People are upset about stereotypes, and often conflate the Model Minority Myth with the stereotype that Asians are good at math. So, to “challenge” the stereotype, an Asian person will say they aren’t good at math.
They misunderstand the point of the MMM stereotype.
The MMM stereotype has been described elsewhere. It was invented in the 1960s, and basically says:
- Asians are “rich” or have above average income higher than whites.
- Asians got this way by being quiet and hard working.
- By inference, Asian Americans don’t have problems that lead to poverty or dissatisfaction with life.
- This is the idea if you’re making money, you’re “doing ok”.
- Likewise, if you’re showing up to work, and not complaining, you’re “doing ok”.
However, if we remove the racial parts, we have a “class-centered MMM stereotype” about “middle class” versus “poor” or “oppressed”:
- X are “rich” or have above average income.
- X got this way by being quiet and hard working.
The implication is that by being quiet and hard working, you will get rich.
The Purpose of the MMM
The purpose of the MMM was to contrast Asian Americans, specifically Japanese Americans and Chinese Americans, against Black Americans, in the 1960s. It was intentionally pitting Asian Americans against Black Americans.
Black Americans after WW2 created the Civil Rights Movement for their own liberation. This was a continuation of civil rights fights ever since the Civil War. After WW2, it was re-energized: Black GIs were exposed to more fair treatment in Europe, and average Americans seeing the way eugenics was implemented by Nazi Germany, the people were more open to ending racism.
The new CRM was:
- Argumentative – they continued the tradition of lawsuits opposing racist laws.
- Confrontational – they engaged in protests that incited police to attack them, on camera.
- Economic – they engaged in economic boycotts, and labor strikes (and worked with some labor unions).
The racist system didn’t like this new CRM, and the MMM pushed the idea that Asian Americans made it, despite suffering similar racism.
The intent was to use Asian Americans as a way to attack the Black Civil Rights Movement.
Moreover, it was also to convince Asian Americans to attack the Black Civil Rights Movement, to create allies for white racism.
The MMM is also be used to divide the Asian Americans from each other, but that’s a topic for another essay.
The MMM also serves, today, to erase the history of Asian Americans within the Civil Rights Movement, and also the complicated history of Asian ethnic organizations fighting for their own Civil Rights since the 1850s.
The Misunderstanding by Some Asian Americans
Asian Americans who point out that “they aren’t good at math” think they are challenging the MMM.
They’re missing the point.
The way to challenge the MMM is to identify that the MMM is a “divide and conquer” strategy to pit Asian Americans and others against anyone who engages in a struggle for civil rights and community liberation.
The way to challenge it is to engage in struggles for civil rights and community liberation.
The way to challenge it is to support other communities’ struggles for civil rights and community liberation.
This begs the question, “what is self liberation for Asian Americans?” That’s a topic for another essay.