Larry Jin Lee: The 'Model Minority'

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Violence against Asian Americans comes with a peculiar kind of racism making that community especially vulnerable. Larry Jin Lee has this Perspective.

Asian Americans are often called the model minority. Has a nice ring to it doesn’t it? I used to think so. I mean it’s better than being labeled in the negative ways other minorities are, right? It’s always confused me why I can be lauded as a model minority one moment, then on the same day, be told to go back from where I came from. This is the ultimate gaslighting of Asian Americans. The dialectic of the model minority and the perpetual foreigner, subject to shifting sociopolitical climates.

Is the current epidemic of violent crimes against Asian Americans nationwide a possible side effect of this myth? Explaining these incidents away as blaming Asian Americans for COVID is low hanging fruit, in spite of how this has been weaponized against us. The problem is more complex and multilayered.

It is painful that my 90-year-old mother lives in fear of multiple viruses, racism and COVID, needing to warn me not go out because people hate Chinese and that I may be attacked. I’m especially disheartened that these attacks include perpetrators of color, and this plays right into the existing sense of fear and alienation fueling the divide between us.

Ironically, the very qualities that stereotypically make Asian Americans more acceptable to White America, shaped over the course of a racist history, being accommodating, passive, quiet and non-aggressive, are the very same characteristics that can make us a target. Our success has been used to put down other racial groups fueling the perception that we have prospered on the backs and struggles of other minority groups. Our provisional acceptance by White America is perceived as being sellouts, which compounds the sense of betrayal and resentment. There’s a racist saying, Asian Americans are like popcorn, they turn white when under pressure. This leaves us isolated on our own island.

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As an activist, I’m heartened to see how there has also been a surge in Asian American activism and collaboration with other races, born of outrage towards racism, not each other. We do have skin in the game and we need to be allies. I’m hopeful that this will continue to bridge the divide between us and to see how we’ve been used against each other. Please let’s stop the hate.

With a Perspective, I’m Larry Jin Lee.

Larry Jin Lee is a psychotherapist. He lives in San Francisco.