Images & Realities: On the Origins of the Model Minority Myth
A Brief History of the 'Model Minority'
Racist Stereotyped Image of Asian-Americans
(--- this article was written by by Andrew Chin)
The term "model minority" was first used in print
by sociologist William Peterson in an article titled
"Success Story: Japanese American Style" published
in the `New York Times Magazine' in January 1966.
Peterson concluded that Japanese culture with its
family values and strong work ethic enabled the
Japanese Americans to overcome prejudice
and to avoid becoming a "problem minority".
A second article similarly describing
Chinese Americans appeared in U.S. News
and World Report on December 26, 1966.
The myth of Asians as a "model minority",
based on the success image of a few elite individuals,
has a very negative and debilitating effect on
the general population of Asian Americans.
Several mental health concerns and psychological
afflictions, such as threats to cultural identity,
powerlessness, feelings of marginality, loneliness,
hostility and perceived alienation and discrimination
remain un-redressed and hidden under
the veneer of the "model minority myth".
Both social and psychological forces to conform to
the "model minority" stereotype place an inordinate
amount of pressure on Asian Americans ...
The "model minority" thesis gained currency
throughout the decade as an argument
to discredit the civil rights movement.
By attributing Asian American successes
to Asian "culture and values", the stereotype
allowed commentators to downplay the significance
of racial discrimination as an explanation for
the underprivileged status of other minorities.
Of course, Asian Americans continued
to face racial discrimination,
even as those who beat the odds were
`deployed' as arguments against reform.
THE YELLOW PERIL
By the 1970s, the "model minority" thesis had rooted itself
so firmly into mainstream perceptions of the Asian American
community that it had become a racial `stereotype'.
The thesis not only `served to silence' Asian American
claims for redress from continuing racial discrimination,
but often exaggerated and recast Asian American
success stories as foreign threats.
A `stereotype' is the imposition of an oversimplified
and unfair depiction of a particular group
(usually defined by ethnicity, race, class, or gender)
resulting in the systematic disadvantage of members of
that group and/or members of an implicit comparison class.
After America 's defeat in the Vietnam War,
many Americans refused to welcome our
wartime allies and innocent civilians as
refugees from Southeast Asia , and instead focused
on fears that they were taking over American jobs.
As the Japanese auto industry's nimble response to
the energy crisis cut into Detroit's market share,
anti-Asian sentiment erupted into racial hatred
and even violence against Asian Americans.
A 1971 `Newsweek' article on Asian Americans as
a "model minority" had a sidebar expressing
white resentment of Asian American
"out-whiting the whites" and accusing whites
of becoming soft in the face of
economic competition with Asia .
THE REPUBLICAN REVOLUTION
The "model minority" thesis trivializes
the idea that racial discrimination can
deprive minorities, including Asian Americans,
of fair opportunities in America , and overstates
the opportunities that have actually been available
to minorities, including Asian Americans.
The rhetorical power of this widely accepted stereotype
was not lost on the Reagan administration, which had
grown uncomfortable with the societal progress minorities
had made under affirmative action and sought to eliminate
legal and governmental remedies for diffuse but
systematic racial discrimination in the private sector.
The `median household income' statistic is misleading
because it may be interpreted as suggesting that
Asian Americans do not face economic discrimination.
The truth is that several factors more than account
for the difference in median household income:
Most Asian immigrants entered the United States under
restrictive laws skewed toward highly skilled workers.
Asian American employees have lower status and less income
than comparably educated Americans of every other race.
59 percent of Asian Americans live in California , Hawaii
and New York , all states with far higher per capita
income and costs of living than the national average.
The 1980 Census `undercounted' Asian Americans,
predominantly those living in poor communities.
Spouses and children work in Asian American
households in far greater numbers, and for
longer hours, than in white families.
The distribution of Asian American
household income is bi-modal.
The percentage of Asian American families living below
the poverty level far exceeds the national average.
Despite this, social services often exclude Asian
Americans because of the stereotype of success.
Aided by the mainstream press, President Reagan
evaded scrutiny of his administration's race policies
by repeatedly citing misleading statistics
on Asian American household income.
Throughout the 1984 presidential campaign, including
a February 23 White House meeting with Asian American
leaders, Reagan repeatedly pointed out that the 1980
median household income for Asian Americans ($42,250)
was higher than the national average ($36,920).
Meanwhile, articles in
("Asian Americans: 'A Model Minority,'" 1982;
"The Drive to Excel," April 1984),
--`The New Republic'
("America's Greatest Success Story:
The Triumph of Asian Americans," July 1985),
("America's Super Minority," November 1986),
("The New Whiz Kids," August 1987), and
("Why They Excel," 1990)
prominently publicized the `academic
successes' of Asian American youth.
A SCIENTIFIC FACT?
Even during the Reagan years, the "model minority" thesis was
advanced mainly as a sociological description of Asian Americans.
By the 1990s, however, the thesis had become so widely accepted
that researchers began treating Asian American "success "
as a `factual empirical phenomenon' in search
of an underlying scientific explanation.
In 1994, Charles Murray and Richard J. Herrnstein published
`The Bell Curve', which argued that Asian Americans
and Jews are "genetically superior" to `African Americans'.
Opponents of affirmative action cited the book as proof
that most cases of alleged racial discrimination against
`African Americans' are actually the result of applying
neutral standards to "an inherently inferior population".
Asians tend to be located in the labor market's secondary sector,
where wages are low and promotional prospects minimal.
Asian men are clustered as janitors, machinists, postal clerks,
technicians, waiters, cooks, gardeners, and computer programmers;
they can also be found in the primary sector, but
here they are found mostly in the lower-tier levels
as architects, engineers, computer-systems
analysts, pharmacists, and schoolteachers,
rather than in upper-tier levels of
management and decision making.
While they are increasing in numbers on
university campuses as students, they are
virtually nonexistent as administrators.
Asian Americans are even more scarce in the upper strata
of the corporate hierarchy: they constituted less than half
of one percent of the 29,000 officers and directors of
the nation's thousand largest companies...
BUSH'S SOFT BIGOTRY
During the 2000 presidential campaign,
George W. Bush consistently responded to
questions on race with a well-rehearsed riff
on "the soft bigotry of low expectations".
Whether it was the 1998 dragging death of
James Byrd Jr. in Jasper, Texas , or continuing
poverty and hopelessness in the inner cities,
Bush's solution was simple and universal:
set higher, "colorblind standards" for everyone,
... and 'equal opportunity' ... will follow.
("Colorblind" standards comfort whites who want
their race to be seen by American society
as transparent and insignificant,
neglecting the fact that people
of color do not have that option.)
To minorities, Bush's message was clear.
--"Your experiences of racial discrimination aren't real.
They're just the product of your own low expectations.
They're all in your head. Get over them."--
With the appointment of Elaine Chao
to be his Secretary of Labor,
Bush has acknowledged the centrality of the
"model minority myth" to his `racial agenda'.
As the most conservative administration in
nearly a century embarks on its mission to
dismantle affirmative action in the workplace,
Bush has ensured that the durable deception of the
"model minority" stereotype will play a starring role.
OBJECTIFICATION OF ASIAN-AMERICANS:
---- AN HISTORICAL CONSISTENCY
(-- Ny Malcolm Yeung
`THE RAGING BUDDHA', 1994
For people-of-color, the United States has never been a
place in which true assimilation and equality is possible.
What is meant by `assimilation' is the incorporation of a
people into the fabric of a society to a point where they
have become synonymous with the `dominant population'.
This sort of assimilation has never happened
for any group-of-color in this nation.
One just has to look to the plight of `African Americans'
in this nation to realize the truth of these words.
However, towards Asians in this
country,a belief exists that they
have "made it" in this society:
they have equaled if not surpassed
the standards set by `white' America .
Asians are, in the minds of many, "model minorities".
Any close examination of data pertaining
to Asian Americans, though, will reveal that
this "model minority" conception is unfounded.
Why is it then that the "model minority myth"
is so prevalent in the minds of many Americans,
to a degree which harbors resentment
from sectors of white America ?
The answer is multifaceted and can
be viewed from many perspectives
Yet if one examines this issue in a historical perspective,
a pattern is established in which Asians are continually
"being objectified" into some "tool" for `white' America .
This "objectification" can be linked to a
pattern of "alienation" as well, such that
Asians are continually being isolated from
every other segment of American society
(a perpetual foreigner if you will).
Thus, the "model minority myth" is a
modern continuation of the standard `role' that
the Asian has been `forced' into by this society.
The "model minority myth" must be exposed as a modern
`tool' used as an excuse to ignore Asian problems,
an example of the validity of the American Dream,
a club to quiet the cries of ethnically disempowered groups,
and a means of perpetuating an alienation which
can be seen as a method of disempowerment.
The idea of the Asian as a "model minority" is
as pervasive as any stereotype has ever been.
The vast majority of society subscribes
to the "model minority myth", and this
fact is reflected in the plethora of articles
involving Asians and their supposed "success".
`Newsweek' and `Time' alone, arguably the most
highly circulated periodicals, have run several
articles in the last decade concentrating on
"the supposed `universal' success" of the
Asian minority in American society.
The stories usually headline with such titles as
"Asian Americans: a Model 'Minority'" (`Newsweek'),
"The New Whiz Kids" (`Time'),
"A 'Superminority' Tops Out" (`Time'),
and "A Formula for Success" (`Newswee'k).
These articles portray Asians as `an underprivileged
class' of Americans who have "finally made it"
and fulfilled the legendary "American dream".
Once isolated in ethnic ghettos by discriminatory laws,
Asians today find few ... barriers".
Moreover, Asian Americans are portrayed as
"proof positive" that `any' group can and will
achieve "success" as long as they subscribe
to a certain set of "model" characteristics.
In other words, Asians are set out as an example
of what `other minorities' should follow by literally
proclaiming that the road to minority success
follows the trail "blazed" by Asian Americans.
In order to prove these claims, publications always present
statistics which can disguise the reality of the situation.
For instance, the December 6, 1982
`Newsweek' article "Asian Americans: The Model Minority"
puts forth a statistic that the average family income of
Asian exceeds that of the population by $22,075 to $20,840.
However, this statistic fails to show the number of Asians in
urban areas and the number of women working in Asian families.
Both factors certainly add to the inflated family income statistic.
Furthermore, the 1980 Census
(the basis for the `Newsweek' statistics)
included an estimated 15% undercount for Asian Americans
which inflated further the Asian family income as the 15% missed
were probably the poor English illiterate in Chinatown slums.
In addition to economic statistics,
certain characteristics are always singled out,
and these characteristics invariably involve
i.e. , the perfect nerd.
In fact, if an examination of the characteristics
of the "model minority" is made, one will realize
that "the traits" pointed out `are just as dangerous'
as "the results" of these traits --
Asian Americans' supposed "success".
CONSTRUCTING THE "MODEL"
What exactly then are these "model traits" which `all'
Asians seem to have, and what is it exactly that
defines the "model minority" in particular?
Well, the first answer to that question
is that no exact answer exists;
rather certain `general notions' exist
as to what a "model minority" is.
The "model minority" is `always' a-hard-worker.
In fact, they seemingly do nothing but work".
For the most part, [they] end up ... working
too hard to bother about their image".
The "model minority" also values and excels at education;
"[Their] most sacrosanct value is education".
Furthermore, the "model minority" is sometimes
portrayed as `genetically superior' which is
another reason for educational "success";
for instance, even `Science', a well respected magazine,
ran an article on one aspect of the "model minority myth"
("Chinese Lack Delinquency").
Furthermore, several noteworthy scientists including Arthur Jensen,
a Berkeley psychologist; J. Phillippe Ruston, a psychologist at
University of Western Ontario in Canada; and William Shockley,
the inventor of the transistor have made statements to
the effect that Asians are `genetically superior'.
----The "model minority" also `never complains'--he/she will
just `work harder' which will pay its own dividends in the end.
By `not complaining', they also `simplify' their
lives and thus "succeed" even more.
Also, rather than complain to others,
"model minorities" will rely on each other
and through this reliance find strength and succeed".
Language difficulties, limited job opportunities
and fear of assimilation ...keep them together ...
without access to health and social services ...
The inevitable result: a new Amerasia ..".
The "model minority" is also reported as having a "strong family
structure" in which both parents are stern but wise and caring.
The family will keep him/her out of trouble and thus
develop a sense of responsibility in the "model minority".
---Furthermore, all "model minorities" are
portrayed as `economically successful.'
Such personalities as Connie Chung are
constantly used as "proof" for this `ideal'.
And finally, model minorities `do not
like fun' or `do not have time for it.'
As a result of these media-established characteristics,
"model minorities" have supposedly "succeeded" by
now having a `higher' educational success rate and
economic success rate `than their Caucasian brethren'.
Asians are far more influential than their numbers,
scorning the label of "model minority" even as they put
the bulk of their efforts into `working hard' to "prosper".
Essentially, it seems as if Asian Americans have thus "eliminated
all their problems" since they have "outwhit[ed] the whites".
So far, the `image' put forth by the
"model minority" is "seemingly positive".
So what are the dangers involved in this
"model minority" image, especially since
these characteristics are so 'amazingly admirable'?
The danger lies in the fact that these images
are distinctly untrue and can thus be used
in a manner which cannot be checked.
The Asian American community has NOT achieved
all that has been claimed, and this fact needs to be
recognized so that improvements can be made.
By living under an image which claims "perfection",
Asian American problems are often glossed over and
ignored because no one knows that they truly exist
not only on a societal level, but on a federal level as well,
as Asians lose out on minority improvement programs.
Other problems such as economic and political equality
are never addressed either, and problems
with Asian youth are proliferating as well.
Another problem arises from the societal resentment brought
upon Asians which only succeeds in the alienation of many
different Asian ethnic groups in the United States .
The most pressing problem though is the fact that Asians
themselves are beginning to believe the "model minority myth"
which results in their incapacitation as effective community leaders.
The "model minority myth" allows the government to overlook
Asian problems for many may not even realize that any exist.
Arthur Fletcher, the chair for the 1990 Civil Rights Commission
on Asian Pacific Islanders, wrote in a letter to President Bush,
"Asian Americans suffer widely the pain and
humiliation of bigotry and acts of violence....
They also confront institutional discrimination in numerous domains,
such as places of work and schools, in accessing public services,
and in the administration of justice".
Furthermore, the report itself states that
"this stereotype leads federal, state, and local agencies to
overlook the problems facing Asian Americans, and it often causes
resentment of Asian Americans within the general public".
For instance, from 1972-1977, only 2 million dollars (0.8%) of
213 million was given to Asian American groups from OMBE,
a federal group intended to implement
improvement programs for minorities.
And, in 1980, Asian Americans became `ineligible for
minority classification' when applying for loans under the
Small Business Association (a federal organization).
Bilingual educational funds and voting material for Asians have
never been enacted; university admission policies have changed
with regard to Asians; expectations for immigrants based upon
"model minority myth's" adversely affect them; and Asians
are `expected' to fulfill the "model minority" characteristics
to the point of being labeled "the quiet people" by George Bush.
The ECONOMIC SUCCESS of Asians which so many
"model minority" articles have recently PROCLAIMED
and praised IS UNFOUNDED as Asians do not maintain
equality in the majority of economic markers.
Of course, the mean family income of Asians
was measured as higher in the 1980 census,
and reasons have been given for the deceptiveness
of that statistic, but beyond those reasons, one must
realize that the information was from the 1980 census.
THE 1980 CENSUS WAS TAKEN FOLLOWING AN
UNPRECEDENTED INFLUX OF PROFESSIONALS
AND HIGHLY EDUCATED IMMIGRANTS.
This professional-based population has been diluted
in the 1980's by the influx of Asian political
refugees, especially from Southeast Asia .
These Asian refugees are usually unskilled labor
who are IMMEDIATELY EXPLOITED when they enter
the country due to such things as language barriers.
The economic statistics then especially hurt this group as
they are then `seen as pariahs among Asians' and are then
considered lazy as `the other Asians' apparently "have made it".
Furthermore, the apparent economic success
hides a very disturbing and sent phenomena
the existence of a "glass ceiling," a barrier in
occupational status which Asians have yet to break.
That is, representation of Asians in upper level
management and management in general is below
their actual representation in society;
for instance, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
reported that of the 38,000 companies which submitted a report
in 1991, 5% of all professionals were Asians which is well
above the 2.9% representation of Asians in the population.
But, only 2% of officials and management were Asian.
Furthermore, the figure becomes even more significant when one
considers that management and officials come from the ranks of
the well educated of which professionals definitely are.
Thus, that Asians have a higher pool of well educated
than the rest of society yet at the same time are being passed
over for roles as managers and officials is very surprising indeed.
The reasons for this glass ceiling are many but some people,
such as Stanley Karnow, a Pulitzer prize winning reporter and
author of `Rehashing the Same Old Stereotypes', believes
that the glass ceiling is a result of Asian `docility and passivity'
or rather `a lack of aggressiveness' which are some
of the `images' projected by the "model minority myth".
Karnow has blamed the victim rather than looking to the perpetrators,
for he is too blinded by the "model minority myth" to realize that
`Asian passivity' may be "just an image without any foundation".
He does not even think to accost officials
for "believing in false myths" or at least for
"not trying to prove the veracity of such beliefs".
Joy Cherian, EEOC commissioner in 1991, instead recommends
that board directors sensitive to issues of women and minorities
be appointed as a method of destroying the glass ceiling barriers.
The glass ceiling barriers can also be
seen with respect to political positions.
For instance, according to the Filipino Reporter,
only ten of the 400,000 Asian Americans in New York City
held positions in Mayor Barry Dinkins's administration.
Obviously, economic inequalities which are not widely known
allow society to feel `justified' when passing over Asians
in an economic sense resulting in disparities
which are rarely recognized or addressed.
Other problems which have not only been created but perpetuated
by the "model minority myth" are those of Asian youth.
According to the "model minority myth", Asian youth are supposedly
"very family oriented, quiet, disciplined, and extremely intelligent".
Of course, "the picture painted" is that "of a perfect little drone"
----- one with a low level uniqueness and creativity.
As a result, many Asian American youths are rejected by peer groups
based upon an image which is quite untrue and are also
held to different standards by teachers and society in general.
Furthermore, because of the Asian belief in the value of
education dating bask to Confucian times, parents also
place a huge amount of pressure on children to succeed.
The result can be seen in the proliferation of Asian youth gangs,
for one, and an increase in crimes by Asian youth.
In a 1992 forum on Asian affirmative action in San Francisco ,
five youths from a local high school (Wallenberg High) reported on
incidents which were happening within Asian youth communities.
Of course, gangs were a very significant nuisance and two girls
even rated them as the biggest problem facing Asian youths.
One boy, when asked why he had joined one, stated
that with a gang, he could be just "one of the boys".
The `dual pressures' from parents and society have
pressured the boy to meet `unfair expectations' from
parents and face `societal rejection' from his peers.
The resulting `built up frustration' is released in criminal
activities with other boys like him as criminal behavior
can be considered one of the ultimate forms of
"rebellion against `an image' which can never be fulfilled".
The most shocking report made by the children was
that of two girls who set fire to a school office
in order to destroy attendance records.
However, such incidents as reported by the five children
are instead overshadowed by articles entitled
"A formula for success; Asian American students win academic
honors -- and cope with mixed blessing of achievement"
which appeared in the April 23, 1984 issue of `Newsweek'.
Another effect of the "model minority myth" lies in
the `resentment from other minority groups
as well as main stream Americans' brought
on by the supposed "success" of Asians.
Minority groups feel `alienated' as
"success" is apparently not shared,
and mainstream society feels that "foreigners"
are `robbing' them of their success
The resentment against Asians also provoke hate
crimes such as the murder of Vincent Chin in 1982
and the more recent killing of Yoshihiro Hattori.
INTERNALIZING THE STEREOTYPE
Perhaps greatest danger in the "model minority myth"
lies in the fact that Asians themselves are falling
prey to dangers of these stereotypes.
More and more, Asians are beginning to view themselves
as "model minorities" and thus take [on]
a false sense of pride and security.
A New York banker claims himself as
"'[y]our usual Chinese overachieving story'"
(`Newsweek', Dec. 6, 1982).
This `pride and security' also leads to a sense of
`contentment' with the status quo `blinding Asians to any
discrimination and problems faced by their own people'.
In this view, Amy Tan, the author of Joy Luck Club,
is guilty of such actions when she endorsed a book by the
aforementioned Stanley Karnow by appearing on the back cover.
Dinesh D'souza, author of Illiberal Education,
has made it a personal goal to glorify the
"model minority myth" and oppose any methods of
Asian American improvement except through "hard work".
For instance, at a west coast conference on
Asian American status in the United States ,
D'Souza made the claim that Asian immigrants
do not complain about SAT scores but
"they adapt and pass the test" instead.
But, D'Souza's example excludes the very real limitations of the
language barrier and the unwillingness of American society to
listen to "foreigners," in other the creation of cultural barriers.
Furthermore, because racism is now so `subtle',
it is very hard to recognize especially when
one's mind is shut to the possibility of it existing.
This attitude is taken up especially by those Asians who
themselves are successful and apparent "model minorities".
The result is a tragedy because these "successes" are
the very people who are equipped to enact change.
Thus, these people who should be leading the Asian community
are, in a sense, the very ones who are undermining it.
How then can a people eliminate their own problems when some
of their leaders are `blinded by the hands of their oppressors'?
Perhaps more dangerous than the "model minority myth"
itself is the danger of the historical context in which
it is used, for the "model minority myth" is a
continuation of Asians-as-`tools' for white society.
Asians began to come to the United States in the mid-nineteenth
century and made significant contributions such as
the building of the transcontinental railroad.
Yet, they began to draw out the baser feelings of Americans
which led to violent outbursts of anti-Asian sentiment.
Eventually discriminatory laws were passed.
Most prominent is the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882
which prohibited Chinese labor immigration;
the Exclusion Act was the first and only time that
immigrants were excluded on the basis of race.
Throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries,
Asians faced constant and often violently physical discrimination.
By the 1930s, writers and the media began to play a
crucial role in creating `certain images' of the Asian.
One of the most influential depictions of Asians
was made through the writings of Pearl S. Buck.
Her most successful book, `The Good Earth', was a huge
popular success and went far in placing the idea of the
`typical' Chinese peasant in the minds of mainstream America .
From the writings of Buck, "the media was able
to create an image" for Chiang Kai Shek
(who, to the West, was the undisputed leader of revolutionary China )
which fit in perfectly with Buck's concept of the Chinese.
These two images spawned an interest in Chinese "culture"
as evidenced by the Charlie Chan movies of the '40s and '50s,
and the popularity of such writers as Jade S. Wang.
The peasants created by Pearl S. Buck in `The Good Earth' put
forth an image which can only be described as the "noble peasant".
Buck's `characters worked hard and
were honest' (at least early in the novel).
Their strong ties to the land added an aspect of humility and
simplicity which is translated into passivity and docility.
Buck's characters also had a penchant
for suffering without complaint.
They would just farm harder which
ultimately rewarded them with prosperity.
Furthermore, the evils of "going beyond oneself"
are warned against in this book as when the main
character strays from the land he loses everything.
Thus, Buck's novel portrayed the aspects of the Chinese
which seem so appealing to Western world now and then
-- the work ethic, supposed docility, and the
simplicity and humility of "knowing one's place".
As Buck created her image of the noble peasant,
"the media created its image" of the noble warrior, Chiang Kai
Shek who may have been the very first "model minority".
In reality, Chiang was not the most noble of people.
He was actually a ruthless dictator who came to power during
he early 1900s when China was in its "warlord" phase.
Chiang was actually one of the most successful warlords
and much of his governing staff in the 1930's was
composed of former generals and military men.
Furthermore, Chiang was amazingly corrupt and
practically robbed his own government and people blind.
With this to work, the media was still able to create an image of
Chiang which reflected none of the aforementioned ruthless traits.
In fact, Chiang was portrayed as having "Chinese virtue".
However, it was his personal habits that really turned
Chiang into the Chinese "hero" as he was portrayed with
many of the qualities which were seen in Buck's characters.
For instance, he was definitely described as "a relentless worker".
Descriptions of his [alleged] "conversion" to `Christianity' (as if
this were `the most civilizing of influences') were commonplace.
Chiang is also described as simple and "knowing his place" e
ven though he has become the most "powerful" man in China .
Beyond Buck and Chiang, other images about Chinese which were
similar in character were proliferated in the 1939-1941 time period.
Several articles in popular periodicals appeared under such titles
as "At Home in Peking," "Chinese Manners," "Coolie Democracy,"
"Peasantry and Gentry in China ," and "Chinese Mind".
No doubt these articles were a result of the anti-Japanese/
pro-Chinese sentiment burgeoning in the minds of many Americans.
As the Japanese rose in military might,
a war with them was imminent, thus,
an alliance with a major Asian country was necessary.
That country of course was China .
However, to the minds of many Americans before the late 1930s,
Chinese were associated with a plethora of negatives as
shown by the treatment of Chinese immigrants (hate crimes,
harmful legislation, etc.) and by the popularization of
such stereotypical images as Fu Manchu and various
comic books which ran along the same lines.
Thus, a change in image for the Chinese was necessary so that a
n American alliance with China would be viewed upon favorably.
However, the newly created images of Chinese still did not depict
them as `equal to' the United States; instead, the coolie image
`provoked sympathy rather than respect' which made the
Japanese travesties against the Chinese seem all the more vile.
The sympathy also invoked a feeling that Chinese
`needed to be protected by' the "big brother U.S".
After the war ended," the continuation of the stereotypes
created were continued by the popular press".
It becomes clear that the image of the noble Chinese peasant clearly
could be advantageous to the goals of American foreign policy.
During the Chinese Civil War as China was beginning
to fall under the influence of communism,
the Chinese peasant was being portrayed as the eventual victim
of communism evoking sympathy once again for the Chinese
peasants and outrage towards the communists.
Thus, in the decade of 1940 to 1950, a plethora of
articles were published with titles such as
"These Likable Chinese" and "Public Servant".
When a full analysis of the media portrayed characteristics
of Chinese are summarized, a few traits repeatedly surface.
Hard work, simplicity and humility, `knowing one's place'
in society (which translates into "a political passivity"),
and an emphasis on the value of education or at least
intelligence are partly evidenced in each popular image
of Chinese from the late 1930s to the end of 1940.
These qualities are exactly the same
as those attributed to the "model minority'.
With such evidence at hand, THE LINK between
the two IS most likely MORE THAN COINCIDENTAL.
Thus, when the need for a "model minority myth" arose,
the stereotypes of the Chinese peasant were still fresh in the mind
of the society and suited perfectly the needs of an American psyche
which was being accosted for past and sent sins.
The "model minority myth" was created due to several
factors but all the factors lead to an identifiable end.
Thus, the "model minority myth" became `a means to an end'
and was thus `used indiscriminately' as `a tool' with which
the collective guilt of white society could be assuaged.
The first SEEDS OF THE "MODEL MINORITY MYTH"
germinated in the fifties in response to war injustices
and societal needs and SLOWLY GREW until the term
came to fruition in 1966 IN RESPONSE TO
THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENTS of the day.
Almost any article could cover all the stereotypical bases,
but one in particular, "Chinatown offers us a lesson" appearing
in the `New York Times Magazine `on October 6, 1957, does a
particularly good job of portraying the typical Chinese stereotype.
From the very beginning the tone of the article becomes glaringly
evident from a picture which is displayed along with the article.
In the picture, a family is sitting around a some kind of
board game in a setting which looks as if it came
straight out of the popular show "Leave it to Beaver".
Everyone has westernized clothing
and the room itself is very western.
In fact, if the Chinese faces were exchanged with
white faces, no incongruities would even be noticed.
Thus, any Caucasian reader could immediately feel `a sense
of relatedness' to the Chinese in the picture, and as a result,
the Chinese talked about in the article.
Furthermore, `the content' of the article is just
as" idealistic" as promised by the picture.
For instance, the article starts off by informing the reader of
the `amazingly low amount of crime' in New York 's Chinatown
(no youth gangs too) and accredits this to the fact that
the youths have been instilled with "Chinese family values".
The Chinese family, in fact, is described as a product
of 1000 years of trial and error which the
communist government was then trying to break up.
The article then goes on to elucidate the characteristics of
what they perceived the Chinese family characteristics to be.
Undying family loyalty and a sacrifice of individuality for the
sake of the family head up the list with other things such as
absolute obedience to elders done out of willingness
on the child's part rather than any sort of parental impetus.
In fact, the Asian Confucian family ethics are compared
to Christianity which was intended as a compliment
as Christianity was the ultimate marker of morality.
Chinese in general are then described as having
"patience, unflagging capacity for work,
and dislike of physical violence,"
and children "dislike demonstrativeness
but [tend] to be tolerant towards others".
The article also attributes the Chinese value on
education and the children's demonstrated love for
school as a large factor in keeping them out of trouble.
When trouble does occur, it is dealt with from within the community
by such organizations as the Chinese Benevolent Society
rather can `causing trouble outside' the community.
One final reason given for the lack of problems with Chinese youths
is so ridiculous that any validity that the article may have had
before is completely thrown out.
The article stated that because Chinese boys and
girls do not like associating with the opposite sex;
thus, the boys do not feel the need to show off for
the girls and as a result get into less trouble!
BIRTH OF A MYTH
In the 1960s, for the first time,
THE "MODEL MINORITY MYTH"
emerged in its fullest sense.
That is, Asian Americans were depicted as having finally "made it"
in every aspect of society--education and family life included.
The stories ALSO PROLIFERATED SIMULTANEOUSLY
WITH THE ADVENT OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS
MOVEMENTS and the plethora of student protests
accompanying the Civil Rights movements.
The appearance of the two may seem coincidental until
one actually examines the contents of some of the articles
which laud praises at the so called "model minorities".
Upon examination, several factors become immediately clear:
the majority of the authors were white males,
the statistics used in the articles realistically revealed
very little about the situation of the minority group at hand
education and crime rate were used to illustrate Asian
"success" as opposed to economic and political markers;
the Asians interviewed in the articles were seemingly
`unsympathetic towards the Civil Rights movements'; and
the articles simply rehashed a stereotype created in the
wartime era which itself was the result of Asian `objectification'.
Thus, since much of THE CONTENTS OF
THESE ARTICLES WERE BASED UPON VERY
LITTLE RELEVANT FACTUAL INFORMATION,
the conclusion that `Asians were being used as a tool' to quiet the
cries of the enraged minorities (specifically `African Americans')
and, on a much more subtle level, used to
assuage the guilt of a white America whose system was and is
clearly not working for non-whites is not entirely outrageous.
The very first "model minority" article appeared in the
`New York Times Magazine' on January 9, 1966, and
was titled "A Success Story, Japanese-American Style".
The article immediately begins with a resounding approval
of Japanese Americans by claiming that Japanese Americans
have been able to avoid becoming a "problem minority'"
even though they have been "the object of color prejudice".
Furthermore, the article even goes so far as to claim
"Japanese Americans are better than any other
group in our society, including native-born whites".
However, when the statistics used to
analyze these claims are examined,
it can be shown that they are in fact just as relevant or irrelevant
as any other statistic to the state of a peoples within our society.
For instance, the article claims that 12.2% of Japanese are
professionals as opposed to 11.1% of Chinese and 11.0% of whites.
These markers were then compared to 9.2%
for Filipinos and 8.6% for African Americans.
However, the article did not reveal if the statistic was
for native born Japanese or for the entire population.
The Japanese were also lauded for having the lowest
amount of crime among the ethnics and their low crime rate
was all the more astonishing in light of the fact that they were
"surrounded by ethnic groups with high crime rates ...".
However, no comparison of crime rate
to that of white America is made.
Also, the fact that language barriers and cultural
restraints exist which perhaps prohibit Japanese from
reporting crimes was not taken into consideration.
Besides the education statistic and the percentage of
professionals, no data was offered as to why Asians
were of equal or better societal status than whites.
Instead, the article goes on to describe all of
the "traits" possessed by Japanese which allow
themto transcend other "problem minorities".
Japanese have "diligence in work, combined with
simple frugality ...similar to ...the Protestant ethic".
Furthermore, the all important family duty was emphasized as well.
Thus, the traits of the "model minority" hark back to a stereotype
which was started in order to propel wartime propaganda.'
The lack of real statistics and the plethora of descriptions of
Japanese character point to the idea that the PURPOSE OF
THE ARTICLE WAS not to praise Japanese accomplishment,
but instead `TO SHOW OTHER MINORITIES "HOW" TO ACT'.
Also from the tone of the article,
it is again clear that the purpose was not so much
to praise the Japanese as to show a white audience that
the American system was working and any guilt or
responsibility concerning the plight of minorities was unfounded.
For instance, the article makes a comparison of the plight
of `African Americans' to that of Japanese Americans
but "Japanese, on the contrary, could climb over
the highest barriers ..". placed before them as
"[p]ride in their heritage and shame for any
reduction in its only partly legendary glory
...were sufficient to carry the group through its travail".
The success stories though were not limited to
just the Japanese Americans as several about
Chinese Americans were also published.
However, rather than revealing any real differences in the
paths to success of the two Asian American ethnic groups,
the articles instead blur the distinctions as
one group could be switched out for the other and
no incongruities in the articles would appear.
Once again, the dominating statistic "proving" the success
of Chinese Americans was the crime rate statistic.
For instance, the article entitled "Success Story of One
Minority in the United States" in `U.S. News and World
Report' on Dec.26, 1966 claims that in 1965,
no Chinese in the San Francisco was charged with murder,
manslaughter, rape, or an offense against wife or children.
However, the article does not take into account the
number of crimes unreported due to a language barrier and
the number of illegal aliens who could not report anything
as the result would only be trouble for themselves.
Thus, to assert that 42,600 Chinese were
non-violent to a person is absolutely ludicrous.
Besides the crime rates though, no hard statistics
were used, instead, allusions to education
and community stability were referred to.
However, even if the assertions about education were true,
that is only because Asians feel that they need to
receive twice as much education to get to the same
place as a white person, and often, this may be true.
Thus, low crime rates and high numbers of educated
only hide the real situation of unequal economic and
political attainments as compared to the rest of society
and certainly as compared to white America .
The same article goes on to attribute these successes once again
to the "traditional values of hard work, thrift, and morality".
Furthermore, the family unit is emphasized.
The parents always watch out for the children, train them, send
them to school and make them stay home after school to study.
When they go visiting, it is as a family group.
A young Chinese doesn't have much chance
to go out or his own chance to get into trouble.
Like the article about Japanese Americans mentioned previously,
this article also uses the supposed success and characteristics
of Chinese as A WEAPON TO SILENCE OTHER MINORITIES
AND AS METHOD OF ASSUAGING WHITE GUILT.
For instance, the very introduction to the article broadcasts
the `message that' non-Chinese `minorities are
complaining instead of `working out of' their plights'.
At a time when Americans are awash in worry over the plight
of racial minorities--one such minority ...Chinese-Americans,
is winning wealth and respect by dint of `its own hard work'".
Furthermore, the article contains several instances of
which could very easily be construed as OR ARE IN
FACT A CRITICISM OF OTHER MINORITIES".
'The Chinese people here will work at anything
....the point is that ...don't sit around moaning.'"
The article even makes specific
attacks on `African Americans'.
Chinese Americans would "shock those now complaining
about the hardships endured by today's Negroes".
The article also portrays Chinese as a self reliant community
in that all problems are dealt with from within the community and,
once again, problems are not "complained" about to the whites.
In fact, although 20,000 Chinese were residing in
an eight block apartment complex in Chinatown and
families of ten were found living in two bed room apartments
do not move out "not because of fears of discrimination"
but because "Chinese-Americans ...
prefer their own people and culture ..".
Once again, such an assumption is ludicrous and
completely discredits any glimpse of validity
which might have been existent in the article.
Clearly, several themes from the original
"model minority" stories are evident.
Although praising the Asian Americans in the U.S.
may be one goal, this goal just does not coincide with
the historical context in which Asians have been treated.
Instead, THE APPEARANCE OF THE
"MODEL MINORITY MYTH" COINCIDES
WITH THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENTS
AND THUS ARE USED TO COMBAT THE CRIES
OF COLORED MINORITIES by pointing
to 'another minority group' which the
whites have portrayed as "having made it".
Obviously, the aforementioned two articles on Asian Americans
were not the only two and certainly not the most
outrageous of the "model minority" articles.
Furthermore, the Asians are portrayed as
having "made it" via a certain set of
characteristics which are in themselves
very indicative of" the 'objectification'
of Asian Americans" in this society.
These characteristics, like THE "MODEL MINORITY MYTH"
ITSELF, CAN BE USED AS TOOL BY WHICH TO KEEP
MINORITIES PERMANENTLY OPPRESSED.
Never is the Asian portrayed as aggressive, outspoken,
or demanding but rather it is the hard working, quiet,
family, and disciplinarian characteristics which are praised.
These characteristics in and of themselves
are undeniably praiseworthy,
but at the same time, these characteristics do not
encourage a questioning of one's surroundings but
encourage an acceptance of the status quo, instead,
which could be and is very detrimental to the improvement
of minority conditions in the United States.
The PROLIFERATION OF THE "MODEL MINORITY" STORIES
DID NOT END AFTER THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT though
as the image, once placed in American society, will most likely
not die out until `some sort of new image' arises.
Thus, the very nature of the "model minority myth" relegates it
to being used over and over again in this society as "a tool"
--indiscriminately used in many cases.
However, when evidence was given on "how" the
Asians maintained a superior societal standing,
`the typical claims' of more schooling,
lower unemployment, higher percentage
of professional and technical jobs, and
higher average income than whites `were cited'.
At the same time though,
the returns on education were certainly lower,
Chinese males earned 74% of equally educated whites
and Filipinos earned 52% of equally educated whites.
The returns for women were below 50%.
Lower unemployment is certainly true, but
a large part of the workers are `exploited' and receive
below minimum wage, `no benefits', and `little job security'.
A higher number percentage of professionals may exist,
but the number of Asians in upper management is
well below their presentation in the population
as evidenced by the glass ceiling phenomena.
Finally, the average income statistic does not state if
it refers to family income or individual income which
would make a very large difference as noted earlier.
Obviously, in this case, THE "MODEL MINORITY MYTH"
HAS BEEN USED AS A TOOL by which to combat Asians
themselves, and furthermore, THE ATTACKS ARE
DISGUISED WITH PRAISES of achievement and success.
In the last decade, the "model minority myth"
has not died down; rather the myth has proliferated.
In fact, the "model minority myth" has
seemingly taken a niche in our society
as it has become amazingly deep seeded
in the beliefs of Americans as seen by
George Bush's comment about the "quiet people".
Thus, to this day Asians are still "being objectified" in that
their roles in this society have been "relegated to that of a tool"
serving the needs of the American public for decades.
No consistent image of Asians has existed and no consistent
role of Asians in society has ever been identified.
For example, in the 1800s, Asians were used
as laborers and thought of as animals.
Since 1965, though, Asians have been used for their brainpower as
seen by the makeup of immigrants who entered the United States
and they are now thought of as "model minorities".
The lack of a consistent image in American society
points to the enduring idea of the Asian as "the
permanent foreigner" on the shores of " Gold Mountain ".
The fact that Asians have never been able to occupy
a permanent role in any of America's ideology can perhaps
be traced back to the feeling that Americans have never
felt comfortable with the idea of an Asian
being an integral part of this nation.
This feeling could be a result of many things one of which
could be the maintenance of Asian culture by a continual
influx of Asian immigrants which in reality points out
just how different cultures can be.
Maybe Americans feel that Asians in a sense have a culture
which they could return to, a culture which they may prefer
to return to but because of circumstance, cannot.
For instance, in an article by a UCLA freshman
Margaret Chou, a mime was performing an act
which used Asians as the butt of many jokes.
When one of the author's friends, who was Asian, protested the act,
several members of the crowd began shouting "go home to China "
The plight of the Asian is also
different than many other minorities
in that Asians battle "a discrimination
which is disguised as admiration".
Thus, Asians often do not understand the
historical context of their existence in this nation.
The crimes of the past are hidden
in the praises of today;
therefore Asians of today have never
truly felt a historical injustice.
This is part of the reason why Asians
do not seem as angry or militant
not because the injustices are not existent,
but because they are clouded over by a blanket
created by the "model minority myth".
Finally, if nothing is done by the Asian
community to expose stereotypes,
if Asians keep on believing the press about themselves,
the cycle of objectification will never end.
Already, Asians are being portrayed as
`economic scapegoats' on a world wide scale.
How long will it be until that image affects
the current image of Asian Americans?
What will be the effects on the Asian community?
The "model minority" issue goes beyond the context of what
it has done to the Asian community today as it is also an
indicator of the Asian American role in this nation's history.
1. "Asian Americans: model minority," Newsweek, Dec. 6, 1982.
2. Mariano, Dr. Robert S., "Census Issues,"
U.S. Commission on Civil Rights:
Civil Rights Issues of Asians and Pacific Islanders (1979).
3. "Asian Americans: model minority," Newsweek, Dec. 6, 1982.
5. "The Myth of the Model Minority"
6. "Asian Americans: model minority," Newsweek, Dec. 6, 1982.
8. "Success Story: Outwhiting the Whites," Newsweek, June 21, 1971.
9. "Asian Americans Victims of Bias, Hate Violence,
Glass Ceiling," Asian Week, March 6, 1992.
10. "Asian Still Lack Equal Success," Asian Week, March 6, 1992.
11. "Minority Business Experts Conclude 'Model Minority'
Brand Hurts Business," Asian Week, January 1, 1992.
12. "A Call to Break the Glass Ceiling"
13. "Rehashing the Same Old Stereotypes"
14. "A Call to Break the Glass Ceiling"
15. "Amerasian No Scapegoats," Filipino Reporter, March 26, 1992.
16. Interviews and preceding information on the the forum taken from "Great
Expectations Go Unmet," Asian Week, April 24, 1992.
17. "Rehashing Same Old Stereotypes"
18. Paragons or Pariahs? Viewpoints Differ"
19. "Chiang Adds to His Exploits," NY Times Magazine, Jan. 3, 1937.
20. Population reported in U.S. News and World Report Dec. 26, 1966.
21. Chang, Curtis, "Streets of Gold: The Myth of the Model Minority," Rereading
(Message over 64 KB, truncated)