Opinion: The model minority myth hurts Asian Americans. Here’s how we can stop it.


You is a founding member of the San Diego API Coalition and Equity Impact Lead for the San Diego County Office of Equity and Racial Justice. He lives in Clairemont.

The long-standing trope of the “yellow peril” of Asians as vectors of disease is among many societal ills that have resurfaced during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Alien and Suspect Until Proven” status still plagues Asians in America, which is most virulent during times of economic anxiety and geopolitical tension, as evidenced by the China Initiative recently terminated by the Department of Justice, which began as a Trump-era spy detection. program that has ensnared innocent researchers of Chinese descent, created hostile work environments for Asian professionals and undermined international collaboration.

As insidious as these strains of anti-Asian racism are, we need to focus on eradicating a variant known as the model minority myth. It seems harmless because it seems rewarding – Asians have overcome obstacles to achieve a level of socio-economic success through ingenuity and diligence, proof for the white-dominated society that allegations of racism by people of color are exaggerated. The myth of the model minority is particularly harmful because it penetrates within Asian communities. This damages the health of a multiracial democracy already in distress. The model minority myth also prevents the Asian American Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) coalition from remaining united and supportive with other minority groups in the United States.

The various fronts of our nation’s culture wars are increasingly being fought in the most local civic arenas: school boards, weaponizing parental anxieties and disrupting progress in the essential enterprise at hand, which is to build systems and cultures that help our children thrive.

A local example of how the myth of the model minority is deployed to create gaps between communities vulnerable to structural racism is the growing controversy at the San Dieguito Union High School District. It circles an answer to a question uploaded by a board member: Why do Asian students do so well? A discussion of this issue at a meeting on diversity, equity and inclusion resulted in the suspension of Superintendent Cheryl James-Ward and continued unrest in the district.

The superintendent interpreted data on student achievement by race in her district by linking the success of Asian students to the financial circumstances and resources of recently arrived Chinese families, in contrast to the economic hardships of many Latinx families. Many Asian families were understandably troubled by her apparent rejection of hard-working students, for which she apologized.

Without getting into the escalating political and legal battles in this district, it is important to say that the model minority myth also operates in the insistence of a subset of Chinese families to explain Asian academic achievement solely by individual effort and family support.

In a culture dominated by individualism, we don’t like to admit that demographics and geography are too often correlated with educational outcomes, but an honest historical and structural analysis of unequal outcomes is the basis for more equitable solutions – there where Asians should expend their civic energy.

Explaining Asian success with just individual common sense invalidates the struggles of other minority groups, namely Blacks, Indigenous peoples and Latinx who are all equally proud of their hard work, strong family values ​​and cultural resilience. It also irons out the complex histories of the homeland, the impact of American imperialism, and the unequal immigration statuses between various Asian and Pacific Islander ethnic groups. Moreover, channeling the anger of a portion of Chinese families around culturally insensitive statements by a leader obscures the racism rooted in our economic, immigration and housing systems, and absolves the responsibility of our democratic system to provide equitable and quality public education opportunities for every child. regardless of racial categorization.

An education system increasingly marked by high-stakes testing, cutthroat college admissions, and the urgency to prepare for a tech-driven economy is exacerbating unequal outcomes. Asian Americans outraged by prejudice should unite with others who have been disproportionately affected by decades, if not centuries, of racialized immigration policies, housing segregation, unequal schooling and law enforcement that simultaneously fail to stem white nationalist violence and excessively penalize Black, Indigenous, and people from communities of color. Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes an equitable and anti-racist ecosystem to ensure that America’s elementary, primary and higher education institutions are engines of social mobility and spaces to cultivate civility, citizenship and resilience that will develop. bricks of a fairer and more sustainable world.

Asians have been discriminated against time and time again. Yet some of us also benefited from structural progress, especially after the civil rights movement in the 1960s. We must resist diversionary narratives such as the model minority myth and focus on empowerment. and solidarity that foster greater belonging for groups that have been most affected by systemic exclusion and underinvestment. Instead of settling for flattering answers to “why are Asians successful?” Let’s do our best to answer this question: How can we ensure that all communities are welcoming and that all who inhabit America thrive?


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