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Harmful stereotypes about Asian American’s economic wealth fuels racism

Buying into the stereotypes of Asian American economic success feeds into and fuels justification for anti-Asian sentiment, sometimes leading to hate crimes, while simultaneously silencing the experiences of marginalized Asian American communities.

As reported by the Pew Research Center in July 2018, income inequality by major racial group is the highest among Asian Americans and it is only on the rise.

“Asians in the top 10 percent of the income distribution earned 10.7 times as much as Asians in the bottom 10 percent,” the study also found.

While the study itself SCREAMS for disaggregated data, overall the point is clear: the perceived economic success of many Asian Americans does not apply to all Asian Americans.

This partly has to do with the U.S. historical immigration policy throughout the last 250 years as immigration from Asian countries such as China, the Philippines, Vietnam, India, Japan and Korea has increased. Looking at specific demographics in migratory patterns, that were informed by who was allowed over the last 250 years and why these groups were leaving, this changes the landscape of which ethnic groups are associated with which kinds of labor, and affects the kinds of resources they have before, during, and after they arrive. 

The economically fueled fear of Asian Americans taking the jobs of white Americans has sparked several hate crimes throughout the decades, most notably the 1982 murder of Vincent Chin, a Chinese-American industrial draftsman for an automotive supplier. He was killed by two male autoworkers, one of whom had recently been laid off from his job, who attributed their personal woes to be the fault of the Japanese automotive industry which was on the rise globally at the time to the detriment of U.S. suppliers. They mistakenly assumed that Chin was of Japanese heritage.

In 2017, National Public Radio published the Asian Americans Advancing Justice nonprofit launched the first tracker of hate crimes committed against Asian Americans. The article cited these harmful stereotypes as a reason for why there are so many hate crimes against Asian Americans.

Other notable instances include an incident in the 1800s when the Arsonists of the Order of Caucasians, a white supremacy group, set four Chinese men on fire who they blamed for taking jobs away from white workers, according to the NPR article. It also mentions how an Indian man was beaten into a coma in 1987 by a gang called the “Dotbusters” who were also targeting Indian-owned businesses. 

These examples are just a few high profile cases. It does not go into the depth of differences between the groups that the term “Asian” encompasses, either culturally or perceptually. Many problematic stereotypes of Asian Americans being the “model minority” while simultaneously being “forever foreign” are usually reserved more for South Asian and East Asian ethnic and racial groups, while the stereotypes of being “scary,” “uneducated” or “jungle Asian” (a term comedian Ali Wong coined which I hate, meaning that “jungle Asians” are essentially uncultured, inelegant, and trashy) is placed upon more Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander groups.

Whether the term itself holds any merit is so complicated. “Asian American” and “Asian American and Pacific Islander” categories encompass so many different nationalities, cultures, races, and ethnicities together into one massive blanket group. This makes it hard to be specific about the issues that affect different groups within the “Asian American” umbrella.

When people think of “Asian Americans” they are now bound to think of Crazy Rich Asians, a movie with majority East Asian representation (which is good, you can read my review on our website). And that movie also plays directly into this idea that Asians (at least many overseas Singaporean Chinese) have a lot of money. This is probably very true for some, but to speak to the actual context and situation within the U.S. it does a disservice to the reality.

Which is to say that there are high rates of poverty among Asian Americans that are being ignored and brushed aside as reported by the Huffington Post, particularly focused on New York, because of the harmful notions of the “model minority” myth. Racist ideas vindicated off the incorrect assumption that all Asian Americans are making it big only serves to bring further danger to Asian Americans everywhere, but particularly those who are low-income. Over a fourth of the city’s Asian American population lives below the city’s poverty line, which comes out to about the same as the risk Asian American seniors face: almost one in four seniors live in poverty, according to the Huffington Post article.  

All of this is to say that the misled idea that all Asian Americans have attained economic success validates people’s racist, economically motivated justifications for anti-Asian sentiment and even hate crimes while simultaneously silencing the experiences of marginalized Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.