By: Leia Oh
Often times, when Asians speak up about racial issues we face, we’re silenced. People say it’s “just a joke” or “not a big deal.” Many are ignorant of the history of oppression we’ve dealt with and are unaware of many current occurrences of racial violence, hate crimes, or severe incidents of racism. Asian racial issues are too often brushed under the rug and ignored by the media. There are so many stereotypes and generalizations surrounding Asians, and our struggles are greatly overlooked. We get minimal representation, and a lot of people have preconceived ideas of us as individuals and the kinds of things we go through. One of the biggest factors contributing to this is the concept of model minority.
Model minority is the idea that a certain group of people all fit a specific image. It enforces stereotypes, and is basically a huge generalization. For Asians, the model minority myth is that we all look East Asian, we make straight As, we’re doctors and lawyers. The model minority is responsible for the stereotypes surrounding Asians. Many people believe that it’s not harmful because a lot of these stereotypes are “positive,” but they strip us of our personality. It eliminates our individuality, which is dehumanizing and allows for our ostracization from American society. Much of the ignorance directed towards Asians can be traced back to the model minority myth.
The term model minority first appeared in 1966, although the ideology has been around for generations. It praised Asians, saying we’re hard working and intelligent–but what are the true motives, and true impacts of the model minority myth? The model minority has very often been used as a political tool to manipulate the American public’s view of certain Asian groups. With generalizing concepts such as the model minority myth and yellow peril, it’s made easy for people to turn a blind eye to our racial issues.
In U.S. history class, we learn all about the American Revolution, WWII, the Great Depression, etc. Racial factors are not typically discussed, and in my class issues related to Asians were not brought up more than the exclusion of Chinese immigrants during the Gold Rush. Despite learning a lot about what was going on in Europe during WWII, there was a great deal that was happening in Asia as well that remained undiscussed; all we studied related to Asia were Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Japanese Internment camps weren’t mentioned once. Discriminatory laws against Asians such as the National Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, 1917 Immigration Restriction Act, and National Origins Act of 1924 were not brought up, and neither were the toils Chinese immigrants went through to construct American railroads. It doesn’t even occur to people to learn about Asian Americans’ role in US history, and there is always this underlying idea that we are less “American.” We’re constantly being forced to prove that we are as American as everyone else, and frequently that comes with the demand to distance ourselves from our Asian cultures.
According to the 2017 FBI hate crime statistics report, there were 131 anti-Asian incidents and 152 offenses, as well as 99 anti-Asian sexual offenses (and based on the fact that three in four sexual assault cases go unreported, the real number is probably far greater). This doesn’t even include the many crimes that go unreported, or the ones ruled by a judge as “not technically a hate crime.” This proves that obviously Asians do face racial violence, and things such as bullying or just dealing with random racist remarks can be really tiring and take a toll on Asian Americans’ mental health. According to the U.S Census Bureau (2014), 18.9% of Asian American high schoolers said they’d considered suicide vs. 15.5% of whites. Asian Americans are three times less likely to seek help than other Americans. Racism against Asians is detrimental to our well-being, making it vital for us to analyze the reasons behind this, so we may work to implement change.
The model minority myth has caused intense animosity between Asians and other POC groups. It drives a wedge and promotes competition. Racism is not the Olympic games; we shouldn’t be competing to see who faces more. It’s vital that we don’t get so caught up in arguing among ourselves that we forget the larger goal of ending racism for everyone. If anyone is left behind, it’s a win for white supremacy, and that is how the model minority is a tool used by white supremacists: to pit POC against each other, to blind us from seeing the bigger picture, and distract us from fighting against them.
While the model minority is an American-rooted term, its effects stretch to Asians all over the world. The U.S. is a world superpower, and the actions and beliefs in the U.S. are greatly influential. The dehumanization caused by the model minority results in many issues that spread outside of the U.S., including things like Asian fetishization, or the many non-Asian Americans who go to Asian countries with the mindset that they are saviors, that they are superior, or that they are liberating these countries by forcing American culture upon them. Asian fetishization is also extremely rampant recently. The model minority convinces people that Asians are all the same, making it easy for us to be sexualized as a whole. The effects of the model minority myth have spread from the US, seeping into Asia itself.
Asian Americans are constantly being forced to prove that we are “real Americans.” We have to fight to show that we’re more than these stereotypes, that we are individuals with unique personalities. Society has certain expectations for us, set out by this model minority idea. It’s easy for people to brush aside Asians as a group if we’re all depicted to be the same. To dismiss us all, we are categorized to fit a specific image so we can be ignored as a group. It’s an effective tactic, robbing us of our individuality so we are seen as less unique, less American, less human. It’s time to start seeing through the model minority myth. We need to recognize what is really happening here, and the model minority myth’s true effects.
It’s time America realizes that Asians are more than just what the stereotypes make us out to be. We are all different, the same way any other race has a variety of people with their own talents and personalities. The way the model minority groups us all together, making our race take precedence over our personality, is just disturbing and wrong. We are each our own person. Before you ask us, “Where are you from?” ask us our name.
Leia Oh is a high school student in the US who hopes to pursue a career where she can help others and stand up for causes important to her. Adopted from South Korea, She’s an artist, writer, and activist who’s passionate about speaking up for those who are marginalized.