Dissecting The Model Minority Myth

I vividly remember the first time I ever failed a test. It was the first test of my Earth and Environmental Science class, and I felt pretty confident going into it. Although I wasn’t quite sure how the test was going to look, I studied for a week straight, memorizing my 10+ pages of notes. In the mornings before the test, instead of eating breakfast, I would study. At lunch, instead of sitting with my friends, I would study. When I got home from school, instead of being with my dog or relaxing, I would study. For a week, I gave up all of my free time just to make sure I knew all of the information I thought I needed to know for the test. Then it was time for me to take the test.

Once I looked at the first question, I knew I was in for a rough ride. I still managed to feel decently alright about the test, however, due to my extensive studying. As I finished the test on my laptop and pushed the “Submit” button, my heart sank to my stomach. On the screen inside a bright green rectangle, which almost looked like it was mocking me, was a 76. I wanted to scream, puke, cry, and run away simultaneously. I sat there in disbelief. I remember frantically darting my eyes around the classroom, silently hoping that no one could catch on to my frantic state. I secretly wished and hoped I wasn’t the only one who had completely bombed it. Once class was dismissed, I attempted to eavesdrop on conversations, trying to figure out what everyone else got, without having to reveal my own score. Different numbers were being thrown out; I heard 50’s and 70’s but never anything above that. 

Although I hoped that hearing my classmates’ scores would ease my rising anxiety, it didn’t. I was still worried about what my parents would think. Would I get punished? Will they tell me that I ruined the family name? Or maybe they won’t care at all. Maybe they’ve already lost their high expectations of me because they know I’m not smart at all. These were all the thoughts racing through my mind as my mom picked me up from school. As soon as I sat in the passenger’s seat, I told my mom what had happened during the test. I remember staring at my backpack, as I couldn’t even look her in the face. I held my breath, waiting for her to scream at me in the parking lot. My nerves were at an all time high, and I was just anxiously waiting for her to react. Surprisingly, she wasn’t angry at all. In fact, she looked rather calm, and even gave me a small smile. Instead, she was understanding about it being my first test of the class and just made me promise to make sure I studied and tried to do my best from there on forward. 

This shocked me. I was so convinced that she would be furious at me, that I underwent a great amount of stress for no reason.This brings up the idea of the model minority myth. Why was I so devastated that I did so poorly on the test? Even though I did study for it, I will admit that Earth and Environmental Science is a difficult subject for me. It was the idea that I already had higher expectations of myself academically and that if I failed to meet those standards, I would somehow be deemed a “failure” or a “dumb Asian.” The model minority myth perpetuates this by making Asian Americans seem like we are the perfect minority. It generalizes us as law-abiding geniuses that achieve higher levels of success than all other minority groups, which ultimately makes us pitted against each other.

So how did the model minority myth become so ingrained into our society? During the 1960’s, the Black power movements began to spring up across the nation, which aimed at increasing racial pride and empowerment. In order to combat these protests, the government began to use Asians as a way to undercut the movement by essentially saying, “Hey, Asians have had their struggles. They have also experienced racism. But because of their obedience and their hard work, they were able to overcome the hardships of racism and achieve the “American Dream.” If they can do it, why can’t you?” This perpetuation of white supremacy was an attempt to suppress the Black power movement and also added to the tension between Asian Americans and the Black community. The model minority myth invalidates the racism and inequality faced by the Black community and other minority groups by stereotyping Asians as the “good minority.” 

 The usage of the term “model minority” suddenly increased in 1966. This was when it was officially coined by sociologist William Petersen in the New York Times in an article titled, “Success Story: Japanese American Style.” In the article, Petersen emphasizes how because Japanese Americans had a better “family structure”, they were able to overcome the discrimination they faced. After this article came out, the usage of “model minority” began to quickly spread across the nation. Numerous other newspapers began using it to talk about the success of Asian Americans and how they were genetically superior to all other minorities. However, what these news outlets failed to consider was the Immigration and Nationality Act passed in 1965 that played a key role in how “successful” Asians were in the United States.

In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson enacted the Immigration and Nationality Act which lifted the geographically restrictions for immigrants that were in place but still made it so only those of high skill and education were allowed to come to the United States. For Asians, this meant that the majority of those who were immigrating were doctors, engineers, and scientists. Due to the high amount of these highly educated immigrants, it was assumed by the public and the media that ALL Asians Americans were successful and had these high-skilled professions. The newspapers that were using the term “model minority” did not realize how harmful that could be to not only the Asian community, but also to other minority groups who felt they were below Asians. This issue still continues into the present day. 

Tou Thao (a Hmong Asian American)’s involvement in the recent death of George Floyd has allowed us to revisit the idea of anti-blackness in the Asian community. Although there are other aspects of history that contribute to this concept of anti-blackness (For example the 1991 killing of Latasha Harlinas, a 15 year old who was killed by a Korean store owner who thought she was stealing orange juice, or the 1992 Los Angeles riots that followed this where Blacks looted and destroyed Koren-owned businesses to retaliate.), the model myth minority is one of the biggest factors causing the tension the Asian community has with other minority groups. And it is the fact that some Asian Americans choose not to question this idea, and instead ascribe to it, which is also part of the problem. There is truth in the fact that Asians are the wealthiest minority group in the United States, but what the model minority myth fails to consider is that Asians also have the widest income gap. Not only does the model minority myth understate the oppression other groups have faced it also generalizes all Asians as wealthy and successful, when that is most certainly not factual.

What Asian Americans need to do to support the Black community during this time is to dismantle the model minority myth and deconstruct the anti-blackness in our community.. It is now more important than ever that we stand with the Black community and let them know that we will always be an ally to them. For years we have just watched from the sidelines the racism they have dealt with. Sometimes, we have even openly participated in the racism towards them. And whenever we have experienced discrimination, the Black community was always there for us. For example, when COVID-19 first came into the United States, and Asian Americans were blamed for it, the Black community was by our side. This is not just human decency, it is standing up for the community that aided in us gaining our own civil rights. To that, we will always be thankful to the Black community.


WRITTEN BY:

EVIE FITZPATRICK

Writer, editor,

Evie Fitzpatrick is a 15-year-old sophomore at Davidson Early College High School. She is extremely passionate about politics and activism, and loves to share that with those around her. Evie also enjoys blogging, playing the violin, and volunteering at her local science museum. In the future, she hopes to become a biological anthropologist!


SOURCES

“NOT A MODEL MINORITY BECAUSE… I DON’T COME FROM A WELL OFF FAMILY” image from

https://www.cavalierdaily.com/article/2019/10/asu-kicks-off-its-annual-not-a-model-minority-campaign

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