By Hannah Kim
Certain minority groups were forced to rise to the occasion and assimilate by becoming average members of society due to the hardships of being an immigrant in a largely capitalist nation. Although times have changed, certain minorities are still being pressured and discriminated against by the model minority myth.
The model minority myth is the belief that a specific minority demographic is perceived to be socioeconomically more successful than other groups.
The notion of labeling a specific ethnic minority the “model” can create unrealistic standards and be degrading to a multitude of people. From putting illogical expectations on certain races, such as East Asians, South Asians, and the Jewish population, to discouraging and shaming other races, such as African Americans and the Hispanic population, the myth has been discriminatory towards many. History has shown that people have used Asians’ apparent success in life as the “model” in order to compare other minority groups to them, whether in employment, schooling, or crime, resulting in the ignorance of other important factors like systemic racism and discriminatory practices.
“The issue rises when White America points to the Black American community and asks, ‘Why can’t you do that?’” said Project Angel Island*.
This is also harmful to Asian Americans because they are generalized even though many do not share the same experiences. Asians are often ridiculed because of certain stereotypes, such as being good at math. Although this can seem like a compliment, it is only reaffirming unreasonable standards and associating a skill with race, which can negatively impact the mental health of many developing children.
Artwork by Shadia Zayer
Stereotypes and derogatory statements imposed on Asian Americans have continued to silence and minimize their voices.
Internalized racism has become a contributing factor in the normalization of racial and societal pressures. Certain minorities feel the need to raise their standards in order to meet society’s expectations of them. Even within specific racial groups, minorities feel the need to meet standards they set for themselves.
“Due to society’s unrealistic stereotypes and familial expectations, I, a member of the East Asian community, often feel compelled to think that I need to work harder and smarter than people of other races,” said junior Shirley Chen.
This is also evident in many other groups affected by the model minority myth such as South Asians and the Jewish population. Ethnic groups are often pinned against one another rather than the general population in hopes of proving to be the most capable of the race.
“The model minority myth also perpetuates the notion that racism is somehow more acceptable when it is being directed to specific racial groups...”
“I’m grateful that my family’s habits of one-upping haven’t bled immensely into my daily school life, but there has always been a debate of who’s better when speaking to anyone within similar ethnic groups,” said sophomore Ishita Bansal.
Affirmative action has shown to be a clear example of hurting those that fall into the model minority. Schools such as Harvard are known to have certain quotas that hold Asian students to a higher standard in the application process compared to white students.
“Asian Americans faced discrimination because of efforts to help other minority groups,” said William Reynolds, the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
The model minority myth also perpetuates the notion that racism is somehow more acceptable when it is being directed to specific racial groups. Mass media attention toward racial injustices against African Americans has been given significant attention, while COVID-19 racism against Asians has been highly overlooked by many. The fact is, racism should not be tolerated no matter the recipient of the hate.
A case like the 89 year-old Cantonese woman who was set on fire did not spark much outrage and was widely overlooked by the general public. The heinous act against the elderly woman was delayed in being considered a hate crime despite the speculations of many that it was a result of COVID-19 racism. In addition, the stereotype that Asians are too quiet to speak up plays a major part in society's normalization of Asian hate crimes.
Although the adoption of labels is a long-inherited societal trait, the consequences of these actions must be recognized, and ignorant assumptions should be corrected. Explaining the detrimental effects that the model minority myth can have on people as well as working to point out the unethical influence it can have on opportunities can begin to address the burden that many minorities face. Educating the general public of the significance of stereotypes and racial pressures is the first step towards the progression of an equitable society.
*Project Angel Island is an organization started by students from Jericho High School. They strive to educate youth about societal issues and empower minorities through colorful infographics and blog posts. If you would like to support them, check out their Instagram page, @projectangelisland, and their Etsy, where they donate the proceeds from their handmade jewelry and sticker shop to charity.