Saturday, October 24, 2015

Is This Diversity Working: Asian Americans and the "Model Minority" Myth


Is this diversity working? The 2nd installment of this series focuses on Asian Americans and the 'model minority' myth, a label deemed offensive to many.

Recently, the column “The Asian Advantage” by Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, stirred uproar among the Asian American community, and the 'model minority' resurfaced once again in conversations, according to The Washington Post.
While many Asian American commenters said they appreciated Kristof’s attempt to clarify his points, the post likely befuddled others. What could be objectionable, after all, about a column representing as fact the achievements of Asian immigrants in America? But to many Asian Americans, the column’s opening gambit isn’t just awkward. It’s offensive — and dangerous. - Read more at:

The report above quotes Kristof as saying, “My column last weekend on Asian-Americans sparked lots of conversation and criticism,” he wrote, addressing at length the various objections to and interpretations of the column. “Thanks for joining the conversation, whether you were patting me on the back or whacking me over the head.”

In his column, in which he discusses factors that contribute to the “Asian Advantage,” Kristof wrote as an opening, and to which many Asian Americans took offense: THIS is an awkward question, but here goes: Why are Asian-Americans so successful in America? Later in his column, he continues:
So the Asian advantage, Nisbett argues, isn’t intellectual firepower as such, but how it is harnessed. Some disagree, but I’m pretty sure that one factor is East Asia’s long Confucian emphasis on education. […] There’s also evidence that Americans believe that A’s go to smart kids, while Asians are more likely to think that they go to hard workers....” - Read more at:

Many responded to Kristof's column, and among these is an article by Sahra Vang Nguyen, who wrote: There is no "Asian Advantage" -- there are only skewed stats to purport the model minority myth and a divide within the racial justice movement.[...] First off, when people say "Asian American," please remember that this describes a massive conglomerate of 48 countries, with distinct cultural differences and political histories in the United States (from exploited railroad labor, to the brain drain, to war refugees). - Read more at

In another article, Asian American students explain how the 'model minority' tag does not accurately picture their particular situations.
I’m Chinese American, studying economics at an Ivy League school, good at piano, class valedictorian from high school. I guess you could say I fit the model minority myth,” she says. “My aspirations are not culturally programmed. I have struggled with anxiety, fought with my parents about my future and faced microaggressions growing up in rural America,” Zhang says.
Katie Zdunek, a journalism major at Western Kentucky University, agrees. “These stereotypes negate individual needs, talents, and experiences. It’s demeaning!” Zdunek says. - Read more
  
Asian Americans have raised their voices against being labeled as a 'model minority' time and time again, yet the tag remains. Aside from the fact that Asian Americans come from diverse ethnic and cultural groups, and therefore, the phrase overlooks the struggles within each of these diverse subgroups, the phrase also “justify oppressive racial structures,” one article notes.
The “model minority” stereotype distorts the causality of differential academic and career success among various minority groups. A failure to succeed is attributed to inherent flaws within the character of an individual or the minority group as a whole. However, the historical facts indicate that the structuring of U.S. policy (mostly by white males) – be it through the Immigration Act, NAFTA or slavery – heavily determined the success of any given minority group. Likewise, structural discrimination against African Americans and Latinos in prison sentencing, employment and police brutality today is ignored in favor of blame-the-victim explanations promoted by the “model minority” ideology. - Read more at:


Thus, if the phrase carries negative implications and perpetuates unjust structures, policies, and discrimination, is it not indeed time for such myth to be dismantled? Is this diversity working? You may share your thoughts with us.

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