Race at the Top: Asian Americans and Whites in Pursuit of the American Dream in Suburban Schools
by Natasha Warikoo
University of Chicago Press
Cloth: 978-0-226-63681-8 | eISBN: 978-0-226-81933-4

An illuminating, in-depth look at competition in diverse suburban high schools, where parents are often determined to ensure that their children remain at the head of the class.
The American suburb conjures an image of picturesque privilege: manicured lawns, quiet streets, and—most important to parents—high-quality schools. These elite enclaves are also historically white, allowing many white Americans to safeguard their privileges by using public schools to help their children enter top colleges. That’s changing, however, as Asian professionals increasingly move into wealthy suburban areas to give their kids that same leg up for their college applications and future careers.
As Natasha Warikoo reveals in Race at the Top, white and Asian parents alike will do anything to help their children get to the top of the achievement pile. She takes us into the affluent suburban East coast school she calls “Woodcrest High,” with a student body about one-half white and one-third Asian. As increasing numbers of Woodcrest’s Asian students earn star pupil status many whites feel displaced from the top of the academic hierarchy, and their frustrations grow. To maintain their children’s edge, those parents complain to the school that schoolwork has become too rigorous. They also emphasize excellence in extracurriculars like sports and theater, which maintains their children’s edge.
Warikoo shows how, even when they are bested, white families in Woodcrest work to change the rules in their favor so they can remain the winners of the meritocracy game. Along the way, Warikoo explores urgent issues of racial and economic inequality that play out in affluent suburban American high schools. Caught in a race for power and privilege at the very top of society, what families in towns like Woodcrest fail to see is that everyone in their race is getting a medal—the children who actually lose are those living beyond their town’s boundaries.

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