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What is the Model Minority Myth?
The Model Minority Myth is a narrative that paints the picture that all Asian-Americans are “polite, law-abiding academic prodigies” (Liu) that overcame discrimination and found success through hard-work and strong morals. Now, you may ask yourself, How can a positive stereotype have negative impacts? While created to showcase the successes of Asian-Americans, the model minority myth has always held anti-Black implications. This dangerous and false comparison embedded in the model minority myth prevents oppressed groups, specifically Asian-Americans and Black-Americans, from achieving inter-racial solidarity and uniting against the oppressors and the structures of white supremacy. This narrative has wedged these communities apart and pitted them against one another, and has rendered history of inter-racial solidarity, such as during the Labor Movements in the 60’s, invisible. The model minority myth also makes disparities within the Asian-American community invisible.
A Brief History
Xenophobia against Asian-Americans has taken many forms throughout US history, whether it was the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which “bann[ed] both new immigrants and existing residents from becoming U.S. citizens”, or Executive Order 9066, which required all people of Japanese descent, regardless of citizenship status, to remain in relocation camps for the duration of World War II (Strochlic); however, the most lethal and long-standing form of discrimination is the model minority myth. The term “model minority” was coined by sociologist William Peterson in his 1966 article “Success Story, Japanese-American Style”. In his article, Peterson discusses the struggles Japanese-Americans had throughout World War II and post-World War II. He talks about the discrimination Japanese-Americans faced throughout the 1900s, such as the inability to hold jobs that required a license, inability to own agricultural land, and of course, the impact of Executive Order 9066. Peterson then goes on to describe that throughout all this hardship, Japanese-Americans found success financially, intellectual, and morally. However, the narrative that Asian-Americans are superior compared to other minority groups is a false ideology. Often overlooked, a key factor in the history of this myth is the 1965 Immigration Laws, a direct result of the Civil Rights Movement. These laws reversed many of the restrictive immigration laws put in place decades before, such as the Chinese Exclusion Act. The first priority of these new laws was to allow immediate family of immigrants already in the US to enter. The second priority was to allow professionals, scientists, and skilled workers to enter the country (Kasinitz). Many skilled workers left Asia and immigrated to the US during this time period. At the time, Chinese immigrants immigrating to the United States were twelve times more likely to hold a college degree than the average Chinese citizen living in China (Krishnan). The comparison between Black-Americans and Asian-Americans during this time period is very unfair, as politicians were comparing the smartest and most skilled Asian-Americans who recently immigrated against the average Black-American already living in the United States.
How has the Model Minority Myth affected Asian-Americans today?
The financial and racial struggles of Asian-American Pacific Islanders are often minimized or go completely unnoticed. In 2015, a study on Asian-American wealth was conducted in New York. They found that 25% of Asian elders live in poverty. When they asked for support, only 1% of New York’s government funding was allocated to Asian-American (Yam). This is especially true during COVID-19 as well. For example, Mandy Rang and her 12 year-old daughter, Amy, are Asian-Americans living in Chinatown, San Francisco. They live in an 80 ft2 single-room occupancy apartment. In March 2020, Amy contracted COVID-like symptoms but was unable to get tested due to the high price of COVID tests in the early stages. They were also afraid of the social backlash they would receive if they were to have a positive test as up to 50 tenants can share the same apartment building. Amy was very sick for almost a week, but was able to recover and is healthy now. Many are very surprised when they hear the struggles of these Asian-Americans, for the MMM assumes that they are healthy and successful. In turn, Asian-Americans received virtually no support even though at the time nearly 38%, or 47 deaths of the 123 COVID-19 deaths in San Francisco were Asian-American residents, the most of any ethnicity. Asian-Americans are also struggling financially, as nearly 83% of Asian-Americans in California holding a high-school diploma or lower have filed unemployment insurance claims during COVID-19 . The financial and health hardships Asian Americans face are often overlooked. In addition, we have witnessed a surge in anti-Asian violence during COVID.
Source: San Francisco Department of Public Health
Derogatory references to COVID-19, such as the “China Flu” or “Chinese Virus” have provoked xenophobia towards Asian-Americans. The former president, Donald Trump, continued to use these racist terms to use them even after public backlash (Strochlic). An Independent Polling System of Society (IPSOS) found that three in ten Americans blamed China and Chinese people for COVID-19 (Strochlic). In turn, there have been many events recorded where Americans have “weaponized” COVID-19. An Asian man reported that a white male walked by him and yelled, “‘you f*cking Chinese spread the Coronavirus to this country, you should all leave this country!” Another woman reported that while waiting at a bus stop with other Asian-Americans, a woman walked by and screamed that they were all “dirty Chinese” and that “they were trying to take over the US”(Zhou). While xenophobia takes form in our society through various verbal abuse, it also causes Asian Americans to experience various physical harassment and assault.
Source: The New York Times
There have been many recent incidents of assaults against Asian-Americans, specifically Asian elders. Xiao Zhen Xie, a 75 year-old Asian elder was assaulted on Market St., San Francisco on March 17. She was waiting at a crosswalk when a white man punched her in the face. But to top it off, the Atlanta spa shootings occurred on March 16, where the shooter, Robert Aaron Long, drove to three different spas in Atlanta, GA, and killed eight people, six of whom were Asian women. Bystanders that normalize this behavior are the ones who allow it to occur. Americans must take action in order to combat this xenophobia.
What has been and needs to be done
Various groups and organizations have made it their mission to address xenophobia against Asian-Americans. For example, Stop AAPI Hate is an organization founded during COVID-19 to fight the rise in anti-Asian racism. They believe that to effectively approach this issue, we must “end all forms of structural racism leveled at Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color”(Stop AAPI Hate). To do this, they track and respond to incidents of hate against AAPIs reported to them, advocate for AAPI rights, and share news regarding recent anti-Asian incidents. Asian Americans Advancing Justice is also another great organization sharing news about recent events as well as ways to get involved.
Individually, you can further educate yourself. Sources such as Stop AAPI Hate and Asian Americans Advancing Justice are great resources for educating yourself and staying up to date with this issue. This is key as it is through a lack of awareness and education in which issues such as racism appear in society. Once you educate yourself, you can then engage in public service events, such as rallies and fundraisers to raise awareness and advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves. On a larger scale, we must educate the mass public. We can do so by raising awareness around the model minority myth, as well as the negative impacts of it Asian-Americans experience. Many are raising awareness through social media, but after, we must act.
On a Macro Level, we can petition to reform school curriculums, for education is the key to guiding our younger generation to respect Asians across the globe. Those who are uneducated are unable to see where injustices standard allow it to continue. This initiative would be directed towards the public education system as private schools are able choose their own curriculum. However, they may act through public service events that rose awareness. Additionally, we must reform our legal system. Many who commit violent crimes are rarely punished for the real crime they committed: a hate crime. A hate crime, according to the U.S. Government’s Department of Justice, is “a crime [whose] motivation for committing the crime [was] based on [bias].” The Atlanta shooting, which took place more than two weeks ago, is still being tried as a hate crime, even though the shooter admitted to have down this to “curb his sex addictions”(Noah). America’s legal system is in dire need of reform so events such as these are followed up with swift and harsh punishments.
Source: The 19th News
Americans have neglected the vital role that Asian-Americans play in our society, and we let them fall subject to a xenophobia that plagues our nation. Asian-Americans are key to society, as they not only change U.S. culture, but push the very definition of being “American”. We must incite change, or we will be prone to repeating 200 years of hellacious history.
Thank you for visiting my webpage! I really appreciate it, and I would love to hear your feedback in the comment section. Specifically, what did you think about my macro solutions? What solutions do you recommend taking, and are there any other solutions that should also be considered? Also, what individual steps have you taken, or do you plan on taking? Thanks, and have a great day!