The “Model Minority” Myth

Summary: The Model Minority myth is harmful not only to Asians, but to all communities of color. It perpetuates the myth that Asians can never be fully American. The term was initially coined to describe Japanese, but was gradually extended to all Asian-Americans. The “model minority” myth has been historically used to implicitly criticize African Americans, and is used to invalidate the long-standing and systemic discrimination against them. Internalizing this stereotype creates extreme pressure to succeed on Asian Americans and results in higher levels of mental health issues in these groups. The “bamboo ceiling” keeps Asian Americans out of the top levels of corporate leadership. The majority group’s unconscious fear of losing cultural influence plays into a lack of representation in media and whitewashing of Asian identity.

1. Effects of Discrimination agains Asian Americans are pervasive.

A 2017 study conducted by National Public Radio, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found Health found that :

  • Overall, 61% of Asian Americans believe that there is discrimination against Asian Americans in the U.S. today, and younger Asian Americans are significantly more likely to believe such discrimination exists.
  • Among all those who believe anti-Asian discrimination exists in America today, a two-thirds majority (68%) say that discrimination based on the prejudice of individual people is the bigger problem, while only 14% say discrimination based in laws and government policies is the bigger problem.
  • Another 16% say both are equally problematic.
2. Prejudice against Asian Americans too often becomes violent.

  • FBI data showed that the number of victims of (crimes with) anti-Asian bias increased by around 20 percent, from 137 in 2016 to 165 in 2017.
  • Due to under-reporting, this number is likely greater, but these numbers show a concerning trend.
  • To learn more, is dedicated to tracking and reporting hate crimes agains Asian Americans.

3. Stereotypes both result from, and perpetuate the perception of Asian Americans as foreigners who present a threat.

  • Stereotypes of Asian Americans as foreigners and the enemy are reinforced through the media, educational, and political institutions of dominant society. An almost infinite number of examples exist which perpetuate Asian Americans as foreigners and as the enemy.
  • Anti-immigrant scapegoating is often triggered by current events, which portray Asian Americans as negative foreigners.
  • Both the “model minority” and the “yellow peril” stereotypes have elements of foreignness embedded in them.
  • Gary Okihiro describes, “[t]he yellow peril and the model minority are not poles, denoting opposite representations along a single line, but in fact form a circular relationship that moves in either direction.”
  • The characterization of foreignness of Asian Americans is what allows dominant society to move freely between these two seemingly contradictory stereotypes.
  • For more about persistent racial stereotypes please see:

4. Lastly, the manner in which the “model minority” myth has long been used to drive a racial wedge between Asian American and African American communities has been deeply divisive and harmful.

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