Chinese in America: "Honorary White" or "Forever Foreigner"?
By Min Zhou
The stereotype of the "honorary white" goes hand-in-hand with that of the "forever foreigner." Today, globalization and U.S.-Asia relations, combined with continually high rates of immigration, affect how Asian Americans are perceived in American society. Most of the historical stereotypes, such as the "yellow peril" and "Fu Manchu" have found their way into contemporary American life, as revealed in such highly publicized incidents as the murder of Vincent Chin, a Chinese American mistaken for Japanese and beaten to death by a disgruntled white auto worker in the 1980s; the trial of Wen Ho Lee, a nuclear scientist suspected of spying for the Chinese government in the mid-1990s; the 1996 presidential campaign finance scandal, which implicated Asian Americans in funneling foreign contributions to the Clinton campaign; and most recently, in 2001, the Abercrombie & Fitch tee-shirts that depicted Asian cartoon characters in stereotypically negative ways-slanted eyes, thick glasses, and heavy Asian accents. Ironically, the ambivalent, conditional nature of white acceptance of Asian Americans prompts them to organize pan-ethnically to fight back- which consequently heightens their racial distinctiveness.
So becoming white or not is beside the point. The bottom line is: Americans of Asian ancestry still have to constantly prove they are truly loyal Americans."
Excerpt from "Are Asian Americans Becoming White?" For the complete text see, Contexts 2004 3 (1): 29-37.
[keywords: stereotype, globalization, yellow peril, Vincent Chin]