Issues with the “model minority”

Graphic by <span class="credit credit- "><a href="/credit/"Melody/" title="View all of this person's work">"Melody</a></span>

graphic by Melody Tang

The danger of the “model minority” stereotype

By Pranav Baskar

I am proud to say that when my parents immigrated to this nation with only two suitcases, a few hundred dollars, and a whole lot of courage, they were able to achieve the American Dream. Despite being completely unaccustomed to the American environment, they made a living for my sister and me. However, this experience is not uncommon; it’s just one piece of a bigger picture.

On average, Asian Americans tend to be more educated and have higher average incomes than Caucasians and other racial groups.

But these trends have had a harmful side effect that has crippled the Asian American. Asian success in the American workplace and political structure has led to the formalization of a “model minority” stereotype. This stereotype has had disastrous effects, fueling the oppression of Asians in today’s socioeconomic machine.

As a result of being a “model minority,” Asian Americans are systematically excluded from contemporary racial dialogues, a pattern not inconsistent with history. Since Asian Americans aren’t plagued by the same social issues that other minorities face, their needs and pleas for social change are deemed unnecessary.

The “model minority” stereotype has a particularly damaging effect on Asian American students. Stacey Lee, Professor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Education, found that this expectation for Asian students to be academically perfect deters them from seeking help from peers and teachers, as they feel that in doing so, they would break the mold of typical high achievers. This, in turn, quarantines Asian students and subjects them to a host of self-esteem and mental health problems. As an Asian American, I find myself avoiding my guidance counselor as it would disrupt the assumptions associated with my race.

Currently, an Asian American with equal qualifications as their white counterpart would be three times less likely to attend an elite university This has important implications, as higher education strongly affects job outlooks and social mobility. Despite being more likely to be educated, Asian Americans are less likely to hold managerial positions and positions of power.

This  is especially problematic because of how socially entrenched it is. Because of the prevalence of the “model minority” perspective, Asian Americans lack a lot of the structural, political, and cultural capital necessary to combat  those stereotypes.

However, this adversity doesn’t mean that Asian Americans lack the capacity to fight racism. With present political and social trends, it is now — more than ever — that our voices are going to matter and count for the long haul.

Through hard work, my parents created a world that worked for them. With the same determination, the Asian American community can change the world as they know it.

How Asian Americans became the “model minority”

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graphic by John Liang

By Jonathan Lin

In 1966, the term “model minority” was coined to describe the success of Japanese Americans. Fifty years later, the term has expanded to cover all Asian Americans, albeit very inaccurately. As a “model minority,” we are expected to be hardworking and intelligent. But in reality, this stereotype causes many issues faced by Asian Americans to be ignored.

Frequently, statistics pointing out median household income, in which Asian Americans lead all other racial groups, are used to support this “model minority” falsehood. These figures have meaning, but lack proper context: Asians tend to reside in more expensive coastal cities, and thus have higher paying jobs. In fact, 73 percent of Asian Americans now reside in metropolitan areas with an above average cost of living. Once this is taken into account, Asian Americans just slightly edge out white Americans.

Referring to Asian Americans as a “model minority” also ignores the Asian ethnic groups that are not doing as well as the “model minority” label might suggest. For example, approximately 40 percent of the Hmong, Laotian, and Cambodian American population do not even finish high school. These numbers paint the “model minority” stereotype as heavily reliant on cherry-picked facts, and far too generalized to account for the diverse ethnic groups that make up the Asian American diaspora.

The “model minority” expectation is also flawed due to its disregard of the “bamboo ceiling” that many Asian Americans face in government and the corporate world. A recent study found that Asian Americans made up 27 percent of professionals, only half of whom are executives. Asian Americans are expected to work hard and achieve academic success. They aren’t expected to voice the unpopular opinions needed to break the “bamboo ceiling.”

Another flaw with the stereotype is that it masks other issues in the community. Asian Americans tend to participate less in American democracy, with the lowest voter turnout of any demographic group— an issue that can be attributed to cultural differences, such as the fact that many Asian countries reserve politics for elites. By singling out Asians as a sort of special group, this political inactivity will only persist, since they will continue to feel displaced and conflicted as Americans.

The “model minority” standard has harmed Asian American students as the high standards they are held to often prove to be unreachable, and can lead to additional pressure in an already stressful high school atmosphere. The idea that Asian Americans are the “model minority” is a gross oversimplification socially, economically, and politically. There never was, is, nor should be a “model minority.” Until this is recognized, Asian Americans will never be able to feel like a vital and equal part of society.


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