Out of the myriad of times that I have complained about my math abilities, a singular phrase comes out of everyone’s mouth: “You’re Asian, you should be good at math.”
I remember when I first realized that being “Asian” meant something more than just an ethnicity: it was more like I had to be smarter than everyone around me. If I wasn’t in honors and AP classes, it was a signal that I wasn’t Asian enough. If I didn’t eat rice three meals a day or played an instrument, my parents and I were too “white-washed.”
I remember when I was first called the “model minority.” If you were like me, a 12-year-old who never questioned her race, those two words didn’t mean anything back then. They do now.
The model minority myth comes from the idea that minority groups are held to a higher socioeconomic level due to their “success” at assimilating to white culture. While there are multiple definitions surrounding this myth, one thing remains clear: there is a strong reinforcement of racism and stereotypes.
The myth becomes very prevalent in the educational sphere. Much of the characterization is this: Asians are “overachievers” who are highly educated and are very successful, something other minority groups should aspire to become. This perception of success comes from test scores and grades in school, but what it fails to understand is the complexity of being a minority and how this myth renders one seemingly invisible.
Not only is the model minority myth an oversimplified concept toward Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, it also isolates other minority groups as “inadequate.”
Even beyond the educational sphere, this myth has severed the identity of those that are both considered Asian and American. The Racial Mundane, a book written by Ju Yon Kim, highlights the experiences of the Asian American and its dislocation from both being an American and being Asian. As she states, this type of colonization onto the Asian American body has created the paradoxical characterizations of Asian Americans as the ideal and impossible Americans.
“[Asians were] dehumanized as an unsavory foreign contaminant — portrayed as uncivilized, sinister, heathen, filthy yellow hordes that threatened to invade the U.S and ‘mongrelize’ the white race.” – Jean Yonemura Wing
These ideas have been ingrained in United States culture since the movement of Asian immigrant groups dating to the 19th century. Especially with acts such as the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, Asian have been badly positioned as both malevolent and submissive. It’s time to move on from this narrative — there are multiple factors that play into ‘success’: a concept everyone needs to learn.