For Asian Americans, Good News Is Bad News
Last week, the Pew Research Center released a report called “The Rise of Asian Americans,” offering a portrait seemingly full of good news. Asian Americans, Pew said, are on the whole more educated, affluent and happier than other Americans. They hew more strongly to family values and an ethic of hard work. And, quietly, these 17 million Asian Americans have surpassed Hispanics as the largest and fastest-growing cohort of immigrants to the U.S.
The report made headlines everywhere: “Asians Top of the Immigration Class” was a typical, if somewhat ham-handed, one. The leading advocacy groups for Asian Americans were silent for a beat. Then they decried the report. It was “disparaging,” “shallow,” “disturbing.” It perpetuated a patronizing stereotype of Asians as dutiful nerds, a “model minority.” It overlooked the true cultural diversity of the Asian population and obscured the struggles and pain of countless Asians.
Rarely in either the Pew report or in the advocates’ response was this possibility raised: both the good and the bad could be true at the same time.
Welcome to race in America. It may be 2012, and we may have a black President, but public discussion of race remains inexorably, insanely binary. American race talk used to be literally black-and-white, leaving no room for other colors. Now the problem is it’s figuratively black-and-white. For all our rainbow multiculturalism, there are still basically two choices — in or out, mainstream or opposition, powerful or powerless. Sometimes the labels white and black are used, but they signify more than hue or actual demography — they signify polarity — and any cognitive dissonance must be resolved to one or the other.