The model minority myth is an idea that encourages racism and drives a wedge between minority groups, forcing them to focus on being against each other rather than against their oppressors. White supremacists have often used this idea to place minorities into two categories: “The obedient, token minority” and “The threatening disobedient minority.” Those who believe in the model minority myth often place minorities into those categories based on stereotypes. The model minority myth is extremely destructive, and it is a way of thinking that must be put to death if we wish to grow and mature as a society.
Considering the recent hate crimes that have been committed against Asian Americans, many people have been forced to re-evaluate the way they view minorities. I have found that many Americans did not even believe that Asian Americans could experience racially motivated hate crimes. This is false and stems from the model minority myth. No matter how much a minority group is praised, they will never be treated with the utmost respect that they deserve. Asian Americans are often placed in the first category that I mentioned: “The obedient, token minority.” People often compare them to other minorities, claiming that Asian Americans are more obedient and intelligent– Not threatening or disobedient like other groups. Yet, the same people who perpetuate this idea were quick to claim the exact opposite when Asian Americans were fighting back against the racism that they had experienced. This just goes to show that in the mind of a closed-minded racist there is no “Perfect minority;” just a minority who is quiet and compliant. To them, a model minority does not display the very stereotypes that they placed upon marginalized groups.
This false narrative takes experiences from the groups that are seen as the model minorities and weaponizes them to use against groups that are not seen as the model minorities. This does a great amount of harm because the experiences of those model minorities are not truly being understood, they are just misused. This is why many people who believe in the model minority myth were surprised when Asian Americans spoke out. The Asian American community has always voiced their concerns, but instead of listening to them, people ignored those concerns and mistreated more people.
Another reason the model minority myth is harmful is that it further instills the idea that the “threatening, disobedient” minority cannot be anything but threatening and disobedient. This myth also makes it significantly harder for those unfavored minorities to be successful. It makes those people in marginalized groups feel as though they must do the impossible in order to be respected. After completing the impossible, they must rid themselves of everything that makes them unique to be accepted. There is no winning for any minority in the model minority myth, whether in the first or second category.
This way of thinking allows society to blame the culture and values of different groups instead of taking responsibility for the system that allows marginalized groups to continue being marginalized. In the mind of one that believes in the model minority, there is no systematic racism because the success of minorities can be based on what they look like. Certain minority groups will always triumph over others and some of them will never be successful no matter how much they try because they will never be more than the stereotypes that define them.
The model minority myth ignores the fact that within a minority group, different experiences may pertain to different ethnic groups within that minority.
This myth also often strips certain minorities of their minority status, while keeping them at arm’s length. It says, “You are not oppressed enough to be a minority, yet you will never receive the privilege that white people have.” It allows certain minorities to feel as though they are stuck in the middle, not wanting to be as low as the minorities in the second category, but never being able to reach that perfect status. The truth is there is no model minority. There is no minority better than or less than any other. This idea that has been pushed for so long negatively affects all that are involved, even those that seem to be benefiting from this false narrative. This idea disguises a long history of racism as a form of appreciation to keep certain minorities from being able to comfortably speak out on the racism that they experience. It makes things like the “American Dream” seem unreachable to many minorities solely because of their race.
I encourage everyone to do away with the model minority. I encourage minorities to avoid the temptation to be allied with those who only aim to oppress. This idea has never been used to uplift; it has only been weaponized to create unrealistic expectations for those in a system that has never benefited them. Eradicating this myth will make those who believe in it unable to blame racial inequalities on anything but the system that has given room for the inequalities. It will also force them to always see minorities as humans, not just when beneficial or when they can make inaccurate comparisons between groups of people that have different individual experiences. Ridding ourselves of this idea as a society will allow us to focus on the voices of those that have often been silenced. There is no winner in an unjust system.
Featured artwork by Asia R., @rey.illustration on Instagram