The Harm of a Label
an article by Thomas Kuo
Dear Asian Youth,
The Model Minority notion has been prevalent for decades and describes Asians and our ‘achievements’ as immigrants compared to other minority groups. This idea is used as a stamp of achievement or validation for one's work to assimilate to American society and ideology. Simultaneously, however, the Model Minority phrase indicates an enervating narrative of tiger parents and their straightedge, academically gifted children. A simple bystander may see nothing wrong with being known for being educated and academically talented; however, they fail to see how the stereotypes and expectations that come with the phrase debilitate Asian youth.
Pop culture is one of the main contributors to the Model Minority myth. Many youths, mostly white, use celebrities and television/ movie characters as role models for their behavior and outlines for their older selves' envisions. To white youth, pop culture provides a fantasy that anything is possible. However, Asian children and teens do not have the luxury to look to pop culture for help and clarification as to their white counterparts. In countless films and literature forms, Asians are portrayed as antisocial nerds or quiet office workers. For white children and teens, white characters inspire. Still, for Asian children and teens, Asian characters only portray a role to fill, a box or parameter they must stay in to be socially accepted. Pop culture enforces the notion of a Model Minority as the roles mentioned teach Asian youth what their roles are in society and develop non-Asian youth's harmful perspective on Asians. Those who believe there is nothing wrong with the Model Minority myth, I ask you to understand how discouraging it can be for a young teen trying to discover their role in society to realize that their role has already been picked for them.
The Model Minority Myth is prevalent in the education system and teaches Asian youth that their ancestral history of oppression, injustice, and perseverance is trivial and insignificant. The education system has adopted the Model Minority notion as truth and, therefore, fails to educate students on Asian American histories such as Yellow Peril, The Chinese massacre of 1871, The Rock Springs Massacre, and The Chinese exclusion Act. This makes Asian students feel like they are forgotten as a minority and forgotten as victims of oppression and injustice. This is not the only time the education system imposed a notion of Asians being a forgotten minority. Many schools and universities have started grouping Asians with white students. Some such cases are the discrimination of Asians in college admissions, most notably in Yale admissions. More recently, a Washington School District, North Thurston Public Schools, removed Asians from the category of students of color in a presentation meant to outline a goal of “Continuous Growth — All Students, All Subjects.” The school removed Asians from the category to maintain a narrative that minority groups are not performing as well as white students. The ignorance of these actions preaches that Asians have the same privileges and status as Caucasians. We are now grouped and regarded in the same category as our historical oppressors. This conveys a message that Asian success erases Asian’s minority status and erases the fact that they are a minority that suffers from abuse and prejudice.
The Model Minority notion also teaches Asian youth to tolerate rather than take charge and be assertive. The term at its core preaches the idea of an immigrant group that has succeeded in the United States by means that were without confrontation and violence. Violence is never the answer by any means; however, the term teaches youth to be bystanders to their injustice and to tolerate the microaggressions hurled against them. This toleration and lack of assertion have led to others thinking that there is nothing wrong or consequential with toying or making fun of Asians. An example of this can be found in the unspoken lines created from racial battering. Other races often have an unspoken line not to cross unless you want to be rightfully labeled as ignorant and racist; however, I struggle to find the line for Asians and question if there is one at all.
Some believed the Model Minority label was a shield around us, protecting us from the type of racial injustice African Americans face daily. However, as the novel Coronavirus continued to ravage the country, we quickly saw the shield crumble beneath our feet. The phrase Model Minority seemed to be forgotten and replaced with terms such as “Chinese Virus” and “Kung Flu,” turning us into a scapegoat for President Trump's flawed approach to the virus. The praise we were once receiving for our 'impeccable mathematical ability' turned into hostility and unsolicited violence. Throughout the entirety of 2020, we also began to see how grossly underrepresented Asians are in the media. During this time, the only support and exposure we received were from other Asian community members and organizations; everyone else simply didn’t care or weren't aware.
I, personally, have felt the effects of the fabrication the Model Minority label conveys. For a large part of my life, I was constantly disappointed that I couldn't be the Asian American people expected me to be. I was tired and frustrated with people reminding me of the stereotypes Asians have chained around their feet. I constantly felt as though the term Model Minority was plastered across my forehead and was how people perceived me no matter what I did to change their minds. I felt the majority of this at school. A small example was whenever someone asked me what grade I got on a test or quiz, they would always use my race as an explanation as to why I did well, and if I did not, they would chastise me for not fitting my race's stereotype. Even the people around me who I thought were going to tell me to be my own person and not let the stereotypes define me preached a life of tolerance and obedience towards Asian stereotypes; I felt like I could never escape the weight the stereotypes had created and I ultimately felt like I was locked in a cage with a predetermined life and progression. My frustration slowly turned into rejection and hate towards my Asian American identity and spurred me to many times wish I was white so I could cowardly hide away from my problems and frustrations. Once I saw how the Pandemic was violently affecting Asian Americans and people's perspectives on Asians, I decided that it was time to embrace who I was and treat my Asian identity as something to boast and preach than let it act as a constraint.
To those who have felt the way I did, I hope you can find support to embrace your Asian identity and avoid rejecting your heritage to rebel against American ideology.
- Thomas Kuo
Overall, this piece's meaning is to provide insight into the perspective of Asian Americans on their beliefs and views on the popular term "Model Minority" and how it has affected them. Through this piece, I also hope for others who have had the same feelings as I did to know that they are not alone and to encourage them to find acceptance for themselves and take the first step towards embracing and understanding what it truly means to be Asian.
Thomas Kuo is a third-generation 17 years old Chinese American living in New York. English being his favorite subject, he loves writing, whether it be book reports, weird he knows; creative writing pieces; or personal narratives and essays. Instead of going to parties, he spends his Friday nights listening to music and binging K-Dramas with a fistful of shrimp chips.
Cover Photo Source: SAGE Journals