Model minority is a harmful notion
The use of ‘model minority’ is increasingly questioned and examined by Asians themselves.
Model minority is a description of Chinese and Asian diasporas in the West, whose economic achievements appear to be much higher than other minority groups and even the natives. This notion is especially relevant in America, where Asians are the highest-earning group. Seemingly a harmless and flattering depiction of Asians, the use of ‘model minority’ is increasingly questioned and examined by Asians themselves.
The primary criterion of being the ‘model minority’ is economic success, which is measured by indicators such as careers, earnings and living conditions. While one’s net worth can hastily reveal one’s level of social acceptance, the overemphasis of wealth implies that mental and physical wellbeing can be reductively explained by money. As Chou Chih-Chieh meticulously notes, whether Asians will be regarded as the model minority depends on their continued ‘fitness-within-capitalism’. This further indicates the West’s conditional acceptance of Asian diasporas, meaning, when Asians underperform — economically — the celebration of them will be stripped away.
It is rare that Asians with hyphenated identities (e.g. Asian Americans, British Chinese, etc.) are celebrated for simply who they are without associations with racial stereotypes, which is contrary to how life is for White populations.
As Robin DiAngelo notes in her 2018 bestseller ‘White Fragility’, White populations are socialised, since birth, to see themselves as individuals, as opposed to members of a racial group. Hence, they believe that society treats all people equally, without addressing (1) systemic racism and (2) their implicit bias. The experience for minority groups — model or not — is the opposite, as they are socialised to be acutely aware of their racial identity.
Being seen as the ‘model minority’ is arguably a positive stereotype, one that is extremely different to the negative and exaggerative stereotypes associated with Black communities. By associating Asians with economic success may make it slightly easier for them to overcome labour market discrimination, while associating Blacks with economic deprivation will make it much harder. Therefore, the barriers that each ethnic group faces must be addressed categorically — not under the gigantic umbrella of ‘people of colour’.
It’s been proven repeatedly that universalist policies, also known as the ‘race-neutral’ or ‘colour-blind’ approach, are unable to properly address racial inequalities. From John Roberts to Barack Obama, their visions of making an equal society by ignoring the racism in systems, institutions and establishments, would victimise Black and Brown people in a depressing manner. Similarly, by nonchalantly celebrating Asian diasporas as the ‘model minority’ disregards their social and historical experience of exclusion and discrimination.
Put it simply, pretending racism does not exist would not make it go away. Glorifying the meaning of economic success would not make structural discrimination go away. It is time that the notions and stereotypes about people of colour are examined for the harmful impacts they have on our wellbeing.