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The Large Majority: Asian Americans as the “model minority.”

In the United States, the Asian American demographic only makes up about 5.6% of the national population. On a global scale however, Asians make up around 60% of the world population, so to call Asians a “minority” seems almost paradoxical. And still, Asian Americans have certainly faced the
injustices, prejudices, and oppression that come with being of a minority race in America.

Historically, and still today, Asian Americans are referred to as “the model minority,’ a myth that feeds off stereotypes like high-paying careers (doctors and lawyers), hyper-intensified skill sets (mathematics and musical abilities), and characteristics associated with innocence, purity, cuteness, and child-like mannerisms.

All of these generalizations are micro-aggressive prejudices that stem from a history of exoticism. The origin of exoticism began as a result of western colonial expansion into an area known as “the Orient.’ The Orient referred to the land east of Western Europe, and originally included territories in the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. As European imperialism, trade, and expansion heightened, trinkets, artifacts, and people were brought to Europe as “exotic goods.” These “goods” were considered treasured valuables, and the minimization of so many different cultures and people to a materialized ornament of possession had a direct connection to the model minority myth in the United
States.

Asian Americans are statistically known as having the highest average median income among American
households. While this statistic holds weight, it is often used as a pillar to support the model minority myth; it promotes the idea that all minority groups have an equal opportunity to acquire wealth, and this is simply not the case in the United States. This myth also allows micro-aggressions against Asians and Asian Americans to be normalized in media and culture. However, to dismiss racism against Asian Americans because of wealth distribution is to completely ignore the historical struggles of Asians and Asian Americans in the United States.

Throughout the course of American history, there has been a bevy of alienating legislative mandates
against Asian Americans: the Foreign Miners’ Tax of 1850, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and the WW2 Japanese internment camps established by Executive Order 9066 from 1942-1945, to name a few. The plight of Asians and Asian Americans is in no way comparable to the struggles of other cultural groups in the United States, and yet, there seems to be an overall lack of knowledge regarding our nation’s history of racism against an entire group of people.

The racism that exists against Asians and Asian Americans today, primarily in the form of micro-aggressions rooted in stereotypes, is not always so easy to point out. We can take the recent COVID-19
pandemic as an example. Many people rushed to the defense of Asian Americans in response to President Trump’s referral to the virus as “The Chinese Virus.” While his language was insensitive to say the least, the counter attacks (from many white media outlets) called Trump out for “offending Asian Americans.” In this statement alone, an entire continent, that includes 48 countries, was condensed to just a single country: China. It was not just Chinese Americans who should be offended by Trump’s statement, but anyone who bore any semblance to Chinese culture or heritage, namely, any Asian American.

While Trump’s statement was problematic, the response was equally so, as it perpetuates the inability for the majority of Americans to recognize that not all Asians are Chinese (reminder: India, Iran, Afghanistan,
and Saudi Arabia are all in Asia) and that the Asian American experience is not the same across the board. Racism against Asian Americans often leads people to think of East Asia (China, Japan, North and South Korea, etc.), but many forget that much of what we refer to as the Middle East is also a part Asia. So, when critiquing racism against Asian Americans, it is crucial that the entire group of people is included in the conversation.

As a South Korean American, I can speak from my own experiences with various micro-aggressions;
combatting racism has been awkward to say the least. People are shocked to find that I am terrible at math, many ask and are quickly relieved to find that I am from “the good Korea,” and I have been told that my being half Asian is “cute” and “beautiful”. All of these offensive and uninformed stereotypes are casually disguised as compliments, and this is a direct result of the model minority myth.

The most important thing we can do as Americans is to properly educate ourselves about the racism that
exists in our own country, and actively work against the internalized prejudices we have formed about others.

 

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