Editorial Board: Editor: George H. Conklin, Emeritus, North Carolina Central University Robert Wortham, Associate Editor, North Carolina Central University Board: Rebecca Adams, UNC-Greensboro Bob Davis, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University Catherine Harris, Wake Forest University Ella Keller, Fayetteville State University Ken Land, Duke University Steve McNamee, UNC-Wilmington Miles Simpson, North Carolina Central University William Smith, N.C. State University
Editorial Assistants John W.M. Russell, Technical Consultant
Volume 10, Number 2
The White Habitus
Rosalind S. Chou
Assumptions that Asian American students are largely high achieving "model minorities" are inaccurate (Chou and Feagin 2008; Teranishi 2010). There are a number of factors that complicate generalizations and "AAPIs are treated as though one percent of their enrollment can tell the story for the rest of the 99% of the college going population" (Teranishi 2010: 105). Also mythologized is that the university, including the elite, is a safe haven from ignorance and racial prejudice, however Asian Americans are not free from racism on campus (Chou and Feagin 2008; Teranishi 2010; Tuan 1999). Our most prestigious universities are not outside of the existing racial structure in the United States. In fact, a normalized ideology and socialization process that "white is ideal" permeates every nook and cranny of this country including its most prestigious universities (Bonilla-Silva 2007; Feagin 2006).
Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Carla Goar, and David Embrick explain this process of learning that whiteness is the standard, or ideal (2006, 2007). These scholars assert that whiteness is normalized by "white habitus." "White habitus" is a "racialized uninterrupted socialization process that conditions and creates whites' racial tastes, perceptions, feelings, and emotions and their views on racial matters" (Bonilla-Silva 2006: 104). Colorblind racism is a product of the white habitus because whites are racially segregated from people of color. However, the power of white habitus to shape views on race and racial matters can invade the spaces of people of color. People of color adopt the ideology produced from white habitus and colorblind racism as they are both segregated by whites and regularly operate in largely white spaces, like the elite university.
White habitus, or the socialization process of adopting dominant, oppressive ideology is described somewhat differently in gender and sexuality scholarship. Instead of white habitus, "hegemonic masculinity" is used to describe the powerful ideology of domination and how the ideas become normalized (Connell and Messerschmidt 2005). Hegemonic masculinity is typically associated with white, middle/upper class, straight men; all other types of men are inferior to this ideal, normal, white, male. The application of white habitus must include a more intersectional approach: in this case we include hegemonic masculinity. Additionally, white habitus is not just a socialization process for whites. While Bonilla-Silva and Embrick (2007: 340) focus on this process that, "creates and condition [white] views, cognitions, and even sense of beauty," we argue that white habitus permeates beyond the borders of segregated white spaces and the meanings can be adopted by people of color, and, in this case, Asian Americans. Scholars have argued that white habitus can be reproduced in a multi-racial setting and employed by people of color (Burke 2011). In our article, we argue that an intersectional approach to colorblind racism is necessary. White habitus socializes and shapes Asian American students at an elite Southern university through intersecting domains of power and through exclusion in largely white spaces.
This socialization is not only a racialized process, but also an intersectional one that shapes racial, gendered, and sexualized thoughts, feelings, and attitudes. Additionally, the white habitus enveloping Asian American students can be strengthened by exclusion from white spaces on campus. David Eng (2001) argues that racial analysis of Asian Americans is inadequate without the consideration of how their sexuality has been constructed. Eng's point becomes clearly apparent with our respondent narratives. Asian American men face a particular placement on a gendered hierarchy and deal with battles against normalized constructions of masculinity that operate differently than their Latino or African-American male counterparts (Chou 2012). Asian Americans have specific racial stereotypes imposed upon them by others, but that identity does not stand alone. Race intersects gender and sexuality in a particular way. Racial stereotypes can and do change over time, but continue to exist to maintain the racial status quo. The stereotyping of early male Chinese immigrants was very similar to past and current constructions of African American men as hypersexual, aggressive, and dangerous (Takaki 1991). However, over time, these stereotypes of Asian American men have changed, and now they are constructed as hyposexual, impotent, and weak (Chou 2012; Espirtu 2008).
Western film and literature constructs Asian women in a dichotomous fashion, as either cunning "Dragon Lady" or a servile "Lotus Blossom" (Tong 1994). Both of these constructions erotize Asian women, while Asian men are simultaneously "castrated" or denied manhood (Chou 2012; Eng 2001; Espiritu 2008). These omnipresent controlling images in the media exacerbate the "oriental fetishism" Asian and Asian American women face (Prasso 2006). Controlling images affecting both Asian American men and women exist "to define the white man's virility and the white man's superiority" (Kim 1990: 69). At the core of this imaging is the strength of white habitus and hegemonic masculinity (Chou 2012). The necessity to define white male virility and superiority through demeaning images of Asian Americans is essential in retaining the existing racial structure.
And yet the racial structure is best maintained by denying its existence: enter the myth of the model minority. Despite the controlling racial stereotypes of Asian Americans, an equally unrelenting narrative paints Asian Americans as higher education poster children unfettered by racial barriers and racism (Bonilla-Silva 2007; Chou and Feagin 2008; Teranishi 2010). Asian Americans make up only 5% of the total population of the United States, but represent up to 30% of the student population in some elite universities (Kim 2009). However, the perception of Asian Americans as the "model minority" is mainly a result of the accomplishments of a particular subset of Asian Americans: successful East Asians with college educations and middle class occupations who recently immigrated to the United States in the later 20th century (Kitano 2004; Teranishi 2011). Nonetheless, whites often use the model minority myth as a "measuring stick for other Americans of color" to create divisions among groups of color (Chou and Feagain 2008: 18). The model minority myth also obscures the racial realities of Asian Americans by wrongly conflating Asian American success with a lack of racism. Beyond admissions rates, little effort has been given to understanding the experience of Asian Americans at the university (Teranishi 2011). Moving past the model minority discourse we interrogate the unique position of Asian Americans at an elite university with an intersectional approach towards white habitus and colorblind racism. We examine particularly the sexualized racism Asian Americans experience at university and the white habitus and exclusionary white spaces that facilitate such racialized, sexualized, and gendered socialization.
Though there is much work to be done in understanding the experiences of all Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, our paper focuses primarily on the experiences of East Asian American undergraduates. Using purposive sampling, we conducted in-depth semi-structured interviews with 14 Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) undergraduates at an elite Southern university in 2011-2012. In an attempt to gain a wider spread of experiences, certain participants were recruited through flyers and emails to Asian affiliated organizations. Our 14 participants self-identified as Chinese (1F, 2M), Taiwanese (2F, 1M), Korean (2F, 3M), Indian (1), Hapa ("hapa" denotes half Japanese. This particular respondent self-identified as hapa, a mix of Japanese and Irish descent) (1M), and Pacific Islander (1). Seven were male; seven were female. The geographical distribution was varied: (3) West Coast, (3) North East, (2) deep South, (3) South Atlantic, Midwest (1), Pacific West (1), and one who is a first generation immigrant who self-identified as an international student. Of the interviewees, thirteen were undergraduate students and one was a graduate student: graduate student (1), seniors (1), juniors (2), sophomores (2), and f (2). Ages ranged from 18-24. All paticipants signed informed consent forms prior to interview and for this paper all participants have been given pseudonyms.
The study purpose, to better understand the social experiences of Asian American undergraduates, arouse from a senior capstone sociology research seminar "Racing Sex and Sexing Race" taught by Dr. Chou. The study and survey questions were approved through the Duke Institutional Review Board. Student researchers completed a Duke research methods course and Duke human subjects training certification before conducting interviews. Interview questions were constructed through a collaborative process among principle investigators. Major interview themes consisted of a number of open-ended questions on family experiences, body image and media influences, hook-ups/dating/marriage, the university social scene, and the presence of counter-narratives. Interviews lasted between on average two hours and were recorded and transcribed. Narrative analysis was performed while reviewing the transcripts, where we coded the interviews for these initial themes.
Narrative analysis takes as its starting point the belief that we understand our experiences and ourselves by telling stories. These can be as specific as accounts of particular events, or as broad as an entire life story. Our task during narrative analysis is to understand those stories, examining not only their content but also their structure. Analyzing content is fundamental to any mode of qualitative research. It addresses both the content and the form of interview data. Although individuals are sharing these narratives, other elements of social life affect their experiences. Their story telling will incorporate larger ideologies of placement in social structure, media discourse, and cultural values. After initial coding we drew out additional themes on sexualized racism and Greek racialized spaces.
While white habitus and colorblind racist ideology support the racial hierarchy, patriarchy and sexism are simultaneously at work as well. Our findings demonstrate how these systems of power intersect in gendered themes of sexualized racism and racialized romance. Furthermore our data highlights how Asian Americans internalize the racist colorblind ideology produced from white habitus. At the university, alongside academic achievement, Asian Americans negotiate another dimension of the model minority, that they are "quiet and content with the status quo" (Tatum 1997: 223). The Myth of the Model Minority describes Asian Americans who have internalized this stereotype and deal with racism by quietly ignoring it (Chou and Feagin 2008). Due to the model minority stereotype of quiet Asian Americans, non-Asian Americans could feel comfortable making overt racist comments to Asian Americans with little fear of recourse from Asian Americans. Moreover, Asian Americans often lack a collective narrative on racism and are unprepared to identify and deal with racism (Chou and Feagin 2008: 90). In such a way the model minority stereotype and its internalization create a positive feedback loop in which whites can make racist remarks without fear of resistance, Asian Americans in a model minority mentality do not actively resist or address racism, and whites continue to make racist comments.
In the case of sexualized racism, this feedback loop can be particularly insidious. For example, when asked about the transition to the elite Southern university from a largely Asian American west-coast community Jenny first responded that the move had not been difficult. But when further questioned she related a story in which she was approached by a group of white and African American males in her dorm common room that made overtly racist comments:
The football players approached me, "Oh little Asian girl I would definitely love to bang you." And I said Oh my god, where am I? [Uncomfortable laughing] It was very uncomfortable….in my dorm.…these boys were not drunk. It was 2pm….I said, "I'm sorry I have a boyfriend" and left but I don't know what I don't know if they were just trying to like I don't know what they were doing because they're freshmen, it's [orientation] week, I don't know how it is with upperclassmen but….A far cry from an idealized university space, the experience Jenny describes is arguably worse than racial bullying at the grade, middle, and high school level. Unlike high school where racial bullying usually concludes by the end of the school day, Jenny experiences this clearly inappropriate comment in a dormitory that is Jenny's residence and home. In a matter of speaking, this male student's comment turns Jenny's home into a hostile racialized space.
Moreover, instead of inserting a form of resistance in response, Jenny incorporates her answer within the context of the model minority. Jenny is almost at a loss of words. She says, "I don't know" four times and in line with colorblind ideology she offers two alternative reasons besides racism in trying to explain the racialized experiences. Furthermore, note the word usage the male chooses in his comments. Using the words "little" and "girl" infantilize Jenny as a "little Asian girl." She is an objectified sexual object to be "banged." The male student's word choice suggests he has consumed or been exposed to media representations and porn imagery/culture of Asian and Asian American females. The words "bang" and "little Asian girl" are reminiscent of Asian American female pornography titles like "Bang that Asian Pussy" and "Cute Asian Girl Getting Fucked" and the controlling images of "oriental fetishism" (Redtube 2011; Prasso 2006). In constructing Jenny as a subordinate sexual being, he reaffirms his masculinity and sexuality. The situation described ends with Jenny apologizing, "I'm sorry I have a boyfriend", to the male who made an overtly hostile racist sexual comment. It is quite possible the male will repeat his comments on another Asian woman, being no worse for the wear. Sadly, the incident described above is the second type of overt sexualized racism Jenny experienced. Thus, within the theoretical framework, the male felt comfortable enough to approach Jenny without fear of a negative reaction and asserted his hegemonic masculinity through overt sexualized racial comments; Jenny hampered by colorblind ideology remained unequipped to name or deal with the face of overt racism.
When asked explicitly
whether these racialized sexual incidents happen often, Jenny, who experienced
the overt racism with the football player, replied, "Not since then since
I do try to keep to myself most of the time with boys because I've had
bad experiences with them so far."
Though Jenny's example of sexualized racism is more extreme, our female respondents reported a number of racialized sexual experiences that also draw to mind the constructs of the Asian woman as the eroticized "Dragon Lady" or servile "Lotus Blossom" (Tong 1994). Of the university respondents, three of the five East Asian female respondents spoke of experiences with yellow fever. Yellow fever is a phenomenon in which white men prefer Asian women because of preconceived notions about their exoticized sexuality, subservience, and submissiveness. In 2009, the women's magazine Marie Claire published an article on the white wealthy male Asian female relationships, known as yellow fever. The article discussed Asian females as "exotic arm candy" and emphasized the fetishized nature of these racialized relationships (Chu 2009). The constant negotiation of yellow fever and preconceived notions of Asian exoticized sexuality in romantic relationships was particularly problematic in female respondent's partner selection.
At first glance, the prevalence of this exoticized Asian female stereotype seems to advantage Janine. Janine describes how easy it is for her to "hook-up" with white male partners and her experience with yellow fever, "I made out with a guy maybe now I realize had yellow fever because all his girlfriends, everybody he pursued [was Asian] and I guess it was oddly easy to hook-up with him." In this case, Janine did not know at the time this "hook-up" partner had yellow fever and only has unconfirmed suspicions after the fact. For her, the white mate preference for Asian women facilitates her interactions with white males. In the short-term hook-up, Janine mentions suspicions of yellow fever in benign terms. In her long-term relationship Janine's reaction is quite different:
I was really mad my first boyfriend was yellow feverish….I always suspected….it would fit the stereotype to be yellow fever and the girlfriend after me was Chinese yeah, but then that could have just been a function of hey my high school was 50% Asian and him being a nerd because there is this weird hierarchy that puts Asian women with white nerds.In this incident Janine expresses anger that her boyfriend had yellow fever. Again his propensity for Asian women is only suspected and based on his history of Asian female partners. Janine is mindful to contribute an alternative reason for his partner selection due in part to the large Asian female student body, but she also emphasizes the power differential between Asian women and white nerds in relationships that privileges white males. It should be noted that often these white nerds are often privileged over Asian males, as was the case with Janine who had only dated white males. Even without the existence of intent, the hegemonic white masculine structure and its representations of the Asian female as submissive and sexually exotic must be negotiated and questioned in approaching interracial relationships and questioning the motivations of loved ones. Yellow fever represents how Asian American are sexualized in a particularly racial way. The way they are constructed as sexual bodies is based on mythologized racial attributes (Chou 2012). The exotification of these Asian American women's bodies are constructed in a particular way that differs from the normalized white woman's body.
In terms of sexualized racial experiences four of the five respondents mentioned experiences out at the club. Amy, a Korean adoptee, talked about being warned about the party scene by another Asian female undergraduate, "I started going out to [name of club]….and they were like….since you're Asian you're going to have to be on the lookout….all races are going to come after you because you're an Asian girl." Amy was unfamiliar with the college club scene before attending university yet she speaks about her experience with the club scene as largely negative. She was told that she will need to "be careful of all races" as an Asian female-- essentially, she is asked to be on her guard from everyone while at a club because she may be racially sought out. Thus, such high sexual desirability placed on Asian women may appear a positive social position, but it also can give way to unwanted sexual objectification and racialized sexual desire.
Dating and Racial Preferences
The necessity for an intersectional approach to white habitus is further illuminated when we understand how the racial ideology it produces is delineated by gendered identity. Whereas the aforementioned examples of sexualized racism illustrates the hyper-sexuality assigned Asian American females, dating and hooking-up for Asian American men are prime examples of hegemonic masculinity and Asian American male subordination. All of our Asian American participants said they were interested in finding romantic partners in college, yet the Asian American males also spoke of racial limitations and boundaries to their love lives. Wade's internalization of these implicit regulations illustrate a romantic racialized oppression:
Being that you are Asian, it definitely limits you to … the amount of different girls you can go for. Like if you are an Asian guy, girls you can pretty much go for are Asian girls. Going for other ethnicities is definitely like much harder. Like especially if you don't live in a large metropolitan area, then it's just difficult. It's just like not widely accepted, and girls don't consider Asian guys…. I think it's just like self imposed. …. I think like to some extent my standards are too high.Wade notes that he is limited in his partner choices to Asian American women as a result of his Asian male identity. Unlike black women's decision to date only black men as a resistance to white racism, the racial narrowing of Wade's dating pool is a result of not a response to racial hierarchy (Collins 2004). Wade alludes to the importance of dating geography saying, "If you don't live in a large metropolitan area, then it's just difficult" pursuing women of other ethnicities. Unfortunately, Wade lives in a white habitus environment that promotes white romantic tastes. Moreover, he is affected by the colorblind ideology it produces. Though he begins by attributing his dating challenges as consequences of social and geographic factors of the racial structure (that interracial dating is not as "widely acceptable" for Asian men and not growing up in metropolis), he reverts to a rhetoric that blames his individual standards for his shortcomings.
Wade claims his "standards are too high" romantically, and with that, suggests his internalization of a white racial hierarchy. This is most likely the case, for when asked if his race was a factor in the "obstacles" he faced in his romantic life, Wade responded that the only time race would be an obstacle would be "if a girl was white and I was interested in her that would definitely play an obstacle. A lot of times white girls just aren't interested." Wade's too high standards refer specifically to his pursuit of white women. He has internalized hegemonic masculinity as a reason for why "a lot of times white girls just aren't interested". Unlike other men of color who are hypersexualized, Asian American men are stereotyped as weak, asexual, gay on a masculine hierarchy (Chou 2012). Thus, it is through racsist gender constructions that make them appear like undersirable partners. The men in this studies all mentioned feeling pressure from such stereotyping. In such a way, the racial stereotype of the undesirable impotent Asian American male has informed the romantic tastes of white women against Asian American males like Wade, but also Asian American women as well (Chou 2012; Espirtu 2008).
The white habitus and its hegemonic ideology are also articulated through racial romantic preferences of the Asian female respondents. Like Janice who found preference for white nerds over Asian males, Alex describes her attraction to "Caucasian guys" over "Asian boys":
I think I'm just more attracted to Caucasian guys just in general....Asian men tend to be very androgynous in their features and I can't date a guy that's prettier than me and Asian boys tend to be prettier than me.Notice how Alex phrases her preference for white males over Asian males in terms of masculinity. She refers to Asian males as "prettier" than her and "androgynous" in their feature, not handsome. She is able to compliment males as "pretty" and simultaneously deny them masculinity. That is, her adjectives negate the masculinity of Asian males and clearly paint them in feminine terms. This feminizing process does not exist only in the minds of Asian American women, the men in the study also dealt with internalizing these denials of their masculinity.
Alex reinforces white hegemonic masculinity not only by relegating Asian males to a subordinate feminine position but also preferring white males to Asian males. In our study, three of our seven female respondents dated only white males, two of which were in relationships with white males at the time of the interviews. Alex remarks on Asian female-white male interracial dating, "I feel when Asians and Caucasians date….it doesn't feel interracial and I don't really understand why it doesn't but that may be just my personal experience with it." To Alex, this pairing is so normalized and the gendered and sexualized racist constructions of Asian American men can be seen in the way Alex describes "Asian boys." She infantilizes them in her language, similar to other men of color who are not often described as "men" or "guys," but, instead, "boys." This discursive move denotes the intersectional way racism permeates the system of gender.
In this incident Alex has erased the racial line between Asian and Caucasian. Alex is essentially saying that an interracial relationship between Asian females and white males is not raced and therefore acceptable in a dominant white hegemonic structure. However when asked if an Asian male-white female interracial relationship would similarly seem "de-raced", Alex admits, "I think that's actually very different than an Asian female dating a white male. For some reason it has a completely different context and a completely different weight to it." She recognizes a different "weight" to the Asian male-white female relationship. However, she does not explicitly note how this pairing is contrary to hegemonic masculinity and as a result becomes a deviant interracial relationship. That is, this blurring of the racial lines only works in one way and it is in the favor of the white straight male. This internalization of hegemonic masculinity allows for people of color to believe themselves inferior to whites, subordinate themselves, and sometimes becoming the enforcers of other people of color's subordination (Connell and Messerschmidt 2005). This is very clearly seen in the romantic social scene, people of color and Asian American men in particular feel restricted while dating, noting that sometimes being attracted to someone of a different race (in particular whites) may be considered having standards that are "too high."
Racial Castration and Psychological Costs for Asian American Men
While Asian American women are stereotyped as exotic, sexualized racial others, Asian American men are stereotyped as asexual, effeminate, foreign, weak marginalized men (Chou 2012). Colorblind racism can be hidden within the confines of other systems of oppression. With controlling images of Asian bodies, male and female, prevalent in the discourse, there can be a psychological toll. In Asian American Sexual Politics (Chou 2012: 107), one respondent, Irwin, illustrates how external messages about his gendered race affected his self-image; he had a difficult time identifying with masculine constructions:
I've either emasculated myself or given myself a different identity as an adult male. I've thought of myself as something other than what you think of when you think of the word "man," "guy," a "male," a "dude," whatever, but not a man. Obviously I think it has something to do with my environment. When I say that I mean that I took what was around me and believed it. I internalized all of that.Irwin's environment was very much a white habitus. The definition of manhood is based on white hegemonic masculinity and this was also the case for the Asian American men in our sample on this university campus. The intersection of race and gender for Asian American men, like Irwin, can be so stigmatizing that they may internalize the stereotypes about themselves.
Irwin describes being able to be both negatively and positively influenced by representations of Asian Americans. Whites benefit from consistent positive portrayals in the media. They consistently see images of white heroes and saviors in movies (Vera and Gordon 2003). There are numerous examples of whites in diverse types of roles, but people of color see these images much less often. In essence, the largely white-owned media is another source of white habitus and colorblind racist ideology. The men in our research have grown up in a world where media is racially segregated and exclusive. The images they see of Asian American men are limited to roles where they are "geeks" or "nerds" and rarely the handsome, strong hero. Interacting on campus, their peers have also seen these types of representations repeatedly.
White Habitus at the University
The university is a particularly situated space to understand racial processes. Though the university system is presented in discourse as a neutral space, it in fact has a history of racialized practices and a dominant white culture displayed through visible symbols, institutional practices, and organizational spaces. At the university level, where more of a student's time is spent outside of the classroom, the social space and party culture are strong components in the "social transmission of knowledge and power" (Moore 2007: 32). Tim, an Asian American junior describes the university social landscape, "You go to the quad and you have white fraternities living there and they're the ones who have the parties, they're the ones who host things. So, it's really hard to not be affected by it on some level." Tim's comment speaks to the white habitus environment at the university. The Greek system at Southern University is white dominated, much like the Greek systems of other colleges (Park 2008). At Southern University where 32% of the student population is Greek, there are twenty-four predominately white and only eight historically black Greek organizations (Scheirer 2010). Tim's observation about the presence of white fraternities in the residential quad is mirrored in Southern U's past housing practices that gives white fraternities preferred spaces on campus. In 2003 only 6.4 percent of all residential selective group and fraternity members were African-American whereas African American undergraduates represented 12% of the university's student body (Kurian 2003). Minority Greeks are often delegated living spaces removed from centers of campus life, unlike their white counterparts (Kurian 2003).
Wade, a straight Chinese American freshman from California reflects upon the difficulty in entering and negotiating these white Greek social spaces at Southern University:
On an individual level you can definitely, any white person, even the frat boys, you can like talk to them. I have friends who are frat boys, they're good people. But on a wide scale level, it's way harder to reach out and be easily accepted in this group. It's kind of shallow, but racial identity is a very easy way to enter a group. It's just a lot simpler. It's just how few Asians there are, even though you know we have a huge amount of Asians in this school, are within the Greek system. It's just not a conducive system towards Asians, you know sure, I might be friends with frat boys, but I would definitely not feel super comfortable at their parties if it was a private party, that's just not how we do things and I mean that's just something I've noticed at college.
This template is not simply restricted to a male fraternity space but also is reflected in white female sorority spaces. Janine describes the racial breakdown of her historically white sorority and other sororities:
In the sorority I was called back to, there was a lot of Asians. I remember walking past [name of a "top" sorority] room thinking Oh My God they are all blond. It might have been on my part that I felt uncomfortable…they never did anything to make me feel uncomfortable.Janine interprets feelings of discomfort in the Greek rush process's racial breakdown by blaming herself, saying, "It might have been on my part that I felt uncomfortable they never did anything to make me feel uncomfortable." Though Janine is a self-identified Asian American activist, she uses a "it's not you, it's me" model minority racial discursive to explain how she felt. She in effect places the responsibility for her racialized experiences squarely on her shoulders rather than recognizing the racial structure in which she operates. This is key component of adopting the notions of white habitus. Colorblind racist ideology makes it impossible for people of color to see racism overtly at work. Park (2008), in a study of Asian American female undergraduates at a predominantly white Southeastern university, found that despite Asian American respondents perceiving sororities to be open to all races despite also reported racist instances in the Greek system. Though Janine does not say so, the sorority where "there was a lot of Asians" was not one of the four most desirable social climbing sororities whereas the "all blond" sorority was a "top" sorority (Reitman 2006). Janine's experience is suggestive of a racialized rush process that places white females at the top of the food chain. More simply put, the admittance of "all blond" women to the most desirable sororities and "a lot of Asians" to the lower socially ranked sorority assigns social power to white females over Asians and reinforces white habitus. Though the white female structure is not equivalent to the dominant white male university culture, it is a system that differentiates power among racial lines to sustain white supremacy (Schippers 2007).
To maintain this power differential, for the few Asian Americans who do gain access to these top historically white sororities, they may have to sacrifice or hide their Asian American identity. Within the Greek system, a study at a large west coast university showed whites were significantly overrepresented (Sidanius, Van Laar, Levin, and Sinclair 2004). Despite this white dominant reality, a number of our respondents also seemed to internalize the white normativity of white sororities. Amy, an adopted Korean American sophomore from the South comments on Asian Americans joining historically white sororities saying, "I feel like they're de-raced sort of." Kai, a first-year female Pacific Islander from the West Coast, says about campus sororities:
I feel that [sororities] are horribly racially segmented….I encouraged my African American friends to rush with me in the normal sorority recruitment like traditional sorority recruitment, I encouraged them, and as much as I thought my roommate actually thought that she would go through all of it but after her first meeting she was like I'm done with this because the girls in the sororities just had a different culture so there were a lot more like peppy happy you could say they're preppy as well and so that's not her.Kai acknowledges sororities' racial segmentation and suggests her African American friends join the "normal" white sorority recruitment in response. In essence Kai suggests that to improve race relations and fix the racial segmentation, women of color should conform more to white realities by joining white sororities. Kai in using the word "normal" to describe white sororities brands sororities of predominately women of color as aberrant. Kate, a 2nd generation Korean American senior explains how her discomfort with white sororities stems from her "Koreanness", "I never thought about joining a general sorority with whites and diverse so I think that also branched off of me being more Korean…." She refers to the historically white sororities as "a general sorority with whites and like diverse". The language used in the interviews was painfully instructive of how white privilege is associated with a "lack of race". This labeling of majority white sororities and fraternities as "normal" organizations is a colorblind narrative (Bonilla-Silva 2006). This is symptomatic of the white habitus extending into spaces of people of color. This labeling of majority white sororities and fraternities as "normal" and "diverse" organizations is a colorblind narrative, a strategy that denies the existence of race to deny racism and also rewrites student of color groups as deviant and abnormal (Bonilla-Silva 2006). In this case, the colorblind labels proclaiming white sororities/fraternities "non-race" deny the existence of a racialized space, thus allowing the maintenance of an "invisible" racially segregated white space.
In these white spaces at a predominately white institution, the status of a minority student is a tenuous situation. Lewis, Chesler, and Forman (2000) found in conducting interviews with 75 African American, Asian American, Latina/o, and Native American students that those students of color felt conflicting pressures to represent their race on campus and assimilate into a larger (white) campus culture. Some studies have suggested that ethnic organizations can be important tools to negotiating a predominantly white social space (Guiffrida 2003: Harper and Quayle 2007). Unfortunately, unlike the positive experiences found at other universities, two of our respondents described an Asian American ethnic organization on campus that was itself torn in its identity. Respondents described the Asian Student Association (ASA) as an alcohol laden social space reminiscent of white fraternity party culture. Janine, an East Coast Chinese American junior describes her experience with ASA on campus, "I didn't like ASA because I felt that they only focused on Asian things and they were just doing just trying to replicate the frat and whatever thing for Asians and it wasn't really productive...." Janine dislikes ASA for its focus on "Asian things" and its imitation of Greek fraternity culture. In an unpublished ethnographic study of Korean Student Organizations at University of MN, Suh (2010) describes Asian American organization leaders who felt pressure to cater to non-Asians by offering more cultural programming that superficially highlighted Asian food and dance opportunities. In much the same way it is possible the university's ASA wins funding opportunities, power and privilege, through this culturally Asian element that is largely consumable and non-threatening to a larger white university structure. Janine is also put off by the fraternity-like social space created by ASA. Fraternity culture is largely a white dominated experience. It is also possible that these events, and events that replicate a fraternity culture, would attract Asian American students who would like to participate in a space that imitates white power and privilege, more specifically white masculine power. This imitation or recreation of white fraternity culture is a product of Asian Americans adopting white habitus, or the ideology associated with it.
Even the possibility of gaining access to favorable racial social spaces elicits constraining negative reactions. When asked about the transition from living in an area with a substantial Asian American population to the University, Jenny, a first year Taiwanese American from the West Coast, speaks of the university's self-segregation, "Some Asian people only hang out with Asian people….That's the only thing that I thought was really weird when I came to this campus. Like why are you self-segregating yourself?" Jenny felt strongly that Asians who were friends with only Asians was a negative deviant practice. In effect, Jenny uses the term "self-segregation", a term often used by "colorblind" whites, to accuse people of color from being exclusionary in nature. She has internalized the language of white habitus and colorblindness and seems not to recognize how having Asian friends and being a part of a racial minority group could be a protective choice against the difficulties of white dominant spaces at the university level.
Interview responses of fourteen Asian American participants at an elite Southern University, describe a university setting in which, Asian Americans can experience hostile racialized spaces. Asian American organizations imitate white social spaces such as the historically white Greek system to attain honorary white privilege that operates out of the socializing process of white habitus. Colorblind racism is apparent because these mostly white, exclusive organizations are de-raced. Whiteness is invisible. In our research, Asian Americans are often denied admittance to historically white social spaces like top sororities and fraternities. Even in the case of sexualized racism, in which white male preference for Asian women might seem flattering to Asian women, respondents describe how sexualized comments were objectifying and damaging. Overall, Asian Americans in our study were largely ill prepared for resisting sexualized and everyday racism. Asian American females were active agents in perpetuating a white masculine hegemonic structure through racialized dating preferences and Asian American males internalized the ideology of white habitus by adhering to a racial hierarchy of white racial dating preferences. The Asian American men and women in our sample subtly or overtly internalized the racial tastes, perceptions and views of the white habitus and used colorblind racist ideology. These tastes shaped by white habitus were not strictly racial. Thoughts and opinion about gender and sexuality were affected by white habitus as well.
Recently an article on college admissions in the Asian American magazine Hyphen had a byline that read, "The Hard Part is Getting In" (Yang 2011). The hard part may seem like getting in, but the truly hard part is negotiating the white institutional space of the ivory tower as Asian Americans. Whether they choose to acknowledge it or not, the power of white habitus affects Asian Americans existing in a white-dominated space and takes a psychological toll on the emotional well-being of Asian American students at a college university (Chou and Feagin 2008). Through either resistance or resignation to everyday racism, Asian Americans as individuals exercise much personal agency in either changing or maintaining the white dominated racial structures that they inhabit (Chou and Feagin 2008: 221).
In today's colorblind era, messages of racial domination become veiled in media, pop culture, and even in micro-interactions within white habitus and extensions of the white spaces outside individual interactions. White habitus, or the "racialized uninterrupted socialization process that conditions and creates whites' racial tastes, perceptions, feelings, and emotions and their views on racial matters" thrives throughout larger institutions, even when those larger institutions are multi-racial (Bonilla-Silva 2006: 104; Burke 2011).
However, there is a need for an intersectional analysis of white habitus and colorblind racism. The experiences of these Asian American respondents that are racialized are intertwined with systems of gender and sexuality. Controlling images that shape perceptions of Asian American masculinity, femininity, and sexuality perpetuates racial domination. Colorblind racism is so powerful because it is hidden in other systems of oppression and are perceived, often, as biological caused or naturally occurring. These ideas stem from the white habitus and while whites possess many of these colorblind notions (even if they describe themselves as liberal or progressive), people of color adopt them as well. White habitus is a socialization process for people of color as well shaping thoughts and feelings across systems of race, gender, and sexuality. Without the incorporation of these other systems of oppression, our understanding of the white habitus and colorblind racism is incomplete.
In this study, we find that even the most educated Asian Americans are not immune to the racist and racialized experiences of the American educational system and social spaces. With this in mind, the university institution must move away from its complacency for Asian Americans and understand that their needs also be addressed. Teranishi (2010) argues that the existing racial structure and systemic racial inequalities in education do, in fact, impact Asian American students. He calls for the need to move beyond an individualism lens and the dominant scripts of hard work and strict parenting that focus on family and culture and tend to ignore institutional practices and inequalities across Asian American and Pacific Islander groups.
The diversity of the population is vast and uncovers the deep structural obstacles that exist for Asian Americans when it comes to higher education, both public and private. Ultimately, the elite university, where more rigorous academic standards are touted as essential, does not protect Asian American students from colorblind racism. Through the systems of gender and sexuality, racist stereotyping and discrimination persist. White habitus shapes whites' perceptions, values, and notions but it spreads outside of segregated white spaces. People of color are part of the socialization process as well, and whether through interaction with whites, or exclusion, can internalize colorblind racist ideology.
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