The not-so-subtle underlying message was, look at this Asian minority, they went through hell during World War II (the imprisonment of more than 110,000 people of Japanese descent in American concentration camps) and faced racism for most of a century, yet they work hard, don’t complain and succeed as students and employees.
In contrast, of course, blacks were marching and protesting and causing white America a whole bunch of angst at the time by demanding equality and fair treatment.
The model minority canard pops up every decade in mainstream media, like an insane cultural Wack-a-Mole game. In 1997 TIME magazine ran a story about “Those Asian-American Whiz Kids” with a group of young AAPI student overachievers beaming from the cover. Every once in a while, a story or report acknowledges the lie of the myth: In 2008, a New York University study did just that.
But then some other report adds fuel to the mythic fire. Earlier this summer, the Pew Research Center published a much-hyped report titled “The Rise of Asian Americans,” that concluded that Asian Americans are now “the highest-income, best-educated and fastest-growing racial group in the United States.” That study caused a lot of discussion in the AAPI blogosphere, and disappointed me, because I generally think Pew’s demographic studies are unassailably pure. This tie, I felt Pew swallowed the Kool-Aid and found evidence that bolstered that view without working very hard to dig deeper.
Now, the idea of Asians excelling in academics is back in the news with the Supreme Court’s review of Affirmative Action in the “Fisher Vs. University of Texas at Austin” case.
And this week, the Wall Street Journal posted a commentary by Lee Siegel, “The Rise of the Tiger Nation” that not only ascribes to the model minority notion, but picks up another theme that’s been aired on occasion: That Asians are the new Jews.