Protestors rally against Asian hate crimes in Thai Town in Los Angeles on April 8. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
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Opinion: The consequences of ‘positive’ stereotypes

Out of the six major minority groups in the United States, Asian Americans are the third-largest group with around 17.3 million people, making up 5.6% of the U.S. population, according to 2010 U.S. Census Bureau data.

So why are Asian Americans occasionally not considered a minority or people of color? Just last November of 2020, a Washington school district categorized Asians with white and the remaining ethnic groups as students of color.

According to NextShark, the Washington school district, North Thurston Public Schools, released a chart displaying the academic achievements between Students of Color and white/Asian students. In this school district, Asians scored higher than other students of color and had relatively the same scores as their white peers. North Thurston Public Schools used this to show a wider gap between “white” students and students of color, rather than shortening that gap by placing Asians where they belong, as students of color.

No matter what the topic is, there have always been stereotypes regarding the matter. The most common stereotype among Asian Americans that you may know of is the model minority myth.

According to the American Psychological Association, it was first used in the 1960s to divide Japanese Americans and African Americans. White people used this to explain how Asian Americans were quickly able to assimilate into American society; they were hardworking, high-achieving, and obedient, unlike African Americans. Since then, Asians became this “model minority” for other minorities to follow.

Consequently, Asian Americans were — and still are — assumed to be successful and the stereotypes create this academic pressure for other groups and Asian Americans themselves.

People in the education community need to stop imposing stereotypes on Asian Americans because their achievements are being undermined, they’re excluded from being a minority group, and some struggle with their identity if they don’t necessarily fit into those stereotypes.

Asian Americans are overlooked because researchers refuse to acknowledge their successes. A case study in 2008 analyzed the reviews and bloggers’ reactions to a book about racism against Asian Americans.

The study found many reviewers who disregarded the fact that the book was entirely about the discrimination Asian Americans faced, or changed the topic to problems in the low-income white community. There is no direct correlation between Asian American racism and the challenges white students, who are less financially stable, face.

This goes to show how people purposely change the topic from something they’re not comfortable with or in favor of, to one that is completely unrelated to the original topic. Marlene Kim is a professor at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

She told NPR, “Asian Americans are absolutely overlooked … People have the sense that Asians are fine. That they’re a model minority. That they have good jobs and are doing OK.”

The model minority myth results in the idea that all Asian Americans are successful, no matter what. Even though they might be going through multiple obstacles, no one cares because they are resilient. The audience ignores the fact that they go through hardships, like everyone else, before achieving their goals: being granted a smooth path.

Occasionally, Asian Americans aren’t even considered a minority. According to ResearchGate, “both private and public funding agencies often exclude Asian Americans from their definitions of underrepresented racial/ethnic minorities suggesting that AAPIs do not face challenges similar to those of other minority populations.”

When Asians are excluded from being a minority, it also suggests that these agencies view Asians as white people, which is not the case. Asian Americans overall, may achieve scores that are similar to white students, but it doesn’t exclude the fact that Asian Americans are a still minority group; they’re the third-largest minority group.

It also implies that Asian Americans have never faced any type of discrimination or racism, which is definitely not true. Within the past few months, there have been rises in hate crimes against Asian Americans just for their race and COVID-19.

The world has essentially never seen people disrespecting Americans as the ones who first got the Spanish Flu. Why are people attacking Asians for COVID-19, but not Americans for the Spanish Flu? Specifically in the medicine field, Asians are excluded as a minority group because they are considered an overrepresented minority. However, it needs to be known that the country has made it this way.

According to ASA Publications, when Asians were allowed to immigrate to the United States again during the 20th century, many of the immigrants were doctors and engineers, explaining why there is a large percentage of the medical community being Asian.

Nonetheless, not many people outside the Asian American community care about this fact. They just know that a lot of Asian Americans are doctors and nurses, but why? It was mostly because the United States government chose which Asians could immigrate, having a preference towards those that worked in medicine. 

Not only are Asian Americans overlooked, but some may also even struggle with an identity crisis because they feel the need to uphold the Asian American stereotype.

According to Washington University, “Asian Americans experience negative interpersonal and emotional responses. Negative responses are explained by Asian Americans’ sense that they are being depersonalized, or seen as undifferentiated from other members of their group.” To some extent, Asian Americans feel as if they don’t live for themselves, but live to keep the general reputation of being smart and overachieving. It gives this feeling of all Asians being the same; no matter which Asian is being interviewed, one may feel as if there is no difference between them.

Researchers at Northwestern University concluded that when people positively stereotype Asians on their mathematical skills and make “these stereotypes salient prior to [a] performance, [it] can create the potential for ‘choking’ under the pressure of high expectations.” Even though these stereotypes may make Asians feel better about their achievements because they’re known for being smart in math, there is still a minority group who may not feel as smart or as confident in their skills as others.

It also subconsciously forces Asian Americans to try harder, if it is even possible, to get the highest score and keep their reputation. Furthermore, Asian Americans continue to be concerned about their achievements because “they can pay a heavy cost for falling short,” as reported by Northwestern University.

When students are being compared to one another, there are often cases where students of the same race are compared. This further increases the pressures for Asian Americans because they will always feel the need to do the best. Otherwise, it would look bad for them if they did significantly worse on a test or an assignment.

An Asian American’s average or below-average grades could impact their chance of getting an internship or scholarship, if race was used to determine which students were accepted. For example, if two Asian Americans have the same extracurricular activities and character traits, but their grades are different (one being above average and the other being below average), there is a higher chance for the student who had better grades to be chosen for the internship position. 

Contrarily, a handful of educators believe Asian Americans should take these statistically proven stereotypes as a compliment because they’re the highest achieving.

As reported in the National Center for Education Statistics, Asian Americans are the highest-scoring students in the SAT, in both the English section and Math section. This proves the stereotype that Asian Americans are, in fact, academically intelligent and should feel proud that they scored the highest overall in the nation.

Moreover, a study conducted by a student at Columbia University found that “[t]he negative stereotype associated with women and mathematics appeared to inhibit mathematics performance and the positive stereotype associated with Asians and mathematics reversed the effect.”

When women were told about the stereotype regarding the correlation between their race and mathematical ability, they did better than being told nothing or a negative stereotype. Asians should take the stereotypes as praise because they actually perform better.

However, this doesn’t ignore the fact that this is still a stereotype on the entire Asian American population and creates a wedge between the various ethnicities in the country. There is still that minority group who feels extremely pressured by these positive stereotypes and may not perform as well.

Asian American Hee-Young was interviewed by MedicalNewsToday and argued the model minority myth was “intentionally created to maintain this idea of white superiority … and to hurt other minority groups and pit them against each other … for instance, by influencing white groups to negatively compare Black Americans with Asian Americans.”

Not only are Asians compared to one another through their statistics and achievements, but they are also compared to other races in the United States. The model minority myth was created by white Americans, for white Americans to further divide the country. There are still other stereotypes, such as the model minority myth, that do more damage than it does good.

According to Learning for Justice, the model minority myth “suggests that Asian Americans are doing well and if other groups would only work harder, have stronger family bonds, and get over their histories of oppression, they too would succeed.” This proves that the model minority myth, created by white Americans, divides the nation. It blames families and their traumas for the reasons why their children aren’t as successful. They use Asian Americans to separate the country when Asians didn’t want this in the first place. 

All in all, educators and students need to limit and stop stereotyping Asian Americans as it turns Asian Americans into an invisible minority; to some extent, are not even considered a minority; and it worsens one’s mental health from the pressures of stereotypes.

The country needs to know that even if students are successful, they still deserve to be praised and assisted, like others, without being regarded as one who can easily overcome obstacles on their own just because they are hardworking. These academic stereotypes pressure students even more to get the highest score possible, and aim to achieve what can’t always be given, extra credit.

While it is true that Asian Americans perform well compared to the rest of the nation, it still does not disregard the fact that this is generalizing the population and increases pressures upon Asian American students. Stop judging Asian Americans and stop those who try to stereotype Asian Americans because it divides a nation that does not benefit society’s future.