Battlepanda: Model Minority's Burden


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Model Minority's Burden

According to Wong, Asian students at Cornell commit 50 percent of completed student suicides, even though they make up only 17 percent of the entire Cornell population. Asian students are also most likely to report problems with stress, sleep, sexually or physically abusive relationships and hopelessness. Asian students are least likely to utilize CAPS [I think that's their counselling service -- ed.], and when they do, they are often very reluctant, referred by a faculty member and visit only a few times.

Wong said, "So what's wrong with these guys? Isn't everyone at Cornell stressed?" He discussed stereotypes, such as: Asians are all good at math and science, they can fix your computer, and they're very self-reliant.

He even offered up an anecdote: he walked into his high school English class one day, looking glum, and his English teacher, the now-famous Frank McCourt -- author of Angela's Ashes -- asked, "What's wrong?" Wong replied, "I think I just failed my math test," and McCourt responded, "You can't fail math, you're Chinese!"

While he had the audience chuckling, Wong reminded listeners that these stereotypes comprise a part of the stigma that discourages Asian students from seeking help. There have been cases in which Asians have received differential treatment, for example, a T.A. grading an Asian's problem set harsher than a non-Asian peer's.

I can identify with that. Certainly about the part about a reluctance to seek help. Before I totally freaked out in college and became an art major, (a decision I regret because I don't have any talent), I was on a pretty science-y track. I pretty much forced myself off that track because of an unwarrented feeling that I was a failure. Looking back, I realize that I was an OK student in my science classes, despite being a bit lacking in application. But I felt terribly inferior because I did not measure up to the smart and industrious Asian standard. In an ironic twist, I also felt simultaneously threatened by the 'girls aren't as good at science as boys' stereotype, because I was not brilliant enough (or mature enough) to laugh it off. If only stereotypes cancelled each other out like vectors in equal and opposite directions! True, I would have never distinguished myself if I continued in science, but every class must have its share of mediocrities. And mediocrities in science/technology at least have the consolation of being useful.

OK, I'm going a bit off topic here. But the point of the post is, racial stereotypes are bad. Blatent negative stereotypes such as "Mexicans are Lazy" or "Blacks don't make good quarterbacks" are obviously super-duper double-plus bad. Even supposedly positive racial stereotypes have negative consequences.