(Photo illustration by Lizzy Choi)
Palisades Charter High School

Opinion: The model minority myth and the Black Lives Matter movement

As civil rights protestors continue to seek accountability for historically race-driven issues, minorities have risen up in solidarity with the Black community.

Of the four police officers involved in the murder of George Floyd, one was Hmong police officer Tou Thao. Thao’s complicity led to a call to support the Black Lives Matter movement among the Asian American community. While many questioned how he could willingly partake in the murder of a fellow person of color, negative stereotypes such as the model minority myth have created deep-rooted sentiments of superiority towards other minorities.

The model minority myth, based in Asian American stereotypes, characterizes Asians as quiet, hard workers and successful students. While the concept of being a “model minority” may seem positive, the model minority myth has had negative lasting impacts.

The long-standing idea that Asian Americans work hard to accomplish their successes can be traced back to the National Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, which was meant to attract skilled laborers to the United States, according to History.

At the time, the civil rights movement was at its peak, and the high-achieving Asian immigrants served as “proof” that inequalities immigrants and minorities faced were merely fostered from laziness. The model minority was created as a tactic by a white sociologist to drive a wedge between minorities and erase their belief that they were being discriminated against, according to Vox.

This manipulation from hierarchies that place white people at the top has created a new system where Asian Americans are still continually discriminated against but are deceitfully reassured that by striving for success, they can overcome any obstacle. This inaccurate perception has continually reinforced the idea among the Asian American community that hard work counteracts racism, and that other minorities, especially members of the Black community must not be working hard enough.

The idea that all Asians are highly educated and hard-working has only served to disguise the truth: that we are still treated as second class citizens in this country.

While some Asian Americans have had the luxury of enjoying some of the privileges of a system designed to serve white Americans, xenophobia and racism persist. Asian Americans can no longer remain complicit with a system that perpetuates injustice, discrimination and blatant racism.

This narrative sweeps under the rug the historical inequalities built on the backs of the enslavement and dehumanization that Black Americans have endured and the deeply entrenched racism that resulted. There is no such thing as a model minority, and the myth created from it has only served to conceal the racism Asian Americans face today.

“Minority competition” has been weaponized to exemplify the divide between Asians and other people of color, such as the Latinx or Black communities, according to Vox. As racial profiling and police brutality repeatedly targeted those communities, the model minority myth began to serve as a shield for Asian Americans.

If they continued to present themselves as quiet, law-abiding citizens, they could escape the discrimination other minorities were facing. This tactic grew deeply ingrained in many Asian Americans and became a mentality and a way of life.

Now, as we’ve reached a turning point in America’s history during this wave of civil rights protests, Asian Americans have a duty to support and stand in solidarity with the Black community as a fellow minority group. In the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the resulting call for reform, Asian Americans must unlearn what they have been taught from a young age, and relearn what it means to be a member of a minority community and a person of color.

In order to fight against a system created to stifle the voices of minorities, those who are able to, have a duty to spread awareness, educate others and themselves and actively practice anti-racism.

It is important to look forward and recognize privilege, and how, as Asian Americans, we have personally benefited from a broken system, and to use that privilege to acknowledge that standing actively against racism is the only way to incite change.