“All Asians are good at math,” “Asians are good students,” “Asian people are smarter,” “Asians make lots of money.” These are harmful stereotypes about Asian Americans that are not uncommon; however, one might say they are “good” stereotypes and therefore it is okay to use them. Using stereotypes that are typically seen as positive is called “model minority” and this phenomenon is commonly used to define the Asian American community in a disproportionate way.
This is a controversial topic because, as opposed to most racial stereotypes, the generalizations of model minority are positive. It may be assumned that because they are not negative stereotypes there is no harm in perpetuating them. This is not true. The issue appears when we look into the history of the term.
Up until the emergence of the Soviet Union and widespread communism, Asians in America were looked down upon. Chinese immigrants were banned from entering the country and Japanese Americans were put in internment camps during WW2. In 1965, all of that switched and the American government started allowing Asian immigration, but only for wealthy and educated families. Propaganda was released, praising Asian Americans for rising up and overcoming adversity. This tactic was a direct response to the African American Civil Rights movement at the time, raising the question: if Asians were overcoming racial issues, why weren’t black folk? You can read more about that here. The model minority stereotype puts a wedge between Asian Americans and other racial minorities.
Additionally, to say that all Asians are a certain way disregards the diversity within Asia. In the 2010 US Census, over 25 different racial and national Asian identities were reported including Chinese, Japanese, Korean, but also Filipino, Hmong, Thai, Vietnamese, Asian Indian, and many others. Any stereotype within model minority cannot apply to the incredible diversity in the Asian American population. Just because some Asian Americans were given the leg up from the government does not mean that it applies to all the diverse racial groups that fall under the category of “Asian”. Lastly, Asian American individuals who don’t fall under these “positive” stereotypes may find themselves feeling alienated, ostracized, or less than because they don’t fall under this “model minority” status. Asian students who are struggling in school are less likely to receive academic support and Asian American families who are refugees or are poor are less likely to receive financial support from the government.
Most importantly, we must remember that any stereotype, negative or positive, cannot fully describe the person they are assigned to. People are far more complicated than any stereotype and we must to engage with people, not stereotypes.
The only way to understand the dynamic of this model minority “myth” is to approach conversations with an open mind. All stereotypes cause generalizations to describe single people, which is never respectable nor an accurate representation of any one individual, even if the stereotype may be perceived as “good.” As a community, open-minded conversations are ways for all voices to be accurately heard.
UNC’s Asian/Pacific American Student Services Center is a great resource for students to become connected with to find support and become more informed on matters such as the model minority. It is also a safe space for students to have these conversations