Evelyn Zhao

Model minority myth, racist rhetoric on social media among factors for rise in violence

Over the past year, there have been more than 3,800 anti-Asian hate incidents in the United States alone, according to a report by Stop AAPI Hate, a non-profit coalition that founded the Stop AAPI Hate reporting center. The evidence has been circulating across social media platforms with graphic videos of innocent Asian-American elderly being violently shoved to the ground in California and of subway riders in New York City getting verbally and physically attacked, to name a few. 

From the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 to Japanese-American internment camps during World War II to Hollywood’s use of yellowface (where white actors would change their appearance to portray East Asian characters), Asian-Americans have had a long history of injustice in the United States. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the increase in harassment, violence, hate incidents and racist rhetoric against the Asian American Pacific Islander community has brought about the need to finally put an end to Asian hate and discrimination. 

“I was just scrolling through Instagram, and I saw this one post,…and it was about this grandpa being beaten on a subway, and it just sort of struck me how serious the situation is and how widespread it is,” sophomore Bridget Wang, who is of Chinese descent, said. “I feel like racism has always been an issue in this country, and I don’t think it should’ve taken this kind of violence for us to speak out against it or speak out and advocate for ourselves. I’m trying to deal with the reality that we haven’t spoken a lot about it until now, which is sort of upsetting.”

Some attribute the silence from the AAPI community to the so-called “model minority myth,” in which a minority group––like Asian-Americans––is stereotyped as successful, smart and non-threatening, living the “American Dream” while being far less problematic in society. In reality, the myth promotes damaging microaggressions and racial stereotypes and can cause division between distinct minority groups. 

“[In the past], [politicians] could discriminate against Asians because there wasn’t a significant political backlash to doing so, so they didn’t have to worry, ‘oh no I’m going to alienate the Asian vote if I passed this Chinese Exclusion Act,’” history teacher Claire Mrozek said. “Now, getting back to the why we don’t talk about it piece, again, it’s just so blatantly racist, and I think part of it is that model minority myth, where so many Asian-Americans have done okay in the United States economically that Americans are like, ‘oh, they’ve done great here.’ It’s easy to make assumptions, and it’s complicated and hard to go back and look at the roots of how we treat certain groups.” 

Senior Katherine Cowser, who was also adopted from China when she was 15-months old, has personally fallen victim to the model minority myth but never saw it as a negative stereotype that affected her until recently.

“I do fit the [Asian] stereotype of [getting] good grades, kind of nerdy, [and] I’ve always known that was kind of the stereotype, but I didn’t really think it was a bad thing at first because I was like, ‘oh they think you’re smart, oh, that can’t be bad,’” Cowser said. “But if you expect everyone of a certain race or ethnicity to live up to that standard, and you think that they’re all like that, then you’re putting some down. Also, just seeing someone as those characteristics, you can’t really see them as individuals.”

Political figures’––such as former President Donald Trump’s––perpetual use of “Chinese Virus” and “Wuhan Virus” are believed to have instigated anti-Asian racist attitudes and hatred against the AAPI community. The repeated blame on China and racist rhetoric likely caused Asian-Americans to become a target and scapegoat for the pandemic in the U.S. In a study published by the American Journal of Public Health, the results showed that only 20 percent of hashtags associated with #COVID-19 reflected anti-Asian sentiment while 50 percent of hashtags associated with #Chinesevirus reflected anti-Asian sentiment. 

“I think this pandemic is so confusing and bewildering to so many people that blaming it on China is just this sort of knee jerk, ‘I’m afraid, I need somebody to blame my uncertainty and fear on, and they’re over across the ocean, so I’m going to blame them, and oh, you happen to vaguely look like this person, and you might be Chinese,’” Mrozek said. “Again, with no real consciousness of understanding who actually is Chinese and who is American of Chinese descent and who is Filipino and any of those other distinctions that we should really be making. And again, it’s a way to lash out and address a situation that’s really scary, not to justify at all or explain it.”

Until recently, however, many media news outlets failed to cover the rise in anti-Asian hate when it first occurred last spring. In an interview on “Reliable Sources” with CNN’s Chief Media Correspondent Brian Stelter, award-winning journalist Connie Chung expressed her disappointment with the media’s coverage of anti-Asian hate incidents.

“Anti-Asian hate started the moment it came out of President Trump’s mouth,” Chung said in the interview. “A few weeks earlier, the New York Times had a story about Asian hate prior… to these horrendous murders in Georgia, and it had it on the front page… Broadcast organizations frequently use the NYT as their daily assignment sheet. Not until it appeared in the NYT did other news organizations pick up on it and start reporting about Asian hate… The media has been miserably late, and it’s because we’re that minority that is invisible.” 

According to a March 29 poll of 144 upper school students, 81 percent were aware that Asian-Americans had been facing violence from the start of the pandemic to now. Forty-four percent of students were aware of anti-Asian racism and violence before the pandemic started. 

“[Racism] definitely did [exist],” Wang said. “I don’t think it’s the outright things that really happen to us; it’s the subtle things like people like pulling their eyes back for the look or dressing up like something that isn’t a cultural standard. It’s definitely been there this entire time, I just don’t think it was that violent or that out. [Now], all of that violence and all that racism is on display, like everyone can see it all around the world. I don’t think it’s ever been out there as much as it has since this pandemic, but I think it’s definitely been there for sure.”

Nationwide support for the STOP AAPI Hate movement climaxed following the mass shooting and murder of eight people, six of whom who were Asian women, in Atlanta, Georgia on March 16. Although federal prosecutors have yet to determine whether the shooting was a hate crime, many in the Asian-American community believe it was. 

“A hate crime is some violent act or a crime that’s motivated by a hate of some characteristic like a sexual orientation or like ethnicity,” Chinese-American alumna Margaret Siu ‘15 said. “The fact that the majority of the people were Asian women makes me certainly inclined to think about this as a hate crime. The man said that he had a sexual addiction, which makes me think about yellow fever, and the fact that he said that he goes to a lot of these Asian businesses and massage parlors to relieve a sexual temptation…also makes me think about the fetishization of Asian women.”

“A hate crime is some violent act or a crime that’s motivated by a hate of some characteristic like a sexual orientation or like ethnicity.”

Margaret Siu,

The Atlanta shooting brought much attention to America’s history of Asian fetishization and sexual violence againt Asian American women. According to Stop AAPI Hate, 68 percent of the 3,800 hate incidents reported were hate crimes against AAPI women. 

“Since the introduction of Asian women in America, a lot of these women were portrayed as sexual objects,” Siu said. “During the Vietnam War, men would take home Vietnamese ‘war brides’ because they were perceived to be more docile [and] listen to the patriarch. The different sexism that Asian women face compared to white women owes a lot to the differences of history at play and the differences of stereotypes at play. The portrayal of the exotic and submissive China doll would never be applied to a white woman especially because of the role that mainstream media has played in perpetuating that.”

Siu believes English and history curriculums should include books written by Asian-American authors for students to better comprehend the contemporary racial movement and understand other diverse perspectives as well. 

“The sheer amount of white authors is not helpful or not reflective of the changes that are going around in the contemporary movement, and in English and history classes especially, I think that’s where a lot of these discussions and learning moments can come up,” Siu said. “The failure to include diverse voices is also a failure to discuss a lot of these topics and challenge beliefs.”

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