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THE MYTH OF THE MODEL MINORITY AND MENTAL HEALTH

27 Jan

Originally posted in the Asian American Press on 09 JANUARY 2012

Kim S. Hwang, PsyD AAP COLUMNIST

By KIM HWANG
AAP staff columnist

ST. PAUL (Dec. 29, 2011) — What happens when people perceive and attribute success, unilaterally based on being Asian?

The stereotype of the, “Model Minority,” suggests that Asians are hard workers, conscientious, highly intellectual, obsessed with perfection, plagued with the trait of internal drive, academically superior, on automatic pilot and competitive at all costs. These perceived attributes of Asians too often, knowingly or unknowingly turn into attributional errors and come at a high emotional and psychological price tag.

Attributional errors occur when the traits of one person from a specific ethnic or racial group are generalized to the whole group. Attributional errors leave little room for others who are in the group to deviate without being over pathologized.

Sometimes, the myth of the, “Model Minority,” emulates what some Western Europeans may deem as attractive, positive and necessary qualities that lead to inevitable success. However, traits or Asian stereotypes can also feel like an unreasonable life sentence that serves over generalize and marginalize Asians.

Inevitably, the stereotype implies that no matter what social, biological or psychological stressors that are encountered, Asians will inevitably transcend and prevail beyond what is too often humanly possible.

Recently, a White man in his thirties stated, “What do you mean you have stress, you have yoga?” He further joked, “I don’t mean it in a bad way.”

This suggestion, attributing yoga to Asians and that yoga completely aborts distress is a perfect stereotype that many Asians encounter daily. Although it was said in jest, with no harm intended, stereotypic statements like this glorifies and sensationalizes one way that Asians are viewed as the, “Model Minorities.”

It insinuates that Eastern activities are a panacea for ills that come our way. The construct of the, “Model Minority,” is insidious and internalized at unconscious levels. It starts with one idea and is applied to everyone.

The statement in and of itself all joking aside, implied that even though Asians experience the everyday stress of most humans, given our unending access to yoga or our ability to participate in mindfulness activities, we should feel emotionally balanced despite distress encountered.

Consequently, statements that reflect the idea that Asians are, “Model Minorities,” are too often absorbed by the Western human psyche. This creates an altruistic unattainable image of Asians, which inevitably leads to disappointment.

Some Whites who consider themselves culturally or racially sensitive likely don’t intend to create harm by espousing ignorant stereotypes. In fact, the dominant White culture has done such a perfect job of projecting, “Model Minority,” expectations onto Asians, that most people hold this myth as a truth, even many Asians.

However, a belief that yoga or any other mindfulness practice is intuitive to Asians is a myth. While mindfulness practices may work to reduce the impact of everyday stress, the assumption that Asians will ultimately prevail is a colossal burden of expectation that is simply unachievable.

Truth be told, there is no one-way to live. The term, “Model,” is relative to each individual. Asians, like any other group of people fail on any given day and raise to occasional high expectations the next.

As we head into the New Year of 2012, let’s keep in mind that while we may desire a, “Model,” from which to emulate positive mental health decisions, success cannot be isolated to one’s ethnic groups’ traits. This type of fragmented view of race overshadows the modern day realities that Asians are just as much apart of the, “Rat Race,” as every other race.

Kim S. Hwang, PsyD is a Clinical Psychologist and Professor with Master’s Degrees in Education and Clinical Psychology. He can be reached at ksunsook@aol.com.

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