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All posts by Jennifer Lee

Stereotype Promise

Jennifer Lee, University of California, Irvine
January 18, 2012

Jennifer LeeJennifer Lee is a sociologist at the University of California, Irvine and a Visiting Scholar at the Russell Sage Foundation.

In January of 2011, The Wall Street Journal published an article by Amy Chua titled, “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior,” shortly before the release of her memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. The article and book set off a firestorm of controversy because she argued that the Eastern parenting style is superior to the Western one because it places an uncompromising value on education, reinforced by hard work, strict discipline, and practice, which in turn, produces “successful kids,” “math whizzes,” and “music prodigies.” Reducing academic achievement to Eastern culture, Chua ignores some of the advantages accorded to Asian American students in the context of U.S. schools.

Asian American students benefit from a “stereotype promise”—the promise of being viewed through the lens of a positive stereotype that leads one to perform in such a way that confirms the positive stereotype, thereby enhancing performance. Based on my research with Min Zhou1, 1.5- and second-generation Chinese and Vietnamese respondents in Los Angeles described how their teachers assumed that they were smart, hard-working, and high-achieving, which affected the way that their teachers treated them, the grades they received, and their likelihood of being placed into the most competitive academic tracks, like Advanced Placement (AP) and Honors. For many students, stereotype promise exerted an independent effect, and boosted performance.