I am constantly blown away at how often some conversations come up, no matter how many times we try to beat them down. Today, the conversation hinged around the question “What’s wrong with the model minority myth?”
What’s wrong with it is that it’s a massive generalization that obscures the nuanced realities of Asian American communities, encourages them to act and be certain ways instead of others, and makes interracial unity difficult. If you really want an answer to the question, Frank Wu’s book Yellow is more eloquent than I could be here. Or Don Lee’s fictional Yellow, although you’ll have to work a little harder with the fiction.
What interests me is why. Why did this question come up today, and why does it continue to crop up? I think the question that people really want to ask is “Why are you complaining? Aren’t you successful and isn’t that good enough?”
This past week, the question came from a young African American man, who wanted to know if the model minority myth actually affects my everyday life. The question he framed was “I’m a black man, and people see a dangerous, aggressive black man when they look at me. What do you have that’s comparable?” He could accept that we experienced classism and sexism, but racism? Asian Americans get off pretty easy on that count right?
Maybe it’s all the feminist theory I’ve been reading, but my racial experience can’t be separated from my other identities. It’s not white experience plus Asian experience equals mixed race experience, or Asian experience plus female experience equals Asian female experience. It’s an experience peculiar to the Asian American/mixed race/woman.
My racial experience is not one of people assuming I’m amazingly intelligent or a kung fu master. My racial story is one of assumed sexual submissiveness and availability. Since moving to DC, I’ve had a man at a public pool touch me, and then when confronted by the pool staff he claimed that he was flirting. I’ve had a homeless man grab my arm through an open bar window, and when I turned around in shock, he put his finger to his lips and whispered “Shh.” These are not isolated experiences. This is my lived reality, in which many men think that they can do what they like and I won’t say anything about it. The assumption of my availability and silence. Peculiar to the Asian American female, even when mixed.