The Dangers of the Model Minority Myth

Updated: Apr 18

By Ziao Yin

Image via NPR

For years, many in this country have continued to use the success of Asian Americans to downplay the racism that very much still plagues the US. As attacks against Asian Americans in this country rise, fueled by the pandemic, many turn a blind eye to these racially motivated attacks. Yet, many citizens here in the US still deem Asians as the successful dream minority with no racial problems, hence, the model minority myth.

The very term “model minority” was coined by sociologist William Petersen in an article he wrote for The New York Times Magazine titled, “Success story: Japanese American style,” in 1966. In said article, he claims that Asian Americans, through hard work and family-style, have overcome racial discrimination in the US. This term worked its way up to many political leaders at the time, used as a way to undermine the anti-racism movement brought forth by African American civil rights leaders. The myth pins Asians against other minorities, used as a trophy to blow off racism when in fact racism still very much exists. Comparisons between Asians and particularly African Americans have been used when denying systemic racism. Painting all Asian Americans as successful and problem-free and suggesting how the US has been so good to Asians distracts minority groups from the real problem at hand, which is the need to liberate all minorities from racism and white supremacy.

Stereotypes, even positive ones, erase the diversity within a group. From international students to elders, to immigrant families, every Asian American presents a different situation and story. Taking a stereotype, driven by the media and Hollywood, and depicting all Asians as rich, flashy, and highly educated not only deceives but puts many disparities within the community at risk. The statistics broadcasted to the media show how the average Chinese, Taiwanese, and Indian woman earn just as much as a white man, if not more. However, what is hidden away, is the fact that Nepalese, Cambodian, and Vietnamese women earn 50-60 cents for every dollar a white man earns, with a poverty rate 20% higher than the national average. Furthermore, Asian American groups face the highest rates of poverty in cities like New York. Many Chinatown restaurant and construction workers live in 64 sq ft cubicles and 1 in 3 elders in the city live in poverty.

Image via Annie Ling

The myth continues to disregard many of the Asian citizens by disregarding Southeastern and Western Asians, starting from childhood. Studies have shown that students of those descents often underperform in many classes while only the East and South Asian students who tend to consistently do better than even their white peers get represented. This leads to further the achievement gap, with Hmong Asian Americans being 20% less likely to obtain a bachelor’s degree for example. This sort of gap goes beyond school and into the workplace, with qualities as basic as your name. This type of discrimination dominates all minority groups even Asians. Asian job applicants with white names receive a 7% higher callback rate than equally qualified, if not overqualified, applicants with more ethnic names. These examples are just a few of how only model minority stories and backgrounds are publicized, while many disadvantaged Asian Americans get left behind.

Throughout the history of Asian Americans in the US, they have been the scapegoat for many of the health, political, and economic downfalls. The government has time and time again used Asian Americans for their own gains. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 forbade any new immigration of Chinese laborers. This act was the first legislation in US history that explicitly prohibited immigrants of a specific nationality, lasting for nearly a century. Even when the Magnuson Act was signed, allowing Chinese immigrants for the first time since 1882, highly restrictive policies were put in place, favoring many of the already rich and highly educated Asian immigrants, while other groups had to immigrate as refugees. This came at a time when the US was in need of engineers, doctors, and scientists to boost the economy and security.

The model minority myth continues to hurt everyone in the Asian community. It not only ignores and discredits many of the discrimination and struggles Asians face because of their race. The myth is part of the white supremacy agenda, one that demonizes black and Latino communities living in poor conditions. Systemic racism is still very much real and the model minority myth only silences the voices that need to be heard.

Written by writer Ziao Yin