The image of the hard working Asian American is one stuck in all of our minds, it’s in stark contrast to the unruly black youth, the hood rat, the one that’s also stuck in our minds whether we like it or not.
Asians are educated, that’s hammered home so much. And they don’t cause trouble! That’s why the USA as a whole is more accepting of them than black folks, right?
The fact is stereotypes infiltrate all layers of society, negative black stereotypes affect black folks as much as anyone else. That doesn’t mean they are true.
Once upon a time, the USA hated Asian Americans, they were seen as lazy and dangerous. THEN, for political reasons, some in the establishment fought to change that perception, it was about war and allies.
Sounds crazy right?
Can you tell us a little bit about the question that got you started on this book?
WU: America in general has had very limited ways of thinking about Asian Americans. There are very few ways in which we exist in the popular imagination. In the mid- to late-19th century, all the way through the late 1940s and 1950s, Asians were thought of as “brown hordes” or as the “yellow peril.” There was the sinister, weird, “Fu Manchu” stereotype.
Yet, by the middle of the 1960s, Asian Americans had undergone this really arresting racial makeover. Political leaders, journalists, social scientists — all these people in the public eye — seemed to suddenly be praising Asian Americans as so-called model minorities.
I thought that might be a very interesting question to try to unravel.
That was an excerpt from a WP article interview with author and historian Ellen Wu about in her book, “The Color of Success”.
The article goes onto say:
The model minority narrative may have started with Asian Americans, but it was quickly co-opted by white politicians who saw it as a tool to win allies in the Cold War. Discrimination was not a good look on the international stage. Embracing Asian Americans “provided a powerful means for the United States to proclaim itself a racial democracy and thereby credentialed to assume the leadership of the free world,” Wu writes. Stories about Asian American success were turned into propaganda.
By the 1960s, anxieties about the civil right movement caused white Americans to further invest in positive portrayals of Asian Americans. The image of the hard-working Asian became an extremely convenient way to deny the demands of African Americans. As Wu describes in her book, both liberal and conservative politicians pumped up the image of Asian Americans as a way to shift the blame for black poverty. If Asians could find success within the system, politicians asked, why couldn’t African Americans?
“The insinuation was that hard work along with unwavering faith in the government and liberal democracy as opposed to political protest were the keys to overcoming racial barriers as well as achieving full citizenship,” she writes.
This is very interesting indeed and very sad to track how much perception and stereotypes are perpetuated by politics (of course it’s obvious but good to know the solid history). You can learn more in Wu’s book “The Color of Success” (available on Amazon here) and in the article on WP here.