Prof. Larry Shinagawa: ‘Pew Research Study Very Problematic and Prone to Generalities and Stereotypes’

Prof. Larry Shinagawa, Associate Professor of the American Studies Department at the University of Maryland, posted this today on Facebook:

For such a reputable and highly regarded institution, I am surprised and extremely dismayed by the stereotyping, pandering to popular culture imagery (e.g., Tiger Mom, Priscilla Chan/Mark Zuckerberg), out-of-date simplistic social theorizing (assimilation theory), perpetuation of the model minority myth, selective sampling, and one-dimensional monolithic treatment of Asian Americans that neglects their tremendous diversity.

The Pew Report begins with: “Asian Americans are the highest-income, best-educated, and fastest-growing racial group in the United States.” This monolithic wordage diminishes the great diversity among Asian Americans and hides behind the moniker of model minority success significant sections of the AA population that live in poverty, have less education, have difficulty regaining jobs, experience higher rates of real estate loss, and who experience significant barriers toward career and educational advancement beyond entry-level.

Moreover, the AA population is generally bi-modal in its socioeconomic characteristics and this has been significantly downplayed in this research with no obvious explanation. Numerous studies have shown this bimodality and have cautioned against simplistic monolithic statements like those made by Pew. Fist year graduate students are admonished not to use the mean or average to simply describe a population, and are advised to to use other indicators and measures to describe populations accurately. Unfortunately, Pew has forgotten this cardinal rule of research summaries and have gone for sensationalism and press bites.

While there is much to be admired about the report, I am extremely dissatisfied with this report’s blinders of never using qualifiers. It would have been fine to say that the report focuses on seven major groups of AAs, but to say that AAs are a high income, high education, and fast-growing population is to be inaccurate, at best. Significant omissions include the very much lower education and higher poverty rates experienced by many Southeast AAs, neglect for poverty and income disparity indicators, and few measures of barriers to admission, promotion, and advancement. Instead of exploring barriers, this study states that only 13 percent of AAs say that discrimination is a “major problem for them.”

One other problem is its pitting of groups against one another. The press release blares, “Asian OVERTAKE Hispanics in New Immigrant Arrivals; SURPASS U.S. Public in Valuing Marriage, Parenthood, Hard Work (Emphasis mine).” Why OVERTAKE? Why not AAs now experience the highest levels of immigration to the U.S.? Why SURPASS? Compared towhom? Why use such battle words and simplistic comparison words when more factual words would be more accurate and without judgment? Unfortunately, I fear, the PEW report is biased toward advancing a model minority imagery that pits Asian Americans against one another and against other groups. It perpetuates outdated images of their “traditional” family values, “right” values, and “unchanging” conservative social attitudes.

Imagine if any community was described as being “the highest income, best educated, and fastest-growing population. AAs are more satisfied than the general public with their own lives and the nation’s direction, and they place a higher value on marriage, parenthood, hard work and career success.” I imagine many members would at first take initial pride over that statement, but soon they would wonder if that characterization fits their own experiences or other members of their community. I would guess that they would find the imagery belies the great diversity within their group. They would wonder why such a statement is made, for what purposes, and who does it serve? They would who would be hurt and nelected in their community because of this great oversimplification.

It is my great wish that further research will be conducted in the near future that explores in a more nuanced fashion the great diversity of conditions and experiences facing Asian Americans. This Pew study is not one of them, although it had a wonderful and very rare opportunity to have been so. Now Asian Americans and those concerned about Asian Americans must continue to endeavor to advance scholarship that is community-informed and community-relevant. I am confident that this will happen in the near future.