The Harms of the Model Minority Myth

What is the Model Minority Myth?

In America, anti-Asian sentiments have run rampant for decades. Most recently, the outright racism and hatred showed towards Asian Americans, primarily East Asian Americans has grown in part due to the hate speech spewed by the former president, his administration and his followers. In combination with the Trump administration, anti-Asian propaganda and racism, violence towards Asian Americans has grown tenfold, with over 3,000 incidents just from March 19th, 2020 to February 28th, 2021. However, these racists concepts and ideologies that provide the foundation for these hate crimes and usages of hate speech are not something America is new to. Anti-Asian sentiment runs deep into American history seen in the violence of the 1870s against Chinese Americans in Los Angeles, the incarceration of Japanese Americans and explicit demonization and xenophobia in wake of both the Gulf War and September 11th, 2001(NPR).

A myth that has persisted throughout anti-Asian sentiments and hatred throughout the history of the United States is the model minority myth. The term was coined in the 1960s by sociologist William Peterson with the definition of the minority myth being, “ ...minority groups that have ostensibly achieved a high level of success in contemporary US society ” (Peterson, 1966) (Augustin, 2015).  Typically, applied to Asian Americans, the model minority myth is deeply harmful to the Asian American community and other communities of color. This myth assumes a strong work ethic, perseverance and a drive for success over other ethnic/minority groups. Additionally, the myth claims that Asian Americans have a stronger belief in the fairness of treatment received by minorities and do not perceive racism or barriers at school compared with other racial/ethnic minority groups (Yoo et al.,2010).

The model minority myth is a stereotype used against Asian Americans, that Asian Americans are, “academically and economically more successful than other racial minority groups due to their individual effort, values of hard work and perseverance and belief in American meritocracy” (Atkin, 2018). 

The idea of the “model minority” came out of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. In an attempt to undermine and delegitimize the existence of racial inequity, white America pointed to Asian Americans and their perceived “success” at “overcoming” their minority status. Due to the “model minority” myth, white authors were able to claim that other minorities only differed from Asian Americans in their work ethic, citing that it was a lack of effort that left other minority communities disenfranchised. White authors discredited systematic and historical citations of racism, and instead insisted upon laziness as to why most minority communities experienced immobility economically and socially (Atkin, 2018). The model minority myth allows the dominant group to minimize the struggles of minority groups due to the citation of the “success” of the model minority. This causes rifts upon different groups within Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) communities as well as forced system-justification beliefs of the American Dream and support for colorblind racial ideologies. 

Furthermore, the model minority myth does also not consider the large diversity included within the umbrella term “Asian." There are cultural, regional, historical and religious differences to consider with the vast area that is labeled “Asia." The grouping of Asian Americans together under this umbrella term leaves little room for diversity within experiences by Asian Americans.

What are the Harms of the Model Minority Myth?

A person’s ethnic-racial socialization is impacted by the culture, environment, familial dynamics, media consumption, and close relationships that an adolescent has throughout their development. Moving throughout life and being exposed to anti-Asian sentiments with the combination of pressures and distress of the minority myth can have detrimental effects on Asian Americans. Growing up, if Asian American adolescents are constantly bombarded by stereotypes and pressures of the minority myth, children may learn to internalize this myth, forcing unrealistic expectations and pressure on themselves thus creating more avenues for psychological distress to seep into the foundation and destabilize Asian American’s mental health.

School itself is one of the strongest socializing agents of developing adolescents, both within their individualism and with their own understanding of social concepts, societal expectations and social hierarchies. With the internalization of the model minority myth, Asian Americans may suffer from chronic stress leading to detrimental effects on their mental and physical health. Additionally, the stress of the myth may force Asian Americans to mentally distance themselves from their own racial or ethnic group, feeling like they do not belong or they may even fear rejection for their ethnic or racial group. Furthermore, internalization of the stereotype has been related to anxiety, depression, somatic distress and performance difficulty( Atkin, 2018). . Overall, the impact of the model minority myth forces unrealistic expectations onto Asian American children by all avenues that provide their ethnic-racial socialization, skewing their personal perceptions of themselves and others within their community. 

In effect of a skewed understanding of the internalized racism used to create and promote the model minority myth, Asian American children are further impacted in their psychological development. Without intervention explaining the psychological manifestations of internalized racism that are presented through the model minority myth, Asian American children's understanding of their own racial identity and positive view of themselves is harmed (Helms. 1995). Especially, within primarily white communities, Asian American children are at greater risk of internalizing the model minority myth.