A Brief History of the Model Minority Myth

If you’re an Asian, the Model Minority Myth has probably affected you one way or another, whether or not you have realised it. Maybe it was your high school teachers having larger, slightly unreachable standards for you due to the way you look, or maybe it was the implication that you must achieve higher than your white peers in order to be even half as successful. Whatever it was – it was not a compliment to you or your ability. Instead a damaging racial stereotype, not just to Asians, but to all people of colour in general. 

So, how did the Model Minority Myth manage to come about?

Well, to answer your questions, let me take you way back to America in the 1880s, the era of the “yellow peril” of the so-called inferior Chinese immigrants to white America. It was a time where there were mass lynchings of Asian Americans, including the brutal murder of Vincent Chin – a stark wakeup call to the world that anti-asian bias was more prominent than ever.  However, this xenophobia and racism was taken further in 1882 when American congress passed a bill that banned Chinese immigration to the US, (all sounds rather too familiar regarding Trumps Muslim ban).

Despite all of this ongoing racism and sinophobia, much later in 1966 was the birth of arguably one of the most influential articles to be written on Asian-Americans. New York Times writer William Peterson published a piece titled “Success story, Japanese-American style”. It was this article that coined and popularised the term ‘model minority’. 

In this article Peterson wrote that “The Japanese Americans are better than any other ethnic group in our society. Including native born whites”. Despite how complimentary this may sound to the character of Japanese-Americans, there were severe consequences as many white Americans believed that the Japanese would have an unfair advantage and thus be stealing jobs in the workplace that essentially- they were undeserving of. Initially this thinking was only applied to Japanese-Americans but rapidly spread to anybody looking remotely Asian. Why might you ask? Because in the eyes of white America, all East-Asians ‘look the same’, thus causing the model minority myth to expand to all Asians, simply because people were unable to tell the difference.

In today’s society, the model minority myth is problematic as it suggests that the US has always been a welcoming place for those of Asian descent. It masks the struggles and plight faced by many Asian-Americans, dismissing the fact that before they were seen as a perfect model minority, they were perpetual foreigners

Moreover, many use the MMM as an example to downplay the clear racism in American societies. Indicating that other ethnic groups such as the Black community are exaggerating the amount of racism they have received in this new, illusive and ‘accepting’ society. In other words- the model minority myth aids the perpetration of anti-blackness within America.

Essentially, not only does the model minority myth lead young Asians to believe that they are unable to break out of the stereotypical careers laid out for them in order to uphold their family’s honour, but it is also the fundamental indicator of serious mental health consequences due to the intense pressure that these young Asian Americans have to deal with. In the rich, multicultural society we live in today, peripheral beliefs such as the model minority stereotype should be the last thing that forces people of colour to contrast their success against one another- instead of striving for success and excelling together. 

Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.

Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.

We have grown since then, putting out bimonthly issues (we are contributor powered: apply to write for our next one!), and weekly reviews of culture, and news that is important to us.

You can find announcements, more news, and get to know our staff on social media: give us a follow, and learn how you can get involved today!

We do not claim to speak for all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. We are just here to give them a place to speak for themselves.

We hope you’ll join us.

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