in politics, TTOTD

How the model minority myth is deployed

Andrew Sullivan had a piece for New York magazine yesterday that set my Twitter timeline on fire. In discussing United’s recent dragging of an innocent Asian man off a flight, Sullivan wrote this:

Do you know the real reason Dr. Dao was so brutally tackled and thrown off that United flight? It was all about white supremacy. I mean, what isn’t these days? That idea is from the New Republic. Yes, the cops “seemed” to be African-American, as the author concedes, so the white-versus-minority paradigm is a little off. Yes, this has happened before to many people with no discernible racial or gender pattern. Yes, there is an obvious alternative explanation: The seats from which passengers were forcibly removed were randomly assigned. New York published a similar piece, which argued that the incident was just another example of Trump’s border-and-immigration-enforcement policies toward suspected illegal immigrants of color. That no federal cops were involved and there is no actual evidence at all of police harassment of Asian-Americans is irrelevant — it’s all racism, all the time, everywhere in everything.

It’s easy to mock this reductionism, I know, but it reflects something a little deeper. Asian-Americans, like Jews, are indeed a problem for the “social-justice” brigade. I mean, how on earth have both ethnic groups done so well in such a profoundly racist society? How have bigoted white people allowed these minorities to do so well — even to the point of earning more, on average, than whites? Asian-Americans, for example, have been subject to some of the most brutal oppression, racial hatred, and open discrimination over the years. In the late 19th century, as most worked in hard labor, they were subject to lynchings and violence across the American West and laws that prohibited their employment. They were banned from immigrating to the U.S. in 1924. Japanese-American citizens were forced into internment camps during the Second World War, and subjected to hideous, racist propaganda after Pearl Harbor. Yet, today, Asian-Americans are among the most prosperous, well-educated, and successful ethnic groups in America. What gives? It couldn’t possibly be that they maintained solid two-parent family structures, had social networks that looked after one another, placed enormous emphasis on education and hard work, and thereby turned false, negative stereotypes into true, positive ones, could it? It couldn’t be that all whites are not racists or that the American dream still lives?

Sullivan has often made controversial statements about race, like when he repudiated Black Lives Matter, but now he’s bringing the status of Asians into this argument and my brothers and sisters just were not having it.

In response, journalist Jeff Guo issued the following tweetstorm:

It’s important to recognize when and how the myth of the model minority is deployed. It’s almost always used to disparage one minority group, and occasionally to turn minority groups against each other. We should be vigilant against it.

  • Hey Dave, love your work, long time listener, and I agree with everything here, including your conclusion. I think sometimes race and racism, can sometimes be subconscious, what is sometimes called casual racism. I think often we are not attempting to be exclusionary, or purposefully bias, especially when we consider ourselves progressive and forward thinking. We assume because we have good intentions, that everything we do is inclusionary or on the up and up. But often it is we who find racism to be appalling, that fall victim to soft bigotry or casual racism. For instance, I know that neither you, nor any of your colleagues are racists, however, how many African american guests have you had on the slashfilmcast? And for that matter, how many African Americans currently work, or have worked in the past, for slashfilm.com? Again I’m not insinuating that you guys are racist or prejudice, however, I think we often like to think of ourselves in the best light, when the truth is often obscured in diffused light.

    Keep up the great work. I love the show. You guys have the best film podcast anywhere.
    -Will Preston