AAPI Action: The Model Minority Myth
Written by Rutik Shinglot on May 27, 2021
When I was called a “model minority Asian” taking space away from “more deserving Black or brown students” when I ran for USAC President this year, my first thought was about my parents.
I thought about how they immigrated to the United States from India and worked in factories for years so that my sister and I could have the lives they weren’t able to. I thought about the experiences they’ve shared with me as people of color who barely speak English trying to fit into the white-dominated culture in this country. I thought about my own experience growing up without many people who looked like me to look up to and trying to define my own box, so it hurt when there were people who I didn’t even know attempt to place me in one.
The model minority argument historically has targeted Asian Americans, who are perceived as being successful and a better fit in the white-dominated culture in relation to other races. However, this harmful viewpoint ingrains itself in stereotypes that create a false narrative and drive a wedge between the Asian community and other minority communities. It downplays the role of white supremacy in maintaining racist structures in our society that prevent people of color from climbing the social ladder. Perhaps most of all, it makes generalizations that view the Asian American community as a monolith instead of a group of completely different cultures with completely different lived experiences in the United States.
My family’s story is similar to millions of Asian Americans across the country. According to the Pew Research Center, 81 percent of the growth in the Asian American population between 1970 and 2016 was due to immigration. The Asian American community consists of a diverse group of ethnicities across the continent of Asia with Chinese, Indian, and Filipino being the top countries that they find their descent. Each of these individual families brings a unique culture that is core to their identities. Not only because of their cultures but classism and colorism all create intersectional experiences for different Asian Americans, meaning it isn’t proper to view the entire community as a monolith with similar interactions in American society.
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in racist hate crimes and xenophobic microaggressions towards Asian Americans skyrocketing, especially against our communities’ elder population who have had to completely relearn how to interact in American society. Former Presidential candidate and current New York City Mayoral Candidate Andrew Yang wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post suggesting we respond to the nearly 150% rise in xenophobic violence against Asian Americans by embracing our “American-ness,” which furthers the model minority myth as it promotes assimilating to the American white-dominated culture. The problem doesn’t lie in our “Asianness,” as Mr. Yang implies but rather in the white supremacy that forces people of color to change themselves to make it most convenient for white people to interact with them.
Media representations of Asian Americans in pieces like Crazy Rich Asians and Bling Empire distract from the true experiences of our community that have suffered most. Brandon Shu, in the Columbia Spectator, asserts that to truly dispel the model minority myth, it requires a fundamental shift in “centering and uplifting the perspectives of Asian Americans who are erased by the stereotype—undocumented Asians, Asians who aren’t college-educated, Asians who are low-income and working-class, queer and trans Asians, and Asian sex workers, among others.” The anonymous Facebook post about me was mild compared to the violence that Asian Americans with intersectional identities, such as the ones Brandon writes about, continue to face every single day. It is essential to amplify the stories of those that are victim to violence because of their Asian identities instead of using media portrayals of Asian Americans to advance false portrayals of the Asian experience in the United States.
We must recognize our own privileges, even as members of marginalized communities, and reflect on how we each individually contribute to the weaponization of Asian identities that attempts to prove the false belief of the American meritocracy. Furthermore, we must actively work to unite the voices of marginalized communities to dismantle the institutional structures that maintain white supremacy. Dangerous rhetoric like the model minority myth drives a wedge between different marginalized communities and reduces the diversity and nuances of the Asian American experience to a surface-level generalization.