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The myth of the “model minority myth” probably tells us about the pervasiveness of lying

Recently I was listening to a radio interview with an Asian American professor. At one point she had to expound about the “model minority myth,” which refers to the fact that the public has a misimpression about the state of Asian Americans (after prompting from the white host).

The idea is that while the public believes that Asian Americans are successful, often well-off, and disproportionately professionals, this is actually misleading and perpetuates the myth that they are a model minority.

The problem is that it is not a myth. The public’s eyes are not lying. The term “model minority” is loaded, and comes out of a specific time, the 1960s, and was used in contrast with black Americans. But, descriptively it points to the fact that Asian Americans on average are more educated, more well-off, and live longer, than the average American, including the average white American.

I’ve heard the well-actually-the-model-minority-is-a-myth responses in various forms since the 1990s. It has been perfected by Asian American activists, who use as a template the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, and so must flatten and negate the unique characteristics of Asian Americans which make the template ill-fitting for their purposes.

First, “remember the Hmong. Not all Asian Americans are Indian, Chinese, or Japanese….” Aside from the fact that the Hmong have made massive strides in the last 30 years, the reality is that the overwhelming majority of Asian Americans are Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Korean. The “traditional” Asian American groups. This is not to negate Bhutanese refugees, but they are a very small community, and their experience is not typical. Sometimes the average does tell you a lot.

Second, there is the idea that Asian American success is predicated on selective migration. Yes, but so what? That doesn’t negate the descriptive reality that Indian American doctors are quite well-off, and their children do quite well. And importantly, the idea of Asian Americans as a “model minority” came to the fore in the 1960s, when most Asian Americans were native-born Chinese and Japanese. And, these groups were not selected for professionals and those with social and financial capital. The Japanese who arrived tended to be the poorer families from the southern part of Japan, often the landless, while the Chinese were Taishenese and Cantonese laborers.

The ultimate aim is to emphasize the determinative impact of white racism and supremacy in American life. The existence of Asian American success, including dark-skinned South Indian doctors who did not arrive in the United States until they were 30, is threatening to that model.

A few minutes of Google and surveying public data could illustrate the fact that the empirical examples refuting the myth are implausible. There are not many Hmong or Bangladeshis (poorer Asian communities). Those communities are actually advancing too. The model minority idea emerged at a time when very few Asian Americans were products of the post-1965 selective immigration system. The vast majority of Asian Americans are actually “successful” groups.

Of course, it is a fact that there are plenty of ways you can suggest that Asian Americans do suffer the impacts of bias and racism. But the details matter. For example, in PNAS this winter: Why East Asians but not South Asians are underrepresented in leadership positions in the United States.

But that’s not the discussion we’re having. Academics and “thought leaders” are lying to the public. Some of the academics and most of the “thought leaders” probably actually believe that the model minority is a myth because they can’t be bothered to take a few minutes and avail themselves of free Census data. But, many Asian American scholars surely understand that the myth is a lie they are promoting for ideological reasons on some level (I have no doubt they have sophisticated rationales for why the myth isn’t a myth, but the data and your eyes tell you the truth).

Where does this leave us? I’m not super interested in the obfuscation of Asian American scholars, and the perpetuation of a lie by our intellectual overclass. Rather, I wonder, how many lies are presented to us as the truth by our intellectual overclass? I suspect more than we like to believe. If you have domain expertise in an area there might be lies and falsehoods and obfuscations that your field promotes to the public because they’re convenient lies. And you think to yourself, “well, my field is special, my colleagues are particularly craven and we study a very sensitive topic.”

But perhaps you’re not special. Perhaps being craven is typical, and sensitivity is the order of the day.

Pyrrho is not looking so bad.

60 thoughts on “The myth of the “model minority myth” probably tells us about the pervasiveness of lying

  1. @Twinkie: I’m breaking my own rule! Sorry I skimmed through most of your bragging and didn’t notice that you said grew up rather than lived for Tokyo, LA, and NY. As for your travels and your height and your McMansion, good for you! I’m sure your parents are very proud to have such a tall and successful son, full of swagger as you say! If I have a son, I also want him to grow up to be 6’2″!

  2. How exactly is the Bangladeshi worse off than the white collar Korean?

    Why are there South Asian immigrants in South Korea? There are 13,000 Bangladeshi migrant workers there. Shouldn’t they all go to NYC and bus tables and live better than white collar Korean workers?

  3. @Twinkie: I don’t know why I’m wasting my time, but I think you know there are not open borders between Bangladesh to the USA. They go where they can. I ran into Bangladeshi immigrants in South Africa too.

  4. @Mick
    When compared to the abysmally low achievements of Malians and Comorians, Senegalese do better but those from Congo, Cameroon and the Ivory Coast tend to integrate better. They are also much more Christian than the average white french. They are the rare blacks who support the Rassemblement National.

    When it comes to Muslim Magrebis, the picture is quite clear. Tunisians do better, Algerians are average and Moroccans are seen as ruffians. Amongst Algerians, Kabylies integrate better.

    That said, if we consider only ethnicity and not religion, Moroccans move on top because of Jews.

    Sephardic Jews are the real model minority in France. They came poor and undereducated but became part of the elite fast. Nobody seems to congratulate them because everybody expects them to be successful because the Ashkenazis are but actually, Sephardic Jews moved up the social ladder.

    Your friend is Tamil and Tamils tend to despise Muslims less than North Indians. Additionally in France, Tamils from Sri Lanka are more angry at Cinghalese who are Buddhist rather than Muslims.

    That said that camaraderie won’t last with Muslims because Tamils are moving up the social ladder faster than Magrebis. Additionally, Tamils don’t hate white french people. Magrebis do. That in itself creates a rift.

    I don’t know why you believe that race relations are better in the US when compared to France. Race relations are actually better here. People just don’t like Muslims who represent 9% of the population. The US has barely 2%. We’ll see how it goes when that figure rises. And finally, the French are not pro religion by principle while the US loves religious freedom. Religion is seen as inherently oppressive by the French population. I’ve never once heard a white french say anything positive about the Catholic church and this country used to be the “elder daughter” of the Catholic church.

  5. I don’t know why I’m wasting my time

    That’s twice you went back on your declaration. I know why you keep arguing – because you want to “win” at the Internet.

    but I think you know there are not open borders between Bangladesh to the USA. They go where they can.

    You think there is an open border between Bangladesh and South Korea? Newsflash: South Korea has much greater border and immigration restrictions than the U.S. It’s much harder to sneak into the former as migrant workers and they are treated far more harshly.

    I ran into Bangladeshi immigrants in South Africa too.

    How many? Wiki has data on the Bangladeshi diaspora, which has an entry about Korea. None about South Africa.

    There is even a Korean movie about the plight of an ill-treated Bangladeshi migrant worker in South Korea.

  6. @Varoon

    “Additionally, Tamils don’t hate white french people. Magrebis do. That in itself creates a rift”

    Does this hatred correlate with socioeconomic outcomes? I.e., Tunisians show less contempt, Algerians so-so, and Moroccans the most spiteful? Does religiosity levels amongst Maghrebis also pretty much go the same way, Tunisians least religious, Moroccans most? How about intermarriage rates?

    “Congo, Cameroon and the Ivory Coast tend to integrate better. They are also much more Christian than the average white french. They are the rare blacks who support the Rassemblement National”

    That’s the Le Pen party right? Those particular African groups actually strongly support the RN, or is it rather the few blacks who support RN all are of those backgrounds?

  7. Thanks for the link, but they don’t seem to be economic migrants, in contrast to those in South Korea.

    “There are about 80 thousand Bangladeshis in South Africa. The majority of whom are asylum seekers.[6]”

    So according to Twinkie’s logic, South Africa is a developed country that is 6 times more awesome than South Korea?

    I never claimed such numerical relationship. Don’t add straw men to your already disingenuous argumentation.

    Why are there Bangladeshis in South Africa, why don’t they go to obviously superior South Korea?”

    I already alluded to the reason above – South Korea is much more stringent on accepting immigrants and illegal migrants.

    Is this really, triple really your last comment here or are you still trying to “win”?

  8. The kids from Stuy and other competitive NYC public schools don’t do *that* well. I went to the Ivy League and never met anyone from those schools at university or work.

    Just noted this. I went to Stuy. I’m a double Ivy alum (as is my wife). My HS graduating year, 20+ went to Harvard from Stuy and a similar number from Bronx Science and a few from Brooklyn Tech. Altogether those three sent several hundred that year to the top ten universities.

    My HS best friend was Harvard undergrad, Cornell Ph.D. and his younger brother also from Stuy went on to become a top-tier physicist who smashes atoms for a living.

    I don’t know what your definition of “that well” is, but those three NYC specialized public schools alone have produced numerous notable figures in science, politics, entertainment, business, and so on. I always have maintained that these schools are not “elite” as is often touted in the media (that description is better used on schools such as Sidwell Friends and St. Albans), but the successes of their graduates is quite remarkable, given that they draw their student body from poor immigrants and others who are not the children of established elites.

    “I haven’t seen them, so they are not there” is a stupid and self-absorbed way to argue. I hope you didn’t pick that up from your Ivy alma mater.

  9. Stuyvesant was the best high school in the country when I was young. It beat most of big name private schools in math and science. As many as half of the US IMO squad were from that school or Bronx Science. Brooklyn Tech was a notch bellow.
    It used to be a Jewish school and was slowly turning into a Chinese school during the late 70’s. Now most members of the US IMO squad are ethnic Chinese with occasional Jews, South Asians, Koreans. That was the old days. Now it is eclipsed by several other public science schools.

    Most of conflict around immigration issue stems from who are responsible for how much. The West, White people, want all countries with advanced economy to share the burden. Countries that recently aquired the status find this deeply unfair. Especially Korea which suffered greatly from imperialism.

    Korea is a land of Social Justice Warriors. In Korea the Left is right except communism. Feminism is ascendant in Korea to the extent never reached in the US or even Scandinavia. South Asian illegals in Korea are part of that phenomenon. But in time Koreans will realize that there is no reason to endure little penis jokes from these physically dimunitive people from South Asia any longer once Moon’s presidential lunacy is over.

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