Dear NHPS: Asians Aren’t the New White

Alycia Wong, News Editor

In November 2020, North Thurston Public Schools, a school district in Washington, sparked controversy after excluding Asian students in a performance report, lumping them together with white students.

“One of our district’s Strategic Plan goals is ‘Continuous Growth — All Students, All Subjects. One of the outcomes we are working towards in this goal is to have an increased growth rate of underperforming groups,” said NTPS officials in a statement defending this categorization. 

In the report, white and Asians were placed in one category, while Black, Latinx, Native, Pacific-Islander and multi-racial students consisted of the “Students of Color” group which reportedly experienced “persistent opportunity gaps.” 

While this choice was justified as an equity-based decision, people, especially Asian Americans, weren’t convinced. Online commenters shamed the school for defining “color” by average performance, troubled that Asians weren’t classified as POC. 

While extremely upsetting, Asians’ “proximity to whiteness” is nothing new. So where did it come from? 

The model minority myth is a perception based off of stereotypes that characterize all Asians as polite, unproblematic, good samaritans who—through both innate abilities and the drive for success that constitutes the mentality of immigrant households—have risen above the rest of the American population and achieved ultimate success. And because prosperity and properness have always been correlated with white people, Asian Americans have been put under the same umbrella. Like the name implies, this concept is a myth, and there are several issues with it. 

Firstly, the model minority myth erases Asian diversity, as it is only applied to East Asians such as those who are Chinese, Korean, and Japanese. People from these regions, with their light skin and silky hair, have typified Asians, thus disregarding the people from regions such as Nepal, Bhutan, Indonesia, etc. who not only look different due to their darker complexions, but statistically also have much lower socioeconomic statuses in the US. The only dark skinned Asians included in the myth are Indian Americans, who, though usually separated from Eastern Asians, have similar stereotypes.

Second, it disregards the presence of racism against Asians. Because Asians are perceived as successful and smart, racism against them is neglected. It is seen as a more acceptable form of racism because it seems “harmless” and therefore isn’t taken seriously. This perception of racism against Asians allows ESPN to call Jeremy Lin a chink, or Steve Harvey to say that women aren’t attracted to Asian men. Asian eyes and accents have repeatedly been mocked and stereotypes continue to plague the media. 

Third, it promotes anti-Blackness. People have used the Asian “success story” to justify the systemic racism against other POC. Some believe that because Asian immigrants were able to become model citizens, other racial groups, more specifically the Black community, should be able to do the same, thus promoting the idea of an “equal opportunist” America and attributing the high poverty and incarceration rates of Black people to their own laziness and inadequacy. Andrew Sullivan’s article “Why Do Democrats Feel Sorry for Hillary Clinton” in the New York Magazine is a perfect example of this:

“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?”

Such statements are extremely problematic considering how different the history is for Asian and Black Americans. Though Asians have faced discrimination and oppression in the past, as seen with the Chinese Exclusion Act, Japanese Internment camps and the outright violence against Asians, it completely differs from the hundreds of years of blatant racism against Black people and the invalidation of their lives. While Asians immigrated to America in hopes for a better life, Black people were forced onto ships away from their homes, and worked against their will for those who deemed themselves as a “superior race.” Even after emancipation, Jim Crow laws, redlining and other aspects of systematic oppression against Black people have had lasting impacts that continue to perpetuate society today. The primary reason that Asians were able to thrive in the states is because of the Immigration Act of 1990. With this act, only foreigners who were skilled and had already obtained a higher education were allowed to obtain a green card. In other words, Asian immigrants were able to prosper in the US because they were already successful in their home country. This is simply incomparable to slavery and the history of Black Americans. 

While the model minority perception is a myth, that is not to say that Asians, especially East Asians, are not privileged. While Asians ARE in fact POC, contrary to what North Thurston Public Schools may say, oppression and privilege are not mutually exclusive and Asian Americans should continuously use the advantages granted by society to advocate for other people of color.