Thursday, February 23, 2006

America's Next Top Model Minority

I just wanted to better explain my position on model minority, because I felt as though we got cut off at the end. Before we can explore how model minority stereotypes affect our lives, we should first define what it is.

"Model minority" refers to a minority ethnic, racial, or religious group whose members stereotypically achieve a higher degree of success than the population average. This success is typically in income, education, and related factors such as low crime rate and high family stability.

Some sociologists have argued that the greater success of such groups over the majority group, often in the face of historical discrimination, indicates supposed institutional racism is not the root cause of socioeconomic disparity between ethnic groups." (Wikipedia)

The article on wikipedia actually goes into great detail the negative ramifications of being subjected to the model minority stereotype. In essence it summarizes ouir discussion last night rather appropriately. For the most part I agree with the problems with the model minority stereotype, especially with regards to the fact that it makes it much more difficult for those within the model minority who may not have the same opportunities as the "norm." Also the use of Asian Americans and South Asian Americans to justify the status quo is also crap.

My contention is, however, is that we shouldn't be trying to shed every single part of the stereotype, as there are no doubt certain parts of it that you and I benefit, have benefited or will benefit from in our lifetimes. Moreover there are certain aspects of the stereotypes that will allow us to access positions in society where we can better address the negative ramifications of such a stereotype. I do not see why someone cannot partly embrace the idea of being a model minority yet still adamantly support affirmative action. I see no conflict in supporting measures like welfare and other social programs for those who are structurally unfortunate but stilll exploiting those advantages that have been arbirtrarily given to us.

Eliminating the model minority stereotype will not solve the problems of racial inequity that currently ravages the United States. First, those minorities who currently do have the benefits of being a 'model' often use such a position in society as a motivating factor. We, simply put, have higher expectations placed upon us as South Asians than a typical American -- and to a certain extent I think we should. Second, regardless of the forces that have determined these inequalties among races, Asian Americans and South Asian Americans in America still do exhibit positive characteristics that other races would benefit from if adopted. Qualities like stable family structures, strong work ethics, fundamental emphasis on education and family values (wow that sounds so republican!) are all contributory factors to the successes of these people.

Obvisouly there are horrible, negative parts of our groups that we are pressured to hide specifically to keep up the idea of a model. The very force that drives us to succeed also drives us to hide huge fears of homosexuality, domestic violence, subjugation among other imperfections. But every group has our problems, and just simply removing the pressure of being pefect won't make these go away either.

Thus, instead of shunning our position -- responsibility -- as a model minority, we should attempt to turn this currently degrading/negative term into an empowering one that projects those parts of our societies that are able to be replicated and adapted in other races. Whether or not we do this explicitly or not (obviously going into the 9th Ward and telling people that if they were more Indian, they woudn't be poor anymore isn't an effective or true solution), we can pull from our own background and perspective -- the same background and perspective that to a large extent helped stimulate the stereotype in the first place -- to help build institutions that better reflect our own way of lives in other people.

Like it or not, every action and thought we make has in some way been influenced by the fact that we have grown up in a group that is considered a model minority. And as much as I hate the extra security check in the aiport or the fact that Hollywood has to darken their villians for terrorist roles so that Americans can better disassociate what most Arabs actually look like, I also love the fact that South Asians are celebrated as being one of the driving forces in the new world economy and order. We are in a position now where we can truly flex our muscles and use these own stereotypes to our advantage.

After all, isn't that the nature of politics?: The first step in trying to change society is embracing and believing the fact that you know how to do something better than someone else.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Standardizing Undergrad (Next Step Dress Codes ...)

In the New York Times today an article was written on a new comission be setup to examine "whether standardized testing should be expanded into universities and colleges to prove that students are learning and to allow easier comparisons on quality."

While the intentions of such a program may be noble: the commission states that the goal of the program is to accurately asses writing, critical thinking and problem solving -- the three most important skills that one should develop in undergrad, it does open the door for significant problems.

Let us go through the idea:

First, according to the article, the commission intends to use this testing to help assess the literacy disparities among various races. That is a new one on me -- the use of standardized testing to help fight racism? Last time I checked standardized testing has been one of the largest delineators of racial segregation. In fact studies have show that a reliance on standardized testing actually exacerbates the problem. A 2001 survey of the California CBEST, "African-American test takers are 3.5 times more likely to fail the test than whites, Latino/Hispanics more than twice as likely, and Asian Americans more than 1.5 times as likely to fail than whites." (

One of the major problems is that standardized testing cannot possibly relate equally across all differenet social stratifications, be it may race, class, sexual orienation and so forth. Any test designed, no matter how much effort placed on diversity awareness, will be subject to this critical shortcoming.

Suggestion: We could completely abandon our notion of standardization, and instead build computer adapted tests that are generated on demand after each student enters in information regarding their background.

Next, the correlation between standardized testing and future performance is short-lived, if existent at all. There is still an ongoing debate, for example, on whether the SAT, the torch-bearer of standardized tests, has any correlation with a person's ability to do well in college.

Now that we have sufficiently criticized the validity of the test in itself, lets examine the actual people charged with making this program a reality. At the helm is Mr. Charles Miller -- the former head of the Regents of the University of Texas -- who was appointed by Bush. Normally any appointment by Bush would cause me to yell favortism and spoils system, but this one is different right? After all, I am confidenct that even President Bush would entrust someone with a strong educational background and long history of academic positions to oversee such an ambitious task! Even he wouldn't be willing to partially redefine our higher education system without a qualified appointee, right? Right?

Well lets look at Mr. Miller's credentials. According to the University of Texas website, Charles Miller is the Chairman of Meridian National, Inc., a private, family investment partnership based in Houston. Before that he was the head of another private investment firm. But he was the head regent of one of the larger state run university networks in the country, you say? Well he was appointed by none other than W. In fact if you look at his professional history, it is flooded with positions that required either government appointment or nomination (

Finally the article also hinted at the potential ramifications such testing could have on private institutions. "
Although public universities seem most vulnerable to regulatory oversight because they are subsidized by state taxpayers, Mr. Miller points out that private colleges are subject to regulation, too. They are accredited by groups authorized by the federal government. And they must meet certain standards to qualify for federal grants and financial aid."

But how do we assess how well people are learning at public institutions, and should we even have to? These institutions receive millions and millions of taxpayer dollars every year, do they not have an obligation to their constituents? What sort of threats can one develop to improve the system. And at what metric is performance acceptable and unpunishable?

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Immigration (a.k.a. All of You)

As much as it pains me to say it ... I believe I finally found an issue of President Bush's that I may partly agree with. And of all the possible issues that I could think of, the absolute last one that I would have guessed such accordance on would be immigration.

However, somehow my half-listenings on NPR caused my ears to point upwards the other day, when it was reported that George Bush would try to initiate a new program to fast track the process that makes temporary work for immigrants and make it legal who are already in the United States. At the time I thought that I had misheard the NPR report, but here I am watching the State of the Union -- and he said it again!

Now I am not so sure of the details of this reform, as Bush first proposed this idea two years ago without little implementation. However, this is definitely at least one policy that I will be following closely.

A Slightly Better than Mediocre Welcome to You!

Here is my attempt to create a space for me to discuss current issues, interesting articles found on-line and my rants that incorporate overly absolute statements, lack sufficient evidence, and if done long enough often become circular in logic.

So I welcome you to join in on my ramblings and I encourage you to prove to me that I know much less than I seem to believe ...