Model Minority Myth & Anti-Asian Racism
You may have heard the term “Model Minority Myth” (MMM) being tossed around, amidst the rise in anti-Asian racism since COVID-19.
And because MMM has such a huge impact on Asian mental health, I want to spend some time to explain and discuss it here.
1. What is the Model Minority Myth (MMM) anyway?
Very simply put, MMM is the idea that Asians are successful.
The idea came about during the 1960’s, during the American Civil Rights Movement, when black activists and allies fought for racial equality.
During this moment, white supremacists decided to cherry-pick a group of “successful Asians” and labelled them as “model minorities.” This group is university-educated, upwardly mobile, and able to assimilate into American society.
The rationale of MMM was that…if the racialized group of “the Asians” can succeed, then it proves that racism doesn't exist. So therefore, the inequality experienced by the black community is their own fault (and not because of racism).
The whole idea of creating this “model minority” was to hide the existence of racism. Of course, none of this is true. Racism exists, and experienced by both Asian and black communities.
2. Are Asians really model minorities?
Some are. And some aren’t.
The category of “Asian” is so diverse. We have different cultures, countries, ethnicities, languages, and religions. We each have a different immigration story, different family upbringing, and different access to resources.
There are billions of Asians…can we really say that ALL Asians are successful model minorities? Of course not. It’s just a stereotype that white supremacy has made up, to keep BIPOC down.
In fact, there aren’t a single characteristic that unifies Asians. I mean, we don’t even get along with each other. Our countries have a long history of warring with each other.
For a deeper explanation of Asian diversity, you can read more here.
3. If I’m a model minority, do I experience racism?
Yes, yes you do. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Part of the idea of MMM is to gaslight you, by telling you that you don’t experience racism. But you know that you do. I know that you do. In fact, the entire idea of model minority is rooted in racism.
It can be very isolating, adhering to the model minority life. You’re trying to live the “white LI(f)E,” pretending that your racial identity doesn’t exist. You try to make it invisible. You try to conform and assimilate. And that means you aren’t allowed to talk about your experience of racism. So you end up enduring it alone.
4. But…somehow, I feel like my parents and culture made me into a model minority...
It’s complicated, because there are multiple layers of the same messaging.
MMM tells Asians that we have to work hard, achieve, and be successful. Because that's our role within white supremacy.
But as immigrants, it also has a very similar message. The whole point of our parents leaving their home country was for a chance at a better life. They had to work extremely hard to adjust to a new home and new culture. And they imparted that "work hard" immigrant mentality onto us.
Same thing with our culture. For some of us, the cultural message is "work hard" and "succeed."
However, these things aren’t unique to Asian immigrants and Asian cultures. But these things are emphasized as “Asian traits” because it is part of the MMM stereotype of all Asians.
And I do want to emphasize that NOT ALL ASIANS receive the same messaging from their culture and parents. There are lots of diversity even within our culture.
So are you a model minority? Well, the next section might help you understand it better.
5. If I want to be happy, do I have to stop being a model minority?
So how do we know if someone is a model minority to begin with?
On the surface, I would seem like a model minority. I have postsecondary education, I own my own business, and I have access to resources. But to anyone who knows me, I am CONSTANTLY talking about racism and anti-Asian racism. Am I a model minority? I’d say that I’m not…at least not in the way that white supremacy wants me to be.
You know that philosophical quote about that falling tree?
“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”
I think we can alter it a bit to apply it to our status as a “model minority.”
“If a model minority is committed to anti-racism, are they still a model minority?"
I would say...no, no they're not.
It is important to understand the concept of MMM within the larger white supremacy landscape. It'll help us understand that our experiences are a complex mix of structural oppression and personal agency.
And through understanding this, we can learn to unleash the full power of our personal agency. This can help us improve our mental health, while upholding our anti-racist values to create the change we want to see in this world.
Remember...just because you're "successful," doesn't mean you're a model minority.
And your success doesn’t have to come at the expense of your happiness or your values.