Busting the Model Minority Myth of Asian Americans
Reviewed by Angelique Geehan
Over the years, many Americans have succumbed to the model minority myth, which describes a group of people as an "ideal" racial or ethnic minority. Asian Americans in particular must battle this enduring stereotype, with many assuming that all Asian Americans work hard, do well in school, and go on to have successful careers.
But these stereotypes — while ostensibly positive-sounding — ultimately do more harm than good. Because of the model minority myth, Asian Americans often receive less aid and support throughout their lives, particularly in their academic and professional endeavors.
This myth also overlooks the fact that Asian Americans are a diverse group of people, with unique cultures, backgrounds, and aspirations.
Busting the model minority stereotype is necessary for ensuring diversity and racial equity in higher education. In this article, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) specialist Farzana Nayani speaks on the persistence of this racist myth and the steps society must take to dismantle it.
Interview With DEI Specialist Farzana Nayani
Farzana Nayani is a recognized diversity, equity, and inclusion specialist; coach; and international keynote speaker. She has worked with Fortune 500 corporations, public agencies, higher education institutions, school districts, and nonprofit organizations as a consultant and trainer for over 20 years. Her subject matter expertise includes DEI strategy, intercultural communication, inclusive leadership, and employee engagement. Nayani is the author of "Raising Multiracial Children: Tools for Nurturing Identity in a Racialized World."
What is the model minority myth as it relates to Asian Americans?
The model minority myth is a concept that originated historically as a way of labeling Asian Americans as a model community of immigrants who have succeeded at the American dream.
Why did this myth come about and why has it endured?
The myth developed as a result of both structured immigration policies allowing certain people from Asia to arrive in the U.S. and a series of news pieces that highlighted the rising talent of Asian Americans. These "success stories" underrepresented the true spectrum of experiences that can be found within the Asian American community, or any community in general.
Does the model minority myth ignore the unique challenges of Asian American students?
The model minority myth overlooks the breadth of diversity within the Asian American community (e.g., Southeast Asian vs. South Asian vs. East Asian ethnic groups, or differences in socioeconomic status) and ignores groups that may struggle with economic, professional, or academic success due to systemic factors.
Ultimately, the myth diminishes attention to aid and access that are needed by underserved Asian American students.
How does the model minority myth simplify and distort the experiences of Asian Americans?
Painting Asian Americans as a monolith is problematic because it dispels any empathy for or attention to individuals or groups within the community that are in need of support or care. Asian Americans may also benefit from privileges afforded by this false narrative of being better than other minorities, thereby creating tension and conflict with other communities of color who do not receive those same benefits.
Does the model minority myth perpetuate racism against Asian Americans?
The model minority myth creates a wedge between Asian Americans and other people of color within the U.S. since Asian Americans are perceived as privileged, affluent, and not in need of aid or support — which isn't always the case.
The myth also perpetuates racism. Asian Americans are viewed as perpetual foreigners who came to the U.S. to live out the American dream, keeping them from ever becoming "true" Americans. It also prevents allyship with other communities of color who do not have the same privileges Asian Americans are perceived to possess due to this myth.
How can American society work to dismantle the model minority myth?
American society must recognize and understand the diversity of experiences among Asian Americans by highlighting and uplifting a breadth of stories in the media and everyday life. We need to include those who are not seen as belonging to this model minority.
Individuals can also act as allies to interrupt incidents they witness of racism, bias, or bullying against Asian Americans. For example, you could challenge or interrupt a racist joke said in passing, or report social media posts or memes that ridicule Asian Americans.
What kind of university policies or support systems would help promote equity and inclusion for Asian Americans?
Universities should push for disaggregated data among the Asian group so that there can be a clearer understanding of the actual socioeconomic differences among ethnic groups.
For example, the experiences of someone from South Korea or Japan can differ greatly from those of a person from Cambodia, Laos, or Bhutan. Learning about these differences can help mitigate policies that bypass aid for all Asian Americans who are perceived to not need that support.
Learning about [cultural and geographic] differences can help mitigate policies that bypass aid for all Asian Americans.
There should also be a clear hate-bias protocol that is implemented on campus so that if any incidents of anti-Asian racism occur, individuals will know how and where to report these acts.
Finally, internal and external campaigns to bring about education and awareness to the issue of the model minority myth is imperative in order to combat bias and promote equity and inclusion for Asian Amerians.
Angelique Geehan works to support and repair the connections people have to themselves and their families, communities, and cultural practices. A queer, Asian, gender-binary, nonconforming parent, Geehan founded Interchange, a consulting group that offers anti-oppression support. She organizes as part of several groups, including National Perinatal Association's Health Equity Workgroup, the Health and Healing Justice Committee of the National Queer and Trans Asian and Pacific Islander Alliance, QTPOC+ Family Circle, and Batalá Houston.
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