The Remodel Minority Series: An Interview with Dr. Sarah-SoonLing Blackburn (Part 3)

This virtual live interview was conducted on December 10, 2022, by Sahasra Tummala and Sreeja Surisetti with Dr. Sarah-SoonLing Blackburn and transcribed by Sreeja Surisetti.

Sreeja Surisetti: How can the targeted community debunk or combat the model minority myth?

I think that the burden should not always be on the targeted community. We need people from every corner saying that this is not true and factually and historically inaccurate. Yes, it might look true because of some ideas that support that Asians are doing well, and it’s not just some inherent goodness that one group has and not another. But of course, as people form targeted communities, there’s a lot that we can do too.

One is doing exactly what you’re doing here. Bringing people together, raising awareness, and equipping ourselves with the language to talk about it. I know I threw a lot of history at you in just a few minutes, but I’m sure that you probably didn’t learn a lot of that history in school. We can’t talk about why it’s hurtful and harmful unless we understand the backstory. Otherwise, people can choose to believe it or not believe it. So, we need to equip ourselves with a factual understanding of what’s happening in our communities.

The second thing is when you see it happening, say something. It can be very uncomfortable, but it’s really important to say, “Hey, do you actually know the history of that group?” or “Wow, it surprises me to hear you say that,” if you hear an Asian joke, for example. A lot of times, people who are mindful of prejudice and try to be inclusive don’t recognize that a positive stereotype is still a harmful stereotype.

Someone may think this stereotype is not a bad thing, but as we’ve talked about, there are many implications of this comment, including serious negative lasting effects. That burden shouldn’t always be on the individuals. If you have a collective of people interested in this and raising awareness just like you, it gives a feeling of having each other’s back. When someone sees it happening, join in your voice with the whole collective to raise awareness and understanding.

I’m so proud every time I see young people like you all taking on this work because that matters. That’s the only way it’s going to change. The last thing we can all do to push back is to be as brilliant as we are in all the ways possible. If you are that superstar straight-A chemistry student, own it. Love it. Be that person. If you want to draw comics all day and that’s your passion, do that to the best of your ability, as well. We need to show the breadth of brilliance, the breadth of the diversity that we hold, and that’s another way we start to contract and shift the understanding of our groups.

Sahasra Tummala: Does social media have a significant role in raising awareness of the model minority myth?

Definitely. For example, my stepdaughter is 15, and like most 15-year-olds, she is on TikTok quite a bit, and I noticed that she learns so much about different groups because she follows people that actually hold those identities, and that is one of the most significant powers of social media. It removes some of the gatekeepers of knowledge. It’s not just coming from a textbook company or a figurehead who has been labeled as an expert academic. Instead, social media truly democratizes knowledge and allows young people to speak about their experiences and perspectives. That is a huge power social media holds because you are sharing your own truth, perspective, and understanding, and that has a lot more power to engage people than having it be filtered through so many layers of somebody else’s interpretation of what this experience may be like.