Defending the model minority stereotype is true Linsanity.Posted: February 17, 2012
This is probably only the first blog post I’m going to make about Jeremy Lin, because I’m pretty obsessed with him. (As my boyfriend says, I should just get a poster and hang it up in my locker.) But I’m sticking to my line that the Jeremy Lin story is interesting for good reason, because of how it reflects and magnifies critical issues in society. For example, here’s this opinion piece by NYU History of Education professor Jonathan Zimmerman, published by the Washington Post:
…I’m troubled by the much-heard refrain that Lin — whose parents are Taiwanese immigrants — has “overcome the Asian stereotype.” In the popular mind, this story goes, Asian Americans are quiet, studious and really good at math. By scoring 20 or more points in each of his first six NBA starts, including 38 against Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers, Lin supposedly dealt a decisive blow against an insidious ethnic caricature.
But isn’t that stereotype — especially the part about studying hard — a very good model to follow? Why should anyone want or need to “overcome” it?
I just don’t know how this Ivy League-educated professor could write this entire 700-word piece without once using the phrase “model minority.” The least you would expect is some brief lip service towards, I don’t know, the problem of stereotypes in general.
Zimmerman makes a good (and topical!) point about the the unfair discrimination against Asian-Americans that is flagrantly practiced at elite universities. But that doesn’t excuse his willful ignorance/incuriousity/unprofessional omission about the many reasons stereotypes in general, and the model minority stereotype in particular, are bad for society.
For starters, the view of Asian-Americans as a monolithic model minority masks the very real needs of the diverse community that falls under the rubric of “Asian-American.” The model minority stereotype also likely plays a role in the high incidence of depression among Asian-American women, and affects the way that Asian-American students learn.
Personally, I can attest that the model minority stereotype has made my own academic successes feel less legitimate, and my own academic failures feel worse. Growing up in a nearly entirely white suburb in Connecticut, where things like athletic virtuosity were admired, the stereotype only compounded my feeling of otherness.
It is probably good for society if virtues like studiousness and hard work are more widely promoted and emulated. But there’s no good reason that it should be done through harmful racial stereotypes.