The Chronicle of Higher Education
From the issue dated September 26, 2008
By MICHAEL OMI
In his memoir, the author Eric Liu reflects on being the bearer of a strange new status — "white, by acclamation." He writes in The Accidental Asian: Notes of a Native Speaker (Random House, 1998), "Some are born white, others achieve whiteness, still others have whiteness thrust upon them."
Asian-Americans, it seems, are experiencing the last fate. Just as previous "outsiders" — such as the Irish and the Jews — have been incorporated into our collective notions of who is white, some scholars and policy makers believe that Asian-Americans are following such a trajectory of inclusion under an expanded definition of "whiteness."
The sociologist George Yancey, in Who Is White? Latinos, Asians, and the New Black/Nonblack Divide (Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2003), argues that Asian-Americans, along with some Latinos, are undergoing significant levels of structural, marital, and identificational assimilation. He draws upon survey data to illustrate that the social attitudes of Asian-Americans on a number of issues are closer to those of whites than blacks. Yancey believes that a black/nonblack divide is emerging in the United States as Asian-Americans and Latinos become "white" and blacks continue to endure a specific form of what he calls racial "alienation."
The question of whether Asian-Americans are becoming white is a complex one. Ostensibly regarded as a "racial minority," Asian-Americans are nonetheless not seen as a "disadvantaged" or "underrepresented" one. The popular belief is that Asian-Americans do not directly experience racial discrimination nor incur social disadvantages by race. Drawing upon select social and economic indicators, it is argued that Asian-Americans have achieved parity with whites with respect to income and levels of education and, correspondingly, have distanced themselves from other groups of color.
Higher education proves an oft-cited example: While Asian-Americans compose less than 5 percent of the U.S. population, a sizable and increasingly visible percentage of students at elite private and public universities throughout the country are Asian-American. In California, such students make up 24 percent of the undergraduate population at Stanford, 39 percent at UCLA, and 42 percent at Berkeley.
While the reported averages for median family income, rates of poverty, and levels of education are relatively high for Asian-Americans compared with other groups, the indicators mask the internal diversity within the socially constructed group. Asian-Americans exhibit a bimodal pattern; some Asian ethnic groups (notably East Asians like Chinese and Japanese) are doing quite well economically, but others (Southeast Asians like the Hmong and Cambodians) are mired in poverty. Such heterogeneity, however, is often glossed over in the literature in favor of deploying a broad, panethnic category.
Of the key social and cultural indicators evoked, the most popularly cited indicator that Asian-Americans are becoming "white" has been the high rates of Asian-American intermarriage with whites. [To read the entire story, go to: http://chronicle.com/weekly/v55/i05/05b05601.htm?utm_source=at&utm_medium=en ]