The Imperfect Model Minority

June 11, 2010 

Driven by sustained immigration and refugee resettlement during the 1970’s and 1980’s, Asian Americans have emerged as the fastest growing racial group and labeled as the model minority. The label ballooned into a myth. Statistics are often cited to back up their model minority status such as high educational achievement, overrepresentation at Ivy League and other prestigious universities, and a high percentage of Asian Americans working in white collar professions (jobs such as medicine, investment banking, management consulting, finance, engineering, and law). 

The term “model minority” was coined in the mid-1960s by William Petersen to describe Asians in comparison to African-Americans. Asian Americans were chosen as an example of a minority group who could succeed by “merit” alone without “affirmative action.” This assumption ignored completely each group’s American history and cultural mores. The first Asians came here as willing workers. Blacks were here dragged in chains. writes: “While superficially complimentary to Asian Americans, the real purpose and effect of this portrayal is to celebrate the status quo in race relations. First, by over-emphasizing Asian American success, it de-emphasizes the problems Asian Americans continue to face from racial discrimination in all areas of public and private life. Second, by misrepresenting Asian American success as proof that the US provides equal opportunities for those who conform and work hard, it excuses US society from careful scrutiny on issues of race in general, and on the persistence of racism against Asian Americans in particular.”
The problems of Asian Americans facing racism are detailed in Rosalind S. Chou and Joe R. Feagin’s book The Myth of the Model Minority. They too suffer from poverty, unemployment, discrimination and attendant mental health issues. Psychiatrists have long linked mental health and racial discrimination. Cho Seung-Hui’s 2007 Virginia Tech Massacre illustrates how the problems of Asian Americans can go undetected and untreated. Racism and discrimination are stressful events that adversely affect health and mental health. They place minorities at risk for mental disorders such as depression and anxiety.

In their important book Black Rage, psychiatrists Grier and Cobbs draw from records of patients to show that many psychological problems of African Americans are the result not only present-day discrimination but also of the accumulating impact of years of past discrimination. As they note, “a few black people may hide their scars, [but] most harbor the wounds of yesterday.” One advantage that African Americans have over many other Americans of color is many generations of building up a collective knowledge of white racism and of the strategies that enable people to resist it. In contrast, the collective memory of resistance strategies among Asian Americans seems relatively weaker and generally less effective in providing significant protection. (Chou and Feagin)

It’s not a perfect world and one can ill afford to ignore or underestimate the consequences of racism and discrimination as experienced by people of color.

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!


5 × six =

It's A Black - Products & Gifts
One Stop Shopping For African American Products & Gifts