The “Model Minority Myth” refers to a minority group perceived as more successful than other minority groups. Most often, the model minority is designated to Asian Americans, who are often deemed highly successful in society.
But the model minority myth fails to tell the entire story.
In reality, Asian Americans have the highest economic disparity and face alarming economic insecurity, despite having the highest median income compared to any other communities of color. As of 2016, the top 10th percentile of Asian Americans earn 10.7 times as much as the bottom 10th percentile, compared with 9.8 for black earners and 7.8 for both Latinx and white earners. Asians experience the highest poverty rate of any immigrant group in New York City, and 1 in 7 Asian Americans are undocumented and subject to deportation.
If these statistics come as a shock. It should.
Not only does the model minority myth inaccurately tell the collective Asian American story, it fails to recognize disparities between the multitude of ethnic groups within Asia.
Although certain studies indicate that certain East and South Asian ethnic groups perform well on particular subjects, the same studies display an underperformance from Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander students in comparison to other ethnic groups.
Why is the model minority myth harmful?
The model minority myth attributes our success to our race, devaluing our hard work. It erases and invalidates our struggles and individuality. It ignores the diversity of Asian cultures. It ignore those of us struggling at the bottom because society believes we are all thriving.
Possibly most despicable is the weaponization of the model minority myth against other communities of color. The narrative often follows: “If they (AAPI) can do it, why can’t you? (Other POC),” which is unfair to the vast differences in experiences between communities.
The model minority myth derives generalizations from data rather than nuanced analysis, and when we falsely cater to this, we hurt not only our community, but others.
Although May is AAPI Heritage Month, we shouldn’t limit exposure to this month only. We can take it upon ourselves to learn about AAPI activists and empower those around us to understand and dismantle the model minority myth.