Wikipedia defines the Model Minority Myth (MMM):
“refers to a minority group (whether ethnic, racial, or religious) in certain countries whose members are most often perceived to achieve a higher degree of success than the population average. This success is typically measured in income, education, and related factors such as low crime rate and high family stability.”
This term was first coined in 1966 in the The New York Times magazine by sociologist William Peterson to describe the success of Asian Americans (specifically Japanese, but now includes Chinese, Taiwanese, and South Koreans) despite marginalization and segregation. He (Peterson) attributed their success to “strong work ethics and family values.” The credence to this myth was then used to maintain the oppression, exploitation, and powerlessness of African Americans, specifically in response to the Civil Rights Movement. White supremacy, being challenged, used Asian Americans to argue that Black people could raise up their communities by focusing on education, accept and conform to racial segregation and institutional racism and discrimination. Apparently, the sociologist failed to highlight unbalance funding received by schools attended by African Americans versus those of Whites, or the obstructionist behavior of racist (yes, RACIST) politicians or organizations who obviously did whatever to prevent others from achieving success. Further, recent research shows South Asians and Pacific Islanders (Hmong, Cambodians, Vietnamese, Samoans, Native Hawaiian and Tongans) are actually disproportionately disadvantaged compared to their East Asian counterparts.
It’s a brilliant inhumane idea of victim-blaming, pitting communities of color against each other by implying that non-model groups such as African Americans (and I may also add Latino Americans) could overcome the stereotypes, overt racism, and oppression to rise over all that and progress without threatening those in powers (Whites). It is almost as if the Asian communities served as an experiment to gauge the extent of racism and oppression while still allowing for some to succeed. While many in the Asian American communities according to the Census Bureau have the highest education levels of any racial category in the United States, this does not mean that stereotypes and racism is not experienced by this community, nor should it mean that the same civil rights protection should not be applied to the Asian community.
The model minority myth is still alive today, actually. We know this because our media highlights this, in 1987 Time Magazine covered a story titled Asian American Whiz Kids, clearly labeling Asian Americans as geniuses, giving rise to racial stereotypes. Anti-Japanese propaganda from World War II often depicted a Japanese soldier threatening a White woman. Then there is the Yellow Peril, a nickname for Chinese immigrant slave laborers in the late 19th century. The term is racists and refers to the perception that the mass immigration of Asians would threaten the standard of living and wages of Whites — where we have heard this before?
In conclusion, a stereotype is not a compliment. Now, it is true that some Asian Americans have achieved great academic and financial growth in our nation, but that did not come easy nor without barriers, it is also not to say that Asian Americans have it easier after achieving success.
By Jose Diaz