Academic journal article Northwestern University Law Review

Testing the "Model Minority Myth"

Academic journal article Northwestern University Law Review

Testing the "Model Minority Myth"

Article excerpt


The stereotype of Asian Americans as a "Model Minority" appears frequently in the popular press and in public and scholarly debates about affirmative action, immigration, and education. The model minority stereotype may be summarized as the belief that "Asian Americans, through their hard work, intelligence, and emphasis on education and achievement, have been successful in American society."1 As critiqued in the scholarly literature, however, this positive image of Asian Americans as a model minority conceals a more sinister core of beliefs about Asian Americans and other racial minorities in America: a view of Asian Americans as foreign and unpatriotic; a belief that there is little racial discrimination in America; a feeling that racial minorities have themselves to blame for persistent poverty and lags in educational and professional attainment; a hostility to foreigners, immigrants, and immigration; and a hostility to government programs to increase opportunities for Asian Americans and other ethnic minorities.2

It is surely true that some people have positive views of Asian Americans as smart and hard working, and some people have negative views of Asian Americans as foreign and threatening. But is it true that the same people tend to hold both views? It would indeed be worrisome if those who thought Asian Americans were smart and hard working tended to be hostile to people of Asian heritage, immigrants, and other minorities. Does the model minority stereotype really have both a positive and a negative side such that negative views inhere in the positive ones (as in the "Yellow Peril")? Or, instead, do the same people who think Asian Americans are smart or hard working tend to like Asian Americans, immigrants, and minorities in general, and support programs that benefit them?

That both negative and positive stereotypes about Asian Americans circulate in American society has been well documented by Asian critical scholars3-a fact we confirm and document here. While we do not question that negative images and depictions of Asian Americans are used in debates about social and political issues, we have wondered just how the negative and positive portrayals are linked in the minds of the public. Are people who express a belief in the positive aspects of the model minority stereotype masking their hostility to Asian Americans? A close analysis of that linkage in the minds of the dominant ethnic group-non-Hispanic white Americans-is the main task of this Essay.

We have treated the two-edged model minority stereotype as a hypothesis and tested it: Do positive views of Asian Americans as smart, hard working, and relatively successful tend to be found with other positive or negative views of Asians, immigrants, and African Americans?4 Using data from the General Social Survey, we focused our investigation on several fronts. First, we wanted to know how non-Hispanic white Americans see Asian Americans. Do they view Asian Americans as a group as more intelligent, harder working, and richer than average? If whites see Asian Americans in such superficially positive terms, we wondered whether these seemingly positive beliefs might be accompanied by negative opinions, such as a perception that Asian Americans are unpatriotic, foreign, or inassimilable. Moreover, if the model minority stereotype actually masks white hostility to Asian Americans, we wondered whether people who held model minority views also opposed immigration. We also wanted to probe the extent to which model minority beliefs engendered hostility toward, or eroded sympathy for, other minority groups. Do model minority beliefs, for example, correlate with certain opinions on affirmative action and government assistance to non-Asian minority groups?

Our findings turned up some surprising results. In very general terms, we found that the model minority stereotype is not correlated with hostility to Asians, immigrants, African Americans, or government programs to increase opportunities for minorities. …

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