#ModelMinorityMutiny: What This Hashtag Means and Why it’s Trending

The term “model minority” was established back in 1966 in The New York Times as a way for sociologist William Petersen to describe the Asian American community. According to Peterson, through hard work and dedication, the Asian American community reached success in the United States despite the odds against ethnic minorities. Sounds like a good compliment, right? Well a closer look may have you thinking otherwise.

Many scholars believe that the “model minority myth” was created for very specific reasons. First, the term was created during the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement and many believe this term was an effort to show the African American community (who was fighting for equal rights) that success was possible if one simply cooperates peacefully. Secondly, the term encouraged Asian Americans to stay out of the Civil Rights Movement and remain “peaceful” if they wanted to keep the model minority title. At the time, the Asian American community had less of a history of political activism in fighting racism. Third, Petersen claimed Asian American values prevented them from becoming a “problem minority.” Needless to say, this sought to divide the minorities and create animosity.

According to ModelMinority.com, contrary to the suggested praise that the stereotype presents,  the “[model minority] thesis not only served to silence Asian American claims for redress from continuing racial discrimination, but often exaggerated and recast Asian American success stories as foreign threats.” It served as a mechanism of “divide and conquer” amongst ethnic groups in the US.

Recently, many from the Asian Pacific Islander community challenged the model minority myth as they rallied together to show their solidarity with the African American community after the Michael Brown & Eric Garner verdicts. Marches for the “Black Lives Matter” movement were conducted on a national scale in the United States, and has even reached as far as South Korea. Fittingly, their efforts can be seen trending on Twitter under the hashtag “ModelMinorityMutiny.”

Rally in Queens, NY:

Some even draw on the inspiration of Yuri Kochiyama. Letting her story serve as a reminder that the African American struggle is not only theirs, but it is a multi-racial struggle.

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The model minority mutiny doesn’t just stop with the marches and rallies. The group ChangeLab is spearheading a project called “Bringing the Model Minority Mutiny Home.” The project allows people to share their “model minority” experiences, discuss how to overcome it  and provide resources for each other.


How Jeremy Lin’s “I Can’t Breathe” Shirt Challenges The Model Minority Myth


On December 9th 2014, the Los Angeles Lakers made headlines after Kobe Bryant arranged for the entire team (with the exception of Robert Sacre) to wear black shirts emblazoned with the statement “I Can’t Breathe” on them. “I Can’t Breathe,”  which are the last words Eric Garner uttered as he was placed in a lethal chokehold by a police officer on July 17th 2014, have taken on a life of its own. In fact, this statement has become the rallying cry for demonstrations across the country protesting the systemic police brutality and targeted racism that have led to deaths of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown and many other Black Americans in the United States, past and present.

As Eric Freeman of Yahoo’s Ball Don’t Lie column points out, Jeremy Lin is the first non black player of the NBA to publicly show solidarity for the protests against targeted police brutality towards Black Americans. In addition to supporting the protests against police brutality, Lin’s participation in this protest is a direct attack on the model minority myth.

As Ellen D. Wu wrote in her excellent LA Times Op-Ed, the model minority myth defines Asians as “domestic exemplars, upwardly mobile and politically docile”. Because of the stereotypes perpetuated by the model minority myth, Asian Americans are used as juxtaposition against the Black American and Latino American communities. In doing so, the Asian Americans who can’t be squeezed into the model minority myth’s parameters are ignored, such as the Southeast Asian American communities that have the highest high school dropout and poverty rates  in the United States.


During the era of peak Linsanity, Jeremy Lin was being shoved into narratives where he was both shattering the model minority myth, while also the prime example of the model minority myth. On one hand, Jeremy Lin excelled at a “masculine” sport that Asian men are traditionally not “expected” to partake in (yeah, because that makes sense). And on the other hand, Jeremy Lin’s Harvard background, his humility and Christian faith were all heavily emphasized in media portrayals of him at the time. In the end, many Asian Americans looked up to Jeremy Lin as a role model to emulate.

Even more than dunking a basketball or graduating Harvard, Jeremy Lin showed true character on December 9th 2014. By standing in solidarity with his teammates and the Black American community, Jeremy Lin demonstrates empathy, courage and defiance against racism and injustice. Along with the rest of his teammates (sans one), The Lakers are ensuring that the NBA’s audience will not forget about what’s going on in the world outside of basketball. They are keeping the conversation going and making sure that Eric Garner’s (and any other black man’s death at the hands of the police) will not be forgotten.

Now that is role model behavior worth emulating.