The Problem: Discrimination and Stereotypes against Asian Americans
Wong Chin Foo, one of the first Chinese Americans and Asian American activists, once said: “As residents of the United States, we claim a common manhood with all other nationalities, and believe we should have that manhood recognized according to the principles of common humanity and American freedom” (The First Chinese American – Quotations from Wong Chin Foo). Since the first Chinese immigrants came over to America, Asian people have been discriminated against and have not had much of a voice in American politics. This suppression of the Asian American voice has been constant since the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882; however, it has evolved in its form. At first, it came in the form of complete banishment from the country (the Chinese Exclusion Act prohibiting all Chinese immigrants to the U.S.). This has transformed into many detrimental forms of stereotypes and discrimination, namely the Model Minority Myth.
My website will outline the history and present-day versions of this social injustice, as well as outline some micro and macro solutions. My historical research was more focused on the lost voice of Chinese Americans, whereas my present-day research is broadened to all Asian Americans. I hope my website can educate people on this issue and bring some fresh opinions and voices into the discussion, as well as get one step closer to the universal goal to end oppression.
My interest in this problem stems mainly from my own identity as a white and Asian American. My mother was a Chinese immigrant at one time and had to overcome many challenges in doing so. Despite being generally one of the more successful segments of the population of the U.S., I feel that the voices of Asian Americans have not been heard much in the past, and I fear that not much has changed. I also have personal experience with feeling like my voice is not heard, as a good amount of the time Asians are often not included in the conversation of racial discrimination, partly because it is seen as “not as big a deal” in comparison to African American and Latinx racism. While this is in part true, I don’t agree that such a reason should completely leave Asian people out of the picture, as the many racial stereotypes surrounding Asians have a negative effect on many people, especially those in school.
For more information about my goals and interests of this project, here is my full personal interest essay: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1aFZXg77RE8z-IcSURm_xR5ZUVGVV-Qg-zZyAwzlPtmM/edit?usp=sharing
The History of the Problem: A Voice without Impact
Although later discriminated against and oppressed, Chinese Americans were at first welcomed into the U.S., as they were a much-needed source of labor, especially for the transcontinental railroad (As depicted below). Chinese immigration spiked in the mid-1800s; however, this increase in the Chinese labor force coincided with rising unemployment rates as well as the depression of 1873, making the Chinese the scapegoats of white people’s misfortunes. Racial discrimination and prejudice reached its apex with the Chinese Exclusion Act, a law passed by Congress in 1882 banning all immigration of Chinese laborers and denying citizenship to Chinese people already in the country (Zhang). Although Chinese Americans already in the country spoke out against such racist policies, the Chinese Exclusion Act was extended in 1892, and later made permanent in 1902 (Schneider). The Chinese Exclusion Act was finally repealed in 1943, marking the end of an era of extreme immigration discrimination specifically based on race (“Repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act, 1943”). However, it also opened new doors to other types of racial profiling, especially in more discrete yet harmful ways.
For a more in-depth analysis of the history of this problem (including more points on the timeline), you can read my full essay here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1yUEtDQwWkldCtiF57Q-FLS6zYPB2A5mLqNcnZ1uHGZo/edit?usp=sharing
What You Need to Know:
The Present Problem: An Accolade or Harmful Stereotype?
After the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed in 1943, it seemed that a new chapter for Asian Americans had started; however, more discrete and conniving forms of discrimination, namely the Model Minority Myth, surfaced. The Model Minority Myth “characterizes Asian Americans as a polite, law-abiding group who have achieved a higher level of success than the general population through some combination of innate talent and pull-yourselves-up-by-your-bootstraps immigrant striving” (Blackburn). In other words, Asian Americans have achieved a higher status in American society because of their “natural” grit and intelligence. Although this stereotype seems to be an accolade, it can lead to detrimental discrimination, especially among Asian American youth. Studies have shown that Asian American youth born in the 2000s reported more cases of racial discrimination in their daily lives than their peers (Qin). A study by Aprile Benner, a UCLA professor in human development, showed that as parents experience discrimination, their children feel an even greater need to excel in school to avoid being “stereotyped as perpetual foreigners.”
Since the Model Minority Myth also omits the past struggles of Asian Americans, it has also lead to discrimination in the college admissions process, in the form of affirmative action (a policy that helps previously discriminated groups in college admissions). However, there are a few Asian American Activist groups, such as the Orange Club, fighting against this policy (Eligon). In California, they defeated the affirmative action measure called S.C.A. 5, which would have lifted the ban on admission preferences based on a student’s race (Eligon). Another group working against affirmative action is Students for Fair Admissions, led by conservative activist Edward Blum, who sued Harvard for intentional discrimination against Asian Americans in their admissions process. This group represents many Asian American students who had been rejected by Harvard, and although the judge cleared Harvard of all claims, it was a step in the right direction of creating an Asian American political voice (Hartocollis). These are just a few, successful yet rare, examples of Asian Americans standing up for themselves and fighting against the deceptions of the Model Minority Myth.
With the outbreak of COVID-19 (a virus originating in China), a new type of discrimination threatening Asian Americans has emerged. As the virus spreads throughout the world, people in the U.S. are directing racist remarks towards Chinese Americans, and even other Asians who are grouped “by a bigotry that does not know the difference” (Tavernise). Between February 9 and March 7 of 2020, San Francisco State University found a 50% increase in news articles about anti-Asian discrimination. Many Asian Americans have reported hearing racial slurs in public, similar to the hate faced by Muslims after 9/11. To add insult to injury, President Trump has called COVID-19 “the Chinese virus.” Some cases have even become violent. An Asian American boy was attacked at school for having the virus because of his race (Tavernise). I, too, have encountered these stereotypes; even as jokes, they are hurtful because they blindly accuse the Asian American community of carrying the virus.
Although there are organizations and activist groups fighting for an Asian American voice, the Model Minority Myth is still alive and strong as it silences and paints a false narrative over that voice. Furthermore, during this time, it is up to underrepresented Asian Americans to speak up, debunk this myth, and spread education, rather than let bigotry run free.
To read more about intricacies of the Model Minority Myth and its effects, here is my full paper: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1fsHLK1upvzHuxz7vj6loyIMew08o9CAjVslDerocv64/edit?usp=sharing
For Now Action Steps: Supporting Asian Americans on a Micro and Macro Level
Micro Action Steps:
- Educate yourself and bring awareness to others (Blackburn).
Learning about Asian American activists such as Grace Lee Boggs and Larry Itliong can help individuals realize the deep roots of Asian Americans in the U.S. Doing so might allow one to realize how this group has struggled in the past (Blackburn). Asian American People and History and the Model Minority Myth are places to learn about both the history and stereotypes.
- Report cases of racism or discrimination against Asian Americans (Tavernise).
If you see, encounter, or witness instances of racism or discrimination against Asian Americans, report it to Stop AAPI Hate (Tavernise).
- Check yourself before you wreck yourself (or others).
Check on your own biases and assumptions. Think twice before making an insensitive joke because you never know what kind of internalized damage it can evoke. Even a quip like calling an Asian American “good at math” simply because they are Asian can be detrimental.
- Petition, Protest, and Be Active!
Being an activist is always a great way to get involved with politics and fight for what you believe in. The only reason Assemblyman Ed Chau eventually voted against the affirmative action bill is because Asian American organizations protested outside of his office (Eligon). Find some policies that impact the Asian American community (e.g. the RAISE Act) and contact your local representative in opposition. You can find and contact them here: Find Your Representative.
Macro Action Steps:
- Schools should teach Asian American figures and texts in the classroom (Blackburn).
The cause of the Model Minority Myth is the lack of representation and knowledge about Asian American history, which is often barely mentioned. Teachers must make a conscious effort to incorporate this material into their classes. If textbooks fail to adequately teach about the Chinese work on the transcontinental railroads, the Chinese Exclusion Act, or the Japanese Internment Camps, educators should still cover this history. This also includes changing the conversation about Asian Americans. These include learning cultural resources, avoiding “spotlighting” kids of a certain race, and developing different instructional approaches to respect cultural differences. In addition, schools need to bring awareness to Asian Heritage Month which is a great opportunity to educate students (Blackburn).
- Local governments should create forums to help Asian American parents.
Aprile Benner’s study showed that parents are a key part of helping to prevent Asian American adolescent discrimination. Specifically, helping parents cope with their own racial/discriminatory stresses helps their children better deal with their own experiences of cultural misfit (Benner). Local governments should create open forums to help parents cope with and overcome their traumatic experiences, which could positively influence and benefit their children.
- Governments should make leadership programs for Asian American youth.
Recently, Andrew Yang, an Asian American tech entrepreneur, ran for president, setting a new precedent for Asian Americans in leadership roles. Underrepresentation greatly contributes to the perpetuation of the Model Minority Myth, so Asian Americans need a greater political voice. Leadership programs such as the Asian American Executive Program at Harvard provide an immediate solution to tackle this issue (Misra). Government-funded leadership programs would be even more effective, giving Asian American youth insights into local and federal government jobs, and their possible futures.
Works Cited and Consulted:
Thank you for looking through my website! Please think about these questions while giving me feedback:
- Where could I have expanded my research?
- How could I have improved my solutions (and do you have any of your own)?
- Do you think that Asian Americans have been remiss in not seeking more political office?
- Where do you think Asian Americans fit in the conversation of racial discrimination, if at all?
Please do comment; I would greatly appreciate constructive criticism and your thoughts.