The model minority myth is a concept that has been seen in books, newspapers and various media platforms, but how did it originate in the first place?
The ‘Yellow Peril’ was a term used as early as 1806 by Roger Debury to depict East Asians in a negative light, it was then popularized by Kaiser Wilheim II to justify and encourage European Colonialism of East Asian countries. The term held a racist connotation as it portrayed East Asians as inferior to those of Western descent. It was put to use in America in 1895 to invoke racist fears of the increasing numbers of Asian immigrants, to plant the idea that these immigrants who were willing to work for lower wages were a threat to the lives of the Americans. This worsened when cases of opium addiction began to rise in America, and the blame fell on East Asians who were supposedly responsible for the natives falling victim to the drug.
This continued for years until the Cold War when the United States of America started to worry about the ever-expanding sphere of Soviet influence on Asian countries, specifically China. They feared that the large number of Chinese immigrants in their country would grow unhappy with capitalism, as they were treated badly with that system, would turn to follow the ways of their motherland and in turn would start the spread of communism right in the land of the free. This prompted the government to start a propaganda campaign that would eventually perpetuate the model minority myth. This campaign touted East Asian immigrant success stories with news magazines, such as U.S News and World Report, glorifying Asians as hardworking and law-abiding citizens.
“Visit “Chinatown U.S.A” and you find an important racial minority pulling itself up from hardship and discrimination to become a model of self-respect and achievement in today’s America.” – U.S News and World Report, December 26, 1966
This was a complete turnaround from how East Asians were depicted before the 1950s. This campaign eventually saw the implementation of immigration law in 1965 that favored educated Asian immigrants, which further pushed the idea of a model minority. This has continued till recently where East Asian immigrants are stereotyped as successful and a role model for other minorities.
However, with the global Covid-19 epidemic, could we see a shift in the perception of East-Asian immigrants again?
Once again, East Asian immigrants are the target of racial attacks, blamed for another pandemic sweeping through the USA. These immigrants are now being torn down and perceived as a threat by the USA government and news agencies who once placed them on a high pedestal.
It is true that the virus originated from the Wuhan Province in China, but the constant reminders of it are not helping the situation.
“China is the Real Sick Man of Asia”, this was the title written by Walter Russel Mead on the Wallstreet Journal, February 3, 2020, with the subtitle; “Its financial markets may be more dangerous than its wildlife markets.” The Wall Street Journal focuses on the economies and financial markets of the world, and yet still throws reminders to its readers that the virus started due to the unhygienic wildlife markets in the Wuhan province.
The constant jabs at China by American media outlets are perpetuating racist fears against those of East Asian descent, just like in the past with the Yellow Peril, where not only the Chinese were discriminated against, but all who bore a ‘resemblance’ to the race, suffered greatly.
The President of the United States, Donald J.Trump, has even called the virus the ‘Chinese’ Virus instead of the scientific name given to it, the Covid-19 virus. This is the exact same thing that was done during the time of the Yellow Peril where East Asians were singled out. By doing so, it shifts the blame entirely. When it was called the Wuhan Virus, it was associated with a place and blamed on those in charge for not handling the situation well, by now calling it the Chinese virus, the blame shifts to an entire race of people targeting every individual of that race. This has had detrimental effects on the lives of East Asians living in America, their lives have been turned upside down with some even too afraid to leave their own houses.
Could this be the beginning of the next ‘Yellow Peril’ era? Will the cycle of the model minority myth begin again once this pandemic blows over and there is a realization that East Asian immigrants are crucial to a country?
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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