The Model Minority Myth
Popular television and films exoticize Asian culture and peoples. If you’re a man, you’re a kung fu master. If you’re a woman, you’re a submissive sex object. If you’re gender non-binary or transgender, you don’t exist at all. Mickey Rooney’s racist portrayal in Breakfast at Tiffany’s lives in our collective imagination alongside every East or South Asian actor who has played a bit part as a humorless doctor or IT guy. Buried under these stereotypes, the message is clear: Asian Americans are all the same—and all different from other Americans. On one hand, Asian Americans are often perceived as having assimilated better than other minority groups. On the other hand, Asian Americans are seen as having some foreign quality that renders them perpetual outsiders. It’s a paradox familiar to every Asian American who regularly faces the question, “But where are you from, originally?” The model minority myth erases racism against Asian Americans. Positioning Asian Americans as beneficiaries of the bounty of the American Dream, the myth of the model minority ignores the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and Japanese internment in the 1940s. It suggests that the U.S. has always been a welcoming place for people of Asian descent, in spite of the mass lynchings of Asian Americans in the 19th century and the murder of Vincent Chin in 1982.