The Remodel Minority Series: The Origins of the Model Minority Myth

First coined by sociologist William Petersen in 1966 in a New York Times article, the term “model minority” has a history rooted in World War II and the Cold War. Before World War II, Asian immigrants were not very much welcomed into the United States, as shown by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. As states, “Although the Chinese composed only 0.002 percent of the nation’s population, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act to placate worker demands and assuage concerns about maintaining white ‘racial purity.'” However, the game changed when World War II came into play, where having China as an ally could be a significant card.

Thus, in an effort to please China, Congress repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and started establishing rhetoric depicting Chinese Americans as “good” in the 1940s while forcefully relocating thousands of Japanese Americans to internment camps in retort to the Attack on Pearl Harbor. However, with the end of World War II, as per Densho, a nonprofit organization committed to the Japanese American legacy, Japanese Americans were finally released from internment camps with instructions to “assimilate into white society,” using the example of the patriotic and brave Japanese American 42nd Infantry Regiment to aid their rehabilitation.

But just a year after the last Japanese internment camp closed in 1946, the Cold War began. And as educator Dr. Sarah-SoonLing Blackburn shared with us during our virtual live interview, this is when the model minority myth would become a ploy to disguise racism. The Soviet Union, which was against the United States during the Cold War, quickly pointed out how the US should not be talking so much about democracy and freedom, considering their racist and discriminatory systems, which have victimized African Americans. Their response? Well, it was to highlight the success of Chinese and Japanese Americans and excuse the role of racism in the struggles of all marginalized communities, from Asian Americans to African Americans to Hispanic Americans.

Politicians and the media would label Asian Americans as the model minority in contrast to African Americans. William Petersen even referred to African Americans as “problem minorities” while lauding Asian Americans for having “risen above even prejudiced criticism … by their own almost totally unaided effort.” Thus, the opinion that the problem was of African Americans, not the impacts of institutionalized systems like slavery, would be propagated, using Asian Americans as evidence for arguments supporting the impossibility of racism to disable a marginalized community from attaining success in the United States.

The reality of Asian Americans, seen as compliant, law-abiding citizens, was used to oppose other marginalized communities fighting for their voices and for their struggles seeded in racism to be recognized. Though Asian Americans faced racism via immigration laws, internment camps, and more, that had long been forgotten by the government, which needed an excuse to invalidate the effects of institutional racism and shift the blame of the struggles of marginalized communities towards matters like values, culture, and family structure. And if it meant feeding on and manipulating the history of Asian Americans, they would do just that, driving a wedge between marginalized communities and being purposefully blind to how marginalized communities in the United States faced many different forms of racism at different times of different capacities.

Over the years, the model minority myth would continue to be perpetuated by immigration policies favoring educated Asian Americans to enter the United States to pursue specialized jobs in success-associated fields, flawed representations in the media, and Asian Americans becoming subject to the expectations and pressure of the model minority myth. As noted by Densho, the model minority myth still holds much relevancy today, as Hmong American officer Tou Thau’s actions, which symbolized “Asian American complicity in anti-Black violence,” called for Asians to stand with African Americans against white supremacy in 2020. And in 2021, the attacks on Asian Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic brought forth conversations on how “the violence shows just how little protection the model minority myth truly provides.”

The model minority myth continues to impact marginalized communities, as demonstrated in the articles of the Remodel Minority series. Thank you for reading this article, and stay tuned for further articles regarding the model minority myth <3

Works Cited

“Inventing the ‘Model Minority’: A Critical Timeline and Reading List.” Densho, Densho, 15 Dec. 2021,

“The Remodel Minority Series: An Interview with Dr. Sarah-SoonLing Blackburn (Part 2).” Voice of Frisco, Voice of Frisco, 7 Jan. 2023, Staff. “ Chinese Exclusion Act.”, A&E Television Networks, 24 Aug. 2018,

Pettersen, William. “Success Story, Japanese-American Style; Success Story, Japanese-American Style.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 9 Jan. 1966,

Wang, Frances Kai-Hwa. “ 50 Years Later, Challenging the ‘Model Minority Myth’ Through #ReModelMinority.”, NBCUniversal News Group, 11 Jan. 2016,