Racial optimization : how racialized masculinity shapes the relationships of Asian American men
Over the life course, socioeconomic resources protect from certain kinds of hardship. In this dissertation I answer the question, why do Asian American men that are highly educated with high paying jobs struggle to develop relationships necessary for management track positions and relationships that act as stress-buffering protection during life’s ups and downs? I interview 35 Asian American men and 15 non-Hispanic, White American men born in the U.S and working in professional occupations in Austin, Texas. I find a process that I call racial optimization, where Asian American men adopted cultural strategies compatible with American racial stereotypes of Asian immigrant labor. These men learned these strategies from watching their families respond to racism and they learned these strategies from the limited representations that they saw of themselves in American society. For these men, these socially expected cultural strategies entailed a singular focus on excelling in the cognitive skills specific to their science, technology, engineering, and medical (STEM) occupations, in order to primarily secure financial security. These men were mostly successful in securing financial stability using this cultural strategy, however this strategy also seemed to limit the kind of work that these men could do as they advanced in their careers. I argue that the exclusion from management the men described in their careers is related to the difficulty these men described in their relationships with friends, dating and in family. Although these men worked for most of their lives toward excelling in the technical skills of their professions, most of them did not see their non-cognitive skills or social capital as something that they could change. Instead, they attributed their relationship difficulties to individual personality, ethnic or family socialization, or to cultural racism against Asians in American society. In this dissertation, I argue that American culture provides a discourse for Asian American men to understand their pursuit of masculinity through specific economic strategies, but this discourse is limited because of their race and has consequences for relationships throughout their work and family lives.