America's Next Top Model Minority
As Frank Chin once said, ¨Whites love us because we aren't black¨ (1)
This expression is the heart of today's deep dive.
We cannot talk about AAPI survivors without analyzing systemic racism. The specific, horrific, uniquely awful flavor that is distinctive to AAPIs.
Going back to intersectional allyship (thank you to the gorgeous Kimberly Crenshaw) in order to truly understand emotional abuse AAPI survivors face, we need to understand the basics.
Anti-Asian racism impacts survivors. From mental health issues, to feeling like an outsider in your own country, to AAPI women being sexualized, to verbal and physical attacks, hate crimes, and mass shootings. It is incredibty demoralizing to live in a country that denies being racist to you, while refusing to teach the history of your people in this country that includes hate crimes, mass murder, and legal rulings that still make your life challanigng to this day. Even more confusing is seeing the brutality faced by other communities of color like police brutality and a legacy of slavery, and then that violence being used to furthur undermine your experience.
Because let's be clear. Living in a racist society, where hate crimes against you are blatantly denied (or called a bad day) makes you really hesitant to trust it.
When I was a kid, bullies would pull back the corners of their eyes and say ¨look at me, I have c-word eyes¨. These days, I still see this motion everywhere. Well recently, as in the week before this post was written, I was explaining this to someone. Their response? Well actually they just do it because it looks good!
Guess how likely I am to call on that person in a crisis? How likely are they to take me seriously when they cannot even acknowledge how painful it is to be mocked for the shape of my eyes?
And this isn't a single person. It's a metaphor for this society as a whole.
So that is today. Week 6 of our AAPI Army campaign. Our first deep dive analysis, building off our survivor stories, in depth research, and lived experiences. We are analyzing the unique barriers AAPI survivors face from society … as well as where it comes from, how it starts, how it perpetuates. Obviously, this is a generalization because of how large the AAPI community is. And again, there is so much more research that needs to be done. However, from the stories we shared and the research available we highlighted common trends and similarities that we believe is a start to this discussion.
It's important to understand historical anti-Asian racism, because it sets the stage for the barriers AAPIs face today. Plus the similarities between modern racism and historical racism is striking… almost like it's a pattern of control and power.
So backing up.
America has a long history of anti-Asian racism, with one of the most well known examples being the use of anti-Chinese racism to justify multiple anti-immigration laws. The first in America. The attitude in America only began shifting to ¨Asians are peaceful/hard working/etc¨ due to a series of events and political shifts that made it convenient and useful for white supremacy.
Let's begin in the 19th century. We have lots of young AAPi immigrants moving to America with a dream for a better life, many here in Washington state, (2) only to be met with… hatred and exclusion!
Here are some highlights.
1849-1850- Oregon state is forming, actively excluded Hawwaians and denies them the right to own land or become American citizens (2)
1875- Page Act (banned Chinese women)
1882-Chinese Exclusion Act (banned all Chinese)
1907-1908- Japanese stops its citizens from immigrating hoping to slow anti-Japanese sentiment.
1934- Congress passed the Tydings-McDuffie Act. After the Spanish-American War in 1898, the Philippine Islands were an American possession meaning Fillipinos had the right to migrate to the US. The Tydings-McDuffie act limited this to 50 people a year.
Now a shift begins….
1943- Magnuson act, aka Chinese Exclusion Lite. It sort of repeals Chinese Exclusion Act, but limits migration to 105 people a year. This despite allowing nearly 68,000 Brittans a year. Also if you had Chinese ancestry you counted towards the 105 quota. Meaning if you were a British citizen who was half Chinese, that counted towards the 105 quota. (2, 3, 4,5) Also, to Quote Ellen Wu, author of ¨the Color of Success: While Chinese Exclusion Lite was being drafted, America "strategically recast Chinese in its promotional materials as 'law-abiding, peace-loving, courteous people living quietly among us'" instead of the "'yellow peril' c--lie hordes."
1965- After a few more diet exclusions that included quotas for entry, especially for Filipino and Asian-Indian immigrants, Congress did away with that nonsense! (4,5) Yay! However the National Immigration Act replaced the national-origins quota system with one that gave preference to immigrants with U.S. family relationships and certain skills. This leads to a preference of immigrants with wealth and status. (3)
1966- Model Minority Term created! (6,7)1966 as in only 56 years ago!
Notice how things switched around the 1930s and 40s? Why this time? Simply put, it was a strategic move for the US to appease its ally in WW2… China. The Republic of China and the US were allies at the time, but the fact that the US banned Chinese immigrants didn't sit well with China, especially since Japan tried to break up this friendship by mentioning anti-Chinese immigration laws every chance it could. To keep its BFF happy, and because the US had other immigraion laws in place that would keep Chinese immigrants out, the US passed Chinese Exclusion Lite. However, it established a 105 quote after public fear and outrage the US could become ¨flooded¨ with Chinese immigrants. (4,5).
Not that it was smooth sailing from there, but this was a start in America shifting towards letting AAPIs in.
Next came a series of events that led to the next major shift in how America portrayed AAPIs: Japanese Internment Camps. in the US, which affected over 120,000 people the majority of whom were American citizens (8). American citizens who were at least 1/16 Japanese were forcibly detained, had their possessions and land taken, were murdered and tortured and forced into prison camps because they had Japanese ancestry. Funny side note, 2 of these prisons that were in Arizona were built on Native Reservations despite the local tribes protesting. More white supremacy inciting hatred between marginalized groups (8)
Now we get to the Model Minority. This term was inspired by Japanese Americans only 20 years after the last Internment camp was closed. It was created by sociologist William Petersen in a New York Times article "Success story, Japanese American Style¨ (6,7). 20 years after the last internment camp closed. The Executive Order that established the Japanese Internment camps wasn't even repealed at this time (1976) (8).
So we have a lot of things happening around the same time that all tie back together… an influx of richer Asians due to America wanting to keep its BFF China, propaganda rebranding CHinese immigrants as ¨peaceful/desirable/successful and hardworking” to sell the new imigration laws, combined with a traumatized Japanese American population just trying to rebuild after internment, and the white supremacy being concerned over the rising Civil rights movement… you get a convenient way for Americans to conflate Asian and Black racism, deny systemic racism altogether along with the role it plays in disparaging and brutalizing the Black community, and a way to combat the Civil Rights movement. Keep in mind Bloody Sunday was only the year before, 1965 (10). Plus by holding up Asians as ¨they got the right stuff, they beat the odds and made why can't you clearly it's not racism its your lazy PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY etc¨ this created riffs between the Black and Asian communities meaning the focus is away from the monster problem… white supremacy.
And if you're wondering.. Why are we spending so much time iN tHe PaSt?
This cycle does not just exist in the past. The Model Minority BS is alive and thriving! After Hilary Clinton lost her bid for president, New York Magazine Reporter Andrew Sullivan cited the Model Minority and prosperity of Asian Americans to claim ¨whites aren't racist and the American dream lives¨ (12). The trump administration enacted what was essentially a Muslim ban in 2017, baring immigration including refugees from majority Muslim countries even in the case of family reunification. This hit Yemenis particularly hard. (13) After the muder of Geroge Floyde last year, Fox news talking heads were quick to cite the Model Minority to prove systemic racism against Black community does not exist. Fast forward to today, ignoring how America interjecting itself in Vietnam/Cambodia/etc resulted in a surge in refugees… we have the issue of Afghanistan. More specifically, refugees. Afghanistan is included under AAPI. The refugees fleeing to this country to escape the Taliban? The next generation of AAPIs. And how will we treat them? Right now it's looking like they are the next Chinese Exclusion Act. We still see the damage this did to Asians in this country. And the benefit of analyzing history is that we are able to learn lessons and grow and evolve from it. To be better than we were.
So that was a brief history of AAPI racism in America, beginning in the 1900s into the present day.
Now let's dive into how AAPIs are treated in this country in modern times. Because we are still abused by society. Lots of gaslighting.
We are exotified. Sexualized.
Model Minority- sized.
The model minority stereotype.
America's next top Model Minority!
We already mentioned how this label is racist. It is white supremacy using Asians as a way to benefit themselves while dividing communities of color.
But let's discuss the Model Minority in modern times, beginning with a reflection on AAPIs and other communities of color and then digressing into the many ways this disgusting label gaslights and degrades us.
Asian racism and Black violence are different. Just like Latino and Indiginous racism are different. The Black community is still dealing with the fallout of slavery, something Asian Americans never had to deal with. We do not deal with the same brutality that other marginalized groups are subjected to, such as being shot by police for wearing hoodies or choked for using a counterfeit bill. We were kept out of this country, not subjugated to decades of slavery. The flavor of racism we experience is different. Think horse shit vs bird poop. Both suck, but one isn't as smelly and easier to clean up. We have certain privileges that Black, Latino, and Indiginous communities do not, although we lack privileges that white Americans have. Like before, caught between 2 places. Although if covid has shown us anything, society is more than happy to pull our privileges when they want a scapegoat. But this is why it's so important to talk about. Because it's different, it requires its own solutions and considerations.
One unique consequence for AAPIs. We aren't taken seriously when we try to point out the bird shit on our bikes. The model minority minimizes our struggles against systemic racism, because we think if we try to complain no one will believe us.. Or we try to speak out and no one takes it seriously… because we are the model minority, the ¨good race¨. I have experienced this, felt this, known the heaviness of being harassed in front of friends but hesitating to talk about it because I figure no one will understand or have noticed or realize what happened and I don't want the emotional labor of explaining it. Even throughout working on this campaign the whole time I was plagued with ¨what if other brown communities tell me to shut up because Asians have it better¨ and then I worried white Americans would also not take me seriously either especially after all the harassment I went through during COVID. But what people miss is that the Model Minority only highlights those it selects to make itself look good. AAPis who dont fit this stereotype are ignored, erased, minimized. They are hidden from view, and their ability to access help is blocked. Gaslighting…..
Be honest, before Suni Lee, who had heard of Hmong Americans? Be honest.
Ok I want to state for the record. There are many different kinds of AAPI. Those who were raised with their culture, those who weren't, those who are fluent, those who are part, those who do not identify as AAPI. And there are those who actively embrace the Model Minority grossness. Assimilation for survival. And there are those who are privileged enough that they do not interact with racism as much as other individuals. But many of us struggle to shake this myth, who recognize how awful it is. It takes a diverse group of individuals and reduces us to a monolith. A thing. It objectifies us as ¨the hardworking successful race¨ while ignoring those who are hurt by the reductive and unrealistic standard. It exoticized our culture, our language, our bodies, and used us to beat down other minority groups. It cherry picks Asian people, successes and culture it sees as ¨worthy¨ and ¨cool¨ and profits of it. Even those who do not identify as AAPI because they weren't raised that way can still be singled out due to our distinctive features. When I was attacked during COVID, and every time before let's be honest, my attackers did not stop to gauge how in tune with my culture I was. They saw the eyes and that was it.
Speaking of how the Model Minority cherry picks, reduces, and profits off any success we have. A perfect example is the North Thurston Public School district here in WA state.
Back in 2020 the North Thurston Public School district saw its Asian students were outperforming white students, so it lumped them together. Since Asian students were on par or outperforming White students… they claimed the Asian students.
Where do I start? First off, if Asian students are being stereotyped this way you can bet other marginalized groups are. Second, Asians. Arent. A. monolith. When you look at research that breaks down results among specific Asain ethnicities, students who are Chinese and Japanese do better than Laotian and Samoan students (12, 14) . And when Asian students struggle, teachers can miss the signs because of the assumption Asians are all successful. These Asian students can be missed because they are Asian. Not only that but by grouping White and Asian students as the ¨successful¨ category… who was placed in the ¨underperforming category? Black and brown students. A category that faces harsher and more frequent discipline than their peers (12). In this one example, we see the model minority profit off the labor and success of Asian students, disenfranchise marginalized students, and silence and erase Asian students who do not live up to its unrealistic standards. And continue to pit Asian and Black students against each other. History repeats when we refuse to learn...
On a related note, Educational and professional disparity- True, AAPIs in general have high college graduation rates… However, there are many invisible, struggling AAPI students. Those whos families are refugees who immigrated fleeing war and genocide have to content with trauma and PTSD. According to Nami, nearly 33% of AAPis aren't fluent in English (15). Have you ever traveled abroad and thought about ordering takeout unless you don't speak the native language? Imagine that being your whole life. I remember my mom telling me stories of her childhood after moving to america. She lucked out. A teacher would sit with her after school for hours helping her learn English. But it took her a couple years to get it. Lucky. But again, the combination of AAPI students who struggle academically along with the minority myth claiming AAPis are all smart and successful means many educators may take a ¨blame the victim¨ mentality or assume these students don't need help. Either you're fine or you're lazy! At the college level, many AAPI students are either held to a higher standard than their white counterparts which makes it harder to be admitted, or they are denied because a college feels they have ¨too many Asians¨ (16) Then there is the bamboo ceiling. According to DiversityInc, Asian-Americans make up only 2.6 percent of the corporate leadership of Fortune 500 companies; this despite the fact that Asian-Americans have the highest levels of education and income in the country. We are the fastest growing population and there's over 23 million of us people. This comes in part from microaggressions that are designed to tear down people of color, lack of representation at the top, as well as the ideas that Asians don't assume ¨leadership qualities¨. Because we are submissive, quiet, peaceful… gaslighting. White supremacy elevates us for political convenience but not enough for us to fill top roles in society.
The model minority also puts us at risk through its portrayal of asians as submissive, peaceful, docile, etc. We just talked about how these stereotypes hurt us professionally, make us less desirable for leadership positions. For women, this also translates to higher rates of sexual violence (going back to that statistic 21 – 55% of Asian women in the U.S. report experiencing intimate physical and/or sexual violence during their lifetime) (17).
And now, before we end this section. I keep saying how the Model Minority hides AAPIs it deems not good enough for it. How about we take a look at some of these hidden AAPIs and the issues they face.
Economic disparity- Asian communities having the highest rates of income inequality in the country. We talked before about how the material conditions of the average Bhutanese-American are very different from those of Japanese-Americans, for example. This is mainly due to immigration laws targeting Chinese, and also Japanese individuals with the Page Law and Chinese Immigration Act. When these laws were reversed, it was only to allow individuals who had money and status. However, Many AAPI individuals are refugees who came to America to escape war and genocide, such as Camodian Americans, Vietnamese Americans, Laotion Americans, and Bhurmese Amerians among others. And these days, citizens are fleeing Afghanistan.
As another example, a 2015 study from the PEW Research Center found that Cambodian Americans, many whose families immigrated following the genodcide by the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979, have a poverty of 19% vs 12% whites and 12% other Asians (18) although other research puts the poverty rate as high as 28% (19) with trauma and cultural barriers cited as a huge factor (19). But when was the last time the Cambodian American population was addressed? Or those who fled Vietnam after the fall of Saigon? The consequences still exist today in these populations.
Speaking of erasure, when was the last time we looked in the mirror and remembered Pacific Islanders? It's AAPI. PI. Pacific islanders. Hawaii, Guam, Fiji, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and many other pacific islander countries have been left out of the conversation. This despite years of colonization (Hawaii) and exploitation (Micronesia). Remember during WW2 when we used the Marshall Islands to test nuclear weapons that destroyed atolls, displaced the local populations and left a legacy of radiation sickness including higher rates of cancer? (20) Not to mention the fact that Native Hawaiians are being priced out of their homes as more and more land is sold to rich tourists at their expense. When was the last time their concerns were validated? Even now record numbers of people are still traveling to Hawaii despite locals begging us not to. On Maui there is a water shortage, and while tourism destinations are getting watered (golf courses and whatnot) local residents are being asked to conserve water (21)
And I want to close on the most tragic consequence of the Model Minority. When it turns to murder. Hate Crimes. Remember in the beginning, our timeline of anti-immigration nonsense? The 1800s were a brutal time for Chinese immigrants, especially miners. About 30 of them were murdered at the Rock Springs Massacre after white miners blamed them for poor working conditions and taking their jobs.(22) These hate crimes aren't just in the past. COVID. The shootings in Georgia. Also South Asian Hate crimes. After 9-11, Muslim Americans began experiencing rising Islamophobia and attacks, along with Sieks and Hindus who are routinely mistaken for Muslim. In WI, a white supremacist attacked and killed 6 at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin. (24). And again, as we discussed earlier, the trump administration bared the immigration of people from mainly Muslim countries citing 9-11 as a reason despite a report stating “no one has been killed in the United States in a terrorist attack by anyone who emigrated from or whose parents emigrated from” the countries targeted in the travel ban¨ (25) Families are being torn apart, refugees suffering, lives are being ruined all while setting up a new generation of traumatized AAPIs because of a racist stereotype linking Muslims to terrorism.
Before we wrap things up. Let's reiterate. The reason we look at Anti-Asian racism both from a historical perspective and a modern one is because there is a direct line between then and now. The cycles of using anti-Asian rhetoric to justify which Asians immigrate here, how we are treated once we arrive, how successful we can be… the cycles we see playing out literally before our eyes are the same ones we have been caught in since the 1800s.
This is what we, AAPIs, face in this country. We are either exploited when we succeed, erased when we fail to meet whatever arbitrary barrier is set, and are set apart from white society and other marginalized communities.
Exploited. Erased. Objectified and isolated. Also verbally and physically abused, occasionally murdered. And when we try to speak out, we are told we are all the model minority. So add in gaslighting to the mix.
Racial stereotypes matter. Racial stereotypes keep AAPIs from seeking help. From being validated. From receiving help. Even before we consider the cultural backdrop, we already see how heavy and difficult an environment AAPI survivors are forced to navigate.
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