The “Model Minority” Myth and Why It Should Be Abandoned

by Emily Keshishian

For decades now, Asian Americans have been regarded as the “model minority,” the group for all other minority groups to follow and look up to. According to the “model minority” myth, Asian Americans are known for “being good citizens and advancing on their own because of their believed cultural emphasis on hard work and determination” (Ochoa, 2013, p. 13). Upon more thorough analysis of this belief, however, its flawed and problematic nature surfaces. Here are three key reasons why this myth should be abandoned:

  1. It triggers an inaccurate grouping of all Asians. To begin with, individuals from Northeast Asia and Southeast Asia are essentially fused into one group, despite heterogeneity in culture, experience, immigration, development, and more. The “model minority” myth overly simplifies the idea of culture, which triggers a lack of panethnic distinction. For example, homogenization of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders is “detrimental to indigenous self-determination—a central issue among Pacific Islanders” (Perez, 2002, p. 469). This uncritical panethnicity overlooks the complexity of culture and ultimately ignores individual heterogeneity.
  1. It causes competition and tension both amongst Asians themselves and with other races and cultures. The deep-rooted conception of Asians being the “model minority” suggests that all Asians should reflect the “model minority” image, and other minority groups should strive to carry out their lives just as Asians have. This can be destructive by turning Asians against each other out of competition and rivalry to surpass one another’s success in school and work settings. It can also be troublesome by appearing to belittle and undermine the struggles and accomplishments of other groups such as Latinas/os and African Americans.
  1. It places an unfair amount of pressure on Asians. The “model minority” myth puts excessive pressure on Asians through high societal expectations. For instance, Asian-American students continuously feel that they are pushed to succeed more than students of other races and cultures merely due to society’s views on Asians (Ochoa, 2013, p. 166). Mental and emotional distress brought on by this strain and weight may then trigger a minimized sense of self-confidence and self-worth. This can ultimately burden and neglect Latinas/os and Africans Americans in educational and life journeys by setting lower expectations for these groups in comparison to Asians.

Therefore, though the “model minority” reputation may initially come across as a positive perception, the ideas of homogenization, competition, and pressure reveal problematic aspects of this myth.

 

References:

Ochoa, G.L. (2013). Academic profiling: Latinos, Asian Americans, and the achievement gap. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Poon, et al. (2016). A critical review of the model minority myth in selected literature on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in higher education. Review of Educational Research, 86(2), 469-502.

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