“Recent theories suggest that Latinos are generally perceived in the same ways as African Americans when compared against Asian Americans,” said Park. “These white student respondents tended to rate Asian Americans more highly than Latinos on qualities that reflect competence. When we analyzed this perception with beliefs about Latino inequality, the same relationship found for beliefs about African American inequality appeared also: These respondents tend to agree that Latinos do not work hard enough to improve their life circumstances.”
Worth noting: While an overwhelming majority of respondents had only one or no Asian, black, or Latino friends, there was no definitive correlation between the students’ friendship composition and their views toward specific racial minorities.
In reality, the perceived performance of some minority students might have less to do with personal effort and more to do with structural inequalities that go unchecked, Park said. “Residential segregation and low-income jobs work together to reduce the taxes available for poor neighborhoods with children. This results in poor quality education for many minority students.”
Of all minority groups, Asians are the least segregated in schools, and Latinos in the West are the most segregated, said Patricia Gándara, co-director of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA.
“Yes, they do perform very differently, but it’s class, not race, that drives this,” she wrote in an email. “And those stereotypes get reified, and even the students carry those stereotypes and many Latinos and African Americans are afraid to try to compete with them—and then you get stereotype threat. So it gets replicated over and over.”
Park pointed out that many “immigrant Asian Americans are recruited because of their specialized education and skills that result in the kind of ‘human capital’ that promotes educational pursuits in children… The stereotype presumes that this achievement is a result of inherent intelligence and/or competence, when in reality it is due to selective migration of the very smart individuals and families from various countries in Asia.”
To combat these stereotypes, Park said Americans would do well to first acknowledge that these ideas influence their thoughts and behavior and educate themselves on the history and contemporary realities of American minorities.
Desegregating schools and providing poor kids with the same educational opportunities could also make a difference, Gándara said. “Unfortunately we cannot easily make up for all the social and cultural capital in the homes of these kids, but we can do what is possible to provide similar counseling, support, and out-of-school opportunities to begin to even things up.”
There’s also work to be done at the higher-education level, suggested Loyola University Chicago Assistant Professor OiYan Poon, whose research focuses on racial inequalities in higher education and Asian American students.