Model Minority Stereotype

Asian Americans are all high achieving and rich, aren’t they? We’re academically and financially successful, and we do it all without complaining or asking for help, don’t we? A stereotype is a set of traits believed to characterize a group. One such stereotype, the Model Minority Stereotype, has been applied to Asian Americans since the 1960s. This stereotype suggests that Asian Americans as a racial/ethnic group are achieving a higher level of success than the population average, along dimensions such as educational attainment and income.

Like most stereotypes, there is a grain of truth about the model minority stereotype. Those who ascribe to the model minority stereotype about Asian Americans cite statistics such as the fact that Asian Americans have higher rates of educational attainment than the White Americans. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 50.9% of Asian American men over the age of 25 compared to 31.7% of non-Hispanic White American men over age 25 have a Bachelor’s degree or higher, and 43.8% of Asian American women over age 25 compared to 27.3% of non-Hispanic White American women over the age of 25 have a Bachelor’s degree or higher (Reeves & Bennett, 2003). In addition, the 2000 U.S. Census reports that Asian Americans have a higher family income than other Americans, including non-Hispanic White Americans.

However, these statistics don’t tell the entire story. For some Asian ethnic groups, rates of academic attainment are significantly lower than those of White Americans. Although Census statistics tell us that Asian Americans have a higher family income than other Americans, it may be the case that Asian American families have more family members in the workforce than White American families. In fact, when looking at per capita income (i.e., personal income), Asian Americans do not make as much money as White Americans. Furthermore, Asian Americans are more likely to live below the poverty line than White Americans. Asian Americans are also the fastest growing targets of hate crimes.

How might the Model Minority Stereotype affect you?

On a societal level, the model minority myth has been used to justify abolishing affirmative action policies. Some use this stereotype to say that if Asian Americans are able to succeed without help, other ethnic minorities should be able to do the same. This can drive a wedge between Asian Americans and other people of color. In addition, the model minority myth can serve as a set of blinders that cause people in power to ignore the needs of Asian Americans. On a more personal level, the model minority stereotype can detrimentally affect many Asian Americans. Here are some ways:

The model minority stereotype can…

  • Make you feel pigeonholed into the stereotype
  • Make you feel like you are not a good person or a good Asian American if you don’t fit the stereotype
  • Cause you to dismiss acts of racism and discrimination
  • Cause you to ignore your real needs

What to do about the Model Minority Stereotype

You can challenge the Model Minority Stereotype!

  • Be educated about Asian American history and current demographics so that you can contest the model minority stereotype in your classroom, in the media, among friends, and at work. You can do this by taking classes in Asian American Studies, by attending cultural events, or by consuming Asian American media such as books and movies
  • Fight for the needs of Asian Americans. This may mean being part of committees or task forces that make decisions affecting Asian Americans. Or it may mean writing a letter to your elected officials about something you think is important to you and other Asian Americans.
  • Become visible in leadership roles. You can make a difference and show that Asian Americans matter in decision-making processes.
  • Work with others, including others in marginalized groups. Asian Americans face racism and discrimination too, so working in collaborative relationships with other racial groups, sexual minorities, and religious minorities means that Asian Americans’ voices can be strengthened by others who share in their struggles.
  • Vote! Laws are enacted on all levels of government that affect Asian Americans. You can make a difference in the political process, and it starts with casting a vote in each election.
  • Be yourself, even if that means that you don’t fit the model minority stereotype.

Need Additional Help?

The Counseling Center offers free workshops, ongoing discussion groups, and individual counseling. For more information, call the Counseling Center at 333-3704.