Stop Asian Hate Reflection and Addressing the Model Minority Myth

By Joshua Beltran, Research Assistant, Center for Health Equity Engagement Education and Research

A year ago, I wrote a blog relating to the long history and myth that immigrants harbor and spread disease. This was written in relation the discrimination those of Asian descent were facing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, in 2021 this discrimination has seemed to not only have endured but has been heightened with various violent attacks on Asians.  In light of the attacks and the subsequent “Stop Asian Hate” movement in full swing, this felt the most appropriate time to revisit and discuss the topic. As someone of Asian descent, this topic hits close to home.

About 1,000 people attended the ‘Stop Asian Hate March’ in Cleveland. [Gabriel Kramer / ideastream]
I believe the idea or illusion of the “model minority” is a core aspect as to why these recent attacks feel so jarring as well as a minor contributor to why they are occurring. The “model minority” refers to the idea that due to the socioeconomic success of a certain minority group they are perceived as the reference group for other minorities to model themselves after. Historically this idea has been applied to those of Asian descent. This of course is a falsehood that perpetuates stereotypes as well as creates broad generalizations for multiple groups of people as well discouraging others. I place importance on this construct because COVID-19’s origin in a way shattered the illusion. Due to the virus originating in China the old myths of Asians harboring disease reemerged and the model minority concept no longer applied, or worse, it betrayed the thought of it. No longer were Asians seen as a desirable minority but as harbingers of disease and the cause of the pandemic. Despite being rooted in different sentiments, both view-points still portray Asian-Americans as outsiders and not part of the group. The model minority concept may seem like a positive trait, but it is still discriminatory and signifies the idea that a group of people doesn’t belong. This article “The Model Minority Myth Hides the Racist and Sexist Violence Experienced by Asian Women” attributes the invisibility of anti-Asian racism to the model minority concept. It goes on to say that, “the stereotypes — while seemingly positive — hide many issues, including anti-Asian racism, poverty, labor abuse and psychological needs. It disappears the realities of working-class Asian women’s lives.

women hold placards at a rally.
Protesters Dana Liu, centre front, and Kexin Huang, right, display placards during a rally held to support Stop Asian Hate, March 21, 2021, in Newton, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

A favorite comedian of mine is Hasan Minhaj who often comments on his upbringing as an Indian American growing up in California. An excerpt from one of his performances detailed “polite racism” he faced when attending his senior prom in high school with a study partner as a date. The situation involves his date’s parents finding their daughter another “more appropriate” date due to them being from Nebraska and wanting to send pictures back home that would be better accepted by family members. Mr. Minhaj explains how taken aback he is at the situation, due to fact that he’s never experienced or witnessed racism or discrimination in this fashion. Hasan had been a victim of misplaced aggressions following the 9/11 attacks due to his Indian heritage, but was baffled to be passed over as a date due to it. He eloquently explains “I didn’t know that people could be bigoted, even as they were smiling at you” and “it’s hard to understand when you see people saying they love you, but are afraid of you at the same time.” I find his reaction to the racism he faced following 9/11 to be applicable in our current environment, in which he states that 9/11 “when it happened, everyone in America felt their country was under attack” but, September 12 “was the first night, of so many nights, where my family’s loyalty to this country was under attack”. Both of these situations are examples that being a model minority still means you are a minority and subject to discrimination and swaying popular opinion. I feel the model minority label, old myth of disease carrying Asians, and attacks are linked to a similar shared fear. This fear causes the perception that we’re good enough to be study partners, doctors, and hold other pivotal roles but not good enough to be prom dates. Additionally, we’re often excluded from conversations about racism but when we’re being targeted, we have to prove our loyalty to both other minority groups and the majority

Anthony Garcia “Messages were left after the rally on the former Dave’s Supermarket location on Payne Avenue.”

It makes the situation feel like the attackers have the viewpoint of “Asians are supposed to be one of the ‘good ones’, how dare they bring their diseases to this country!” and in response I feel I need to fake a smile and say, “Sorry, we didn’t mean to. We’ll work twice as hard to make it up to you in every way from being your physicians and lawyers to your grocery clerks or Uber drivers”

Photo by: Anthony Garcia

However, there are many groups, both domestic and internationally, doing the best they can to counter the anti-Asian sentiment and those who have been a support for Asians from the beginning. In Cleveland, one of our partners is Asian Services In Action (ASIA) who are the largest health and human services agency serving the Asian American / Pacific Islander community of Northeast Ohio. They, in conjunction with other community groups helped organize the “Stop Asian Hate” March in Cleveland’s AsiaTown. (Read more information about the march here.)



Additional Resources:

“To Combat Racism Against Asian Americans, We Must Recognize That it Exists: Anthony Nguyen”