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From mistreatment to model minority: The history behind anti-Asian hate

By The Charger Account Editorial Board Apr. 28, 2021


In the wake of increasingly publicized hate crimes against minorities, national attention has been drawn to anti-Asian attacks that have escalated during the COVID-19 pandemic. While a study from the California State University, San Bernardino found that there was a 150 percent increase in these attacks in 2020 alone, racism and exclusion are nothing new for Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.


The scapegoating of Asians in America pervades American history.

The scapegoating of Asians in America pervades American history. For instance, when the bubonic plague hit the U.S. at the turn of the 20th century, the first victim of Honolulu’s 1899 outbreak, You Chang, was a resident of the city’s Chinatown. As a result, the community was placed under strict lockdown and its people—at the time predominantly Chinese and Japanese—were publicly stripped naked to be disinfected and quarantined in camps whereas white plague victims were placed into hotels. Two weeks after Chang’s death, Hawaii’s Board of Health set afflicted parts of Chinatown ablaze, but the fire grew out of control and burned 38 acres, leaving 8,000 of its inhabitants homeless. Those displaced were marched into detention camps, escorted by white residents armed to ensure obedience.


Public perception of Asians began to shift in the 1950s as Chinatown leaders started to promote the idea of perfect Asian families out of self-preservation. Americans and the government latched on, giving rise to the model minority myth, which falsely attributes Asians’ socioeconomic success to effort alone and uses it to invalidate the systemic injustice protested by other groups. Politicians and the press weaponized this idea against civil rights movements of the time: by attributing Asian prosperity to supposed family values and education, they could effectively decry calls for economic and social justice by Black people and other marginalized groups. At the same time, efforts by Asian activists went largely overlooked and Asians were perceived as submissive and obedient.


Americans and the government latched on, giving rise to the model minority myth, which falsely attributes Asians’ socioeconomic success to effort alone and uses it to invalidate the systemic injustice protested by other groups.

Yet the model minority myth is not only completely fallacious, but toxic. Economist Nathaniel Hilger of Brown University found that, between 1940 and 1980, Asian workers went from earning the income level of Black workers to that of their white counterparts —all at the same level of education. Therefore, Hilger attributes this jump to decreased racial animus against Asians specifically in the workplace, rather than emphasis on education. While some Asians may have experienced more opportunities as a result, others remain ignored: in 2018, Pew Research Center identified Asians as the racial group with the highest level of income inequality in the U.S., with the gap having widened 27 percent from 1970 to 2016.


These stereotypes have long delayed social reform for Asians and for other groups, glossing over larger, systemic issues with overgeneralizations. Lower-income Asians continue to be especially vulnerable to violence, as exhibited by the tragic Atlanta shooting. With the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, the murder of Vincent Chin during the decline of America’s automobile industry and the wave of hate against Muslims and South Asians after the September 11 attacks, history has time and time again proven that Asian Americans are very much so subject to insidious biases that manifest into negative real world consequences.

 

About the Contributors

Sophia Lu

Editor-in-Chief


Sophia Lu is a senior and one of The Charger Account's Editors-In-Chief. She loves reading historical nonfiction, hiking in the Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve (especially on the Randol Trail) and sampling new foods in her free time. When not scouring Yelp for her next foodie destination, she can be found cheering on her hometown Golden State Warriors and San Francisco 49ers.


Minji Kim

Editor-in-Chief


Minji Kim is a senior at Leland High School and is the Editor-in-Chief for School News, Investigative Report, and Feature School. She loves to spend her time watching Netflix and eating ice cream on a daily basis.








Kelly Cui

Editor-in-Chief


Kelly Cui is a senior and one of the Editors-in-Chief of The Charger Account. In her spare time, she likes to solve crosswords and knit.

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