How the Model Minority Myth Hurts Black Lives Matter
A section of my Master's dissertation is titled, "Violence and Vice: Dismantling the Model Minority Myth." While this isn't the appropriate place to lay down my research, I'd like to clarify some things regarding Asian America’s relationship with the Black Lives Matter Movement, and I hope to explain how Asian America can better support the movement. Part rant, part essay, I hope everyone finds some aspect of this essay informative and empowering.
What motivated me to write this began with a Facebook post by an Asian American friend of mine. In this post, he makes the poignant observation that mainstream culture and media upholds Asians as "being synonymous with white people" (other terms are "token whites" and the "model minority"). His comments also elude to Asian America's relative silence regarding the Black Lives Matter Movement. Note: I in no way wish to discredit the efforts of individuals within the Asian American community or groups like Asians 4 Black Lives.
After reading David's post, a question I had quietly asked myself but never fully addressed came to mind:
"Do I have a place in supporting Black Lives Matter?"
I'm sure other Asian Americans have asked themselves (please don't tell me I'm the only one), if as an Asian American -- a person of color who has the “privilege” of being part of the “model minority” -- if I have a right to protest against the horrendous profiling of Black Americans. Asking if I have any place to speak out against the injustice of an unarmed Black man or woman being shot down with his or her hands up? If it's my place to tell our leaders and the rest of the world that systems of oppression continue to thrive in the United States? Do we as Asian Americans have a right to stand alongside other POC's (people of color) to speak out against political, economic, and social injustice despite our "almost white" status?
First off, I hope that the answer is painfully obvious, “YES, we do.” And why is that? Because the Model Minority Myth is exactly that: a myth. And let me also make it very clear that the model minority myth is damaging to not only Asian Americans but also all other minorities. One of its functions as a myth was to justify taking away public services and programs. These services not only helped struggling Asian Americans like Southeast Asian refugees but also minorities such as Blacks, Hispanic, and indigenous communities. The justification was if one minority could succeed in America, then why couldn’t all? We all started off on the same playing field, right? Aren't we all given the same amount of support, skills, guidance, and opportunities? Aren't all minorities the same? Shouldn't we just feel lucky we even get to live in this great country???
Sarcasm aside, isn't it also troubling how easy it is for an Asian American, like myself, to feel guilty for my perceived "privileges?" Even in spite of my knowledge about the myth's fallacy? Now, I'm not trying to devalue the gravity of the problems that Black America faces, but I point out my guilt because it highlights the myth's ability to keep (POC) divided in the fight against prevailing racism and prejudice. Not going to lie, I also felt concerned for how other people would perceive me, which thinking rationally, makes absolutely no sense. There are many public white allies of BLM so why should I feel self-conscious about voicing my support?
Essentially, it comes down to the myth's ability to discredit Asian American voices against racial injustice.
As David notes in his Facebook post, the absorption of our identity by white America consequently makes us "invisible to the public, nonexistent." In 2016, the myth that we are the immigrant success story, the model for all minorities, continues to quiet Asian Americans, dismiss our identities, and divide us from our POC brothers and sisters. The consequences of the Model Minority Myth permeate our culture today, and it is during this time of immense change that our use -- intentional or unintentional -- of the myth for our advantage must stop.
In August, Aaron Mak published an article on Politico.com titled, "'You're Asian Right? Why Are You Even Here?'" His story about how his race saved him from violence provides insight into the complex relationship between Asian America and Black America, but I'm not going down that rabbit hole right now. I bring it up because it highlights the strength of the Model Minority Myth amongst both Asian and non-Asian Americans and its power to dissuade Asian American support for BLM and continue segregation amongst POC.
The myth that Asian Americans are the model minority perpetuates the oppression of Black America, therefore, working against any kind of progress that the Black Lives Matter Movement is trying to accomplish.
What better way to weaken minority communities than by pitting them against each other? And let’s not forget that the model minority myth also helps silence Asian American voices. Really, the model minority myth only continues to benefit the privilege of white America.
Mak's article and David's Facebook post also reminded me how many Asian Americans (and most of the country) have forgotten that about 50 years ago, Asian America had its own movement: the Asian American Movement. It’s because of the Asian American Movement that we even have the term "Asian American," and while the term has proven problematic in many ways, it ultimately brought together fragmented ethnic-specific groups under shared experiences of racism and stereotypes to effect change. We cannot forget about such strength in unity.
So my fellow Asian Americans, we need to continue educating ourselves and our communities about our history. It is vital right now so we can better help Black Lives Matter and other POC's. Despite how history classes want to forget, we fought for our visibility. The Asian American Movement happened. We fought against prejudice and mistreatment, and we continue to fight today. We may have lost some strength in our voice due to the model minority myth, but just understand that it is simply not true.
There is no model minority.
Asian Americans have the fastest growing poverty amongst U.S. minorities. The socioeconomic divide within our own ridiculously large and complicated demographic is growing faster than any ethnic group in this country. Understand that most crimes against Asian Americans go unreported. Understand that racism against Asian Americans is not over. But also understand that if we as the “model minority” strongly take a stand alongside the BLM Movement, we are also saying that we will no longer be pawns in the white man’s system of oppression against Black America. We are saying we will no longer be silenced or used because we are here. We are present. We are proclaiming that BLACK LIVES MATTER.