i’ve talked about this before but the model minority myth has functions beyond creating a schism between asians & other people of color or justifying racialized income/education inequality by using asians as a gotcha.
it serves to make asians (and asian labor) simultaneously invisible and exploitable, while obscuring capital-driven destruction and manipulation of asian laborers in asian countries.
asians are invisible not just numerically; quantity is not a sufficient enough explanation for our invisibility because asian immigration to the US is increasing and we’re populating multiple urban and suburban centers. we are invisible because of how white supremacy, specifically in this case the model minority myth, works to portray us as obsequious, robotic, hardworking, emotionless, and quiet, not prone to resistance or protest of any form. white supremacy does this through exploitation of labor + a series of rewards and punishments, rewards being assimilation to american society (if that can truly be considered a reward) or punishments being not hired or accepted by employers and universities.
here’s the thing. you have a wave of immigration from asian countries that encompass asians who are middle-class, educated, and probably know english. they have an easier (not an easy but easier) time settling into the country, adapting american norms, and becoming financially stable and successful. they are the face of the model minority myth - the asian doctors, bankers, engineers, etc, the ones who “remain quiet and work hard with their head held high”, and get “great grades in STEM subjects” and provide intellectual/technological labor to the flourishing markets.
you also have a wave of asian immigrants who do not fit this picture. they know little to no english. they may be undocumented. they’re working-class and don’t have college degrees. these are the asians who live in places like edison, new jersey, or chinatown and koreatown in NYC, or dearborn, michigan. they’re the ones who run laundromats and dry-cleaning stores, drive your taxis and ubers, own cheaply priced restaurants and grocery stores, work in manufacturing, cut, dye, or style your hair, paint your nails, wax your facial hair, maintain and work at your gas stations, dunkin donuts, and 7/11 type convenience stores.
how is it that the model minority myth can exist alongside the “indian 7/11 worker / chinese restaurant owner / korean dry cleaner / afghan nail lady / arab taxi driver” stereotypes? how can one group be simultaneously stereotyped as “privileged, educated, assimilated, hardworking, technical geniuses” AND “provincial, smelly, backward, poor, scary, cheap”? how can one group be invisible yet also stereotyped as the population-heavy thieves of ol red white n’ blue good american labor and education? how do you have asians who do “succeed” under american capitailsm and asians who are exploited and even killed by american capitalism?
because of the model minority myth, which impacts the first vs second group in different ways.
the first group does have to work really hard to get “acknowledgment” by the state/by white supremacy. consider why asian-american students suffer so much from mental illness and suicidality. we are driven to work hard to exceed expectations, to outpace white american labor, to justify our presence in the country. we need to please not only our parents and communities but also appease employers and admissions officers who think that there are too many of us. i’m sure you’ve heard of harvard’s quota on asian admission. the school i attend, the university of michigan, also has “a lot” of asian students and in fact i often hear white students complain about that. it’s a complaint i’ve heard my entire life. so that’s where you get studies that show that people with “asian sounding” names don’t get hired, or why asian students who are deemed “too similar” to the “asian average” (which is higher than the “white average” because we are held to a higher standard because of white mediocrity) don’t get accepted. universities have to make room for their white alumni and rich students and because white people hate affirmative action, the best solution for universities and employers is to discriminate against us.
of course this all happens under a quota system which means that they’re still using our academic prowess and labor to enhance their reputations or profit. their logic is to accept just the “right” number of asians to, say, prettify their research program or attain skilled workers for some financial or technological company. the “right” number of asian workers or students will drive up the image or profit of a certain institution but it won’t offend white people or “take up” white space.
the second group, the one that is impacted by poverty, homelessness, income inequality, etc, is invisible precisely because of the model minority myth. since the myth posits that ALL asians are equally privileged and educated, poor asians are veritably nonexistent. and these asians cannot defend themselves - they do not have the financial, political, or communicative means to do so (language and financial barriers prevent them from speaking out). terrified of poverty, deportation, instability, assault, or police brutality, these working-class asian americans are forced to remain silent because if they don’t they will also lose their job or home or risk the threat of actual physical retaliation. this then feeds into the “asians are robotic and obedient” stereotype as much as the first group, comprised of “smart asian students and workers” does. it’s an insidious cycle.
so this is the dual-function of the model minority myth. we are made invisible by a deliberate stereotype pushed forth that obscures the reality of our diversity, and this invisibility allows us to be exploited, whether we are being exploited by universities or by multinational corporations or by startups or any other institution or employer.