How the Asian “Model Minority Myth” Served US Imperialism


By Junyoung Veronica Kim (February 10, 2016)

I’ve been talking about this for a while now: anti-Asian racism and violence that is trivialized, marginalized, and disavowed by the racist logic (although it precisely disavows its own racism) that there is “no racism against Asians because they are rich.” Yet oddly (or not so oddly) this “model minority myth” is combined with Orientalist discourses on the Yellow Peril, the inscrutable, submissive Asian etc.

“However, this is only one of several incidents where Asian Americans have been targeted in part because of their race under the presumption that they will have valuables worth stealing: late last year, four people were arrested and charged in a serial home invasion spree targeting Indian American families in New Jersey.

Taken together, these attacks highlights the deadly consequences of racist stereotyping in America: the Model Minority Myth that casts the Asian American as wealthy, subservient, dehumanized, and physically vulnerable, is no “positive” stereotype (as some might assert). It, like any stereotype, has damaging and sometimes fatal consequence; and, no one, not even members of non-White communities are immune to the internalization of the Myth.”

I also talk about how the “model minority myth” was born on the cusp of the Japanese internment camps, as a way to domestically “assimilate” Asian Americans and erase the history of anti-Asian state violence and internationally to set Japan as a model nation during the Cold War to gain US hegemony in the Pacific.

As many scholars of Japanese studies have pointed out including Takashi Fujitani and Naoki Sakai, the Japanese rebuilding of infrastructure during the post-War period was largely backed by the US with the motive of securing Japan as a Cold War ally and as a stronghold to expand US hegemony in the region (against especially communist China).

It is no accident that contrary to the case of post-war Germany, the Japanese leaders — including the Japanese emperor (in whose name all acts of war were committed) — were tacitly forgiven by Western forces including the US despite the fact that the US was completely aware of Japanese war crimes (i.e. “comfort” women, human guinea pigs etc.) as early as 1945, the year the war ended. Contrary to the view that Japan went from a militaristic racist nation to a democratic one, the same leaders and statesmen were kept in power on purpose. The US preferred the old leaders (despite their imperialist/militaristic doctrine) to the section of the population who had opposed the War and the Meiji government, since most of them were Socialists or Communists.

Also immediately with the end of the War, Japan massively deported its colonial citizens and took away Japanese citizenship of their previous colonial subjects, thereby forcing countless peoples into dire situations (see Leo Ching’s “Becoming Japanese” for the case of Taiwanese soldiers who fought for Japan during WWII). For instance, ethnic Koreans who were victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were unable to receive medical treatment. These policies created many ethnic Koreans/ Korean-Japanese/ zainichi with no country (akin to the case of Palestinians today).

The post-war Japanese government also passed laws that subjugated ethnic Koreans (not unlike US Jim Crow laws) and created an underclass or undercaste akin to the untouchable (Burakumin). Ethnic Koreans were not allowed to go to Japanese public schools; until the 1990s they were still forced to “reveal” their ethnic identity in public and legal situations (i.e. job applications), which resulted in systemic discrimination, oppression, and violence. Ironically, Japan was the greatest benefactor of the Korean War. The US, in a very explicit way, created a war economy for Japan.

Moreover, the US — through propaganda (including films which starred Japanese American actors and explicitly portrayed a sympathetic Japan)– actively transformed the image of Japan from war-enemy to “snow country.” Anti-Japanese feelings in the US did not disappear due to Japan’s transformation into a “democratic” nation, but rather due to its transformation into a US neo-colony (see Naoki Sakai’s “Imperial Nationalism and the Comparative Perspective”). The grand narrative of Japan’s transformation itself is part and parcel of US’s refashioning of Japan’s image (see Tak Fujitani’s “Race for Empire”).

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