We've heard it countless times before: Asian Americans are frequently tagged with the label, 'Model Minority.' But what exactly is it, and why is it not only a false belief, but a poisonous, pernicious myth that provides racism with an excuse? A prime example can be seen in a recent article from New York Magazine's Andrew Sullivan. The article, which focuses on the somewhat unrelated topic of Democrats and Hillary Clinton, shows how deeply embedded such false, generalizing beliefs can be, and how these beliefs can reach a wide audience relatively undetected, breeding further ignorance about the Asian American community as well as the struggles of other minority groups, especially Black Americans. Sullivan sets Asian Americans up as a shining example of attaining the American Dream, a goal surely reachable with the right education and work ethic. He ends his piece with the following words:
"Today, Asian-Americans are among the most prosperous, well-educated, and successful ethnic groups in America. What gives? It couldn’t possibly be that they maintained solid two-parent family structures, had social networks that looked after one another, placed enormous emphasis on education and hard work, and thereby turned false, negative stereotypes into true, positive ones, could it? It couldn’t be that all whites are not racists or that the American dream still lives?"
Sullivan's casual ruminations upon the supposed overwhelming success of all Asian Americans forces together divergent groups of vastly different cultures, backgrounds, economic status, and social conditions. He refuses to take into account the rich diversity of several peoples. However, an even more concerning issue is how people, much like Sullivan, utilize this grossly generalizing argument as a basis for white American to deflect any and all responsibilities for the socioeconomic disparities that exist today. By grouping not only Asians together as a monolithic block, but also minority groups across the board, it becomes too easy to justify a flawed comparison that mistakenly bridges even the most fundamental historical differences. For instance, it makes possible the argument that two centuries of enslavement can be easily surmounted with hard work and a stable family structure. Many studies show that conditions for Asian Americans only began to improve when they were treated better in the first place, often due to political convenience.
Such views overwhelmingly minimize the causes and consequences of systematic racism as something that not only can, but must be vanquished. In other words, it places the burden of responsibility on the oppressed instead of the oppressor.