Do words speak louder than actions? A look into the model minority


Abrielle Cunningham, Contributing Writer

Growing up in a predominately white town as a Chinese woman adopted by a white family came with its own challenges. I never understood why everyone bet I’d be good at math and have straight A’s until I learned about the model minority. 

The model minority is a myth that all Asians are well-off, hard-working, extremely intelligent, and high achievers. Historically, the model minority has been used to ally Asian Americans with white people to represent a successful minority, but this negatively affects Asians and other minorities.

 Other minorities are continuously left out of the conversation when white Americans use Asians as a model representation of how people of color should behave and in return, Asians are left feeling guilty and stereotyped.

The model minority trope is harder to see than other overt forms of racism because of its seemingly positive connotation. But, during the COVID-19 pandemic, phrases such as the “China Virus” or the “Kung Flu” created xenophobia, fear, and discrimination against Asians, especially when former U.S. President Donald Trump used the phrases in early 2020.

When the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes increased and Asians were used as a scapegoat for the pandemic, I was surprised. Aren’t all Asians applauded for their hard work and intelligence? Yet, the rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) has risen 149% since the beginning of the pandemic from the previous year.

Three months prior to lockdown, I had been walking down Fenway when I was approached by a man and was spit on. Still in shock, by the time I had processed what had happened, the man had sped away and was too far for me to go running after. A woman behind me, who witnessed the encounter, approached me to make sure I was okay.

There is no way to know for sure if this act was or wasn’t an act of racism, but someone still came to check on me.

When I got comments that I must be “so good at math”, the people around me never seemed to think it was harmful or ask if I was okay. Since society associates the model minority with success, the perceptions of racism are often minimized or nonexistent.

The truth is that while actions hurt and gain mass media attention, words still hurt too. 

The model minority has been discussed for over four decades and has been proven to be wrong and hurtful. When Asians do not fit the model stereotype it creates mental health issues and feelings of self failure, and more for individuals within the AAPI community.

The model minority simply does not exist and it never has. The rise in anti-Asian hate crimes during the pandemic has called our attention to reevaluate our internal biases once again. We need to support and hold each other accountable as witnesses of racially motivated actions and comments. Because even though actions are most visible to the eye, words can also be a powerful weapon. We need to take this trope seriously.