The model minority myth refers to a minority group who is perceived to be more successful than other minority groups. The myth mainly refers to Asian Americans. The term was coined in 1966 by William Petersen, a professor of sociology at the University of California Berkeley. Petersen wrote an article for the New York Times Magazine titled, “Success Story: Japanese American Style”. In the article, he highlighted how Japanese Americans managed to overcome discrimination through their hard work, cultural values, and even genetics. In other words, Japanese Americans were able to “succeed” through the Asian stereotypes.
However, many scholars claimed that Asian Americans “overcame discrimination” only when it was politically convenient. Before the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, white employers mainly hired Chinese workers because they were cheap labor and didn’t use up government infrastructure. In the late 1870s, the economy worsened and the demand for cheap labor was gone. White people needed jobs and felt threatened that Chinese people were “taking away their jobs” and using up resources. As a result, anti-Chinese sentiment grew, and the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed.
When World War II came around, the U.S. government was worried the Chinese Exclusion Act would create tension with China in their fight against imperial Japan. Japanese propaganda would bring up the Chinese Exclusion Act in hopes to weaken the United States and China alliance. It was then the Magnuson Act was passed in 1943 to repeal the Chinese Exclusion Act. It allowed approximately 105 Chinese immigrants to come to the U.S. annually. Later in 1965, the National Immigration Act replaced the Magnuson Act which gave higher preference to immigrants with family who are U.S. citizens and those who had high skilled jobs such as doctors, lawyers, and scientists.
With that said, this proves why Asian Americans “overcame discrimination” only when it was politically convenient for America. Asians were initially welcomed in the country but when job demand dropped, they were excluded. When America was allies with China in the war, they started allowing Chinese immigration because they didn’t want to create tension with China. Lastly, the high preference for skilled workers provided an economic boost for America.
Another issue the model minority myth creates is the racial divide between Asians and Blacks. Petersen’s article followed the 1965 Moynihan Report which blamed black culture for their socio-economic struggle. However, the report fails to mention the systemic racism white people have created against blacks. White people use the model minority myth as a “get out of jail free” card so they don’t have to take blame for systemic racism and to also maintain their positions of power. Asians and Blacks have different experiences with racism. To say that racism can be solved by following the path of another “successful” minority is completely ignoring the struggles that minority group endures. This myth helped to perpetuate anti-blackness.
The model minority myth is extremely hurtful and dangerous. The myth erases the fact we have faced discrimination and blatantly ignores our history. It fails to acknowledge how diverse Asia is and ignores that Asians have the largest income gap in the U.S. Not only does it hurt our community, but it also hurts the black community and other minority groups.
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.
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