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Unraveling the Model Minority Myth of Asian American Students (page 2)

By — Diversity in Education Special Edition Contributor
Updated on Oct 25, 2010

What Are The Implications Of The Model Minority Label?

The positive tenor of the model minority label may lead some people to believe it is flattering, regardless of whether it is true or not. However, this stereotype can be dangerous and harmful to Asian American students.

There are many implications of the model minority myth on Asian American students.

  • The model minority myth inherently pits Asian American students with other racial minority students creating interracial tension. The group comparison superficially compliments the success of one group, as it implicitly points to failure of another group. It creates a distorted portrait of all Asian American students as hard working, studious, persevering without complaint; while all other students of color are lazy, disruptive, and complaining. The internalization of these false images can lead Asian Americans students to be more verbally and physically harassed by their peers (Greene, Way, & Pahl, 2006).  
  • The model minority myth dismisses actual experiences of racism faced by many Asian American students ranging from personal to institutional practices. They are oftentimes teased as perpetual foreigners (e.g., "Where are you really from?" or "You speak good English!"). Asian American students will make less money upon entering the workforce compared to their White classmates. In particular, Asian American men will be making 10-20% less and Asian American women will be making 40-50% less than their White counterparts-even with the same level of qualifications and educational experiences (Woo, 2000).
  • The majority of Asian American students do not like to be referred to as a model minority (Oyserman & Sakamoto, 1997). They recognize the unfair burden, expectation, and pressure placed on them simply because of their race. There is a growing body of literature that has linked internalizing model minority pressure with greater psychological distress (Chen, 1995; Chu, 2002), lower academic performance (Chun, 1995; Cheryan & Bodenhausen, 2000), and even suicide (Cohen, 2007).
  • The model minority myth may encourage Asian American students to silence and hide their personal problems. In fact, studies have found that Asian Americans are less likely to seek help, whether it is for school, physical, or mental health needs-even though they may have serious issues. Further, there is a serious gap in providing culture-specific services that address the unique needs of Asian American populations (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001).

What Can Parents And Educators Do?

Color-Blind vs. Racial-Blind

Nobody wants their children to judge others based on their skin color or physical appearance. However, racism and racial disparity faced by our children are real with dire consequences. Being colorblind also blinds a person from understanding unique hardships faced by many students of color. Talk to your children about unique racialized experiences of specific racial and ethnic groups, while appreciating the diversity found within each group. Help to challenge these stereotypes, but also validate and normalize these experiences.

Doing Well vs. Feeling Well

People often assume that students with excellent academic performances have excellent psychological well-being. The model minority myth may motivate Asian American students to achieve higher test scores; but with often unfair and unrecognized burden, pressure, and discrimination, they may struggle emotionally feeling overwhelmed and socially disconnected. Parents and educators must attend to and properly assess for the mental health needs of their students, regardless of their academic achievement.

Multicultural Awareness vs. Multicultural Practices

The model minority myth narrows our racial discourse to discussions about individual differences. It implies that success can be achieved through hard work and determination, and racism is only perpetuated by the few. The myth therefore distracts us from serious conversations about institutional and cultural systems of advantages and disadvantages based on race-everything from your salary to how long you live is determined by race. Parents and educators should complicate their own understanding about race and racism in this country. But, most importantly, you must act! Actively talk with your children and others about the role and implications of race and racism in your family, school, community, and pop culture. Participate in multicultural festivals, workshops, and conferences. Always challenge yourself and others to disrupt the cycle of racism.      

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