Recently, I became brave enough to speak out about the normalized racism and microaggressions I have experienced as a person of Asian descent. To voice my thoughts, I made a short, straight to the point Instagram post, and, surprisingly, it blew up, reaching over 50,000 people and receiving more than 30,000 likes. You can see the original post below.
I was lucky enough to have gained lots of support from friends and family around me, but along with the support came much hate. Many people told me that I shouldn’t be speaking out because, at the moment, the Black Lives Matter movement was “more important”. Many people told me that racism didn’t or couldn’t happen towards Asians. Others simply said racist things to ridicule me or denounce my message. The comments were flooded with examples: “Ching Ching Ling Ling”, “wdym [what do you mean] stop saying asians are the reason behind corona, that’s just… a fact”, “KUNG-FLU”, “you a snowflake”, and many more (There’s only so many that I could list here). Although those comments did have a negative effect on me, there was another string of comments that instantly caught my attention.
One student made a response to my caption. “Bet, but I’m fine with people thinking I’m smart ‘cause I’m Asian. It kinda rules.” Another Asian student, who was educated about the effects of race-based stereotypes, responded differently: “It’s such a huge stereotype and, for me, led to a situation where a classmate called me an “Asian calculator.” Continuing the chain, the original commenter asked, “Were [you] smart?”
“I like to think I was,” the student responded. “But basically, my ‘friends’ used me for answers while making fun of my eyes, and this group of people were the popular kids at my elementary so I couldn’t do much.”
Reading this comment and so many others like it just broke my heart.
That’s why here, I would like to expand on the model minority myth and its lasting effect on minorities. Acquiring equal treatment for all will take education and, although equal treatment cannot be promised even with educated folks, striving and working for change at least gives it a chance.
Ready? Then let’s go:
What is the model minority myth?
The model minority myth is a commonly accepted collection of stereotypes, which proposes that a certain ethnic group, specifically Asian-Americans, are more successful in society either by cultural or innate characteristics. This causes other people to expect more from a person and even disregard his or her hard work solely because he or she is Asian. Worse, however, is that the myth is cemented in the public psyche, having asserted itself as the so-called “truth”.
How has the model minority myth affected Asians directly?
Throughout my whole life, I have experienced microaggressions, but it was only recently that I saw them as they are. As an Asian-American student, I had always become so used to people (peers and teachers especially) putting me down for not meeting their expectations or diminishing my effort whenever I did meet their expectations. They were small gestures, but they hurt.
I remember a student last year saying to me, “Lauren you were legit so smart in elementary, but now you're so average. What happened? All the smart kids are in Algebra,” he chuckled, proceeding to list all of my other Asian friends. “Bro you’re Asian, be smart.” I can recall standing absolutely still, and the weight of my backpack became unbearably heavy. Color bloomed on my cheeks due my anger and embarrassment. A mixture of sorrow and anger also began to come over me, as I was furious, but too nervous to speak up. A year later, I was able to reach my goal (getting into Geometry), not because of my Asian genes, but simply because of hard work: I had to score well on a placement test and to do that, I had to keep up with the current math course I was taking, and at the same time, teach myself Algebra throughout the year. I didn’t tell him that, though; I’m confident that even if I did mention it, he wouldn’t care much anyways.
Certainly, my peer’s remark pushed me to work harder, but it didn’t matter. I was angry, unhappy, and insecure about myself. Luckily and unlike most, I was able to recover quickly from my downfall. That’s because his comment was a one time thing, from someone I no longer consider a friend, and a person who I quickly surpassed when it came to being “book-smart”. But, the fact that it isn’t so for others is atrocious. Frankly, unnecessary racial comments are prime examples of slights that tie right into the model minority myth. Enforcing the myth can cause more damage to one than just harming their mental health, as it can also harm their physical health. I understood my own worth as a student and human being, but, like many situations, the story doesn’t hold true for everyone. Many Asian students are known to have turned to self-harm and even suicide because of the amount of stress they go through in an attempt to meet the expectations of people around them.
Using Our Voices
I didn’t know if I was being too sensitive, but, even if I had known, I definitely didn’t have the courage to speak out about my experience. Society has always cared less or was more ignorant towards minorities other than those in the spotlight. This isn’t the fault of modern day movements, though, nor is it the fault of the marginalized communities. The blame goes to those who pick and choose what minorities are and are not okay to be racist towards. Using our voices is always discouraged, and our problems are always illegitimized when they shouldn’t be. Our problems matter and are equally significant as that of African-Americans, Native-Americans, Latinx-Americans, and all the other minorities which face prejudice to this day.
So what can I do to help stop the normalization of microaggressions towards minorities like Asians?
Educate, educate, educate. The only way people know to stop is if they learn. Half the time—but certainly not always—they don’t understand that they are being offensive; nonetheless, that doesn’t make it acceptable. By raising awareness and informing people, everyday lives will finally get the memo and learn to be respectful to Asians. In the end, it’s up to them whether they wish to change, but until the end, it’s up to you to initiate the chain reaction of change.