“Model Minority”– that’s a good thing, right?

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“Model Minority”– that’s a good thing, right?

The problem with the “myth” of model minorities is that it can cause people to overlook vulnerabilities in supposedly successful groups.  As reported by NBC News, a recent study confounds stereotypes that all Asian Americans generally enjoy high income and educational levels.

National numbers for the financial health of the Asian American Pacific Islander [AAPI] community may look good in aggregate. But a closer look, and a new study, reveals that subgroups are much more financially vulnerable than they’re widely believed to be.

A new survey by the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community pulls apart the national numbers to show how generational gaps, ethnicity, and language proficiency influence the fastest-growing population in America’s financial well being.

Why does this matter? Racialized assumptions about the “Asian hordes” that will steal jobs from “real” Americans have unfortunately had too much traction in the nation’s past and feed into other types of stereotypes, for instance reinforcing attitudes about poor people in the nation simply not trying hard enough.

“Success Story of One Minority Group in U.S.,” a 1966 article from U.S. News and World Report, popularized such notions. In the language of the article, “At a time when it is being proposed that hundreds of billions be spent to uplift Negroes and other minorities,the nation’s 300,000 Chinese-Americans are getting ahead on their own, with no help from anyone else.”

Discussing this article, Jean Yu-wen Shen Wu and Ming Song have pointed out that “many historians and social scientists agree that the message in the piece—namely, that the Asian American case demonstrates that a racial minority can ‘make it’ in America with hard work and sacrifice—was designed to scold other disenfranchised racial minorities, especially vocal African Americans,” by implying that “if they fail, the fault lies in their lack of initiative and not in the deep structural inequalities based on race.”

The resulting flawed logic has it that, since some immigrant groups thrive, anyone and everyone can make it in “the new world.” But bipartisan responses to contemporary cultural politics remind us that we need to develop more sound conclusions.

 “I’m concerned about the fact there seems to be a war on the poor. That, if you’re poor, somehow you’re shiftless and lazy.” (John Kasich, Governor of Ohio (R), 2013)

Recognizing diversity within groups and resisting temptations to blame Americans who are struggling financially may help us to have a more realistic and fair-minded view of our nation.

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