The model minority myth is a sociological phenomenon that refers to the stereotype of certain minority groups, particularly Asian Americans, as successful, and well-adjusted, as demonstrating that there is little or no need for social or economic assistance for the same or different minority groups. The model minority stereotype emerged in the United States during the Cold War in the 1950s and was first explicitly used as a term in the 1960s during the Civil Rights Movement as an antithesis to African American claims of racial oppression and has perpetuated notions that other minority groups can achieve the same success through hard work and that discrimination and systemic barriers do not impede upward mobility.[1] The model minority myth has been widely criticized as oversimplistic and misleading, and for being used to justify discriminatory policies and neglect of marginalized communities.[2][3]

Origins and history

Pre Civil Rights Era

During World War II, when Japanese Americans faced immense pressure to behave as model citizens in order to quell racist sentiment toward those of Japanese heritage, the image of a model minority emerged.[4] The image of a model minority continued to grow in prominence after World War II because the Japanese American community had experienced significant economic and educational success. Post World War II, the conception of a model minority fit with American nation building efforts during the Cold War in the 1950s.[5] In this era, the United States was particularly concerned with the threat of communism, and race mixing. Specifically, the United States was concerned with the expansion of a communist China, and made every effort to contain the expansion of Chinese influence throughout Asia and beyond.[5] While at home, following the racial liberalism era of the 1940s, the United States pursued a policy of racial assimilation to manage the country's growing diversity that carried over to the Cold War era.[5][6] This policy of racial assimilation showed to nations threatened to be influenced by communism that the United States was a liberal democracy where people of color could achieve socioeconomic prosperity.[5]

Civil Rights Era

It was only until the 1960s Civil Rights Movement that the concept "model minority" was made explicit.[4][7][5] A prominent The New York Times article in 1966 by sociologist William Petersen ("Success Story, Japanese-American Style") is most commonly credited for the origination of the model minority concept.[4][7][8][6] In this article, Petersen contrasted the economic and educational success of Japanese Americans to the "problem minority", other racial groups whose lack of perceived economic and educational success proved that Japanese Americans had risen above discrimination.[4] Petersen's article framed Japanese Americans as an embodiment of success through hard work and ultimately, justified the United States as a meritocratic society in which so-called "problem minorities" could also rise above racism and discrimination to succeed.[4] Because the 1960s Civil Rights Movement was marked by African American claims of racial oppression, many scholars argue that Petersen's article served to present economic and educational success amongst Japanese Americans as an antithesis to such claims of racial oppression.[7]

Petersen's article is credited with originating the model minority concept, but one common misconception is that Petersen also coined the term "model minority".[6] Reference to a "model" minority group first appeared in a U.S. News and World Report article in 1966 ("Success Story of One Minority Group in the U.S.").[6] Though Petersen's article only made reference to Japanese Americans, the U.S News and World Report article applied the model minority concept to Chinese Americans, and claimed that they overcame racial discrimination faced by other minority groups, namely African Americans, through so-called traditional values of "hard work, thrift, and morality".[6] In addition to Chinese Americans, the model minority term was later applied to Asian Americans groups like Korean, and Indian Americans, who were also seen as highly educated and successful.

Post Civil Rights Era to Present Day

Following the Civil Rights Era, the model minority term continued to grow in prominence and has been perpetuated by United States media, academia, and popular culture. It is often used to compare model minorities to other minority groups, such as African Americans and Latinos.[9] The growing acceptance of the model minority myth may be partially attributed to the 1965 Immigration Act, which abolished national origin quotas and based admission on skills and profession instead.[10] As a result, from 1965 to 1979, many immigrants from Asia were highly-educated professionals, like physicians and scientists, and this demographic and their children makes up a significant portion of the Asian American community today.[10] By the 1980s, many media outlets reported that Asian Americans had skyrocketing college enrollment rates, fueling praise for Asian Americans as a successful minority group due to their superior work ethic.[8][10] A Fortune magazine article in 1986 by Anthony Ramirez ("America's Super Minority"), for example, stated, "Asian Americans are [simply] smarter than the rest of us, and they push their children to excel in school."[8] The Fortune article, when addressing whether it is a problem that Asian Americans have problems moving up the corporate hierarchy, asserted that Asian Americans would "solve that problem themselves by being self-starters and adapting to American management culture".[8] Another famous example of the model minority myth perpetuated through media was the 1987 Time magazine which featured a cover photo of, "Those Asian American WHIZ KIDS."[11][12] Today, similar to the skilled-based immigration resulting from the 1965 Immigration Act, many Asian American immigrants who are highly educated are often selected through student visas for higher education, H1-B skill-based visas, or merit-based immigration systems that favors those with advanced degrees or specialized skills. This has led to a disproportionate concentration of highly educated and successful Asian Americans in certain professions, such as medicine, engineering, and technology, that continues to fuel the model minority myth.

Criticism and impact

Because the model minority myth suggests that those designated as model minorities, such as Asian Americans, are a homogenous group characterized by a singular conception of educational and occupational success,[4] critics of the model minority myth argue that it oversimplifies complex issues of race, class, and discrimination, and ignores the many obstacles that Asian Americans and other minority groups face.[13] This can lead to a neglect of policies and programs that address systemic barriers of success and can also contribute to inter-minority tensions and further discrimination.[14]

For instance, some scholars argue that the model minority myth has been used as a tool to assist the advancement of color-blind ideologies and agendas within politics that delegitimize the existence of racial oppression and reinforce the attainability of the American Dream.[4][8][15] By using the model minority myth as a tool to perpetuate the American Dream and blame other people of color for their own struggles, critics of the model minority myth worry that it could erode support for government assistance programs.[8]

Additionally, many critics of the model minority myth argue that the model minority myth masks intra-group inequality.[4] For Asian Americans, a common criticism is that their classification as a model minority obstructs the diversity that encompasses an Asian American identity and the inequalities experienced across Asian Americans.[4] Asian Americans comprise of over twenty-four distinct ethnic groups each with distinct cultures.[4] Even within a specific ethnic group, there are significant differences in religious practices, socioeconomic status, political affiliation, and much more. The reality is that many Asian American groups face discrimination and poverty, with particular Asian American groups, such as Cambodian Americans and Hmong Americans, having poverty rates higher than that of European Americans.[16][17][8]

Critics of the model minority myth also argue that the model minority myth leads those in the dominant group, like White Americans, to believe that racism against the model minority, like Asian Americans, does not exist.[4][8] This can perpetuate the belief that Asian Americans do not need resources nor support, and delegitimize their voiced struggles. As such, a study conducted by McGowan and Lindgren found that those who view Asian Americans as hard working and intelligent are more likely to believe that Asian Americans face little discrimination in areas such as job recruitment and housing, demonstrating how positive perceptions of the model minority myth could impact an individual's ability to recognize and support instances of socioeconomic inequality.[8] Affirmative action policies that exclude Asian Americans due to their incorrectly perceived universally high rates of educational and occupational attainment are another commonly cited example used to illustrate how the model minority myth can further perpetuate social and economic inequalities.[4]

The model minority myth is also commonly criticized for serving as a tool that divides racial minorities to ultimately maintain systemic White supremacy.[7][8] By applying critical race theory, scholars have examined how the model minority myth fits into broader racial dynamics within the United States.[7] Application of critical race theory has classified model minorities as examples of middleman minorities. Middleman minorities are often granted economic privileges but neither economic nor political privileges, leading to tension and hostility from the elites and the masses they are situated between.[7] Coupled with an understanding that the model minority term was historically and is still especially attributed to Asian Americans, applying the middleman minority theory to the use of the model minority term places Asian Americans in a racial bind between White Americans and other people of color.[7][8] In this arrangement, the model minority term serves to present Asian Americans as self-sufficient and high achieving, whose stereotype of success is used to maintain White dominance by blaming other people of color for their struggles [18] and to distract individuals from noticing and criticizing systems of White dominance.[8][19]

Further reading



See also


  1. ^ Lim, Desiree (2017). "Selecting Immigrants By Skill: A Case Of Wrongful Discrimination?". Social Theory and Practice. 43 (2): 369–396. doi:10.5840/soctheorpract20172157. ISSN 0037-802X. JSTOR 26381167.
  2. ^ Hsu, Madeline Y. (2017). The Good Immigrants. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-17621-5.
  3. ^ Covington, Caroline; Hart, Alexandra (September 7, 2020). "How The 'Model-Minority' Stereotype Obscures Asian Americans' Economic And Health Care Challenges". Texas Standard. Retrieved 2023-05-05.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Smith, Anthony D; Hou, Xiaoshuo; Stone, John; Dennis, Rutledge; Rizova, Polly, eds. (2015-12-07). The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Race, Ethnicity, and Nationalism (1 ed.). Wiley. doi:10.1002/9781118663202.wberen528. ISBN 978-1-4051-8978-1.
  5. ^ a b c d e Lee, Robert G. (1999). Orientals: Asian Americans in popular culture. Temple University Press. ISBN 978-1-56639-753-7.
  6. ^ a b c d e Walton, Jessica; Truong, Mandy (2023-02-17). "A review of the model minority myth: understanding the social, educational and health impacts". Ethnic and Racial Studies. 46 (3): 391–419. doi:10.1080/01419870.2022.2121170. ISSN 0141-9870.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Poon, OiYan; Squire, Dian; Kodama, Corinne; Byrd, Ajani; Chan, Jason; Manzano, Lester; Furr, Sara; Bishundat, Devita (June 2016). "A Critical Review of the Model Minority Myth in Selected Literature on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Higher Education". Review of Educational Research. 86 (2): 469–502. doi:10.3102/0034654315612205. ISSN 0034-6543.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l McGowan, Miranda Oshige; Lindgren, James T. (2003). "Untangling the Myth of the Model Minority". SSRN Electronic Journal. doi:10.2139/ssrn.420600. ISSN 1556-5068.
  9. ^ Jin, Connie Hanzhang (May 25, 2021). "6 Charts That Dismantle The Trope Of Asian Americans As A Model Minority". NPR. Retrieved July 3, 2023.
  10. ^ a b c Caliendo, Stephen M.; McIlwain, Charlton D., eds. (2011). The Routledge companion to race and ethnicity (1. publ ed.). London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-77706-3.
  11. ^ "TIME Magazine Cover: Asian-American Whiz Kids - August 31, 1987". Retrieved 2023-05-05.
  12. ^ "The Real Problem When It Comes to Diversity and Asian-Americans". Time. 2014-10-14. Retrieved 2023-05-05.
  13. ^ "What Is the Model Minority Myth?". Learning for Justice. 2019-03-21. Retrieved 2023-05-05.
  14. ^ Chow, Kat (April 19, 2017). "'Model Minority' Myth Again Used As A Racial Wedge Between Asians And Blacks". NPR.
  15. ^ Shin, Hyunjung; Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo (2006-09-01). "Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States". TESOL Quarterly. 40 (3): 652. doi:10.2307/40264552. ISSN 0039-8322.
  16. ^ "Asian Americans are falling through the cracks in data representation and social services". Urban Institute. 19 June 2018. Retrieved 2023-05-05.
  17. ^ "The Need for Disaggregated and Cross-Tabulated Data in Higher Education Policymaking Robert T. Teranishi Associate Professor New York University National. - ppt download". Retrieved 2023-05-05.
  18. ^ Kim, Claire Jean (March 1999). "The Racial Triangulation of Asian Americans". Politics & Society. 27 (1): 105–138. doi:10.1177/0032329299027001005. ISSN 0032-3292.
  19. ^ Leonardo, Zeus (2009-05-12). Race, Whiteness, and Education (0 ed.). Routledge. doi:10.4324/9780203880371. ISBN 978-0-203-88037-1.