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Racialization in the Context of the Urban: Asian American Students & the Asian-Black Binary

  • Author(s): Ching, Yenhoa
  • Advisor(s): Perlstein, Daniel
  • et al.
Abstract

Asian American students attend increasingly diverse schools, yet scholarship on their experiences typically considers them in isolation, leading to a group-level emphasis rather than a focus on the relational processes that give ‘Asian’ meaning as a social and educational construction and social location. Building on theories of racialization, I study an urban context where multi-group ethnic and racial relations are negotiated. My dissertation examines how Asian American and Black students, as well as staff, engaged in discourses and practices that reproduced patterns of inequality among groups of students of color in a high-poverty school that was 99% non-White, but where Asian Americans comprised almost half the student body. This research clarifies how positive but conditional notions of Asian-ness were created through and against negative ideas of Blackness, in particular. Staff generally contrasted engaged Asian American students with oppositional Black youth, despite the diversity of students’ aspirations and performance. While some contested these constructions, many students acted in ways that reinforced them. These biased perceptions ultimately led to greater support for Asians American students, who expressed a stronger sense of belonging to and ownership of the school than non- Asians. My work examines formal and informal stratification among racial minority youth and elucidates the ideologies and mechanisms that normalized it. Despite their academic heterogeneity, urban Asian American students were privileged through a re-inscription of the model minority myth that imputes a cultural basis for Asian American educational success, while Black students were interpreted through negative stereotypes and expectations. This dissertation highlights the costs of Asian American students’ privilege in this context and draws attention to the continued marginalization of racial minority students. It argues that the model minority trope and the trope of the oppositional and deficient Black subject were bound together in the schooling of Asian American and Black students. It reveals the power of the myth to shape how all students are positioned in a racial hierarchy, thus giving insight into racialization itself.

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