The Cold War Origins of the Model Minority Myth
In 1974, the writer Frank Chin expressed it this way: "Whites love us because we're not black." 1 The elevation of Asian Americans to the position of model minority had less to do with the actual success of Asian Americans than to the perceived failure -- or worse, refusal -- of African Americans to assimilate. Asian Americans were "not black" in two significant ways: They were both politically silent and ethnically assimilable.
The Cold War construction of Asian America as a model minority that could become ethnically assimilated, despite what U.S. News and World Report euphemistically called its "racial disadvantage," reveals the contradiction between the continuing reproduction of racial difference and the process of ethnic assimilation. The representation of Asian Americans as a racial minority whose apparently successful ethnic assimilation was a result of stoic patience, political obedience, and self-improvement was a critically important narrative of ethnic liberalism that simultaneously promoted racial equality and sought to contain demands for social transformation. The representation of the Asian American as the paragon of ethnic virtue, who the U.S. News and World Report editors thought should be emulated by "Negroes and other minorities," reflected not so much Asian success as the triumph of an emergent discourse of race in which cultural difference replaced biological difference as the new determinant of social outcomes. Although the deployment of Asian Americans