult challenges than Japanese American and Indian American families. Disaggregated data for each community, such as those provided by the American Community Survey (currently under attack by Congressional Republicans), would yield a truer picture of Asian American success.

Lifting the veil of the “model minority” myth should not detract from Asian American successes, typically achieved through discipline, hard work and in spite of obstacles such as language barriers, coerced assimilation, and racial bias. And Nandipati’s laudable achievement, which fittingly came on the last day of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, should be unconditionally celebrated. But all Americans, including Asian Americans who have bought into this fiction, should act as “mythbusters” and start talking about the real reasons why some communities of color are not doing as well as others.
imnotasquirrel 13th-Jun-2012 07:07 pm (UTC)
Prashad theorized that the American (white) establishment created the “model minority” concept to blame traditionally disenfranchised communities of color for their economic plight: “These non-white people are successful, why aren’t you?”

That's always been my impression as well. :-\

Also, High Expectations Asian Father says hello:





imnotasquirrel 13th-Jun-2012 08:40 pm (UTC)
It's a meme made by an Asian person, and I find them funny. (I'm also Asian, by way of full disclosure.) *shrugs* Of course, if someone who wasn't Asian made a similar meme, then yeah, it'd be gross, but that's the difference between in-groups and out-groups making jokes.

ETA: Not that all Asians are a hive mind of course, I'm sure there are Asians who don't like these jokes either. Just saying that there is a huge difference. If a person from another POC group wanted to come up with their own meme, then that'd be their prerogative.


Edited at 2012-06-13 08:48 pm (UTC)
imnotasquirrel 13th-Jun-2012 08:59 pm (UTC)
I also feel like they're mired in stereotype

Well, yeah, but I figure that's the idea of the meme - it's poking fun at all the stereotypes about Asian people. It's pretty satirical. Not that satire is a 'get out of jail free' card by any means (I know someone once tried to defend the racism in the Sherlock Holmes sequel by claiming that it was satire, which was bullshit IMO), but I think in this case it works.

However...

Maybe I'm particularly sensitive about this because I had Asian friends point this meme out to me, but the white friends in the group started mockingly reading them out loud in "Engrish" and asking me questions and making statements on Asian culture as if we were a monolith.

I'm sorry, that's gotta suck. :-\ I guess I've been really lucky because none of my friends ever did that when I posted the meme on facebook. And I guess there will always be white people who miss the point like that.
mrasaki 13th-Jun-2012 10:18 pm (UTC)
tbh, I've made "How do you know you're Asian? You have a 50lb bag of rice in the pantry" jokes myself, but I'm only comfortable with them if they're kept within our own ethnic group (eg I say it to my Asian friends, NEVER to anyone else). These kind of macros and internet memes are unfortunately, all too prone to being appropriated by other groups. I'm really glad I didn't see this meme before today.
roseofjuly 14th-Jun-2012 06:12 am (UTC)
And speaking as a black person, we make extensive jokes about ourselves, too. But the problem with Internet memes is that white people get hold of them and it goes to fucking hell.
meran_flash 13th-Jun-2012 07:13 pm (UTC)
Commenting so I remember to come back to this later. This was a huge issue in my social problems class this semester; whenever we looked at income averages by race, the class always dissolved into spouting these model minority tropes.
layweed 13th-Jun-2012 07:15 pm (UTC)
Prashad theorized that the American (white) establishment created the “model minority” concept to blame traditionally disenfranchised communities of color for their economic plight: “These non-white people are successful, why aren’t you?” This tactic diverts attention and culpability from actual factors that perpetuate poverty in these communities: past government injustices, such as land theft and slavery, and more recent discriminatory actions, such as redlining and predatory lending.


DING DING DING

Many of these Asian immigrants (incl. my parents) came here with serious credentials or higher education and were able to take advantage of job openings for them and make something of themselves and their children. Are you seriously going to compare them to other minority communities (blacks, hispanics, etc) who have had nothing but shit thrown at them for the entire existence of this country? SERIOUSLY? *headdesk*
sistergrimmel 13th-Jun-2012 07:19 pm (UTC)
Ask an Asian American who had relatives in an American concentration camp how much they've made it in this country. Go ahead, ask.

And these statistics completely ignore how frigging high Asians have to score on standardized tests compared to whites to get the same consideration. And how much pressure that they have on them to succeed.

asiansnotstudying.tumblr.com
moonbrightnites 13th-Jun-2012 07:52 pm (UTC)
Ask an Asian American who had relatives in an American concentration camp how much they've made it in this country.

I was thinking about this, too.
_xaipe_ 13th-Jun-2012 09:53 pm (UTC)
Thanks for pointing this out.

It really bothers me that "Asian" success manages to be both discounted by being solely attributable to already-high educational and income levels (which ignores the statistically significant number of marginally educated Asians who succeed owning their own small businesses) and punished (through higher admission standards and the like).

It's just such crap.
sistergrimmel 13th-Jun-2012 10:53 pm (UTC)
That's why the "High Expectations Asian Father" meme bothers me, kind of. It implies that the pressure comes from their own families and not from the wider culture.
morgondag 13th-Jun-2012 09:12 pm (UTC)
The whole different history of colonialism there doesn't help, either. I've always felt more Hispanic than Asian; Asia is not a homogeneous territory with a single culture. Also, I usually put down "Pacific Islander" in those little check boxes, and never gave it a thought until this comment.
mrasaki 13th-Jun-2012 10:15 pm (UTC)
Furthermore, Asian Americans, having origins in markedly dissimilar regions and countries and immigrating to America under widely different circumstances, are too diverse to lump into one demographic category. For instance, Cambodian American and Bangladeshi American families often have more difficult challenges than Japanese American and Indian American families. Disaggregated data for each community, such as those provided by the American Community Survey (currently under attack by Congressional Republicans), would yield a truer picture of Asian American success.

JFC, all of this. All of this ACROSS THE SKY. We are not a monolith.
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