‘Model minority’: What does it mean, and why is it wrong?

The mass shooting of eight people at three Asian-owned spas in the Atlanta area last week has once again propelled race to the forefront.

The nation is now talking about the alarming rise in violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders around the country.

Among those discussions is a term you might not have heard before: Model minority.

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“The history of the model minority myth really emerges during (the) 1960s period,” said Christian Ravela, associate professor of Humanities and Cultural Studies in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Central Florida.

Decades ago, a sociologist first coined the term in an article he wrote about Japanese Americans and how impressed he was that, despite decades of discrimination in America including internment camps, they successfully assimilated themselves into society through hard work and a good attitude.

Some politicians at the time then assigned that stereotype to everyone of Asian descent, Ravela said, and then used them as a whole to criticize other minorities, specifically African Americans.

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“If there’s the model minority, it’s counterposed to a problem minority,” Ravela said.

And that picture of “If they can do it, why can’t you?” allowed some people to ignore the systematic dehumanization of African Americans through hundreds of years of slavery.

But Ravela said the idea of a model minority is a myth.

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“When people say Asians, I think they’re thinking East Asians – Japanese, Korea and Chinese,” he said.

But in reality, there are more than 30 different ethnic groups like Indian, Filipino and Burmese, all with different experiences in the U.S.

An immigration law passed in 1965 changed policy from excluding Asians to prioritizing those with high skills.

Those recruitment efforts were ramped up in the 1990s, further feeding the model myth minority.

Adam Poulisse, WFTV.com

Adam Poulisse joined WFTV in November 2019.