Burden of acting neither white nor black: Asian American identities and achievement in urban schools

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30 Scopus citations


Ogbu's theory of "burden of acting white" has been one of the most frequently cited studies to explain black and white achievement gap. However, emerging studies have argued that Ogbu's theory may be limited when examining variability of school achievement among black and white students. Research shows that in addition to culture, other social forces, such as class, peer networks, and school context may play a significant role when accounting for minority students' academic aspirations and achievement. In the midst of this on-going debate, however, there is a limited understanding of how, if at all, theory of "acting white" plays a role for racial groups other than black and white students. By extending the discussion beyond a black-and-white discourse, this research examines how Asian American students in two different social and economic contexts, negotiate their race and ethnic identities. Framed by a prevalent model minority stereotype that conflates Asian Americans with whiteness, the findings show that portrayal of Asian "success" much like black "failure" cannot be explained solely on their cultural orientation. By comparing experiences of two groups of Korean American students - both high- and low-achieving - in different economic and school contexts, this study illustrates how the two groups of Korean American students adopt different racial strategies depending on their socioeconomic backgrounds, peer networks, and school contexts. Using Korean American students in urban schools as a case study, this research complicates and challenges our understanding of the role of culture in school achievement and illustrates how culture intersects with class, race, and schools.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)335-352
Number of pages18
JournalUrban Review
Issue number5
StatePublished - Dec 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Urban Studies


  • Achievement gap
  • Acting white
  • Asian American
  • Korean American
  • Minority students
  • Peer networks
  • Race and ethnic identity
  • School achievement
  • Urban schools


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