The Real Harms of the Model Minority Myth
Cassandra Nguyen | August 16, 2022
The lives of most Asian Americans have been marked by the paradox of being seen as inevitably foreign (and therefore, automatically lesser than) while simultaneously being put on a pedestal and seen as ‘racially equal’ to white people in a country built on white supremacy. In a society that somehow both sees them as the embodiment of the ‘American dream’, and feels that they can call COVID-19 the “Chinese virus”, the model minority myth is arguably the most prominent stereotype about Asian Americans. It’s one of the main reasons for the invisibility of anti-Asian racism because it feeds into an inability to account for how nuanced the Asian American community is, leaves them out of important conversations about racial inequity, and allows people to downplay systemic racism as a whole based on the perceived 'success' of one minority group.
On a basic level, a model minority is a demographic that has a perceived higher socioeconomic success compared to the rest of the population despite not being racially privileged. In discussions about the Asian community, in particular, it’s common for people to characterize the overwhelming majority of Asian people as academically proficient, having ‘solid two-parent family structures’, and working in prestigious - but never leadership - positions. This incredibly racialized and oversimplified stereotype completely ignores the diversity and intersectionality that exists within every racial group. Intersectionality is the concept that even within one minority group, there are different ‘levels’ of oppression that stem from ethnicity, class, gender, and other individual characteristics. The ignorance of intersectionality is particularly harmful to the Asian community because many ethnic subpopulations are statistically more socioeconomically or economically disadvantaged than other racial and ethnic groups. Despite the top tenth percentile of Asian-Americans earning more than any other racial group, Asian-Americans still have the greatest income gap of any racial group - the top tenth percentile earns 10.7 times more than the bottom tenth percentile - meaning that the idea of overarching success doesn’t apply here. The perceived overarching success of the Asian American community makes a huge generalization about a very nuanced racial group, and does nothing but spread ignorance and a lack of actual understanding.
The harms of the model minority myth go beyond just unawareness as the generalization that all Asian-Americans are successful goes hand in hand with the idea that they are not actually racial and ethnic minorities, which leads to their exclusion in conversations about racism. It suggests that Asian-Americans do not face challenges similar to those of other
minority groups and do not require the attention given to Black, Latina/o, and Native American groups. As well, Asian-Americans are often not considered an underrepresented minority in higher education research or discourse which correlates to how Asian-Americans are viewed and portrayed as ‘racially privileged’.
The model minority myth doesn’t just allow for a shallow and racialized view of the Asian American community and the invisibility of anti-Asian racism, but also is a lazy way to try and mitigate systemic racism. When discussing racism, everyone needs to check their implicit biases and remember that there is no racial minority that is socioeconomically ‘privileged’, inherently successful, or safe from race-based violence. Anti-Asian racism has been swept
under the carpet by the model minority myth for far too long, and it’s time for society to do better than treat the discrimination and violence of Asian Americans as minor and isolated.