What is the Model Minority Myth?

                                                 Some examples of magazine articles that perpetuated the Model Minority Myth.


Asian Americans, including Chinese-Americans, are often stereotyped as a “model minority.” But where did this myth come from? The term is often traced to a 1966 New York Times Article by sociologist William Petersen, entitled “Success Story, Japanese-American Style.” In the article, Petersen explains how despite racial prejudice, hate crimes, internment, and many adversities, the racial group was still able to achieve a high socioeconomic status through hard work and cultural values such as work ethic and discipline. Petersen wrote: 


Asked which of the country’s ethnic minorities has been subjected to the most discrimination and the worst injustices, very few persons would even think of answering: “The Japanese Americans.” Yet if the question refers to persons alive today that may well be the correct reply. Like the Negroes, the Japanese have been the object of color prejudice. LIke the Jews, they have been feared as hyper efficient competitors. And, more than any other group, they have been seen as the agents of an overseas enemy. Conservatives, liberals and radicals, local sheriffs, the Federal Government and the Supreme Court have cooperated in denying them their elemnary rights—most notoriously in their World War II evacuation to internment camps. 


As you can see in the excerpt, this Model Minority Myth is explicitly anti-Black. By comparing Asian Americans to other racial groups, this comparison promotes the idea that Latinx and African American people are “bad minorities,” who are more criminally prone, welfare recipient citizens. The Model Minority Myth hinders solidarity between racial groups and further divides everyone in order to serve white supremacy. As Valerie Reynoso writes in “History of the Model Minority Myth in the US”: 


The idea of the model minority myth is a fallacy because in order for a group to be socialized as such, they have to assimilate into the dominant culture and gain proximity to whiteness by all means or have racial stereotypes imposed on them.  Model minority and bootstrap theory are rooted in capitalist and individualist trains of thought, white supremacist systems of oppression and encourage oppressed nationalities to compete for capitalist, white supremacist approval.


Though the 1966 article by Petersen only profiled Japanese-Americans, Chinese-Americans have also seen this term applied to them, alongside Korean and South Asian Americans. As an Asian American community, we must thoroughly reject this harmful, anti-Black stereotype and remember that the word “Asian American” itself was born out of a movement that emphasized the importance of interracial solidarity. 


Interested in learning more? Check out these resources:


— Southern Poverty Law Center – What is the Model Minority Myth? 

— USC Pacific Asia Museum – Debunking the Model Minority Myth 

— Time Magazine – Asian Americans Are Still Caught in the Trap of the “Model Minority” Stereotype. And It Creates Inequality for All

— National Public Radio – 6 Charts That Dismantle The Trope Of Asian Americans As A Model Minority  

— Medical News Today – The ‘model minority’ myth: Its impact on well-being and mental health