Ghetto Proclivities: Race and Class in a Model Minority Memoir

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Sandosharaj, Alice
Caughey, John
This dissertation explores the relationship between Model Minorities and Black Americans through the lens of memoir. Drawing on approaches in self-ethnography and cultural biography, the memoir details my experience growing up South Asian in Langley Park, a poor "inner ring" suburb of Washington, DC that had, at the time (1978-1995), a majority Black population. The memoir is supplemented by an introduction, three interlude essays and a conclusion that consider the social and cultural contexts in which my experience of shifting identifications took place. Blackness, both as a construct to define what is American, as well as a barometer for exclusion from America, is examined alongside the Model Minority Myth in terms of how each, in competing and often unequal measure, can affect South Asian identity construction in ways that can complicate conventional ethnic and class identity. The discourse of the myth, with its reliance on an "invisible" structurally based lineage, bequeaths entitlements to Asians akin to white privilege. This "presumptive capital" can manifest in real world byproducts even in the absence of economic privilege, even when said model minority shares class kinship, geography and aesthetic with historically disadvantaged Black Americans from low-income circumstances. This relationship--contested, mercurial and contingent--reveals the necessity of surveying the racialized American landscape with a panoramic lens that acknowledges the interrelated, dependent spaces upon which we all draw and to which we all contribute. This dissertation assesses some of the complex, multiple ways in which a single life within a specific community can be influenced by Black American, White American and Asian American racial and cultural constructions.