In America, Asian-Americans are often known as the “model minority,” or a minority group that has excelled socially and economically beyond broader societal expectations.
Despite its positive name, this stereotype is a double-edged sword that damages the relation between races. When the broader, predominantly white system names Asian-Americans a model minority, they are denigrating other people of color. Being placed on this pedestal also supplies a sense that all Asian communities are doing equally well. Economist Margaret Simms, a fellow at the Urban Institute, writes that the economic realities for Asian-Americans are actually more complex: “Japanese, Asian Indians, and Chinese—had higher median net worth [than whites], while three others—Filipinos , Vietnamese, and Koreans—had much lower net worth. That represents an enormous gap of 25 to 1 within the Asian community.”
Despite these statistics, the differences between Eastern and Southeastern Asians remain blurred in the eyes of dominant society. With the single tick of a box on the SAT, driver’s license registration sheet or any other government official letter, people are all confined under a single label—Asian. A word too narrow to cover the nuances of a population of over 4 billion.
To the general populous, Asian-Americans are often stereotyped as the epitome of intelligence. But this stereotype hovering over the heads of Asians often results in them receiving less aid from the government, peers and institutions. This is a result from the common perception that they can make it themselves.
Mimi Nguyen, a senior at the John D. O’Bryant said, “This has made my parents even expect such expectations from me because they have seen other Asians on media become successful, accepting high grades and no failures in school. That is what they believe will get me far in life.” This often places a strain on Asian-American students as they have harsh home environments where they are pushed to reach this expectation to become adequate in the eyes of their parents.
Kathy Tran, a senior at the John D. O’Bryant, currently amidst the college application process, makes a sharp point: “Ask Ivy League colleges what they think about Asians.” Discrimination towards Asian-Americans is especially prevalent when looking at college admissions. A 2015 lawsuit involving Harvard University has been brought back into the spotlight, as the U.S. justice department has threatened to sue the university “ to force it to turn over documents as it investigates whether the Ivy League school’s admission policies violate civil rights laws,” according to Fortune. According to a 2016 article in the Harvard Crimson, the lawsuit stemmed from the university’s use of racial “quotas” and “racial balancing,” which directly disadvantaged Asian-American applicants. As policies like these have been placed to assist ethnic groups who have been discriminated against, they have sometimes been called “positive discrimination.” However, the Harvard case proves that Asian-Americans have been systematically disadvantaged, as this policy that is supposed to help them is actually causing harm. This feeds into how some Asian groups remain in-need due to this detrimental myth.
Kristine Din, senior assistant director at the Asian American Center at Northeastern University, also stands against this stereotype. She stated, “This myth stems back to the Civil Rights Era, ironically, and was coined by a white man by the name of William Peterson who wrote an article using specifically Japanese-Americans as transcending difficulties to become ‘successful,’ and he used this argument as a leverage to say ‘why couldn’t the other communities of color [African-Americans] do it?’”
As noted here, this stereotype is not only detrimental to Asian-Americans, but it results in animosity amongst the other minority groups as it serves as a racial wedge, and reestablishes racial hierarchy, which prevents us from coalescing into a unified group. Until we acknowledge the fact that this status is false, we will be limited by our labels.