Is there a ‘model minority’ ??

23 Jun

Let’s get this out of the way, moi has always thought the term “minority” as applied to certain ethnic groups or cultures is and has been condescending and demeaning. Edward Schumacher-Matos, the NPR ombudsman writes in On Race: The Relevance of Saying ‘Minority’

As America’s ethnic and racial make-up changes, so, too, does the nation’s language and the consensus over acceptable word usage. One word that slowly is becoming more challenged and is likely to get a big work out over the coming years is “minority.”

NPR guests, hosts and correspondents used the term in nearly 80 stories in the last year, not counting the hourly newscasts. Ken Wibecan, a listener from Schuyler Falls, NY, wrote to us:

“Many people use [minority] when they really mean African American or Latino. That it is not only inaccurate, but it is also offensive…Does NPR really think that the population of America is composed of only two elements — whites and minorities? I don’t think so. And if not, isn’t it time to retire that insulting word and use more specific designations instead?”

Already, just over a third of the country is Latino, black or Asian American, according to the 2010 Census. Non-Hispanic whites have fallen to less than 50 percent of the population in the country’s two most populous states, California and Texas. Demographers cited in a June 27 report on Tell Me More projected that non-whites will become the majority of the U.S. population by roughly 2050. Add growing inter-marriage to the mix and the lines between majority and minority are becoming ever more blurred.

Schumacher-Matos cites Mallary Jean Tenore’s article, Journalists value precise language, except when it comes to describing ‘minorities’:

Poynter’s Roy Peter Clark said the word “minorities” may be going through a “semantic shift” — a change in the associations and meanings of words over time. “Sometimes the changes in a word take centuries,” Clark told me. “Other times it can happen very quickly.”

The word “girl,” for example, used to refer to a young person of either gender. The definition of “colored” has also shifted.

The term ‘colored’ was used for a long time to designate African Americans until it was deemed offensive. And it only really referred to ‘black’ people,” Clark said. “Now we have ‘persons of color,’ which seems to be a synonym for non-white. As the population changes, a term like ‘person of color’ rather than ‘minority’ might be more appropriate.”

Some people, however, argue that “person of color” is as bad as “minorities” or worse. We also may be limited by the AP Stylebook or our newsrooms’ style. When that’s the case, it helps to be open with readers about why we use certain terms.

On its “About” page, the Asian American Journalists Association explains: “AAJA uses the term ‘Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders’ to embrace all Americans — both citizens and residents — who self-identify with one or more of the three dozen nationalities and ethnic groups in East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, the Middle East and the Pacific Islands. We use this term to refer to our communities at large, as well as to our membership, which includes representatives from all these regions.”

Recently, the Los Angeles Times published a memo from Assistant Managing Editor Henry Fuhrmann explaining why the Times uses “Latino” over “Hispanic.” Some readers applauded the Times for its decision, while others suggested the term is misleading and raises more questions than it answers.

That’s the problem with using one word or phrase to describe an entire group of people — it never fully captures the nuances of that group. Inevitably, some people  are going to feel slighted or mischaracterized.

Just how misleading the term “model minority” is was the subject of an International Examiner article.

In Dispelling the Model Minority Myth: Illiteracy for APIs, Atia Musazay writes:

It’s just another stereotype commonly associated with Asian Americans: They’re naturally smart, attain high degrees with ease and make lots of money. But like most stereotypes, this “model minority myth” only accounts for one or two percent of the population and discounts a large segment of the group, particulary Southeast Asians.

According to statistics by University of Massachusetts, Amherst Sociology Professor C.N. Le, in his 2012 report, Southeast Asians are 5.3 times more likely to be illiterate compared to non-Hispanic whites. They have the highest high school dropout rate in the country. Yet, their needs and struggles are often overlooked.

If you look at the vast group of Asian Americans, from Indians to Chinese to Southeast Asians, there is a wide range of gaps when it comes to socioeconomic status and education attainment, but we clump that entire group as one,” said Ay Saechao, co-chair and co-founder of the Southeast Asian American Access in Education Summit (SEAeD).

In a report prepared by University of Washington professors Shirley Hune and David T. Takeuchi, Southeast Asians are found to have a 14 percent dropout rate in Seattle’s public schools—the highest of any ethnic group.

Nationally, the rate of college degree attainment for Laoations, Cambodians, and Hmong, the three groups Saechao identified as the most struggling, is less than 10 percent. That’s a quarter the rate of the larger Asian American segment, according to Le’s report.

The SEAeD was established in January 2012 and is made up of 35 members, mostly of Southeast Asian descent. It has the mission of building awareness about the needs of SE Asian students and their parents to become successful in the education system. They also hope to provide mentors from within the community.

Policymakers, researchers and educators don’t address this group,” said Saechao. “The community itself also has a lack of awareness when it comes to educational access.”

The lack of conversation is what perpetuates the stereotype, he said.

The group has identified several factors that have contributed to illiteracy in this community.

Cambodians and Laotians who immigrated in the 1980s as war refugees didn’t have an educational background. They worked in the farms and the fields. Their children today are not only first generation high school students, but in some cases, first generation elementary school students, said Saechaeo.

Saechao said that a common way to indicate if a student is going to succeed is by looking at the parent’s education level. For parents who can’t read, write or speak English, it can be difficult to navigate the complex education system with their children. They can’t communicate with teachers, help their child with math or writing or know what the pathway to college looks like.

The myth of the “model minority” is useful in some circumstances.

In Testing The “Model Minority Myth,” Miranda Oshige McGowan* & James Lindgren write in the Northwestern School of Law Review:


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

The use of the term  “model minority” evolves over time.

Dr. Terence Fitzgerald writes in the Racism Review article, Divide and Conquer: The New Model Minority:

The fix is in, as they say. The announcement has been made. The ideological royal guard of racial stratification is standing at attention. There is a change of the guard in terms of the covenant title, (insert the sound of trumpets please), “Model Minority.” Previously I was swayed by the weight of a 2008 Journal of African American Studies article, “Race, Gender and Progress: Are Black American Women the New Model Minority?” by Amadu Jacky Kaba. This scholar asserts that Black females, despite the effects of slavery, gender discrimination, and racial oppression were slowly becoming the new model minority. Black females were described as replacing Eastern and Southern Asians upon the white pedestal for other minority groups to be in awe of.

Many do not know the term “model minority” was coined by sociologist William Peterson in a 1966 New York Times magazine essay entitled, “Success Story: Japanese American Style.” The piece made the argument that despite their experiences with historical marginalization, Asian Americans have attained “success” (whatever that means in this country), due to strong families, respect for education, and work ethic. In later years the media provided an array of articles and coverage that exhibited this point. In essence they were all nationally and internationally stressing the strength of the poignant question—“Why can’t Blacks get their act together?” The term by many is viewed as both racist and divisive. It was created by the White elite to serve as a way to downplay the effects of racism on Blacks while publicly blaming Blacks, the victim, for their own political, economic, and social status.

In my research, I have seen the trends of Black female graduation (high school, bachelors, and advanced degrees) increase while Black males have dropped. I have noticed the increase of Black females attaining corporate, medical, and legal jobs. I have also noticed the declining number of Black males entering the educational programs needed to attain these positions. I have seen the young Black male faces entering into a prison system that is plastered wall to wall with their image. The health and suicide rates fare no better. When taking this into account, I was not so sure the predicted change of guard would occur.

This was not until I became aware of the emerging research by Dudley Poston at Texas A&M, that points to China, which replaces Mexico (Mexican immigrants) as the new U.S. source for low wage workers coming to the US. He goes on to assert that the sentiment, legal maneuvers, and overall disdain targeting Mexican workers we have witnessed in the past few years will possibly be refocused on the replacing low-wage Asian worker. Due to this I feel that the outlook on Asians as the supposed “model” will cease to exist. They too will be blamed for the same issues Mexican workers are blamed for today. This will give way to a new champ to be elected in order to continue the divide between people of color, and at the same time sustaining the existing racist oppressive conditions that keep Blacks and Latinos down.

There is no such thing as a “model minority” and getting rid of this myth will allow educators to focus on the needs of the individual student. Calling ethnic groups “minorities” is really a misnomer. According to Frank Bass’ Bloomberg article, Nonwhite U.S. Births Become the Majority for First Time:

Minority babies outnumbered white newborns in 2011 for the first time in U.S. history, the latest milestone in a demographic shift that’s transforming the nation.

The percentage of nonwhite newborns rose to 50.4 percent of children younger than a year old from April 2010 to July 2011, while non-Hispanic whites fell to 49.6 percent, the U.S. Census Bureau said today.

If a racial identifier must be used, it is better to describe the cultural group or ethnic group with an appropriate term for that group.

The is no magic bullet or “Holy Grail” in education, there is what works to produce academic achievement in each population of students.


The Creation—and Consequences—of the Model Minority Myth                                                                             

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©

19 Responses to “Is there a ‘model minority’ ??”


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