Anti-Asian Discrimination and the Myth of the Model Minority in the COVID-19 Era

Anti-Asian Discrimination and the Myth of the Model Minority in the COVID-19 Era


Certain stereotypes may seem harmless on the surface. For example, the stereotype that members of the Asian minority are somehow superior at math seems like a positive stereotype that should not cause offence. However, this type of stereotype is especially destructive because it feeds into the myth that Asians are somehow a “model minority.” The problem with the model minority myth rose to the surface in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the upsurge in discrimination against members of the Asian minority group. In this report, an investigation of the model minority stereotype is undertaken to highlight the barriers that prevent the full integration of Asians into the American economy. While the myth of the model minority obscures deeply-rooted racial prejudice against Asian immigrants, the increase in violence and harassment against the community during the coronavirus pandemic is indicative of a long history of racial intolerance, which requires governments to introduce more cultural education programs to combat.

            The myth of the model minority is a trope that portrays all Asians as diligent, tame, obedient, organized and positive. The stereotype emerged during the late 1960s when several social scientists highlighted that Asian immigrants had higher household income and educational achievements compared to other racial minorities (Nguyen). The studies made East Asian immigrants appear more prosperous and trustworthy, aligning their success with America’s dominant capitalistic and liberal ideologies. However, the claims are not supported by any empirical data. Over 22 million Asian immigrants live and work in the United States as of 2019, accounting for 7% of the total immigrant population (Nguyen). The model minority stereotype formalizes the categorization of all the Asian immigrants into a single collective experience, concealing historical racial tensions. A comprehensive understanding of the stereotype will contribute to the reduction of systemic bias impeding the development of a shared American identity.

History of the Model Minority Stereotype

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the FBI warned that there would likely be a surge in hate crimes against Asian-Americans. Data from the first months of the pandemic proved the FBI to be correct and that the United States still harboured significant prejudice against Asian-Americans (Chow). For example, the first fifteen racially-motivated attacks as a direct result of the pandemic were all targeted against Asian-Americans (Chow). Furthermore, approximately 1,200 reports of hate against Asians were received by an advocacy group in the initial months of the pandemic (Chow). Asians might have been described as the model minority in American popular culture, but the chaos created by the pandemic quickly revealed the true prejudice against Asian-Americans.

            The hate spewed against Asian-Americans as a result of the pandemic should not be seen as something surprising despite the model minority myth because it is not the first time that Asians have been scapegoated during tense periods in American history. Racial tensions began during the Victorian era when large labour markets grew dependent on the cheap and readily available Asian immigrant workers (Nguyen). U.S. merchants and slave traders engaged in the mass importation of Asians to facilitate the expansion of the west. The increase in the Asian immigrant population incentivized politicians to enact conservative sociopolitical restrictions against the Asian workers. The passed laws impeded their naturalization but did not impact the labour market. An example is the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act.

Racial tensions would only grow during the Post Second World War era. For example, during the Cold War Asian-Americans were often referred to as the “yellow peril” due to United States military campaigns against Communist regimes in South-East Asia (Wu & Nguyen 2). Here, it is possible to see that tension in the United States has the ability to demonstrate the prejudice that is harbored against Asian-Americans. It is critical to understand that American history tracing back to the nineteenth century is filled with examples of Asians being treated as a threat to society when things begin to go wrong or when the society feels threatened (Wu & Nguyen 1).

            Indeed, the model minority myth has been described as a historical tool that allows deep prejudices against Asian-Americans to be buried just under the surface of positive stereotypes (Strochlic). The fact that prejudices are only slightly buried means that when something goes wrong in the nation, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, it is easy for prejudices to quickly surface and rise above the positive stereotypes of Asian-Americans. History should serve as a guide for what will happen when the world begins to face certain challenges. As such, history demonstrates that the model minority myth quickly fades into outright prejudice against Asian-Americans when the United States enters a period of crisis. 

Opponent’s Argument

There is a growing prevalence of underreporting of racial hate crimes against Pacific Islanders communities in the United States. Victims are less likely to report due to language barriers and underlying stereotypes. A 2020 Pew Research Survey indicated that 31% of Asian adults had experienced verbal discrimination since the onset of the coronavirus outbreak (Ruiz et al.). Out of these groups, only 17% had made formal efforts to report the discriminative acts. The assertion that Asian immigrants underreport hate crimes implies members of the minority community do not trust the government. Such a perception is contrary to the surface-level understanding of the model citizen. The Pew Research survey indicates the importance of assessing language barriers when addressing distrust in the government and law enforcement in ethnic minorities.

            Underreporting hate crimes is like a double-edged sword that hides the prevalence of racism against Asian immigrants in the United States and reinforces the model minority stereotype. Little interaction between law enforcement and a minority community makes the latter appear law-abiding and peaceful. The trend implies the peaceful and prosperous integration of immigrants into the American economy. Contrastingly, despite the decrease in reports, anti –Asian sentiment is rising (Ruiz et al.). Asian Americans are more likely to experience racial abuse following the coronavirus pandemic. Racism and xenophobia are bound to influence how Asian immigrants forge their American identity, especially teenagers and young adults.

What Needs to Change

Greater cultural tolerance, including understanding and accepting complex differences and values among Asian Americans, is required to negate the collective categorization. The failure to acknowledge the cultural differences between Asian immigrants impedes their ability to develop positive attachments with America’s shared cultural identity (Negin et al. 79). America can only achieve cultural tolerance by examining how its media, politics, arts and popular culture establish and reinforce White supremacy. Apart from enhancing cultural awareness among the public through education, the criminal justice system has to find a way to safeguard itself from identity politics. The current political system is designed to promote the interests and concerns of Whites at the expense of the larger group’s welfare. The rejection of identity politics will provide leeway to combat neoliberal capitalism, which is critical in enhancing racial equality. Acknowledging diverse experiences or ethnic distinctiveness is a key attribute of a perfect liberal society.

Further investigation into the impact of politics on racial inclusion during times of crisis is required to safeguard minorities from unsupported blame. Scholars should identify more ways to outline how politics underpins racial discrimination in America. An interplay between culture and politics is manipulated to maintain and serve the status quo. While scholars study the political dimension, Asian Americans should focus on increasing their political representation. Understanding the political causes of racism would be of little benefit if there were no credible leaders to effect change. Heightened political representation implies an improved ability to shape laws, public sentiment and government institutions. Improved political representation will help shed light on the plight of Asian immigrants, drawing sharp contrasts to the model minority stereotype. Unlike African Americans and Latinos, Asian Americans have not been too committed to increasing their political participation.


Race relations in the United States have become more complex and controversial since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Asian immigrants are facing an increase in hate crimes due to increased cultural visibility caused by the health crisis. Apart from being associated with the outbreak’s origins, Asian immigrants are also perceived as wealthy and self-reliant. The false perception masks the true experiences of Asian Americans, which include low political representation, bullying, racist abuse and violent attacks. Asian Americans also struggle with access to healthcare services, systemic poverty and high incarceration rates. Conversations centred on demystifying the model minority stereotype could be a good way to address the racial inequalities plaguing the Asian immigrant community. With advancements in digital technologies blurring global political and cultural boundaries, more and more people will be opting to maintain their ethnic distinctiveness. A perfect liberal society will recognize such diverse experiences while providing a model for equal political representation.

Works Cited

Chow, Andrew. “Violence Against Asian Americans Is on the Rise—But It’s Part of a Long History.” Time, 20 May 2020, Accessed 4 June 2022.

Negin, Ghavami et al. “Testing a Model of Minority Identity Achievement, Identity Affirmation, And Psychological Well-Being Among Ethnic Minority and Sexual Minority Individuals.” Cultural Diversity & Ethnic Minority Psychology, vol. 17, no. 1, 2011, pp. 79-88. doi:10.1037/a0022532  

Nguyen, Viet Than. Asian Americans are Still Caught in the Trap of the Model Minority Stereotype, and it Creates Inequality for All. Time, 26 June 2020,, Accessed 4 June 2022.

Ruiz, Neil, Juliana Horowitz and Christine Tamir. Many Black and Asian Americans say they have Experienced discrimination amid the COVID-19 Outbreak. Pew Research Center, 1 July 2020,, Accessed 4 June 2022.

Strochlic, Nina. “America’s Long History of Scapegoating its Asian Citizens.” National Geographic, 2 Sept. 2020, Accessed 4 June 2022.

Wu, Lin and Nhu Nguyen. “From Yellow Peril to Model Minority and Back to Yellow Peril.” AERA Open, vol. 8 no. 1, 2022, pp.1-10.

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