By now, you’ve heard President Donald Trump’s reported labeling of Haiti and African nations as “sh**hole countries.”
Last week, conservative commentator Carrie Sheffield attempted to argue that Trump isn’t as anti-immigrant or racist as those comments suggested. The president “said he would welcome immigrants from Asia, so he is open to accepting people from other countries,” Sheffield said, quoting a White House official.
The underlying message seems to be: Asian immigrants are skilled. Black and Latino immigrants are not.
The idea of Asians as the “good immigrants” — the “model minority” — is a harmful stereotype that pits Asians against other communities of color, often to the benefit of only white people. The model minority myth keeps serious issues in the Asian American community from being addressed and ignores the diversity of experiences within the group.
When Asians first arrived to the United States en masse in the mid-1800s, we were portrayed as the “yellow peril” or the sinister “Fu Manchu” stereotype. Then came the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 limiting immigration to the United States. But some time after World War II, public opinion shifted, and Asian Americans were seen as examples of family values and assimilation.
Some people think that racism toward Asians diminished because Asians “proved themselves” through their actions. That is only a sliver of the truth.
The image of the hard-working Asian became an extremely convenient way to deny the demands of Blacks. As historian Ellen Wu explains in her book, “The Color of Success,” both liberal and conservative politicians pumped up the image of Asian Americans in the 1960s as a way to shift the blame for Black poverty. If Asians could find success within the system, politicians asked, why couldn’t Blacks?
Wu wrote, “The insinuation was that hard work, along with unwavering faith in the government and liberal democracy as opposed to political protest, were the keys to overcoming racial barriers, as well as achieving full citizenship.”
The myth of the model minority is one of the trickiest and hideous cover-ups for discrimination against Asian Americans. It limits the choices Asian Americans can make and puts the pressure of Asian American kids to succeed in certain acceptable professions and ways. We should call out prejudices, no matter how cloaked, less we do not do justice to all Americans, especially Asian Americans.