The Model Minority Myth
The model minority myth, as I’m sure you’re aware, paints Asian Americans in a largely positive light. Asian Americans are seen as intelligent, accomplished, and polite. They’re hardworking, rule-following, and studious.
Unfortunately, these “positive stereotypes”, as they’re so often called, are far more damaging than they appear.
According to the myth, domineering Asian “tiger moms” force their children to study day and night, seeming to care more about their child’s grades than their quality of life. The Asian father, as the myth goes, will typically hold a sort of “nerdy” STEM job — never a position of leadership.
But What’s the Issue?
“Okay,” you say, “There may be some drawbacks, but the model minority myth is, as a whole, not that bad.” After all, what is so bad about your group being seen as hard-working and successful? Well, let’s break it down:
The myth categorizes all Asian Americans, regardless of their individuality, as one group. Asians who aren’t accomplished in math, don’t play instruments, or engage in stereotypical “asian” activities are immediately seen as different and inferior.
Asian American colleges students statistically attempt suicide at a higher rate than other ethnicities. This can, in part, be attributed to the model minority myth. By perpetuating the stereotype that, just because one is Asian, they should be an innately strong student, puts enormous pressure on Asian American students, especially those whose interests do not lie in academia.
Asian Americans make up an incredibly diverse group of people from a wide variety of cultures and backgrounds. The myth groups all of these people into one. This is clearly seen in diversity surveys where “Asian” is represented as a single category.
If we look at something as elementary as average income, a category where Asian Americans supposedly outperform their peers, this ignorance is apparent. Indian American women, for example, make 21% more than their white counterparts. However, if you look at other Asian subgroups, the myth falls short. Burmese woman make only 50% of what white men make and pacific islander woman make only 62%.
Asians as Perpetual Foreigners
Asian Americans, no matter if they’re ancestors have been living in America for generations or if they emmigrated just recently, are treated as perpetual foreigners. The myth reinforces Asian Americans as different, exotic, and not “real” Americans.
Just look at any movie starring Asian Americans as side characters. They nearly always exemplify some aspects of the myth: Asian males are never portrayed as masculine, and females are rarely outgoing or charismatic. Instead, you’ll see Asians depicted as stereotypes: martial artists, nerdy, meek, effeminate, etc. While the reinforcement of the myth in media has become marginally less frequent in recent years, its effects are ever present.
The myth also serves to downplay the racism that Asian Americans face. It suggests that Asian Americans have been welcomed with open-arms in America, which is undoubtedly not the case. From the transcontinental railroad and the Chinese Exclusion Act to the Japanese Internment during WWII to hate crimes that are still present to this day, it’s important to acknowledge and recognize the history of Asian American discrimination in this country.