Social Justice Usage
Source: Chang, Robert S. “Toward an Asian American Legal Scholarship: Critical Race Theory, Poststructuralism, and Narrative Space.” In Delgado, Richard, and Stefancic, Jean (eds.) Critical Race Theory: The Cutting Edge, third edition. Temple University Press, 2013, p. 470.
This history of discrimination and violence, as well as the contemporary problems of Asian Americans, is obscured by the portrayal of Asian Americans as a model minority. Asian Americans are portrayed as hardworking, intelligent, and successful. This description represents a sharp break from past stereotypes of Asians as sneaky, obsequious, or inscrutable. But the dominant culture’s belief in the model minority allows it to justify ignoring the unique discrimination faced by Asian Americans. The portrayal of Asian Americans as successful permits the general public, government officials, and the judiciary to ignore or marginalize the contemporary needs of Asian Americans.
New Discourses Commentary
The notion of “model minority” in Critical Social Justice arises from the idea that there is an ideal “model” that “good” minorities should live up to. This concept is typically relevant to Asian identities (partly because Jewish identities tend to be classified as white). That ideal, of course, is based on the concept of whiteness—this informing the idealized standard, which was set by white people as a part of whiteness put into action. In short, “model minorities” are those that live up to the standards of dominant culture (whiteness) and are therefore held up as a model for other minorities on how to do a minoritized culture “right.”
The concept of a “model minority” arises differently in different contexts, depending upon who is using it. Because this concept is so centrally relevant to how Asian identities are Theorized, that is the most relevant place to consider it. Woke Asians tend to reject the idea of being model minorities, and the implied insistence that Asian identities tend to live up to them. They see it as a myth that perpetuates structural and systemic racism against Asians, particularly by ignoring the racism they experience as a result of being Asian (in a white-dominant culture). On the other hand, other minorities, especially Woke blacks, will often hold up Asians as “model minorities” in a distinctly pejorative way, as though they are some kind of traitors to the solidarity that should accompany being (racially) oppressed.
As can be read in the examples provided (above and below), the model minority stereotype portrays Asians “as hardworking, intelligent and successful,” to which is added “political passivity and submissiveness to authority.” This characterization cuts both ways, simultaneously denying how they are racially discriminated against (from the Woke Asian perspective) while setting them up as “white-adjacent” or seeking “white approval” (or even white) from the perspective of other Woke minorities. From the perspective of critical Asian studies (see also, ethnic studies), this stereotype has many negative applications. Particularly, they are neither recognized as minorities who are systemically oppressed (by both whites and other minoritized groups) nor are they allowed to embrace their own cultural traditions without accusations of being both “other” (from whites), i.e., people of color, and privileged with access to the benefits of whiteness (by other minoritized groups).
Generally, white people are blamed—perhaps accurately—for creating and spreading the concept, which seems like (and probably has always been intended as) a compliment, though this accusation arises similarly in two forms and for different purposes, depending upon which branch of critical race studies is engaging in it. Critical race Theorists who posit that whiteness is inherently anti-Black, for example, will see the “model minority” stereotype as one created by white people to indicate to black people (and perhaps other non-Asian people of color) how they should be and act as members of minoritized race. That is, Asians become the “model minority” in the sense of being made the standard that all minorities should live up to (see also, minoritize). This attitude is held with remarkable cynicism and paranoia about the motivations of all involved, which is typical of critical race Theory. Such Theorists would see the “model minority” standard as a means (invented by white people) of further invalidating blackness and black culture by comparing it against something allegedly better, i.e., more white (see also, anti-blackness).
Meanwhile, according to those coming from a perspective of critical Asian studies, this status as “model minorities” denies the discrimination and systemic oppression of Asian people in white-dominant societies. Their attitude is that Asians are, like all minoritized racial groups, systemically discriminated against, and so the “model minority” status is one that white people created in order to claim that Asians are not, in fact, systemically discriminated against. That is, critical Asian studies would view the “model minority” as a social construction perpetrated under whiteness that was developed for the purpose of erasing and ignoring Asian oppression.
While it is always extremely easy to place the blame on white people within the context of Critical Social Justice Theory and activism, there is something more to this story. Asians (at least in the US, Canada, and the UK) are also often legitimately discriminated against by woke progressive policy largely because of their “model minority” status. This discrimination is becoming increasingly common in our schools systems, where Asian students (probably due to cultural factors around education, as income level is demonstrably less relevant) tend to outperform everyone, including white students. Perhaps most famous among the examples of this concerns admissions to Harvard and other Ivy League universities (though less well-known, this phenomenon has also been a major center of controversy in big-city school systems such as New York City and Seattle). Here, ostensibly because they are “model minorities,” thus “white adjacent,” Asians are discriminated against in the name of diversity, equity, and inclusion, as pushed by Theorists and activists in the Critical Social Justice tradition.
This accusation of Asians being “white adjacent” by critical race Theorists roughly means that Asians are alleged to have greater success because they’ve taken up white culture and operate within the system of whiteness (for their own benefit – see also, white approval). This claim is maintained despite the fact that Asians outperform white people both in terms of educational attainment and economic success, at least in the US and UK. which means upholding white supremacy and maintaining white privilege. This accusation, which is essentially one of complicity in whiteness, is one of the more serious problematics that a person of color can be accused of. This sort of accusation is the cost, under critical race Theory, of relative success as a racial minority.
It is important to recognize that there is much validity in the accusation that some white people in history almost certainly used the (Asian) “model minority” stereotype as a tool of real racism against black and other racial minority groups (see also, cultural racism). Of the various types of racism that have been employed, the pitting of one racial minority against another and using these differences to tell one cultural group that they need to act more like some other “model” group is effectively beyond reasonable doubt. What’s ridiculous and insulting in both directions with this accusation, however, is the accusation that Asians must be acting more white (especially if cynically in their own self-interest), rather than having adopted traditional cultural norms that happen to align more closely with those of “white” European cultures than those of other cultures.
There is also much validity to the claim that by holding up Asian cultures as “model minority,” it is possible to ignore that Asians experience specific racism today and have been subjected to rather vigorous racism in the past, both specific to their race and as a result of not being viewed as white. This is very much like the kernel of validity hidden within critical-race critiques of colorblindness, which is that by being too colorblind in one’s analysis, one can also be racism-blind. The problem with such a complaint is the same as within colorblindness: one need not bring racial considerations into every analysis or decision in order to recognize that racism exists, ought to be minimized, and is not a justification for treating someone differently on the basis of race.
These facts acknowledged, the “model minority” status generates a massive (and mostly unnecessary) controversy within the broad umbrella of critical race and ethnic studies. That it does so is a rather vivid demonstration of the paucity of critical theories to understand, describe, and remediate the social issues they take obsessive interest in.
To understand how critical approaches go awry, their problems begin in believing systemic power to be at the root of everything and thus seeing everything through the lens of power (especially knowledge and power – see also, power-knowledge, Foucauldian, and postmodern). This approach creates a catastrophic failure of analytic worth which then develops further through a habit of labeling certain cultural attitudes, values, traditions, practices, knowledge(s), and ways of knowing to be the unique cultural property of some cultural group. These, in turn, are treated as the key positioning variable with respect to systemic power dynamics of the relevant ethnic (or other minoritized) groups most closely associated with those cultures (see also, cultural appropriation, cultural relativism, social constructivism, episteme, and essentialism). These problems then crystallize under a doctrine of analyzing them primarily—if not solely—with critical methods (which need not fully understand a thing to complain about its problematics and demand radical social change as a result – see also, problematize). This effectively blinds Critical Social Justice to reality and renders it mostly worthless, even as an academic exercise.
Once one steps outside of the Critical Social Justice ideology and looks at a phenomenon like the model minority stereotype—which, along with the similar circumstance of Ashkenazi Jews, who also tend to dramatically outperform whites, is effectively kryptonite to the Theory of Critical Social Justice—the object Critical Social Justice exists to avoid admitting becomes clear. It is that cultural differences account for a significant (but not total) proportion of the differences in outcome that Critical Social Justice ascribes to unjust systemic power dynamics. This view is utterly verboten in Critical Social Justice and is labeled a severe form of cultural racism.
Digging deeper, one might believe the Critical Social Justice reliance upon power dynamics makes a fair point here. Perhaps cultural differences themselves only produce different outcomes because the system is “racist” in the sense of favoring certain cultures over others, i.e., cultural racism. This point would, perhaps, be strong except that it not only reifies and connects cultural values (socially constructed) racial categories (see also, blackness and whiteness), but it also describes them as intrinsic (with whiteness) or inviolable (with all others) cultural property (see also, melting pot, cultural relativism, and cultural appropriation). That is, the Critical Social Justice approach wants to insist that “whiteness,” “blackness,” “Asian-ness,” and so on are real properties of social reality (not biological or physical reality, but ones rooted in lived experience and cultural traditions), and that these, if not whiteness, cannot be criticized on those terms and, if whiteness, must be criticized on those terms. In other words, Critical Social Justice wants to have its cake and eat it too with respect to cultural values (see also, multiculturalism), and it doesn’t work.
Whether it is fair or not, stereotypes are (on average, but almost never in particular) reasonably accurate, and the model minority stereotype is no exception. Asians are minority groups (in the US and UK, e.g.) and experience discrimination and racism as such, and yet, at the same time, something in how they behave leads them to outperform other racial groups (notably, other minoritized races). This, in turn, leads people (often white) to hold them up as an example of why racism specifically is unlikely to be the (sole or primary) causative factor in leading to disparate racial outcomes. When Asian cultures are suggested as the reason for superior outcomes (within “white-dominant” societies), this amounts to a form of “cultural racism.” Nonetheless, their Asian-ness, i.e., not-white-ness, is still evident and often relevant (see also, double consciousness).
These facts, though, most likely do result from Asian (both South and East) cultural values. Some of these happen to share some significant similarities with those branded white and Western—particularly with regard to work ethic. Others may include being fundamentally pragmatic enough to encourage “acting white” in cultures where values branded “white” are, for good or for ill, the norm (i.e., a “when in Rome” integrationist attitude). They may also (read: are most likely) just be productive values that were arrived at independently in different meritocratic systems subject to similar constraints about what it means to be a human society (as similar conditions with similar constraints can evolve similar outcomes). Again, all such claims are completely forbidden within Critical Social Justice and cannot be forwarded so long as Critical Social Justice maintains its hegemony. The situation must be the result of a bizarre form of double-edged racism instead.
Acting white; Anti-blackness; Blackness; Colorblind; Complicity; Critical; Critical race Theory; Critical theory; Cultural appropriation; Cultural racism; Cultural relativism; Diversity; Double consciousness; Engagement; Episteme; Equity; Erasure; Essentialism; Ethnic studies; Foucauldian; Hegemony; Identity; Ideology; Inclusion; Injustice; Knowledge(s); Lived experience; Melting pot; Meritocracy; Minoritize; Multiculturalism; Norm; People of color; Postmodern; Poststructuralism; Power-knowledge; Oppression; Orientalism; Other; Position; Privilege; Problematic; Problematize; Progressive; Race; Racism (systemic); Racism blind; Radical; Realities; Reality; Social construction; Social constructivism; Social Justice; Solidarity; Structural; Systemic power; Theory; Ways of knowing; Western; White; White adjacent; White approval; White supremacy; Whiteness; Whiteness studies; Woke/Wokeness
Source: Chang, Robert S. “Toward an Asian American Legal Scholarship: Critical Race Theory, Poststructuralism, and Narrative Space.” In Delgado, Richard, and Stefancic, Jean (eds.) Critical Race Theory: The Cutting Edge, third edition. Temple University Press, 2013, pp. 470–471.
At its surface, the label “model minority” seems like a compliment. However, once one moves beyond this complimentary facade, one can see the label for what it is—a tool of oppression that works a dual harm by (1) denying the existence of present-day discrimination against Asian Americans and the present-day effects of past discrimination and (2) legitimizing the oppression of other racial minorities and poor whites. That Asian Americans are a model minority is a myth. But the myth has gained a substantial following, both inside and outside the Asian American community. The successful inculcation of the model minority myth has created an audience unsympathetic to the problems of Asian Americans. Thus, when we try to make our problems known, our complaints of discrimination or calls for remedial action are seen as unwarranted and inappropriate. They can even spark resentment.
Source: Chang, Robert S. “Toward an Asian American Legal Scholarship: Critical Race Theory, Poststructuralism, and Narrative Space.” In Delgado, Richard, and Stefancic, Jean (eds.) Critical Race Theory: The Cutting Edge, third edition. Temple University Press, 2013, pp. 472–473.
Thus, the answer to Posner’s first question is yes—Asian Americans are an oppressed group in America. To accept the myth of the model minority is to participate in the oppression of Asian Americans.
In addition to hurting Asian Americans, the model minority myth works a dual harm by hurting other racial minorities and poor whites who are blamed for not being successful like Asian Americans. “African-Americans and Latinos and poor whites are told, ‘look at those Asians—anyone can make it in this country if they really try.’” This blame is justified by the meritocratic thesis supposedly proven by the example of Asian Americans. This blame is then used to campaign against government social services for these “undeserving” minorities and poor whites and against affirmative action. To the extent that Asian Americans accept the model minority myth, we are complicit in the oppression of other racial minorities and poor whites. … The model minority myth plays a key role in establishing a racial hierarchy that denies the oppression of Asian Americans while simultaneously legitimizing the oppression of other racial minorities and poor whites.
Source: Cho, Sumi K. “Converging Stereotypes in Racialized Sexual Harassment: Where the Model Minority Meets Suzie Wong.” In Delgado, Richard, and Stefancic, Jean (eds.) Critical Race Theory: The Cutting Edge, third edition. Temple University Press, 2013, p. 671.
The model minority myth developed in the mid-1960s provided a counterexample to politically active African Americans. A much criticized racial stereotype of Asian Pacific Americans, this myth painted a misleading portrait of groupwide economic, educational, and professional supersuccess, as well as fostering images of political passivity and submissiveness to authority. But despite much writing by Asian Pacific Americans on the model minority stereotype, few have theorized how it specifically relates to Asian Pacific American women.
Revision date: 5/19/20