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Systems of Whiteness: Asian Americans and Immigrants


School years are the most essential, though vulnerable time regarding personality formation for most children. However, not only psychological considerations complicate this process, but also the impact of society, including various stereotypes and prejudges, is dominant in this case. The latter is represented by a specific theory referred to as the whiteness system and defines people’s overall attitude towards representatives of minority population groups (Covarrubias & Liou, 2014). The purpose of this paper is to examine how Asian immigrant and Asian American students construct their identities in relation to culture, gender, class, language, and generational differences and suggest future research and policy directions.

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American culture is a unique combination of an extended number of equally important cultures. However, Asian American students are usually seen either as culturally different or culturally deficient, making it difficult for them to construct identity in the right way (Lee, 2002). The fact that such students may not be accepted by others can make them feel like strangers. Thus, it is typically hard for them to identify themselves with either American or Asian culture, which is not ethical if not chosen freely.


This factor is especially critical for people of color since it is frequently neglected by national policy. It typically leads to the disproportionate representation of male and female Asian American and immigrant students in schools (Covarrubias & Liou, 2014). Moreover, Lee (2002) notices that “white families offer girls greater gender equality,” and Asian American families follow gender roles more strictly (p. 144). Finally, there is non-observance of minorities’ needs that begins with equating the studying results of girls and boys.


Class is another factor that contributes to the existing inequality and plays a significant role in the experience of Asian Americans at school. It adds to the previous elements and represents the economic situation of families. The importance of this problem influencing Asian American students shaping their identities is devalued. The parents of such students remain below the poverty line more often than their white counterparts (Covarrubias & Liou, 2014). Moreover, this is usually worsened by the fact that Asian American learners create an unfavorable comparison of their situations with luckier teenagers.


Certain language specificities inherent in immigrant families also construct students’ identities and add to their unfavorable situations. The language differences lead to the rejection of these learners by their peers and their inability to be considered talented by teachers (Lee, 2002). Consequently, they encounter difficulties when studying and struggle with their sense of identity, which leads to such complications. Therefore, the linguistic particularities of students of color become an obstacle to being perceived as equal to white people and are consequently transferred to their professional endeavors.

Generational Differences

Generational differences also contribute to the struggle of Asian American students towards their acceptance. According to Lee (2002), “one of the most powerful lessons that second-generation youth learn concerns the existence of a racial hierarchy that places whites at the top” (p. 133). Therefore, it is more challenging for younger generations to construct their identities.

Future Research and Policy Directions

There are several research gaps that require further studies and examinations. For example, Nguyen and Kebede (2017) notice that future research should equally explore smaller immigrant subgroups and their educational experiences. As for policy directions, they may include local administrators addressing the unique needs of immigrant students in their districts and states (Nguyen and Kebede, 2017). They should provide stability to reduce immigrant students’ anxiety caused by ambiguity at the federal level.

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To summarize, the systems of whiteness worsen the situation of ethnic minority students while neglecting their particular circumstances. Hence, their schooling experience is complicated by their culture, gender, class, language, and generational differences. These factors also affect their sense of identity, which triggers the struggle of finding their place in the world. These children’s position becomes less favorable if they are from immigrant families and need time to master their English. Thus, they are not accepted by others, and this fact negatively affects their living standards.


Covarrubias, A., & Liou, D. D. (2014). Asian American education and income attainment in the era of post-racial America. Teachers College Record, 116(6), 1–20.

Lee, S. J. (2002). Learning about race, learning about “America”: Hmong American high school students. Education and Urban Society, 34(2), 233–246.

Nguyen, C., & Kebede, M. (2017). Immigrant students in the Trump era: What we know and do not know. Educational Policy, 31(6), 716–742.

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