Written by Andrea Sison and Rebekah Joe
It is to no surprise when people hear of Asians being successful, but why is that? Asians tend to be looked at at a higher standard, something society constructed and is eventually formed into a norm. Asians are seen to have close proximity to whiteness. With their successes in the economy and society, Asians are seen to have a privilege that minorities do not usually have.
A common argument is tailored in this concept: If “white privilege” is oppressive then why does research show that Asian Americans tend to have higher income and status than most populations. Bill O’Reilly, a conservative commentator, stated in an editorial that Asian household incomes were 20% higher than white household incomes. The question as to why this is his answer was that Asians tend to have a more collectivist culture and education is held at utmost importance. This claim has been used since at least in the 1960s when faced with the challenges the civil rights movements sparked. Newspapers printed portraits of Asian Americans to cast skepticism on the population that was marching for social and economic justice. The Asians were seen as independent, not needing help as other minorities did, they were progressing on their own.
This also ties back in with the model minority myth, which is deeply misunderstood. Yes, Asians are successful but this was not the case when the first immigration happened. The Asian community did not start at the top. Asian Americans were known as laborers with the lowest wages. Over the decades, overcoming poverty, discrimination, and racial violence, Asians climbed and earned their way up the socioeconomic ladder. The success of Asians does not simply show their achievements but also points out that being a minority meant working harder in order to achieve something that a White person could achieve with greater ease and less effort.
Although being well educated and having education as a top priority as a value was made as a point as to how Asians managed to climb their way to success, research suggests that society simply became less racist towards the Asian community. While looking at the progress from 1940 to 1980, even with varying educational accomplishments, the steady closing of the wage gap by Asians was seen, supporting the claim of education not really playing a role in the socioeconomic success of Asians. Racist prejudice was softening after WWII. Asians were being accepted to more institutions and even earning a raise in their wage. Journalists and public opinion shifted as Asians are now being branded and publicized as being hard workers, educationally competent, easy-going, and rarely complains. Opportunities were opened up to them.
However, even looking at the unemployment rates over the past 10 years, we can see the effects of systemic racism and implicit bias. While generally, Asians have a lower unemployment rate compared to other minorities and sometimes even compared to whites, during the coronavirus, those results drastically changed. Whites remained the last impacted by the racism and financial turmoil of COVID-19 while the rates in Asian unemployment shot up. While these rising rates are not fully attributed to the virus, the government’s narrative in blaming a particular race definitely contributed to it.
Nonetheless, Asians were quick to realize in order to survive and achieve the “American Dream” or whatever goal they have, they must be quick to adapt and assimilate. They are quick to pick up certain concepts and change their mindsets, setting them closer to the Whites. Their values and thoughts are now plagued with racist ideas and concepts, remember everyone must be held accountable. Some choose to set their lifestyles in a more similar fashion to the Whites in order to make them feel safe and accumulated to their community. Yes, Asians are discriminated against but this does not mean they have their own outlook on certain individuals as well. They just learned that this is how society works and have integrated it into their own morale. Systemic racism, racism is catered depending on the situation.
GuoBioBio, Jeff Guo closeJeff. “The Real Secret to Asian American Success Was Not Education.” Washington Post, November 19, 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/11/19/the-real-secret-to-asian-american-success-was-not-education/.
Jr, Dae Shik Kim. “Why Be a ‘Model Minority’ When You Could Dismantle White Supremacy?” www.thenation.com, June 30, 2020. https://www.thenation.com/article/society/asian-americans-antiblackness-antiracism/.