AAPIs and the Model Minority Myth: A Harmful Stereotype

 

“You’re Asian so you must be good at math, right?”

“Oh wow! Your English is surprisingly very good!”

“Where are you from? No, where are you REALLY from?”

 

It is doubtless how often such stereotypes surround the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities within popular discourse. Not only do questions like these reinforce stigmatization of AAPIs as extremely smart or foreign, but it contributes to the reinforcement of White supremacy and racial hierarchy within society. In an education system where diversity is largely growing, our students should no longer have to feel set apart from their peers based on the color of their skin. As society progresses, the Model Minority Myth and other such stereotypes should be debunked from everyday speech.

The Model Minority Myth (MMM) is the notion that AAPIs are the minoritized societal role models that other minorities should seek to exemplify. This myth often associates AAPIs with being well-performing in the education system and morally well-behaved; however, it also comes with negative stereotypes as well. While AAPIs are given credit for having outstanding behavior, this places limitations upon them because they are held to a certain expectation; essentially, they are a group held higher in relation to other minorities and yet placed as “foreigners set apart from the host society” (Poon 473). AAPIs are typically referred to as the “middleman” within the wealthy vs. peasant binary, and they are used as a tool that binds them in between those who are White and those who are people of color (Poon 473). In other words, AAPIs are exploited by being praised as accepted members of society in order to discriminate against other minorities for not performing as well, and yet they are held in lower standards than White people.

Even if many do not recognize the effects that the MMM plays in everyday life, it is a predominant ideology within schools. In Gilda Ochoa’s book, Academic Profiling: Latinos, Asian Americans, and the Achievement Gap, student Monique Martinez states, “You grow up in a world where some people are just stupid and some people are smart. You assume that Asians are smart and that Mexicans are always stupid” (29). This is an example of how the MMM places Asian American students above minority students; in this case, Mexican students at Southern California High School are made to believe that their Asian peers have an academic advantage over them. Although this is only one example of how students may see themselves within the MMM framework, it is concerning to consider how widespread this ideology actually is within all schools throughout America. While AAPIs are being recognized for being smart, this comes to the expense of other minorities who are not given the same credit in terms of academic recognition. This is not only harmful for the groups being compared, but it is harmful for relationships among students who delve into this dominant ideology and look at their peers in a different light.

Additionally, many people do not realize how the MMM and other stereotypes reinforce the White dominant society ideology. From personal experience attending a predominantly White middle school, I’ve experienced this discrimination countless times. On a few occasions, my White peers consistently asked me for math help because they assumed that as I was Asian, I must be good at math. I remember one of them telling me in a very amazed manner how I had huge eyes for an Asian. Whether or not she truly thought that she was giving me a compliment, I’m not sure, but this goes to prove how little people think about what stereotypes can do to people who fall under the labels. As an Asian American who received “compliments” and questions for help, I can account for the feelings of other-ness that the MMM can inflict whether intentionally or unintentionally. While my peers may have believed that they were acknowledging me as someone equal to them in status, they inadvertently reinforced the stereotypes that made me inferior to them.

What seems to be a positive stereotype of AAPIs is actually one that can be very harmful. The Model Minority Myth, while it may give AAPIs a reputation as outstanding performers, should be challenged for the underlying racism associated with it and its reinforcement of White supremacist societal standards. In today’s society, stereotypes like the MMM that exist to set apart racial groups from one another do not benefit the growing diversity that is becoming America.

Ochoa, Gilda. “Academic Profiling: Latinos, Asian Americans, and the Achievement Gap.” University of Minnesota Press. Oct. 2013. Web. 15 Mar. 2017. <http://ucelinks.cdlib.org&gt;.

Poon, OiYan. et. al. “A Critical Review of the Model Minority Myth in Selected Literature on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Higher Education.” Jun. 2016. PDF file. 15 Mar. 2017. <https://ccle.ucla.edu/&gt;.

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