No, Model Minority Is Not A “Positive Stereotype”
When we hear “Asian Americans,” most people probably are thinking the same thing: Asians are smart, most likely to get into outstanding universities, professionals, doctors, nurses, mathematicians, scientists, lawyers. Asians excel in whatever it is they do, they don’t get discriminated against as much as Hispanics or Latinos or African Americans. Asians are known for having above average status in the society.
But this does not necessarily mean that this perception on Asians is good. No, this is not “positive stereotyping” on Asians. This is called model minority.
Model minority, in general definition, is any minority group who has achieved a higher degree of success compared to the rest of the population. This may sound good as we use it to refer to Asian Americans, but no. Model minority is just another generalization on Asian Americans.
To begin with, model minority has a long history that traces back to the ideology of “Yellow Peril,” when Chinese immigrants first moved to the United States and Americans saw them as rapists and job thieves, causing the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1884. As Asian American immigration increased, the discrimination increased as well, and it did not only affect the Chinese immigrants, but also other ethnic backgrounds. There was the incarceration of the Japanese Americans during World War II.
How did this happen?
In 1966, Sociologist William Petersen wrote a story for the New York Times called “Success Story: Japanese American Style,” in which he coined the term model minority. He described Japanese Americans as an ethnic group who achieved stability 20 years after the extreme discrimination toward Japanese Americans.
Soon after New York Times published Petersen’s story, other news organizations published similar stories, but pertaining to different ethnicities.
Why Asian Americans?
51 percent of Asians who are 25 years old and older have at least a bachelor’s degree, according to Pew Research Center. This is in comparison with the 30 percent of the rest of the population who are also the same age. Additionally, Pew also reported that 84 percent of Asian American children are living in a two-parent household.
All these things might seem like a good perception to put on Asian Americans. However, it is not. A big percentage out of the 1.45 million undocumented Asians are qualified for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, but are not getting it. This is still because of the model minority that the society is putting on Asian Americans.
Because society views Asian Americans as successful and stable, undocumented Asians don’t want to come forward to gain access to resources that is available for them, such as DACA.
Asian Americans, most especially the youth, also suffer through mental illness, whether it is depression or anxiety or other mental health issues, at one point in their lives. American Psychological Association reported, “the suicide rate for Asian-Americans is about half (6.10 per 10,000) that of the national rate (11.5 per 10,000).” APA also reports that Asian American college students have higher suicidal thoughts compared to white college students.
Lastly, a big percentage of Asian Americans work in the professional field or what we call “white collar jobs,” making Asians one of the races with a low unemployment rate, according to the Department of Labor in 2010. However, Asians are most commonly known as the workers and rarely the leaders. This phenomenon is the bamboo ceiling effect. Bamboo ceiling is an implicit bias that Asian Americans are great thinkers and doers, but do not have what it takes to be executives and leaders.
No matter how we look at it, model minority is a myth. There is no such thing as “Asian Privilege” in America and most importantly, there are no “positive stereotypes.”