'Myth of model minority' targeted
Seattle Times Eastside bureau
When civil-rights activist Frank Wu was accepted into law school, his Chinese-born mother congratulated him, then said, "Too bad you'll never be a doctor."
Wu said his mother suffered from what he calls the "myth of the model minority" — the stereotype that casts Asian immigrants as hard-working, successful and intelligent in the sciences. Wu will discuss how the myth is destructive, both to Asian Americans and the wider society, tonight at Bellevue Community College, which invited him as part of an ongoing diversity initiative.
The model-minority myth is primarily used as a kind of racial club against blacks and Latinos, accusing them of being less-than-successful minority groups, asserted Wu, whose book "Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White" was just released in paperback.
"Asian Americans are brought into the discussion only for the purpose of berating blacks and Hispanics," said Wu, a professor at Howard University School of Law in Washington, D.C.
And for those Asian Americans, the stereotype that might seem flattering is actually quite burdensome, Wu said. Many begin to believe the stereotype and feel ashamed if they can't live up to it, or they force their children to conform to it, Wu said.
"Think back to when you're in high school. You just want to fit in. Instead, you face this intense pressure that the only good Asian is the genius, the 1600 SAT, the valedictorian."
He cited increasing rates of suicide among Asian-American college students and hypothesized that they're evidence of the destructive effects of the model-minority myth.
Moreover, Wu said, the stereotype excludes certain types of achievement, such as in athletics, the arts or even his own field of law, as his mother demonstrated when she wished he would become a doctor.
The myth also gives license to whites, Wu argued, to discriminate against Asian Americans because whites assume Asian Americans "need a little comeuppance."
Wu said even Hollywood has taken notice of the myth and punctured a hole in it with the recent critically acclaimed film "Better Luck Tomorrow," which follows a classic Asian-American overachiever "leading a life of mischief and petty crimes that alleviate the pressures of perfection," according to the movie's Web site.
For Wu, race relations are not a problem to be solved, he said, but a process requiring participation, like democracy. "What made this nation great is that we're all in this together, and we all have a responsibility to participate in this."
J. Patrick Coolican: 206-464-3315 or email@example.com