Fighting the Model Minority Myth

We asked and the Cold Tea Collective Community answered how they navigated and challenged the model minority myth.

I’ve struggled with how to combat and deal with the model minority myth. But as I read more stories and responses, reflecting on the recent incidents, I began to think about how the model minority has been impacted by anti-Asian racism. The stereotype that put Asian Americans on a pedestal has long suppressed Asian communities across North America, leaving behind a stained trail of systemic trauma.

There’s a high level of concern. But how many of us are actually speaking up?

The recent rise in anti-Asian racism over the last year shook up communities across North America. Between March 2020 and February 2021, Stop AAPI Hate documented 3,795 firsthand accounts of anti-Asian hate in the United States. This hate played out recently when six Asian women and two others were killed by a man who gunned them down during a shooting spree at businesses in Georgia.

In Canada, more than 600 incidents of anti-Asian racism were reported since the onset of COVID-19, according to project 1907’s national collaboration of data collection from September 2020. To put this into perspective, there have been more reported incidents per capita in Canada than in the U.S.

It didn’t help that former President Donald Trump’s rhetoric further enabled the escalation in xenophobia and bigotry across the nation.
A Harris poll found that 75 percent of Asian Americans say they’re “concerned about hate/discrimation towards Asian Americans related to the coronavirus pandemic.” We can’t keep our heads down and buy into this myth any longer. We need to rise above and challenge it in order to move forward.

Reconsider the model minority myth’s influence on our past

Don’t know where to begin? A good starting point to really understanding the impact of the model minority myth is to look inward and reflect on our own personal experiences. We asked the Cold Tea Collective community to share their experiences on how the model minority myth has been impacted by anti-Asian racism.

Change the way we uphold expectations

Photo Credit: Jeswin Thomas on Unsplash

Growing up, I felt the pressures of needing to uphold certain expectations and fit the mould of the “hard-working Asian.” Work hard, do well, and succeed. The heavy weight of false narratives and stereotypes, such as “Asians are good at math,” haunted me throughout my childhood — because in reality, I was terrible at math.

I glamorized the idea of “hustle culture” throughout university into my early 20s. I felt the need to be constantly working and be productive. I believed that the more I worked, the more celebrated I would be. I eventually recognized how detrimental this mindset was, and came to terms with the idea that hard work and success don’t always go hand in hand. I checked my biases, unlearned bad habits, and learned to speak up.

The Cold Tea Collective community felt similarly:

This most impacted me growing up within my own family, with my parents expecting my siblings and I to do well in school, go to university, and have some sort of high income profession.Sandra

Other Asian-North-Americans might have even considered anything less than 95 [on a test as] an “Asian-fail”. Yes, this was me leaning into the “model minority” myth. This was me making light of something that now I regret doing so. I created the myth for myself that I should be smart and smarter than other people because of my race…Tian-Yuan

Growing up in a predominantly white neighbourhood, I grappled a lot with internal conflict in regards to my identity as the stereotypes perpetuated by the model minority myth was always the first impression people had of me… I spent years trying to come to terms with acting in accordance to what people expected from me, feeling resentful of my culture due to the burden of these expectations, and trying to figure out who I really was. — Michelle

Although it definitely operated as a motivating factor for me to prove myself as the “hard-working Asian,” I believed I was born to be, I now realize how rooted in systemic oppression this mindset was. — Anonymous

Raise our heads and voices 

I struggled with confrontation for the longest time. I never spoke up or engaged in any social or political issues because I believed that I didn’t need to engage in uncomfortable conversations if they could be avoided. As a child of immigrant parents, I found it difficult confronting them about topics such as racism. No matter how badly I wanted to speak up, I avoided opportunities to challenge their deeply rooted beliefs and biases until I was much older.

A few members of the Cold Tea Community also expressed similar thoughts:

There’s an awareness of the expectations and how far or close I am to it. I think it also makes me think I need to keep my head down all the time; if I am quiet and unseen, no one can have a problem with me. I’d rather not confront than speak up. This happens at work and also when I’m walking down the street. — Jackie

Being quiet, not “rocking the boat”, as my parents said, “don’t cause trouble or make them think we’re bad. — David

We need to recognize the influence and harm that an avoidant mindset creates for us. Only then can we begin to really challenge the stereotype and move forward.

Challenge the model minority myth

Photo Credit: Kimson Doan on Unsplash

Think about when you first started challenging the model minority myth. When did you experience the turning point? How did you confront it? And if you’re only beginning to challenge it now, that’s okay too — we all start somewhere.

I began challenging the myth during university — I attended a school that’s commonly characterized and stereotyped by its Asian population. I challenged societal expectations of the “hard-working Asian” by recognizing my purpose wasn’t just to achieve good grades and work quietly in the background. I discovered a community, got involved, and surrounded myself with like-minded peers who helped me break out of my shell.

As a sociology student, I was also exposed to examining the disparities between and across social groups, studying the impacts of factors such as age, class, ethnicity, religion, and gender. Through my studies, I became more self-aware and cognizant about the detrimental effects associated with the model minority myth.

I think only recently (as in, the last year or two) I’ve realized that I need to challenge the model minority and speak up more often, but it’s also hard to break out of old habits. I find that I am able to be more assertive and find my voice when I am around juniors or peers, but not when I am around my boss or any seniors. And I guess in a weird way, choosing to study arts and humanities in college rather than going down the expected path of being a doctor or working in business was a small way of challenging what I was expected to do. — Jackie

Elementary school is where it started.  I remember scoring lower than my classmate who was also Asian on a test, and my classmates called me out by saying hurtful statements such as; “aren’t Asians supposed to be smart?!” — Alyssia

It wasn’t until I went off to university where I began to understand what the model minority myth was and that was largely due to education on the topic through my studies and simply being in a new environment with a greater exposure to other people who looked like me and could relate to me. It was through conversations with these individuals that I saw those that challenged the model minority myth and allowed me to take a step back and re-evaluate what roles I was playing and really understand how I ended up in those here. — Michelle

We need to drop the model minority myth. We need to stop internalizing the monolithic stereotype by confronting it, speaking up, and challenging it instead.

Reflecting on the impact of anti-Asian racism on the model minority myth

The Asian American community seems stuck in a vague, purgatorial state. In Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning, Cathy Park Hong says Asians are perceived as the “middle-managers” who are often dismissed or “ignored by whites.” Asians have been placed on a pedestal only for our acceptance to be conditional, and it has become more harmful than helpful.

The fact that anti-Asian racism has increased this past year shows that the myth exists. Non-Asians are happy when we fall into our stereotypes, but all of a sudden discrimination and prejudice against us become okay because of the presumed location where COVID-19 originated? No. It’s not okay. — Sandra

I think people are more cognizant that the model minority is more harmful than helpful. I think also it’s becoming clear that it’s put Asians in the middle of the black/white dichotomy that is unfair because we are not able to express the hurt and racism that we experience because it’s “not as bad” as Black people, and we also get more benefits than they do, which sets a natural tension between us and other races. I think people are becoming more aware of the term if they haven’t before, and I think it’s allowing people to revisit the racist history in which this term came about. — Jackie

I believe that because of the model minority myth – people are NOT afraid to be racist towards Asians. They expect us to remain quiet, calm and submissive. — Alyssia

As our communities call out for help and justice, we are ignored and silenced because of the belief that we are well off and high achieving and therefore have no right to complain. POC communities are continued to be pitted against each other and this myth continues to use Asian communities as a tool for oppression Olympics by comparing our struggles and injustices. The myth has become an excuse to justify turning a blind eye to the brutality and hatred impacting the Asian communities, especially our elders and parents. — Michelle

A way forward

In order to move away from the model minority myth, we need to speak up and engage in conversations. We need to make our voices heard and speak up for those who cannot.

Photo credit: David Ryder on Getty Images

I hope that we can continue to deconstruct this harmful myth and really make our voices heard beyond our Asian communities. We should also continue to apply pressure to our local politicians and government to fully acknowledge and make meaningful steps to combat anti-Asian racism. — Anonymous

I hope that racism of all types as well as the model minority myth become dismantled. I think it has to start in our homes, and ripple out from there. The less stereotypes there are of Asians, the less it gets reinforced in the media and hopefully that decreases the instances of racism in the long term. — Sandra

See also: How to talk to your Asian immigrant parents about racism and Black Lives Matter

I hope that there will be more people – and more companies – standing up to anti-Asian racism as there was who readily stood up against anti-Black racism. I hope that people acknowledge the differences in cultures, and that no culture deserves to be neglected more than the other. And I hope that the expectations of the model minority myth eventually go away – that any lasting effects end with the millennial and maybe Gen Z generations. — Jackie

See also: Dear Corporations — it’s time to actually be anti-racist with actions

I don’t know where to begin. At work, I’m the only Asian. Everyone is white and I live in a city where there are “so many Asians.” I haven’t met any since moving here three years ago. We need to have a voice. Younger voices on social media have helped me speak out too. — David

I hope that those with large platforms help amplify the voices of the Asian community. I hope that everyone is educated and has access to resources to learn about the model minority myth and actively works to help deconstruct it. I hope that the hate and violence gets the attention it deserves and then we work together to end it. I one day hope for a world where all communities are able to have a voice, to be seen and heard, to be celebrated, and to uplift one another for their uniqueness and differences rather than have that used as a tool to pit us against each other and put each other down.Michelle

Taking and calling for action

Reflect on your own actions and check your biases: Call out racism when you see it, and not only when it happens to the Asian community. Acknowledge that all Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour experience racism on a daily basis. Address racist misconceptions and recognize that the fight against racism needs to be inclusive of all minority and marginalized groups.

Continue to learn and educate yourself: Learn to challenge the model minority myth on a regular basis. Read books, listen to podcasts, and seek other resources that share the unique perspectives on the Asian North American experience.

Engage in conversations: Amplify the voices of the Asian community by speaking up and raising awareness. Start small – conversations can start within your immediate circle of friends and family, and then move beyond into larger spaces such as advocating in the workplace, volunteering in the community, or joining meaningful discussions on social media platforms.

Report incidents of anti-Asian racism: If you witness or experience any incidents of hate, violence, harassment, or discrimination, report it to organizations such as Elimin8hate (Canada) or Stop AAPI Hate (U.S.). These organizations aggregate data to help develop better advocacy programs and raise awareness for Asian communities across North America.

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