Model Minority By Elijah Bullie

The speech community is diverse. It’s made up of individuals presenting discourse on a multitude of subjects, some personal and some non. Based on the context of the season and the national events of the year, you can usually guess what types of pieces you’re going to see; one year rape speeches are the hot topic, the next year it’s shootings. However, this year I was surprised to see my story being told by the masses. As the 2020-2021 speech season ramps up it’s become clear that the new commodity is the plight of African Americans… but with a twist. As I listen to my peers present their arguments I hear again and again a false equivalency implied. I’ve viewed a particularly high number of qualms that air grievances this year about what’s called the model minority myth. The speakers will open up their argument by acknowledging how the awareness of racial discrimination is at an all time high in our curent political climate, alluding to the work done in the Black Lives Matter Movement. They then tie the plight into their own lives, launching into a contention stating how the feelings of the Asian American Community are hurt because caucasians assume they’re successful.

The unholy lovechild of academia and racial prejudice, this myth is an encompassment of common assumptions that are made about Asian Americans, specifically that they’re rich and academically competitive. I sat in my seat viewing the speakers lament on this topic with a pit in my stomach. While the struggles faced by Asian Americans are valid, and trauma comparison is frivolous, I feel this needs to be said: in a time during which the Black community is grieving and in many instances fighting for their lives, a complaint about people assuming that you’re well-off feels like a slap in the face. This wasn’t standing in unity with a community that was hurting, this was seizing a national zeitgeist to put a spotlight on a novelty inconvenience. Though this is a time of reexamination of the societal norms that we’ve cultivated, it’s inappropriate to center yourself on an issue of what is, comparably, not a dire situation. 

Claire Jean Kim, a professor at the University of California, Irvine comments on this in an interview for NPR news. She contests that though both north and south Asian Americans may face discrimination, their experiences are not in the same ballpark as those of the black community.

“Asians have faced various forms of discrimination, but never the systematic dehumanization that black people have faced during slavery and continue to face today.” Kim said. In the U.S. anti-blackness is not just a pastime, but a way of living; it draws the lines of our congressional districts, chooses where to proceed with commercial development, and even holds sway over major political influences in our government. These practices that influence the daily lives of African Americans are not comparable to the experiences of Asian Americans. The Model Minority Myth, though it may be offensive to the sensitivities, does not negate one’s pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. In actuality these assumptions aid in the pursuit. 

Confirmation bias is a human characteristic. Regardless of color or background, we all choose to see and create the outcomes that we expect will transpire. If you automatically have a good light shed on you, and you get profiled as studious or hard working, then the people around you will have every expectation of that outcome. Daniel J. Losen, director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the University of California – Los Angeles wrote on the outcomes of the racial disparity in expectations in “Discipline Policies, Successful Schools, and Racial Justice.” He found that during instances in which disciplinary measures are needed to be taken with high school students, Black teens received suspensions at three times the rate of the peers of Asian descent. When there is a high expectation placed on an individual those expectations are then tied to moral standards like hard work or integrity. It’s plain to see that when seen in action the real victims of the model minority myth are not those exalted by their privilege, but those who are left standing underneath the gavel when a time for punishment arises, the African Americans. 

I don’t mean to be divisive. I’m not trying to pit one minority against another, because the domain for progress is big enough for everyone. My intent is to inspire reflection and introspection on the avenues in which one engages with social advocacy. We all need to move forward, but together. Knowing the time during which to push for your own interest is crucial, and when a push is made in ill timing it can hurt those around you.