How the U.S. Government Created and Popularized the Asian Model Minority Myth—and Why You Should Care
“I get that the model minority is a stereotype, but how can it be a myth?” you might be asking yourself. After all, the American ethnic group with the highest average education level is Asian. The ethnic group with the highest median household income is also Asian. And 26% of undergraduates admitted to Harvard University in 2021 were Asian, despite Asians making up 5% of all high school students.
But dig a little deeper and you’ll find that those numbers don’t tell the whole story. For example, Asian ethnic groups are also among those with the lowest median household incomes and education levels. Gang violence has always plagued urban Asian communities. 14% of undocumented immigrants in the United States? You guessed it—Asian.
The truth is, the image of Asian Americans as highly educated, hardworking, conflict-avoidant, law-abiding citizens was invented and promoted by the United States government in the 1940s, and then revived and recycled every few years as it suited the government’s purposes, until it became so deeply entrenched in our society that most people now accept it as fact.
The effects of the myth are multi-layered, far-reaching, and—as is so much in this country—entangled with systemic racism and capitalism. But to understand them, it helps to examine the origins.
To learn more about the history of the model minority myth, see the rest of my article here.