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The term “model minority” is typically applied to Asian Americans. It is, more specifically, applied to “Orientals” such as Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans more than to Filipinos or other “brown” Asians. The idea of the model minority is that these are minority groups who have come to America and have done everything right. They have worked hard and emphasized education. They have come to own their own businesses and send their children to college. They are overrepresented in colleges, not in prisons. They are, for these reasons, seen as the “good” minorities and they are seen as evidence that racism is not really a problem in the United States for anyone who is willing to work hard.
The media tends to reinforce the image of the model minority by playing up the success of these minorities. We can see this in the degree to which the book The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother was publicized and discussed in the media. This is not to say that the media makes up Asian-American success. It is to say, however, that it tends to focus on stereotypes and “stock stories” and the stereotype of the hard-working Asian is one that is easy to play on. We can also see this when bad things happen in the Asian community. When the shooter of Asian descent committed the mass murder on the campus of Virginia Tech, discussions centered around the stresses caused by the great success of Asian Americans. Even in a situation like this, the narrative was that Asians are always hard-working and successful.
To be sure, being labeled a “model minority” is better than being labeled as a problem minority, or whatever the opposite of “model” is. The label does, however, bring some negatives with it. It can cause resentment among other minorities and among whites, particularly when Asians take up so many places in elite colleges. It can put tremendous pressure on the individual members of the minority because they are expected to excel academically. Again, these are not the worst problems to have, but they are issues that come with the “model minority” label.
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