Not Your Model Minority

In recent weeks, the media has failed the Asian American community. Hundreds of incidents of hate crimes against Asians have gone unnoticed and unmentioned in the news, causing these acts of violence to just continue to go on unaccounted for. As an Asian American, I think it is important that we not only stay aware of the hatred that is happening in our country but also learn where it comes from and how it affects thousands of people across the nation.

These hate crimes against Asian Americans saw a large spike when Covid-19 made its way to the United States. As large media outlets, political figures and people of influence began addressing the virus as the “Chinese-virus” it subliminally placed the blame on the Chinese for the pandemic, which is just plain false. There was also a large amount of other racist, xenophobic and anti-Asian rhetoric that was used early on in the pandemic. This spurred on racism and opened up the door for further hatred, jokes and violence.

In the past year, New York City has seen a 1,900% increase in the amount of anti-Asian crimes. In just the first half of 2020, there were 20 incidents in the city compared to just 1 in all of 2019. New York also had to create an Asian hate crime task force just to address and deal with the frequency of hate crimes. From March to May 2020, there were a total of 1,800 racist incidents against Asian Americans across the U.S.. Pew Research has said that 58% of Asian Americans feel that it is more common to experience racism now than before Covid-19 and 31% said they have been called slurs or faced racist jokes.

Recently, the media has been silent about the continuation of these acts. In February 2021, there again has been an increase in the number of hate crimes against Asians across the United States. To list some examples: an 84-year-old Thai American man was killed unprovoked in San Francisco, a 64-year-old Viet American woman was assaulted in broad daylight in San Jose and robbed of $1,000 and finally, a 61-year-old Filipino American was slashed across the face with a box cutter while riding the subway. These are just a few of the horrific and violent acts that have been committed in recent weeks, sadly mostly against the older generation of Asian Americans.

Racism against Asian Americans did not begin with the pandemic though. It has gone on for years but has been buried since many remain silent causing it to be normalized. Historically, Asians have been barred from entering the United States and gaining citizenship, been placed in incarceration camps and been kept under colonial rule. Though we learn about these things in our classes, we don’t learn the lasting effects these had on the racism Asians continue to face in America.

For many decades, Asians have been seen as the “model minority”. The term “model minority” has been used to describe a “minority group perceived as particularly successful, especially in a manner that contrasts with other minority groups” and is “often applied to Asian Americans, who, as a group, are often praised for apparent success across academic, economic and cultural domains,”  as said by Harvard’s The Practice.

The term comes from the 1960s and not only hurts Asian Americans but also other minority groups as they are often compared to the “success” of their fellow minority groups. It is not reasonable to compare the experiences of Asian Americans to that of other minorities, say African Americans. While Asians have faced racism, they have never faced the systematic, dehumanization that Black people faced during slavery and segregation or even today with the extent of police brutality. The usage of “model minority” is a term that has been weaponized against other minority groups.

Silence has been a key factor in the continuation of this false narrative of the “model minority”. Facing racism as an Asian American has become so normal we don’t think twice when we are called names, make fun of for our food, judged for our eye shape and told we are good at something “just because we are Asian.” This could be due to the Asian culture itself. Many of us are taught that hardships will come, but we must keep our heads down, work past it and find success. This has fed into the “model minority” stereotype since Asians are then seen as “quiet” and won’t put up a fight but still being able to be classified “successful” therefore making them seem more “favorable”. This silence has ultimately been dangerous since it has been seen as taking the “white side” in racial justice issues and further creates the image of the “good minority”.

We need to stop being complacent in silence and speak up, not just for ourselves, but for others too. The “model minority” title won’t be erased until we speak up and decide to stop letting racism be normalized. That goes for racism and injustice everywhere. We can not expect change if we do not make an effort ourselves to call racism out, educate ourselves and be aware. We must demand our voices be heard and stop sitting idly by. As an advocate of the Asian American community, during this time when social injustice, activism and anti-racism has been such a hot topic, I encourage you to really listen, research, reflect, learn and speak out for the experiences of Asian Americans and all minority groups that are trying so hard for their voices to be heard.

With the rise in racism towards Asian Americans due to Covid-19, we need to all stay aware and keep each other accountable and informed. Let your voice be heard and boost the voices of those around you. (Photo by Ashlyn Bautista )