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The Danger of the 'Model Minority' Myth

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  • multiracialbookclub
    The Danger of the Model Minority Myth ... Look at the Asians . This is a phrase many people, Asian and non-Asian alike, have no doubt heard since the great
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 2, 2007
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      The Danger of the

      "Model Minority" Myth

      ----- By Beverly Cruel, Staff Writer

      Look at the Asians".

      This is a phrase many people, Asian and non-Asian
      alike, have no doubt heard since the great wave of
      Asian immigration began in the 1960's.

      It is a sort of reprimand directed at non-Asian
      minorities, often repeated by individuals appalled
      with the state of affairs which they perceive
      are plaguing those minority communities.

      Educators, unsure of what to do with "low-achieving"
      black" and Latino students, have uttered those
      words in exasperation in public conferences
      and in the privacy of break rooms.

      Political commentators have used those four words
      as evidence to back up their arguments opposing
      affirmative action and social welfare programs.

      Ordinary people say it in passing when the
      conversation turns towards some news tidbit
      about inner city crime or some protest
      held by dissatisfied minority groups.

      These people point to the Asian community as if we
      were some kind of modern-day Horatio Alger story.

      We come here speaking very little English,
      and emerge in a few years as middle-class
      entrepreneurs, professionals, and scholars.

      And the majority indicates us to the other
      minorities, in what they see as well
      meaning, friendly rebuke, as if to say,
      "Why can't you be like them?"

      It seems like a compliment at first glance.

      It seems as if we have gained what no
      other minority group has up to this point:
      the equality and admiration of White America.

      Asians can move into upper-class suburban
      neighborhoods and whites will not fear
      them, will not move out in droves.

      We can attend prestigious colleges, and most people
      will `take for granted' that we were admitted upon our
      own merits, and not aided by a "minority quota".

      Most of the time, we can even date their sons
      and daughters -- with little opposition.

      But upon closer examination, the idea of
      the "model minority" is a condescending,
      divisive, and furthermore insidious myth.

      It is a manifestation of "Orientalism" and
      closet racism towards all minorities,
      Asians included, and though it affects
      Asians subtly, it hurts them just as much,
      if not more, than the minorities as a whole.

      To begin with, the implications of the model minority
      myth are patronizing and insulting towards immigrant
      communities, the effects of which are rather
      divisive to the immigrant community as a whole.

      When someone urges other minority groups to
      "look at the Asians," one must wonder what,
      exactly, about the Asian community they
      are urging those groups to emulate.

      This reprimand toward non-Asian minority
      communities relies on one assumption:
      that unlike the diligent, conscientious Asians,
      other minorities somehow lack the discipline
      and industry so closely associated and often
      credited with the success of the Asian community.


      62.7 percent of Hispanics and 64.9 percent of
      blacks" are employed; not a far deviation from
      61.8 percent of Asians and 62.7 percent of whites.


      Why then, does the majority population assume
      that indolence is so rampant in those communities?

      Perhaps it is because many minority communities,
      Asian included, live in poverty, remain poor for
      many years, continue working menial jobs, and
      never seem to gain any semblance of social mobility.

      Still, because many Americans are raised with the
      belief (some might say "myth") that hard work alone
      is sufficient to guarantee a financially secure lot in
      life, they also assume that anyone who has not
      prospered in life has not worked hard enough.

      They then conclude that the poverty among
      minorities results from their own inactivity,
      rather than considering other factors:
      for example, the average education level and
      social standing of an Asian immigrant before
      he or she enters the country, which, for the
      most part, differs drastically from most Hispanic
      immigrants' or even "
      black" native-born Americans.

      It would be unfair to think that an Asian
      computer programmer with a bachelor's
      degree, albeit from a foreign university,
      and a Mexican laborer from a rural part of his
      country with only a sixth grade education could
      have the same financial and professional
      opportunities upon entering this country.

      It would be doubly unfair and also insulting
      to them to imply that their work is somehow
      less worthy of recognition than that of the
      Asian community, simply because of
      the poverty that persists among those
      particular immigrant communities.

      Such an insulting attitude toward minority groups
      is highly divisive, one that creates hostility
      among minorities as a whole.

      Like the parent [who compares] one child to another
      while completely disregarding the virtues of that child,
      it is a situation, perhaps not deliberately designed
      to breed contempt among the races, but one that
      will almost certainly result in such a manner.

      Non-Asian minorities "may" look upon Asians
      resentfully, knowing they work as diligently as
      they do but are treated nowhere as equally;
      Asians may look upon other communities
      with scorn because they believe the
      majority population's perception of those
      communities, and fear them just as they do.

      However, we cannot afford to be politically
      divided from other minority groups.

      After all, while the term "model minority" implies that
      we are model citizens, the corollary to that philosophy
      states that we are also, of course, a minority.

      No matter how "highly"
      `the majority population'
      may [appear to] think of us,
      they nonetheless think of us as
      "minorities," as outsiders,
      as somehow not part of `
      the general' population.

      We are still an "other".

      Many "native-born" Americans, it seems, [are]
      all too happy to leave their "model minority"
      by the wayside when someone gets the
      delusion that "American jobs" are being "stolen".

      We then cease to be the "model minority,"
      but become instead `an alien threat' from
      a foreign shore, snatching jobs from the
      ones who supposedly "truly deserve" …

      When put in such a situation,
      we cannot afford
      to be politically-isolated from other "minorities"

      But because the idea of `the model-minority' is
      so disruptive to political unity, it sadly results
      in such a fashion the majority of the time.

      An additional implication of the statement
      "look at the Asians" is one that strongly suggests
      "Orientalist" views that still exist in this country today:
      the idea that Asians simply work hard and
      "quietly keep to themselves," rather than
      participating in the country's political-processes.

      The insidious nature of this philosophy is twofold.

      First, it masks a sort of unprofessed racism
      on the part of `the majority population'.

      Many of these people, when they admonish
      minority groups to "look at the Asians,"
      they paint how supposedly the Asian community
      supposedly remains quiet and assuming as a virtue.

      They are thus reproaching other minorities
      to be, what, in their minds, amounts to being
      the same as the Asians - uncomplaining,
      humble, and politically-inactive.

      They don't want minorities getting too
      "uppity" - fighting for their rights and
      complaining about the status quo would
      pose a problem for `the powers that be'.
      It is a dangerous, however subtle and
      unconscious attempt, to disenfranchise
      minority voters by sending them the
      message that in order to be considered
      one of the "good" minorities, they cannot
      give voice to the injustices occurring in
      their communit[y/ies], and furthermore,
      cannot take their qualms to the ballot box.

      This attitude furthermore implies that if
      Asians want are to the "model minority,"
      they themselves must thus remain
      politically-docile and not participate
      in the democratic process, which
      can only hurt the Asian community.

      The assumption that Asians are not
      a viable political-entity ensures that
      politicians will never attempt to assure
      that the Asian community has its needs met.

      Asians are indeed a strong political force
      - we are a community that has established
      legal defense funds, civil rights organizations,
      and labor unions who demand representation
      of the needs of their communities.

      A statistic shows that Asian Americans contribute
      more money per person to political parties and
      candidates than any other racial or religious group.

      Still, during political campaigns, one will hear
      of politicians who try to cater to the "Latino vote,"
      in California, `the "
      black" vote' in the South, `the
      Catholic vote' and `the womens' vote' nationwide.

      Even in such fairly well-established Asian
      communities such as the ones in California,
      New York, and New Jersey, a politician does not
      concern him or herself too much with capturing
      the "Asian vote," despite the fact that it very
      well may help secure one's seat in office ….

      The website Newsaic.com states that
      "Asian-Americans 'have only recently become
      a group even worth factoring into exit-polls,"
      indicative of the scorn with which `the
      majority population' treats the Asian
      community's political-mobilization.

      As long as politicians and political scientists
      continue to dismiss us as a political force,
      and continue thinking of us as an isolated,
      foreign community of drones who do nothing
      but concern themselves with work, we stand
      in danger of having our political needs unmet.

      The model minority myth, while it may "seem"
      flattering when taken at face value, is also an
      attitude that not only conceals latent racism
      in the among the majority population, but
      is additionally very detrimental toward
      Asians and non-Asian minorities alike.

      First, it insults and disregards the hard work and toil
      put in by other immigrant and minority groups.

      Yes, it is true that Asians are diligent, and have
      made good lives for themselves in America ,
      but one would be completely remiss to say that
      other ethnic groups have not done so as well.

      Such a way of thinking belittles Asians as well,
      as it implies that they are politically inactive and
      docile - and that such behavior is commendable.

      What is more, it fosters an atmosphere of divisiveness
      between ethnic communities, ensuring that they are
      not only socially divided, but politically divided as
      well - very much a danger, especially when many
      recently arrived Asians are in a position where
      they need all the political help available to them.

      Additionally, it ensures that even while
      Asian Americans are a great political force,
      the majority population will not see them as
      such, and thus not attempt to meet their needs.

      While it would be counter-productive to the
      well-being of the Asian community to disregard
      the stereotypes we are known for - industry,
      perseverance and academic and financial
      success - simply to combat the stereotype
      of the "model minority," we must nonetheless
      resist the discordant effect it has both between us
      and other minorities, and within our community itself.




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