Friday, July 28, 2017

Asian and Pacific Americans

1910 Anti-Miscegenation Statutes

Hrishi Karthikeyan and Gabriel J. Chin

excerpted from: Hrishi Karthikeyan and Gabriel J. Chin, Preserving Racial Identity: Population Patterns and the Application of Anti-miscegenation Statutes to Asian Americans, 1910-1950, 9 Asian Law Journal 1-39, 14-19 (2002) (200 Footnotes)


B. 1910 Anti-Miscegenation Statutes

Prior to the Civil War, a number of states had statutes prohibiting "intermarriage ... [or] forms of illicit intercourse between the races." Notably, "during the years of Reconstruction in the South ... none of the statutes against miscegenation appear to have been repealed." Even outside the South, only a handful of states repealed their anti- miscegenation statutes in the wake of the Civil War. By 1910, 28 states still had such statutes in effect. Six of these states, all Southern, prohibited racial intermarriage through a constitutional provision.

Although the text of these statutes varied by state, all 28 statutes expressly prohibited intermarriage between whites and blacks. Seven states prohibited marriages between whites and Asians in some form. The universal application to African Americans suggests that these prohibitions primarily sought to prevent white-black intermarriage; legislators may have added Asian Americans by subsequent amendment in a number of cases, rather than including them at the time of original enactment.

Statutes prohibiting white-black intermarriage existed predominantly in the South, where blacks resided in the most significant numbers. Sixteen of the southern states in the belt between Delaware and Texas, with the single exception of the District of Columbia, prohibited black-white miscegenation by statute. This, however, also included states like West Virginia--with a 5.26 percent black population--as well as Oklahoma--with a 8.30 percent black population. Missouri, with its 4.78 percent black population, also imposed such a restriction.

Such statutes were by no means confined to the southern states, where African American numbers were the most significant. Indiana, for example, imposed intermarriage restrictions on its 2.23 percent black population. Nebraska, which contained fewer than 8,000 African Americans amongst its 1.2 million people, merely 0.64 percent maintained an anti-miscegenation provision in 1910. North Dakota, a state that was nearly 99 percent white, imposed a similar restriction. Eight western states with meager African American numbers also enacted prohibitions on intermarriage; the largest black population in the West was in Colorado, whose 11,453 African American residents constituted 1.43 percent of the state's population. The existence of anti-miscegenation statutes in states with such marginal African American populations undermines Stephenson's theory that this phenomenon correlates with multiple races living in "anything like equal numbers." In all, 91.8 percent of the African American population in 1910 resided in states where they were subject to intermarriage restrictions.

The seven states applying their prohibitions to people of Asian descent were Arizona, California, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Utah. The specific language in these statutes referring to Asian people varied from state to state. The statutes of Arizona, California, Mississippi, and Utah all referred to "Mongolians." Nevada and Oregon used the term "Chinese," and Montana specified both "Chinese" and "Japanese" persons. The reasons behind the inconsistent terminology are unclear, although the evidence suggests that the importance of these distinctions should not be exaggerated. First, the history of Asian American jurisprudence suggests a tendency by courts to read inclusive racial categories narrowly, while reading exclusive categories broadly. Secondly, a number of courts refer to dictionary classifications of race, such as "that of Blumenbach, who makes five ... [including] [t]he Mongolian, or yellow race, occupying Tartary, China, Japan, etc. ... and ... the Malay, or brown race, occupying the islands of the Indian Archipelago." Both of these factors suggest that any court interpreting its state's anti-miscegenation statute would be inclined to read the term "Mongolian" broadly.

Although Oregon and Nevada mentioned only "Chinese" in their intermarriage prohibitions, there is no case law from either state to illustrate how broadly the courts interpreted this term. The California case of Roldan v. Los Angeles County, however, offers a helpful analogy. In Roldan, a Filipino litigant successfully utilized Blumenbach's racial terminology to assert that California's prohibition applying to "Mongolians" did not include him, since he was a member of the "Malay" race. The California legislature, however, quickly responded by explicitly adding "member[s] of the Malay race" to the state's anti-miscegenation statute. The holdings in cases like Rice and Hall, and the legislative response to Roldan, emphasize the multiplicity of efforts broadly to prohibit marriage between whites and any group of Asian Americans. Even, however, if such terminology were to be interpreted narrowly as covering only a smaller subset of Asian Americans, it would only further discredit Stephenson's theory that such statutes corresponded to "other race elements exist[ing] in considerable numbers."

Assuming that intermarriage prohibitions applied to the entire Asian American population within the states in which they existed, no state enforcing such a restriction contained an Asian American population even close to the "anything like equal numbers" standard posited by Stephenson. Although Mississippi contained a majority black population, its total Asian American population--to whom it also extended its intermarriage prohibition--amounted to only 259 people, or 0.01 percent of the statewide population. Even in the West, three of the states in which Asian Americans were prohibited from intermarrying with whites--Montana, Arizona, and Utah--contained fewer than one percent Asian Americans. Of the three remaining states, California had the largest Asian American population, over 77,000, but this figure amounted to only 3.26 percent of the total population of California. Thus, while over two-thirds of the national Asian American population were restricted by anti-miscegenation statutes in their home states, in no such state did Asian Americans amount to even 1/30th of the population. Such statistics strongly undermine the assertion that growing Asian American numbers, threatening to disrupt the continuing dominance of the white population, provided the primary motivation for these statutes.

C. 1950 Anti-Miscegenation Statutes

By 1950, whites had secured a majority of the population in each of the forty-eight states and the District of Columbia. The African American population had grown at a rate slightly below the national average, and the Asian American population had grown at a slightly above-average rate. In both cases, however, this growth was accompanied by increasing dissemination throughout the country. African Americans had moved west and now surpassed Asian Americans in every state except Idaho and Utah. Asian American numbers also grew significantly in eastern states with large metropolitan areas, like Illinois, Pennsylvania, and New York. With both groups moving away from their centers of density, the largest concentrations of population were getting smaller. African Americans constituted less than a quarter of the population in most of the southern states, and Asian Americans comprised less than one percent of the population in every state except California, where they now formed only 1.35 percent.

Despite this diffusion of both the black and Asian American populations all 28 existing anti-miscegenation statutes remained in effect, with two additional states adopting such statutes and eight states adding Asian Americans to their prohibitions for the first time. The states that adopted new anti-miscegenation statues after 1910 were Wyoming, in 1913, and South Dakota, around 1919. The Wyoming statute applied to "Negroes, Mulattoes, Mongolians, or Malays," forbidding the marriage of any of these races with "white persons." The new South Dakota statute forbade the marriage of "any person belonging to the African, [K]orean, Malayan, or Mongolian race with any person of the opposite sex belonging to the Caucasian or white race." Both statutes specifically included both African Americans and Asian Americans within their prohibitions, supporting the thesis that such prohibitions never independently targeted Asian Americans.

Examination of the population patterns of these two states during this time directly contradicts Stephenson's population-driven theory. In 1920, the first census year following the adoption of these two statutes, Wyoming's African American population had shrunk by about a thousand people from the previous census, down to only 0.71 percent of the state population. The Asian American population had similarly decreased by nearly 400, down to 0.74 percent of the total. In South Dakota, the numbers had essentially remained stagnant, amounting to combined Asian American and African American numbers of slightly over 1,000 people in a state of well over 600,000, just 0.15 percent of the population. With the addition of these two statutes, a total of thirty states prohibited intermarriage between whites and African Americans in 1950. With the dispersion of the black population, however, the total proportion of African Americans covered by such statutes had decreased--from nearly 92 percent in 1910 to 72.9 percent by 1950.

The six other states adding Asian Americans to their prohibitions for the first time between 1910 and 1950 were: Georgia, Idaho, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, and Virginia. Four of these states--Idaho, Maryland, Missouri, and Nebraska--specifically added a reference to Asian Americans in some form in their anti-miscegenation statutes. Nebraska added the categories "Japanese or Chinese" in 1911. However, these two groups combined in the 1910 Census constituted only 702 people in a state of about 1.2 million, amounting to just 0.06 percent. Similarly, Missouri added the term "Mongolians" in 1919, and Idaho did the same in 1921. However, the 1920 Census shows that Missouri's Asian American population actually decreased slightly from the previous census, while the total state population had slightly grown. Asian Americans still totaled less than 0.02 percent. The same Census shows that Idaho's Asian American population had also slightly shrunk since 1910, while the overall state population had grown by almost a third. In 1920, Asian Americans in Idaho comprised less than 0.5 percent of the total population. Maryland, for the first time in 1935, added "member[s] of the Malay race" to its prohibitions. Asian American numbers in Maryland, however, hovered around 500 between 1930 and 1940, constituting about 0.03 percent of the state's population. For reference, Filipinos--a group commonly associated by the courts with the term "Malay"--totaled only 272 in Maryland in 1940. Thus, in none of these states did Asian American numbers approach those of the white population in the period immediately preceding the inclusion of Asian Americans within anti-miscegenation statutes. Contrary to Stephenson's thesis, these numbers remained low and, in some cases, even decreased.

Georgia and Virginia did not include Asian Americans specifically within their anti-miscegenation statutes, but instead declared it illegal for a white person to marry anyone "save" a white person--Georgia in 1927 and Virginia in 1924. In the same session, however, the Georgia legislature defined "white person" as "only persons of the white or Caucasian race, who have no ascertainable trace of either Negro, African, West Indian, Asiatic Indian, Mongolian, Japanese, or Chinese blood in their veins." Therefore, the specific contemplation of Asian Americans in the adoption of the statute is unquestionable. Likewise, the Virginia legislature in the same session adopted legislation authorizing the State Registrar of VitalStatistics to certify the "racial composition of any individual, as Caucasian, Negro, Mongolian, American Indian, Asiatic Indian, Malay, or any mixture thereof, or any other non-Caucasic strains," thereby establishing the specific intent of the legislature that Asian Americans be included with all other "non- Caucasic" groups for legal purposes. Again, the Census numbers depict an unusual background for these legislative actions. Virginia contained only about 335 Asian Americans throughout the 1920s, constituting only 0.01 percent of the state's nearly 2.5 million people. Georgia's Asian American population remained at around 250, not even reaching 0.01 percent of the state's population.

In all, the proliferation of anti-miscegenation statutes targeting Asian Americans kept pace with the diffusion of this group throughout the country so that, by 1950, the 15 effective statutes covered 64 percent of the Asian American population nationwide--as compared with 7 statutes reaching 67.3 percent in 1910. However, as Asian Americans became decreasingly concentrated on the West Coast, they existed in smaller niches and communities in states across the country. While Asian American numbers may have substantially increased in areas of previous scarcity by the middle of the twentieth century, in no territory did they constitute even 1/74th of the residential population. Stephenson's model--contending that statutory "distinctions" arose when other races resembled "equal numbers" to whites--therefore fails adequately to explain the gradual proliferation over this period of intermarriage restrictions targeting Asian Americans.

[d1]. J.D., expected May 2002, New York University School of Law; B.A., Northwestern University. Following graduation, the author will begin a clerkship with The Honorable W. Royal Furgeson, Jr., United States District Court, Western District of Texas. An earlier version of this paper won the Leonard M. Henkin Prize from NYU School of Law.


[r1]. Interim Associate Dean and Rufus King Professor of Law, University of Cincinnati College of Law. LL.M., Yale Law School; J.D., University of Michigan Law School; B.A., Wesleyan University. Thanks to Wendy Parker, Victor Romero, Leti Volpp and Verna Williams for their helpful comments.

Are Asians Model Minorities?

Gary Mar 
Philosophical Issues in Asian American Studies 

 A stereotype is the imposition of an unfair depiction of a particular group (usually defined by ethnicity, race, class, or gender) resulting in the systematic disadvantage of members of that group and/or members of an implicit comparison class. 


  • Context
  • Text
  • Subtext
1960s  Civil Rights Movement The term "model minority" is first used in print in the New York Times Magazine (Jan. 6, 1960) in "Success Story: Japanese American Style" by sociologist William Peterson.  He argues that Japanese culture with its family values and strong work ethic saved Japanese from becoming a "problem minority."  A similar article using Chinese Americans appears in U. S. News and World Report(Dec. 26, 1960).  The "Model Minority" thesis is used to discredit the Civil Rights movement.  If one minority is singled out as "model", then this implise other monorities are not. The stereotype is used to pit one minority against another using the mechanisms of "racist hate" and "racist love."


1970s  U. S. loses Vietnam War.  Southeast Asian refugees take over American jobs.  Japanese auto industry muscles out Detroit.   Articles on model minorities have sidebars expressing the white resentment of Asian American success.  The "Model Minority" thesis used to accuse whites of becoming soft.  Whites are afraid of economic competition with Asia.


1980s  Reaganonics and the "Winter of Civil Rights".  In 1984 Reagan cites that the median household income for Asian Americans is higher than the national average. 

                1980         1990 
APAs    $22,075   $42,250 
Whites  $20,840    $36,920 

Can you think of why these statistics are seriously misleading? 

Articles of model minorities such as Newsweek's "The Drive to Excel" (April 1984) and Time's"The New Whiz Kids" (August 1987) start to focus on Asian American success in school. 

All Asians are lumped together-- American Borns, older immigrants, 1.5 generation immigrants, and refugees displaced by social chaos. 

The "Model Minority" thesis is used to attack Affirmative Action programs for minorities and other advances of the Civil Rights period. 

The "Model Minority" thesis is used to justify fiscal cutbacks. 




SAT Scores 1992 

       Verbal      Math
All                              423     476 
APAs                        413     532 
Black                         352     385 
Native Am.               395     442 
Euro-Am.                  442     491 
Mexican-Am            372     425 
Puerto Ricans          366     406 Articles on model minorities focus on entrepreneurial success and start to include European and Latino immigrants. 

The Washington Post (June 1992) publishes "Myth of Model Minority Haunts Asian Americans: Stereotype Eclipses Group's Problems." 

Murray and Herrnstein publish The Bell Curve (1994) which argues that Asian Americans and Jews are genetically superior to African Americans. 

The "Model Minority" thesis is used to accuse Americans of losing the "hardworking immigrant spirit." 

The "Model Minority" myth is exposed as a social construct that denies many Asian Americans access to much needed social services. 

The "Model Minority" thesis is grounded biologically or genetically ("ethnic essentialism") and is used to rationaize racism in standardized intelleigence tests


Journal #4. 
Analyzing the Statistics about the "Model Minority"
"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."
    -- Benjamin Disraeli
"Statistical thinking will one day be as necessary for efficient citizenship as the ability to read and write."
  -- H. G. Wells

. . . . 

       Based on the 1970 census President Reagan's statistics about the median income of Asian Americans could be misleading because the 1970 census data was over generalized and inaccurate.  Many factors were overseen and left out, and the data was not studied greatly in depth.  The data concerning the median income of Asian American families were clearly misleading, due to three factors.  What was discovered was that, although the median income of Asian American families was higher than that of white families, the median income of individuals was found to be lower for Asians than for whites.  These three factors were excised from the equation in the 1970 census, and they are as follows: 

  • There was a larger proportion of Asian families in which both spouses worked than among white families.
  • Asian children remained with their families longer and thereby contributed longer to family income.
  • Asian families were larger on the average and, therefore, had more earners contributing to family income.
             It is not until the 1980 census that scholars have come up with more accurate data since more sophisticated studies have been done on the census.  Prior to the 1980 census, many more variables were left out as well. 

          . . .Asian Americans actually tend to be under compensated in terms of the number of years that they have invested in their education. 

          More importantly, Asian Americans are a heterogeneous group.  The median income does not give information about the spread of incomes around the mean.  Suppose, for example, that the distribution of incomes is bimodal.  How would the average median income be misleading? 

           For those of you who want a good laugh, ask Grace Hsu to look at her solution. 


Myth versus Facts: Asian American and Model Minorities


Asian-Americans are a model minority.


Asian-American immigrants to the U.S. have been highly self-selected

Part of the Liberalism Resurgent web site
© Copyright by Steve Kangas, editor


Asian immigrants to the U.S. tend to be already highly educated and from the middle or upper class, for a number of reasons. Thus, they get a completely different start in life in the U.S. compared to other minorities. Although Asians achieve a much greater degree of success in the U.S., the "model minority" stereotype is a myth because Asian-Americans still bump into the glass ceiling, receive lower pay even with the same qualifications, and have higher poverty rates. The image of boat people escaping the ravages of war and communism to take full advantage of American opportunities is also a myth, in that Southeast Asians actually have the lowest success rate of all Asians.


Supporters of affirmative action argue that discrimination and racism have held down minorities in the U.S., and that affirmative action is needed to correct it. In response, critics ask: "If blacks and Mexicans are being held down by discrimination, then why do Asians come to this country and do so well for themselves?" According to this myth, Asians immigrate to America with little or nothing, often as boat people fleeing communism, and through hard study and work become even more successful than European-Americans. Their success would suggest that the U.S. does not really discriminate against minorities.

Supporters of the "model minority" myth cite many statistics in their favor. For example, among college-bound seniors in 1989, Asian-Americans had a high school grade point average of 3.25, compared to 3.08 for all other students. A study of 7,836 high school students in the San Francisco area found that Asian-Americans spent 40 percent more time doing homework than non-Asians, a fairly common finding. (1)

The model minority myth

Although it is true that an unusually high percentage of Asian-Americans have enjoyed success in the United States, large parts of the "model minority" stereotype are a myth, and cannot be used in debates on affirmative action.

We should first note that Asian-Americans form one of our smallest minorities:

U.S. Population, by ethnic group (1994) (4) 
Whites       74.0%
Blacks       12.0
Hispanics    10.0
Asian         3.2
When the percentage is this small, many factors can skewer the composition of a minority. Indeed, this turns out to be the case.

Unlike blacks, Asians have migrated to the U.S. voluntarily. The forced capture and transport of Africans means that the U.S. black population is more likely to be a true cross section of African society, whereas Asians, who migrate voluntarily, tend to be self-selected. What type of voluntary immigrant would take residence in the U.S.? Naturally, those who could afford to make the trip. For immigrants from neighboring nations, like Mexico, this is relatively easy, a matter of crossing a land border. Again, this would tend to make the U.S. Hispanic population a true cross section of its original society. Asians, however, must be able to afford a trans-oceanic journey. Not surprisingly, those who could afford such a trip would tend to belong to their homeland's middle and upper classes.

In a thorough study of Houston's Asian American population, Dr. Stephen Klineberg confirmed what sociologists have long known about the advantaged backgrounds of Asian immigrants. "The survey makes it clear that Asians have been relatively successful in Houston primarily due to the educations and middle class backgrounds they brought with them from their countries of origin," Klineberg says. "One of the key messages from the survey is that we have to discard the 'model minority' stereotype that is so often applied to Asians in America. [It overlooks] the fact that a high proportion of Asian immigrants come from an occupational and educational elite." (5)

Furthermore, U.S. immigration policy has long been discriminatory, favoring immigrants with professional skills and higher education. (6) This policy began as early as 1907, when President Theodore Roosevelt and the Japanese government negotiated a "Gentlemen's Agreement" restricting the exit of unskilled Japanese laborers to the United States. (7) Asian immigration has been heavily restricted for most of this century, and has only recently become liberalized.

Other aspects of the myth

The above income chart shows that Asians make the nation's highest median family income. But this statistic doesn't tell the whole story. Asian families have a higher percentage of their members employed in the workforce, so their family income is naturally higher. Also, the U.S. Census does not distinguish between Japanese-American citizens and Japanese residents in the U.S. who maintain their Japanese citizenship. Therefore, this figure includes many highly paid Japanese businessmen in the U.S. on extended business. (8)

Asian-Americans aspiring to job promotion are also familiar with the "glass ceiling." According to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Asian-American men born in the United States are 7 percent to 11 percent less likely to hold managerial jobs than white men with the same educational and experience level. Median income for Asian-Americans with four years of college education is $34,470 a year, compared with $36,130 for whites, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. (9)

Also, many people who buy into the "model minority" myth do not realize that income inequality is severe within the Asian-American community. In 1994, the individual Asian-American poverty rate was 15.3 percent, compared to a national rate of 14.5 percent, and a white rate of 12.2 percent. (10) In fact, the poverty rate for Asians in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York is nearly twice as high as that of whites. (11) Leaders of the Asian-American community complain that, because of the "model minority" myth, their poverty programs have been drastically underfunded compared to other communities. Thus, needy cries for help among Asian-Americans are going unmet.

Many who subscribe to the "model minority" myth also presume that Asia is a homogeneous society with a shared family and work ethic. Actually, Asia is a land of 27 different countries, sharply delineated by oceans, culture, language, religion and economic systems. This produces wide disparities in the success of Asian immigrants. The following chart shows the percentage of Asian-Americans over twenty-five years of age who have completed four or more years of college and who live below the poverty line:

Asian group    Poverty level (12) ---------------------------- 
Laotian        67.2%
Hmong          65.5
Cambodian      46.9
Vietnamese     33.5
Indonesian     15.2
Notice these groups come from Southeast Asia. Many believers in the "model minority" myth claim that Asians have succeeded so well in America because they escaped the ravages of war and communism, and are thus highly motivated to take full advantage of the opportunities offered in America. However, the above chart gives lie to this myth.

It is true that many Asian cultures, like China and Japan, have traditionally placed a very high value on education. However, Asians have historically used education to create an intellectual caste system. Those who proved themselves went on to receive more education, while those who failed were relegated to menial labor. Higher education was not a universal right, but a test of caste membership. As we have shown above, Asian immigrants to the U.S. tend to come from the middle and upper classes.

Finally, there are many who believe that Asians excel because they have the highest IQs in the world. But there is no evidence to support this assertion. One study, conducted by Harold Stevenson, tested the IQs of children in Japan, China and America, carefully matching them for socioeconomic status and demographic variables. He found no differences in IQ. (13) Another set of studies conducted by Richard Lynn supposedly found a higher IQ in Asians, but his research has been heavily criticized on methodological grounds -- among other problems, his Asian test group was tiny and unrepresentative of the population at large. (14)

In the U.S. during the early 1900s, Asians -- like Jews -- scored much lower on IQ tests than native whites. Their tests scores improved over time as highly educated immigrants continued arriving in the U.S., and their social positions improved. (15)

Implications for affirmative action

Given the above information, it is difficult to hold Asians up as members of a model minority who have pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps. Asian immigrants to the U.S. tend to be more educated and affluent than the compatriots they leave behind. They generally have not suffered extreme poverty, racism, legal discrimination or hateful prejudice within their own nations. Compare this to black Americans, who have struggled with these problems for hundreds of years. The two groups have experienced completely different starts in the U.S., and cannot be compared to each other.

The model minority myth does a disservice to Asian-Americans, because it suggests they do not need, nor could benefit from, affirmative action. As we have seen, the glass ceiling exists for this minority as well, not to mention the poverty and income inequality that afflict all other groups of Americans. Unfortunately, the myth blinds others to these realities.


1. Lieutenant Commander James G. Foggo, III, U.S. Navy, "Review of Data on Asian-Americans," Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute, May 1993.

2. U.S. Bureau of the Census, U.S. Census of Population, U.S. Summary, PC80-1-C1 and Current Population Reports P20-455, P20-459, P20-462, P20-465RV, P20-475; and unpublished data.

3. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Current Population Reports, P60-188.

4. U.S. Bureau of the Census, unpublished data.

5. Stephen Klineberg, "First Houston Area Asian Survey Explodes the 'Model Minority' Stereotype and Explains the City's Changing Demographics," Press Release, Rice University, Office of Development, March 8, 1996.

6. American Writing Corporation, "Research Briefs on Poverty: Poverty and Asian Americans," Equal Opportunity for the Urban Poor Program, National Community Building Network, Rockefeller Foundation.

7. Foggo.

8. Ibid.

9. Carolyn Jung, "Asian-Americans Say They Run into Glass Ceiling," San Jose Mercury News, September 10, 1993, p. 1B.

10. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Current Population Reports, Asian-American rate: P20-459 and unpublished data; U.S. rate: P-60 series; white American rate: P20-480 and unpublished data.

11. Nancy Rivera Brooks, "Study Attacks Belief in Asian-American Affluence, Privilege," San Jose Mercury News, May 19, 1994, p. 1A.

12. Foggo.

13. Harold Stevenson et al., "Cognitive performance of Japanese, Chinese, and American Children," Child Development 56, 1985, pp. 718-34.

14. Charles Lane, "Tainted Sources," pp. 133-5, in Russell Jacoby and Noami Glauberman, eds., The Bell Curve Debate (New York: Random House, 1995).

15. Thomas Sowell, "Ethnicity and IQ," The American Spectator (February, 1995), pp. 32-36.

On the Model Minority Myth and Law School Admissions


 Marty B. Lorenzo



Even though Asian immigrants come from various countries, the term  "Asian Americans" has been used to group us all together. This failure to differentiate between the different Asian ethnicities allows the majority to group all Asian Americans under the "model minority" stereotype. The model minority myth is detrimental to Asian Americans in two ways. First, Asian Americans are described as successfully assimilated into American society because we are "hardworking, intelligent, and successful,"  especially as compared to other people of color. On the other hand, the myth says that Asian Americans, while skilled in math and science, have low verbal abilities and community skills, are one-dimensional "grinds;" and lack personality and individuality.  Politicians use the first part of the myth to attack race-conscious admissions programs as either victimizing Asian Americans at the expense of other people of color, or unnecessary in light of the success of one minority group.  The second  part of the myth pigeon-holes Asian Americans into specific fields (such as engineering or nursing) and reinforces glass ceilings in employment.


  This model minority myth has led "public policy makers and corporate leaders to . . . dismiss the idea that [Asian Americans] have any problems that require  serious attention."  Some scholars have noted that this "laissez-faire approach" to all Asian Americans persists "notwithstanding the tremendous heterogeneity among the ethnicities that make up the racial category Asian Pacific Americans." 

 The model minority myth has had the same effect on some admissions programs which now fail to consider Asian Americans as diversity applicants.  For example, the Stanford Asian and Pacific Islander Law Students Association (APILSA) wrote a memorandum to the faculty of Stanford Law School, questioning the Stanford Law School's treatment of all Asian ethnicities in aggregate and the school's failure to include any of them in the diversity admissions program. Stanford's APILSA called for the school's admissions program to recognize the "unique experiences" of the various Asian and Pacific Islander ethnicities and advocated consideration of underrepresented Asian and Pacific Islander ethnicities as a positive factor in admissions decisions. 

  In a recent law review article, Paul Brest, the Dean of the Stanford Law School, noted that the number of Asian American law students has grown over the last decade and appears to continue to grow with a large majority of these students being Chinese, Korean, or Japanese Americans.  Brest continued, "[t]o the extent that the status of recent immigrants is tractable and improves over time, one would expect more group members to attend professional schools."  This disregards the fact that Filipinos are less  represented in colleges and graduate schools than Japanese and Chinese Americans.  Filipinos are not recent immigrants so there must be some other explanation for their underrepresentation in higher education and in the legal profession.  Moreover, assuming that the Asian ethnic sub-groups that are relatively new additions to the Asian American classification would follow the lead of their predecessors is an implicit acceptance of the model minority myth. This implicit acceptance perpetuates the myth and is therefore unacceptable. 

  A law school should consider the educational value of having students or faculty members from "disadvantaged Southeast Asian or Pacific Island groups-- especially those whose cultures are quite different from those of most others at the school and who by virtue of size or the school's geographic locale may be of significance in the professional lives of its graduates." In light of the recent changes in the landscape surrounding race-conscious measures, perhaps cautious support from school administrations is the best that advocates  of race-conscious measures can hope for at this time. However, this Article advocates greater support of race-conscious measures. 

B. On Whether Asian Americans Should Support Diversity Programs 

  Aside from the support from school administrations, diversity programs 
require the support of the Asian American community as well. Although there may be an increasing number of Asian American ethnicities that are relatively well- represented, there are those that remain under-represented. Furthermore, despite the widely held belief that Asian Americans have succeeded in accessing mainstream America, out of the entire American legal profession in 1990 Asian Americans comprised only 1.4% of the lawyers and only 1.02% of the total number of judges. 

  Asian Americans have been painted as being the victims of race-conscious classifications. Race-conscious classifications have been targeted as the reason why Asian Americans are being denied admission to highly selective schools. This argument states that if schools would use a strictly meritocratic system and discontinue the use of racial preferences, more higher-scoring Asian Americans would be admitted. Alternatively, race-conscious classifications and the call for diversity have been criticized as allowing a preference for whites over Asians. This section addresses these two assertions and calls for the Asian American community (inasmuch as there is a unified community) to support the use of race-conscious methods towards the goal of diversity in order to dispel these myths 

  Some Asian Americans argue against race-conscious measures as being inherently unfair. They accuse the quotas for other groups of "'taking' admission slots from Asian Americans."  These Asian Americans appear to 
advocate a strict "meritocratic" system which would allow "fair competition" between all groups on the basis of test scores. 

  Asian Americans have been deliberately painted as innocent victims of race- conscious measures as a justification for discontinuing their use.  The reliance on test scores as the sole means of determining the most qualified applicants is flawed  and ignores the merits of diversity. Advocating a system that looks only to test results furthers the loss of our culture. The majority culture would never let itself be squeezed out by "higher-scoring Asians" who are already viewed as being overrepresented.  In fact, the existence of "upper limit quotas" for Asian Americans at some universities has been examined.  In a "purely meritocratic system," Asian Americans can easily be disadvantaged by the manipulation of seemingly neutral factors.  Some scholars note that "Asian Americans would be disadvantaged if a university gave greater weight to the verbal portion of the SAT exam or no credit for non-European foreign language skills." Because universities have manipulated test scores in precisely this manner, "we should be skeptical about claims that academic merit is a scientifically measurable characteristic that can be gauged objectively."  Asian Americans should support the use of race-conscious measures to further diversity in order to prevent the emergence of a system that ignores the merits of cultural diversity. 

  Professor Wu states that "[t]he real risk to Asian Americans is that they will be squeezed out to provide proportionate representation to whites, not due to the marginal impact of setting aside a few spaces for African Americans."  Some have criticized diversity programs which call for proportional representation as creating quotas for whites when there are "too many Asians."  However, diversity does not call for proportional representation, nor does it ever call for the majority to disadvantage an outside group, even in the course of benefiting another group. If a differential standard of review, subjecting race-conscious measures favoring whites over other groups to strict scrutiny and subjecting race-conscious measures advantaging disempowered groups to intermediate scrutiny, were to have become the standard, it may have alleviated the danger of diversity  programs reserving quotas for whites.  However, this theoretical safe-haven was destroyed by Adarand. In order to alleviate the danger of upper limit quotas, Asian Americans must advocate race-conscious measures to further diversity programs which recognize the benefits of exposure to varying cultures and do not call for proportional representation. Whatever else Asian Americans decide about race-conscious measures, "we should not allow ourselves to be used to attack other people of color." Moreover, Asian Americans must understand their heterogeneity and advocate race-conscious measures that assist underrepresented Asian ethnicities.

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