Model Minority Myth

By Shaherzad Chawdree

Believed to be high achieving across the economic and academic domains, Asians have been perceived as “model minorities,” as opposed to other minority groups. According to white sociologist William Petersen, who coined the term in 1966, model minorities are able to fight discrimination through their “cultural emphasis on hard work” as opposed to the “problem minority” who is unable to climb the social ladder, as Sapna Cheryan emphasized. Petersen and many of his counterparts have used Asian-Americans as tools to oppress other minorities, such as African-Americans and Hispanics. 

Sadly, this still hasn’t been deemed as an outdated concept. Society continues to create a divide between racial minorities, pitting the “successful Asian” against others. In order to curb these efforts, I, Shaherzad Chawdree, have decided to join hands with other racial groups to put an end to this myth and fight against our white oppressors. Ah, if only… 

Far-right politicians are not the only ones driving this idea. Popular media continues to push forward the stereotype of the weak and nerdy Asian, some examples being Baljeet from Phineas and Ferb, Lane Kim from Gilmore Girls, and Ravi from Jessie. Young children and even some adults can be influenced by these depictions, especially if they were raised in a less diverse setting. 

Others who perpetuate this stereotype justify the myth by using national statistics as evidence. According to Pew Research Center, Asian households have the highest average income. However, this is a poor representation of the diverse Asian community, as Asian households also have the highest income inequality out of any racial group in the United States. Those who do earn high incomes are often already privileged in their home countries, having acquired the specialized skills and higher levels of education that allowed them priority access through immigration processes. Asian success cannot be attributed to the “American Dream” of upwards social mobility when many of these groups were privileged from the start. 

The white, uneducated reader might be thinking, “Hmm… What is wrong with being perceived as intellectual and hardworking?” Other Asians might be thinking the same thing. However, this can put additional pressure on Asians and discredit their hard work. 

White parents may downplay a South Asian child’s success in a spelling bee because of their race, or an East Asian child could not be congratulated for winning the math competition because from them it is expected. In order to impress their classmates, Asian students must perform at a higher level and even then, they are often not personally credited for their accomplishments. White Americans even hate crime Asian individuals because of their belief that they are stealing American jobs from them. 

This myth of the model minority further diverts attention from other forms of discrimination Asians are forced to face. Especially with recent hate crimes, it is important we address more pressing issues the community has had to tackle. 

Guo, Jeff. “The Real Secret to Asian American Success Was Not Education.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 29 Apr. 2019, http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/11/19/the-real-secret-to-asian-american-success-was-not-education/. 

Hassan, Adeel, and Audrey Carlsen. “How ‘Crazy Rich’ Asians Have Led to the Largest Income Gap in the U.S.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 17 Aug. 2018, http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/08/17/us/asian-income-inequality.html. 

Kochhar, Rakesh, and Anthony Cilluffo. “Income Inequality in the U.S. Is Rising Most Rapidly Among Asians.” Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project, Pew Research Center, 21 Aug. 2020, http://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2018/07/12/income-inequality-in-the-u-s-is-rising-most-rapidly-among-asians/. 

“The Model Minority Myth.” The Practice, Harvard Law School, 26 Mar. 2019, thepractice.law.harvard.edu/article/the-model-minority-myth/. 

Petersen, William. “Success Story, Japanese-American Style.” The New York Times Magazine, Dartmouth College, 9 Jan. 1966, http://www.dartmouth.edu/~hist32/Hist33/Petersen.pdf. 

“The Routledge Companion to Race and Ethnicity.” The Routledge Companion to Race and Ethnicity, by Sapna Cheryan and Galen Bodenhausen, Routledge, Taylor Et Francis Group, 2021, pp. 199–203. 

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