Why Being the Model Minority Hurts Asian Americans


When Asian Americans are described, we often hear words such as “so smart” or “so successful.”  Indeed, Asian Americans are often referred to as the “model minority.”

The reality is that, as a group, broadly defined, Asian Americans largely have been successful.  For example, while less than 30% of the general population has a bachelor’s degree, approximately 50% of Asian Americans do.

But calling a group the “model minority” hurts members of the group and can result in discrimination against individuals outside the group. Here’s why:

1.   If you are a model minority, and “so smart,” you are not likely to get the help that you very well may need.  When we assume individuals are “the model,” they are less likely to get equitable mentoring, support, etc.

2.   If you are a model minority, then there is an implication that you may be stronger than others.  This can result in bias against individuals who are white or members of other minority groups who in fact are stronger when it comes to a particular job opportunity. 

3.   With the model minority myth may come higher expectations.  Being good is not good enough.  We expect more:  why isn’t this person as successful “as they should be?” This may result in bias against Asian Americans because of the inflated expectations.

4.   Make no mistake about it: there still is material bias against Asian Americans.  In some cases, it is unconscious.  In other cases, it is blatantly overt.  If a group is “so successful,” then why do we need to spend time addressing the real bias that keeps individuals within that group from being successful or even more successful?

5.   When individuals talk about Asians as the model minority, there can be a tendency to focus on math and science.  This may hurt Asian Americans when they apply for jobs that require strong interpersonal skills.  One Asian American shared with me an experience of applying for an HR position and being given an application for an engineering position.

6.   The model minority myth also ignores the reality that Asian Americans are a diverse group.   This diversity within the Asian American community is often ignored.

7.   Finally, the model minority myth may result in isolation.  Asian Americans are not part of the white power structure but their concerns sometimes are only modestly addressed in efforts to increase diversity and inclusion. Indeed, at times, Asian Americans may experience outright hostility because of their collective success.


Asian Americans are a critical part of the fabric of our workplaces. If we want them to be “so successful,” then we need to stop saying that they are and deal with the bias that sometimes exists, even within the diversity space.


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Thank you so much for writing this. I will share it with my daughter when she gets home from school. I've seen this bias hurt her and she's in 6th grade. She was born in China, adopted and we live in Colorado. Already, she has experienced these type of comments. Some peers have said that she should be good at math and science since she's Asian. These subjects are the most challenging for her. She excels at creative writing, speech, p.e. and art. Hearing from her peers that she's supposed to be good at certain subjects results in her feeling less-than. She questions why she isn't getting good grades in those two areas. I've told her to question why THEY are making those assumptions about what skills she should and should not have.

Another damaging impact this bias has is reducing her achievements. When she made honor roll, she heard it was because she's Asian and so she's naturally smart. We talked about how much work, studying, time, practice, etc. she gave to do well. She didn't magically get good grades because of her ethnicity. She earned her grades through hours of work. It's frustrating to see my daughter doubt if she should be proud of her accomplishments when her success is attributed to being Asian instead of being attributed to her effort.

These messages start early. I hope my girl can know that being Asian is part of her identity and it has no bearing on the grades she earns. I'm grateful to HR professionals for recognizing the impact of stereotypes. It's articles like these that help shape a better future for our future workers. Thanks again.

While there might be some harms that come from the model minority myth, it's hard to find measurable adverse effects of those alleged harms. For example, demographically, in terms of education and wealth, Asian-Americans look a lot like Jews, Armenians, and Iranians. They're overrepresented in IT firms, in Silicon Valley, and in the medical profession, science, and engineering. Their housing situation is more integrated than other people of color. They are admitted to prestigious colleges and universities at very high rates (though not as high as some AAPI advocates feel they should be). What does hurt Asian-Americans is racism, which is quite different from being considered a model minority.

Marc, I've addressed your exact comments on LinkedIn, and here you are again:

The 'model minority' myth: Why Asian-American poverty goes unseen

Reported Rise in Crime Against Asian Americans

Tech's glass ceiling nearly four times harder for Asian Americans to crack

How Asian American Women Are Forgotten In The Tech Diversity Debate

Vishakha N. Desai: 'Mythical' Rise of Asian Americans in US

3-minute video called #NotTheSame

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