How do you feel about the Model Minority Myth? I'm black and often inspired by Asians who have stats that say they are 4% of the country but 24% of Harvard. Others will say this is a myth of the success of Asians. What do you think?
Here is the Korean's view in a nutshell: properly used (note the emphasis,) the "model minority myth" can be a very useful instrument.
The model minority theory is fairly well known, so only a little bit of explanation would suffice. Asian Americans are often considered the "model minority," because despite being a minority who is supposed to be at a disadvantage in a racist society, Asian Americans excel to a degree that surpasses even whites. Across all ethnicities in the U.S., Asian Americans are most likely to be college-educated, most likely to be in high-skill occupation, have the highest median family income, and least likely to be poor or be on public assistance.
Because it is fashionable to hate on the model minority theory, the Korean would like to remind everyone this: the fact that Asian Americans tend to do well in America is not a bad thing. People should be happy with the fact that Asian Americans, despite immigrating to a new land where they face significant barriers, nonetheless manage to (broadly speaking) succeed greatly.
The problem, instead, is when the success of Asian Americans is used to push other things that do not quite connect. Thus the critics of model minority theory are quick to point out that model minority theory is used by certain groups to pit Asian Americans against other minorities. Or that model minority theory glosses over the heterogeneity within Asian Americans, as certain Asian American sub-groups (e.g. Cambodians) do not follow the overall trend of Asian Americans. Or that Asian Americans still have to put in more hours of work to earn the same amount of money as whites. These criticisms are of course correct, and they need to be taken into account when we evaluate the success of Asian Americans.
But the Korean cannot help but wonder: why don't people care more about why Asian Americans succeed? Even if all the criticisms are true, they do not change the fact that a good number of Asian Americans are successful in America against all odds. Why is there no effort -- or at least, no effort commensurate to the effort devoted to argue against the model minority theory -- to decipher what Asian Americans are doing right, theorize it, and apply the theory for the betterment of all Americans, particularly minorities? If what Asian Americans are doing is conducive to success, shouldn't all Americans do what Asian Americans are doing? Shouldn't that be the greatest contribution of Asian American Studies as a scholarly discipline?
If anything, the trend so far has been the opposite. Any suggestion of what other minorities could learn from Asian Americans is often met by charges of arrogance from other minorities, and a tut-tut from Asian American Studies people claiming that such suggestion pits Asian Americans from other minorities. Whites are happy until Asian Americans are about as successful as they are, but are quick to dismiss the success of Asian Americans when it appears that Asian Americans might actually be doing better than them. So the mainstream society devalues Asian Americans' success as "too focused on academics" or "not creative" -- a ludicrous notion, given the success of Asian Americans in music (easily half of the Juilliard School,) literature (Amy Tan, Maxine Hong Kingston, Changrae Lee, Min Jin Lee,) sports (Michelle Wie, Anthony Kim, Christina Kim,) fashion design (Vera Wang, Jason Wu, Richard Chai,) or just about any other field. At high schools in San Francisco Bay Area where Asian American students excel, there is a "reverse white flight" because Asian American parents are "too competitive."
Obviously, model minority theory cannot explain everything about Asian Americans, or success in America. No theory is perfect; if you follow only one theory to guide your life, you will be seriously wrong and badly lost. But this must be said, and said confidently: We Asian Americans are, on average, doing great because we are doing something right. We do not have to apologize for our success, or find a way to explain somehow that our success is not a real success. We are indeed the model minority, in the true sense of the word -- the model which all of America would do well to take notice and learn from.
Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at firstname.lastname@example.org.