Last Thursday, Ricebowl hosted “Asian Americans as the Model Minority,” a talk by assistant professor of anthropology Christine Folch. Approximately 150 students filled the Blanchard 339 lecture hall to hear her speak about the tensions related to the topic.
Folch, a Latin American, began by saying she was honored to be speaking yet recognized her limits, since she is not Asian or Asian American. She then collected a list of nearly 75 modifiers from the audience describing what came to mind at the words “model minority.”
The idea of a model minority is troubling, Folch said. “I don’t think it’s a compliment. I think it’s a trap spiritually.” She noted that most of the words people connected to the term had to do with Asian-Americans — a very narrow view of Asian-Americans consisting of recent immigrants from East Asia who fit specific stereotypes. Folch said that holds a lot of pressure over Asian Americans.
Folch connected various ideas surrounding a model minority and hashed them out. She returned to the fact that being called a model minority is not a compliment because it compares the minority to the “majority,” whom the audience verbally recognized to be white people. This Western view says that despite how many people live in all of Asia, they are still not considered a majority, but the closer they get to “whiteness,” the more “model” they are. Folch called this an “obvious ambivalence towards whiteness.”
Folch clarified that “non-white people like white people,” explaining that when hearing stories of pain from people of minority races or ethnicities, the majority Whites should hear, “I am sharing my vulnerability with you. Clearly I like you because I want things to be better, and I’m bringing you in.”
In terms of pain, the idea of a model minority leaves countless questions out of the picture. For example, it ignores the history between South Korea and Japan. Folch also addressed “yellow fever,” the sexualization of Asian females, and the desexualization of Asian males. She said this carries across other races as well and is problematic and systemic. She called it out as sin. Folch said it “must stop.” Being straightforward with students from all backgrounds, she offered several “great opportunit(ies) to repent” of various sins.
Folch answered anonymously-texted questions from the audience and then concluded with several thoughts. “Engage in your heritage,” she said. She encouraged minority students to advocate for their communities and for other minority communities, show solidarity and speak out at inappropriate speech. Finally, Folch concluded, “Your origins are awesome, and our diversity is our strength and our honor.”