[DAY 7] The Model Minority Myth, an excerpt

I learned about model minority myth just two days ago, and since then it has been on my mind. I’m really fascinated how this term has partially answered the many questions I had such as why racism between Asian American and white people are not at all close to being acknowledged.

However, as I aforementioned, I just know about it and still need time to digest and understand what this term means in our fight for racism, I’ll post an excerpt of it that I feel most helpful. I think this is also a way for me to understand it bits by bits better. If you come across this and have something to say about this term, please speak up. I want to know what you think. This is from So you want to talk about race by Ijeoma Oluo, book I think everyone should read.

When we think about race in America most of us (with notable exception of many Asian Americans) think in terms of black and white, and maybe brown Latinx and white, and maybe — just maybe — American Indians and white. But we rarely talk about the model minority myth and how it affects Asian Americans. And if we do talk about it, we rarely talk about it as a problem.

The model minority myth fetishizes Asian Americans — reducing a broad swath of the world’s population to a simple stereotype. The model minority myth places undue burdens and expectations on Asian American youth and erases any who struggle to live up to them. The model minority myth erases religious minorities, it erases refugees, it erases queer Asian Americans. The model minority myth gives a pretty blanket for society to hide its racism against Asian Americans under, while separating them from other people of color who suffer from the same white supremacist system.The model minority myth is active racism that is harming Asian Americans, and we need to talk about it.

Something called “model minority” doesn’t seem like it would be a problem. When you think of being a “model” for a group, we think of being someone to aspire to. For many people in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community who complain about the model minority myth, this argument, that being a “model minority” is not actually something to complain about, is often used to silence them. These complaints are often met with an overly simplistic idea of what the model minority myth is. But no, the problem isn’t actually that society just sees Asian Americans as “just too great.” It isn’t that Asian Americans are “just too successful.” The model minority myth is much more complicated and harmful than that.

Originally coined in 1966 by sociologist William Peterson to profile the socioeconomic success of Japanese Americans, the myth of the “model minority” has become a collection of stereotypes about Asian Americans, presenting them as an “ideal minority group” in the eyes of White Supremacy. Included in these stereotypes are presumptions of academic and financial success, social and political meekness, a strong work ethic, dominance in math and the sciences, and strict parenting. Peterson’s use of “model minority” was to study the success of Asian Americans, contrasting them with what he termed problem minorities.”

While some in the Asian American community embraced these stereotypes, many others fought against it. The work of Asian American scholars like Bob Suzuki’s “Education and the Socialization of Asian Americans: A Revisionist Analysis of the ‘Model Minority’ Thesis” and Ki-Taek Chun’s “The fications” helped lead early pushback against the idea that all Asian Americans were destined to succeed.

On the surface, the model minority myth does not seem like a myth. Asian Americans do have some of the highest rates of college graduation, highest salaries, and lowest incarceration rates of minority groups in America. But Asian American sociologists, psychologists, educators, and activists have helped shed light on the reality of life for Asian Americans that the model minority myth hides, and the real harm that it does.

When we say “Asian American” we are talking about an incredibly broad swath of cultures and histories representing a very large portion of the globe.. When we say “Asian American” we are talking about not just people of Japanese, Korean, and Chinese descent, but also South Asians, Southeast Asians, Pacific Islanders, Indian Americans, Hmong Americans, Vietnamese Americans, Samoans, Native Hawaiians, and more. When we say “Asian American” we are talking about war refugees, tech professionals who first arrived on H-1B visas, and third-generation Midwesterners. When we say “Asian Americans” we are talking about so much more than can be fit in a single stereotype.

While every racial minority in the US is subject to harmful stereotyping, the model minority myth becomes hard to combat when it is not seen as harmful because the people most harmed by it are also made invisible by it.

Ijeoma Oluo

It seems to me that the fight for justice and equality is often times a fight about me. Everyone wants a seat at the table. I feel that I’m pretty self-centered (or in this case race-centered, if that’s a term), because I seem like trying to steer the fight for black lives to Asian American lives. That is not at all what I’m doing. This is something mind-blowing to me, and knowing about what it means, I all of the sudden realize that American and the world don’t just have a long way to go. They have a loooooooooonnnnnnnnnnggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggg way to go. And that might still isn’t long enough.

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And, me being me. I don’t just simply get my questions answered but now there are other kinds of questions forming. What should I do? What else can I read to know more about this? What is it actually like being Asian Americans that don’t fit in with the model? I’m not Asian American. I have privileges that Asian Americans don’t have, and I have a lot I don’t understand. Yet I’ll be inquisitive and open minded to learn.

Published by Thi Le

Human.

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