“model minority” mythLast updated
The “model minority” concept was popularized in the 1960s by University of California Berkeley sociologist William Petersen to compare Japanese Americans and African Americans. It suggests that working hard allowed certain groups to overcome racism and discrimination and is sometimes used as a wedge among racial groups.
Historically in the United States, this myth has been associated with Asian Americans, though in 2019, the economic disparities among various sub-populations of Asian Americans were the widest of any racial group in the US, despite the median income of Asian American-headed households being more than 30 percent higher than the median for all household incomes in America. The “model minority” myth can serve to flatten disparities among subgroups and erase the large working- to middle-class population.
Additionally, it reinforces the “bootstrap” theory that one can come to the United States and simply work hard to advance economically and socially, which ignores the reality of systemic racism and entrenched prejudices. If mentioning in coverage, giving some explanation of this myth and the ways it can serve to excuse or elide the role systemic racism plays in disparities among and within racial groups provides essential context to audiences.
- Racial Equity Tools Glossary (Racial Equity Tools)
- Glossary of Terms: Race, Equity and Social Justice (International City/County Management Association)
- The Model Minority Myth (Harvard Law School)
- Model Minority (University of Washington)
The “model minority” myth refers to members of an underrepresented group who are seen as more successful than other underrepresented groups in the United States. (Historically in the United States, this myth has been associated with Asian Americans.) The term ignores variance among populations within that larger group and downplays the role systemic factors such as racism play in socioeconomic status. If mentioning in coverage, it’s important to give some explanation of this myth and the ways it can serve to excuse or elide the role systemic racism plays in disparities among and within racial groups.