Editorial: The Model Minority Myth Must be Dismantled

Abigail Lee, Reporter

A subconscious stereotype exists in American culture known as the model minority myth. The model minority myth characterizes Asian Americans as an ideal monolith that has managed to push past racial and economic obstacles to match the success of white Americans. At the surface, this description may seem positive, but because of its divisive nature, it should not be used any longer.

The model minority myth originated in the 1960s to propagate Asian Americans as “industrious, law-abiding citizens who kept their heads down and never complained,” according to The Washington Post. In return, this mentality supposedly helped Asians to reach personal and financial achievements.

However, “many scholars have argued that some Asians only started to “make it” when the discrimination against them lessened — and only when it was politically convenient,” states NPR.

Examples of political convenience include allowing a larger stream of Chinese immigrants to enter in the early 1900s amidst burgeoning alliances with China, or post-World War II, when discontent among African Americans began to take root.

“The work of the African American freedom movements had made white liberals and white conservatives very uncomfortable,” said historian Ellen Wu in an interview with The Washington Post. The effect of this led to calculatedly propagating Asian Americans in the media as being capable of breaking past racial barriers with hard work, in order to simultaneously suppress the Civil Rights movement.

Washington Post journalist Jeff Guo wrote on Twitter, “Elevating Asian Americans as ‘deserving’ and ‘hardworking’ was a tactic to denigrate African Americans.”

Since its inception, the model minority myth has been leveraged by white Americans to separate the two minority groups. Not only does it unfairly stereotype Asians, it trivializes the struggles of African Americans.

The type of marginalization minorities face should not be equated, because no two groups share the same comparable experiences. Even without examining the lies the model minority myth perpetuates, it’s illogical to assume that two groups who have been disenfranchised under white supremacy in completely different ways, could both overcome racism through the same tactics.

In regards to Asian Americans, the stereotype actually disadvantages them. As shown in The Atlantic, the model minority typically is applied to East Asians, which not only misrepresents them, but also overshadows the struggles of other Asian ethnic groups.

The article states that “Hmong, Laotian, Cambodian, and Filipino Americans remain overrepresented in lower-wage jobs. The heightened success of some Asian Americans hides the economic and educational challenges facing others.”

The need to eradicate the model minority myth goes beyond its stereotypical nature. It pervades not only communities of color, but symbolizes the regressive racial propagation used historically in America.

Help dismantle the model minority myth by supporting organizations that create positive images of Asian Americans like Asian American Arts Alliance.