On November 11, I logged into my freshly made Skype account from my Boston dorm room to call my interviewee, who was a two-hour flight away in Toronto, Canada.

The Model Minority Myth: Why It’s Total BS and How It Contributes to Anti-Blackness in the AAPI Community

As an Asian American woman— specifically as a Filipino American— I know how anti-Black racism runs rampant in Asian communities. I have heard within my own family how we speak about and view Black people, and I am ashamed to admit there are times where I have bought into the hatred. While this is something I actively try to combat, I am by no means exempt from these attitudes. We believe that we are better than Black people. That we are smarter, richer, and by all accounts, a more morally and socially upstanding minority demographic. 

We have been conditioned to believe that the whiter we act, the easier it will be for us to be accepted into white circles. We have been conditioned to reject our Black and Brown brothers and sisters in favor of preserving a white ruling class. We have been conditioned to believe that we are the model minority in America and that that is something to be proud of— that it is something that makes us immune to prejudice. And today, I am here to tell you that that is bullshit. 

In order to fully understand how deeply corrupt the model minority myth is, we have to look back to before Asians even immigrated to America— in fact, we have to go back further than the creation of the United States. In 1676, there was an armed uprising in Virginia known as the Bacon’s’ Rebellion. It was a class rebellion formed by poor white people, indentured white servants, and Black slaves against the wealthy white upper class. The rebellion proved that the lower class, which was made of Black and white people, heavily outnumbered the ruling class. This rebellion marked a turning point in race relations in America.

Prior to this rebellion, the treatment of poor white people was strikingly similar to that of Black slaves— they even intermarried and lived with each other. And while prejudice based on appearance had undoubtedly been present, racism was secondary to a class divide. But when the structures of power that the wealthy yielded over the poor were revealed during Bacon’s Rebellion, a divide was consciously driven between poor Black and white people. 

The ruling class slowly gave poor white people power over Black slaves. The ruling class offered poor white people solidarity in their whiteness and began to put white people ‘in charge’ of their slaves. The divide had been successfully moved away from rich versus poor, and toward white versus Black. The actual treatment of poor white people did not change much; they were still mistreated, still underpaid, and only rarely did any truly rise in social status. The promise was, to its core, empty. Poor white people were given the promise of possibly joining the ruling class in exchange for their loyalty to their black allies— and they took it. 

 The myth of the model minority is no different. 

Asians did not have an easy start in America. They went from being used as expendable labor during the construction of the Central Pacific and Transcontinental Railroads to being barred from entering the country via the Chinese Exclusion act (which, despite its name, eventually expanded to ban emigres from all Asian countries), to being interned in camps and/or enduring racist assaults during WWII. Filipinos specifically have a very tumultuous history with the United States; they were manipulated into assisting the States in defeating Spain under the false promise for independence only for the United States to turn around and claim the Philippines as their own, which resulted in yet another war. 

Despite all the overwhelming history which proved America’s abuse of its Asian population, the mistreatment appears to have been forgotten or forgiven with the introduction of the concept of the, you guessed it, model minority. When the term “model minority” was first introduced in a 1966 article, it praised Japanese Americans for their overwhelming professional success and for “overcoming” discrimination. The praise of the financial and social success of Japanese Americans was soon spread to apply to all American citizens of Asian descent at the detriment of Black and Brown Americans and was quickly weaponized against them. There has long been discourse within the AAPI community over the harmful nature of the model minority myth toward Asian Americans, but we rarely– if ever– talk about the damage it did and continues to do to Black Americans. 

If Asians could get out of being abused by white people, they argued, why could Black Americans not follow suit? This logic ignores the fact that the growing Asian American population had largely comprised scientists, doctors, and engineers that were recruited by the United States to emigrate. As a result, the majority of the (primarily East) Asian population by 1966 in America began their American journey with a significant advantage over African Americans. They had only gotten the right to vote one year earlier. 

1966 was arguably within the peak years of the Civil Rights movement. And isn’t it awfully convenient that white Americans began praising Asian Americans for overcoming oppression the “right” way just as Black Americans began bringing light to centuries of abuse? Much like the aftermath of Bacon’s Rebellion, the model minority myth served as a way to divide minorities at the cusp of unification. It was and still is, to this day, a way to delegitimize the struggles of the Black community.  

Like the poor white colonists of Jamestown, Asian Americans were offered just a hint of whiteness and power in exchange for the dignity of their Black brothers and sisters. And unfortunately, we have also taken the bait while very little of our treatment has changed.  

Like those in the Bacon’s Rebellion, Asians will never actually enter the ruling class. No amount denouncing other people of color as dangerous or uneducated is going to change that. No matter how tightly you cling to the belief that you are turning your backs on black people in their time of need will help make you more palatable to white America, they will always see you as Asian first. Just look at how quickly so many in the country turned on our community when China was blamed for the spread of COVID-19. 

It’s time for us to realize that we have been manipulated into kicking down a community that has barely been given a chance to get up. To realize that we have more in common with black Americans than we do, the unobtainable Americanness we have been told is so desirable. To realize that the concept of America, we have been taught to uphold and strive toward is a corrupt system that benefits a wealthy white ruling class to the extreme detriment of everyone beneath them. So let’s help to build a new one. 

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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