The Asian American model minority myth has been getting a lot of attention lately. Articles like this one, in Colorlines, and posts here on Race Files like thisone and this one are just a few among a growing number of attempts to speak to the origins and meaning of the Asian American model minority. To me, that’s great news. Anti-black racism may be the fulcrum, or pivot point, of white supremacy, but the model minority myth is one of white supremacy’s many levers.
The articles referenced here all make the important point that the model minority is a deceit, conjured up by Asian American civil rights leaders in the middle of the last century in order to secure the citizenship of Asians in the U.S. at a time when we were considered so indelibly foreign and dangerous that the Japanese were subjected to mass incarceration, while the Chinese were targeted by McCarthy-style anti-communist witch hunts.
To promote the myth, many unflattering facts of life in the Asian ghettos of the period were suppressed. Meanwhile, Asian American accomplishments in the arts, business, and, most of all, World War II were touted as indicators of Asians’ suitability for citizenship and ability to vertically integrate themselves into the white middle class.
In other words, the Asian American model minority myth was a shield against the persecution of the Chinese and Japanese in the U.S. Sadly, that shield was quickly picked up by opponents of the Black Civil Rights and Black Power movements and used as a weapon against Black Americans who were stereotyped as a “problem minority,” mired in crime, unemployment and inter-generational poverty because of cultural deficits they would do well to overcome by making like Asians and pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.