Model Minority Myth

I am referring to the (supposed) social stereotyping of the Asian-American (AA) community as the “Model Minority”, i.e., hard-working, assimilating and “quiet”. I am wondering if such a thing exists, and to what extent it exists and has harmful repercussions. The gist I obtained from sample articles on the web, which label it a harmful myth, were:

(1) This was perpetuated by the white (conservative?) establishment as a way to prove their case, especially to the black community, that American society was indeed a level playing field. (Affirmative action)

(2) Either by design or by accident, this stereotyping is harmful as it is a strong factor in driving AAs to the Sciences keeping them away from areas from where they could potentially derive power, i.e., politics, journalism and liberal arts.

(3) Related to (2), the constant reference to AAs as “quiet people” (IIRC, GW Bush did this too) further alienates AAs from politics and having their voices heard.

(4) Most importantly, there exists a “glass ceiling”. Despite being educationally successful and making it in middle-upper-middle class, AAs cannot progress beyond a point. The stereotype helps cover up this phenomenon.

Well, I am not sure if there’s been any rigorous academic study of this. Some of the articles IMO sounded extreme even suggesting a conspiracy of sorts by the white establishment, while the other extreme viewpoint is that we are witnessing just natural social growth within a community, and in a few generations, AAs will be in politics and media.

Any thoughts?

I have one anecdotal comment I’d like to make. My interaction with asians is quite large as many of the scientists I interact with are asians. However, one of them stuck out in my mind. When we met, we struck a friendly conversation, and it somehow led to areas we’d lived in in the past. He mentioned Detroit, and then made a very off-color remark about blacks. I stumbled for a cold response and tried to change subjects, but I always wondered why he felt comfortable saying something like that to me. Was it because I was white? I don’t know. It bothers me for a few reasons.

  1. The assumption that I am racist at all bothers me
  2. Hearing one minority downplay another bothers me
  3. Worrying that the assumption that I was racist was because I was white
  4. Worrying that I might have said something which made him think that

If that is what makes a minority “good” then, er, that’s bad IMO.

Does Asian refer to all Asians ?

Are Koreans stereotyped the same way as a Thai or a Sri Lankan ?

AFAIK this stereotype existed before affirmative action came into being. In my experience, it has considerable validity. A Chinese-American friend of mine and I have discussed this. She certainly sees the stereotype as being a part of her culture. Jackie Chan is great, but he is an anomoly.

It is also true that opponents of affirmative action have used it as an example to demonstrate that cultural habits can overcome prejudice

We have seen examples of Asian Americans succeeding in business where they exercised considerable power. An Wang comes to mind. Ramani Nayar is the CEO of Hartford Insurance & Financial Group, one of the world’s largest Insurance carriers and financial services.

Don’t know.

Historically there has been enormous prejudice against AAs. They haven’t been as successful in certain fields is partly because of their culture and partly because the prejudice isn’t fully overcome. But, the prejudice that hurts them isn’t based the positive stereotypes. It’s the *negative *stereotypes.

I think, december, part of the issue here is how the positive stereotype ends up hurting us because it doesn’t allow us to see the negative stereotype.

erislover, could you cite some of the articles propounding the Model Minority Myth? Frankly, I find the MMM to be remarkably wrong-headed. It’s a way to tell a minority that good behavior on their part will be harmful to ending discrimination against them. Discouraging good behavior is bad for society and bad for the group in question IMHO.

What good behavior, december?

The OP said “hard-working, assimilating and ‘quiet’”

I think it can be harmful to Asians if people think they “have nothing to worry about”.

Not all Asian immigrants are “successful”. Not all of them own their own nail salons or corner stores. Many of them are poor working stiffs who struggle with things like access to health care and education. To label Asian Americans as all rich and successful does just as much damage to poor Asian Americans as it does to poor white Apalachians when people think all whites are rich and successful.

So I guess you think the “bad behavior” of black people explains the centuries-long discrimination against them, december? That if black people would just be more white–oops, I mean “good”–then they wouldn’t be at the bottom rung of society?

Isn’t that blaming the victim?

How can you take this position after the criticism you properly heaped on x-ray vision? If a black person applies for a job, x-ray and his ilk will automatically tend think badly of the applicant. That obviously hurts black people. But, if an Asian American applies for a job, the hirers will automatically tend to think well of him. How can that be bad for Asian Americans?

Really! They should just assimilate quietly and keep working, unlike those uppity—well, no need to say it, is there?

As the lily white mom of an Asian kid - we adoptive parents are told that this stereotype can be harmful. Asian kids get tracked as “smart” - especially at math, and occationally don’t have their learning disabilities identified early. They often don’t have their behaviorial problems identified either - because Asian kids are “good.” This is changing in Minnesota, which has a huge Asian immigrant population (largely Hmong and Vietnamese), and the advent of “Asian Gangs” has made a young Asian male threatening - especially in certain environments - and has allowed people to see enough variation in the Asian experience to see individuals instead of type. Minnesota also has the unusual circumstance that, if you are Korean, chances are pretty good you have white parents, complicating the stereotype of culture.

It is amazing how many people (white people) looked at my son as a toddler and said “he must be very smart.” People did not do this with my white daughter. Asians on the other hand, tell me my son is “handsome.”

Now, I’d rather have my son not be able to live up to a positive stereotype (smart, hardworking) than have to live down a negative one. But that doesn’t mean the positive one doesn’t carry some burden.

Of course not.

Prejudice has been much more severe against blacks than against other minorities, for reasons we both know. What I am addressing is how to best overcome that prejudice.

My point is that “good behavior” has been effective. It worked for Asian Americans, Jews and other minorities. It has also worked for blacks. The examples of successful blacks like Duke Ellington, Oprah Winfrey, Toni Morrison, Bill Cosby, David Blackwell, Colin Powell, etc. have done more to fight racisim than Louis Farrakhan and Jesse Jackson IMHO.

IMHO there was a time when just “good behavior” wasn’t enough. Jim Crow had such a powerful hold that it took much more to overthrow it. Maybe good behavior still isn’t enough to end prejudice against blacks. But, that’s no reason to denigrate good behavior by other groups.

My comment was about Asian Americans success coming from their “good behavior.” You seems to be saying that that’s not a PC comment. I guess PC requires blaiming all ills on white racisim.

Political Correctness has the virtue of holding down racist talk. It has the vice of constraining one’s thinking. In that way it can retard analysis of solutions.

It has nothing to do with PC. I don’t beat around the bush. At least, I hope I never come off that way.

I question your understanding of good behavior, whether you put it in quotes or not. I find that praise to be damning, both of your opinion, and of the actions about whom you opine.


I think you have stretched my comments far beyond what I said or what I meant. Note that it would be possible to unfairly stretch your comments to imply that you are antisemitic and anti-Asian, although I am sure you are neither.

I would appreciate a more complete explanation about why you found my praise of Asian-Americans to be “damning.”

Dangerosa, no doubt a positive stereotype carries some burden, but this is a high-class problem. How much of a burden was it for George Bush to get accepted at Yale, because of a positive stereotype?

I think your praise is buying into a myth. Not all asians are good at math or smart. Some may have a good work ethic, but there’s others that don’t. You also have to keep in mind that recent immigrants have a different mind set when landing in a new country. It takes a lot of motivation to leave your country of origin and essentially start over in a new one. What’s the likelyhood of an individual going through great pains to come to another country and then once they’ve gotten to that country decide they are no longer motivated? I say the likelyhood is very small.

I don’t think your praise is “damning”, but I will put forth the idea that it is short sighted and a stereotype.

A month or so ago, Fiestymongol went on a tirade about anti-Asian racism and stereotypes. People jumped on him, saying he was talking a bunch of malarky. They couldn’t fathom that Asians have been mistreated in this country, or see that there ARE pervasive negative stereotypes of Asians in our culture. I attribute that blindness on the Model Minority myth. And yes, I think it’s dangerous.

Affirmative Action and Asians are never associated with one another, as if to say that Asian Americans have never had any barriers to their inclusion in this society. Is this true? If not, isn’t this myth counter-productive to the political interests of Asian Americans? I think it is.

Sure, not all Asians are hard-working, but the description is true on average.

This comment simply justifies the myth. How can you criticize me for buying into it, and then go on to explain why it’s true?

Of course it’s a stereotype. But, stereotypes can have a considerable degree of accuracy.

Ah, I think I’m beginning to see where you’re coming from – being a victim. Today, it’s a popular belief that being able to claim victim status is of value. It justifies sympathy, preferences, etc. We see all kinds of groups striving to be known as victims: women, blacks, gays, fat people, Hispanics,…

Being from an older generation, I don’t see much value to victimhood. I see value in achievement. A positive stereotype deters the claim of victim status, but it enhances one’s chance of personal success. As I see it, personal achievement means actively taking success. Victimhood means begging for someone else to give it to you.

** december replied: **
We have seen examples of Asian Americans succeeding in business where they exercised considerable power. An Wang comes to mind. Ramani Nayar is the CEO of Hartford Insurance & Financial Group, one of the world’s largest Insurance carriers and financial services.

Don’t you see how in your response, you named successful businessmen, when the OP was talking about politics and media?

In fact point (4) of the OP also mentions that there is a glass ceiling many AAs face while progressing even in middle-management. This ceiling is apparently overlooked because of the positive stereotype. That is, the positive stereotype proves harmful to some AAs. This also addresses your point below.

** Gyan **
I believe it applies to Asians in general, probably focused more on Chinese, Japanese and Indians.