The imminent “model minority” smackdown.

Jae Ran Kim has referred to Asian adoptees as “the model minority of the model minority”; this came up in an item discussing the arrival of a French Korean adoptee to the government ministerial level in that country [link].

We’ve also discussed the “glass ceiling” which might be described as racism suffered out of the “ignorance” of not knowing that we are the “new and improved” version of [perhaps formerly troublesome] minorities [link].

Now I’m coming back to ask out loud if there isn’t—for those of us who determinedly decide to not fit this “model minority” assignation—a punishment, a “smackdown” of sorts?

I ask this mostly as a warning perhaps, in light of a recent to-do concerning gentrification in New York City, in which Spike Lee refers to white gentrifiers as suffering from “Christopher Columbus Syndrome” [link]. When pushed, gentrifiers in many of New York’s black neighborhoods exclaimed the “saving nature” of their presence, and Spike Lee caught hell for giving voice to this “uncomfortable truth”.

We’ve discussed backlash previously in terms of the adoption argument [link] [link], and [link].

The “flip side” of the smackdown is perhaps seen in the accolades given to those who “toe the line”; who actively deny their culture and ethnicity and attempt to assimilate. Most recently this has been discussed in terms of the book written by “Tiger Mother” Amy Chau (perhaps deserving her own item?) The Triple Package [link]. Here is the “pat on the head” for doing right.

And for doing wrong, I would ask: What is the “dominant culture” capable of saying/doing when the “perfected integration” of adoption basically fails? What does it mean when adoptee culture actively seeks to avoid this perception? Have you seen signs of this, or have you suffered for this?

4 thoughts on “The imminent “model minority” smackdown.

  1. Don’t know if I understood this correctly. Based on my read, here’s what I would say:

    I felt the greatest sense of pressure to conform in my family and in my community by virtue of the incongruity I felt, and thus, attempted to hide with good grades, straight hair, and a “happy” smile. It wasn’t until I began to unravel the legacy of my adoptee identity that I began to feel resistance from my family. That’s also when I found my voice. As a non-Asian adoptee, I suspect that the pressure is similar (but not the same) – it may just not be coupled with the stereotype of “model minority”. As someone who has a brown body and is female-identified, I’ve been exoticized in my family, and in many ways because of that, the bar has always been set pretty low (in both hurtful and harmful ways). Because of the general privilege and lack of awareness of this by my adoptive family it is interesting to see when points of resistance do come up, and how. Like somehow, developing into a fully-actualized adult (with opinions and a cultural identity) threatens my belonging to the family. I can’t have both and win.

  2. No correct/incorrect; I leave things to be interpreted at will…and I know I’m not often really clear!

    What you are saying resonates along the lines of “perpetual children” discussions we’ve had previously; and maybe that’s another way to look at it? But you are perhaps implying limits “made-known” only when you reach them, and this implies in turn “limits you were not aware of”, hidden behind “allowance”….correct me if I’m misstating anything.

    These limits (for any of us, for all of us) bother me more and more, I think perhaps because one of the limits seems to be for me time, in the sense of “okay, you’ve had your phase, now come back to your senses”. This can be meant in the most heartfelt way, in a way which is absolutely empathetic and sympathetic, and it still irks….

    And perhaps because adoptees here are starting to “understand” that our poking around, organizing, and the like are not welcome—even from the “government”—I was thinking more along lines of outright silencing of adoptees, whatever form that might take.

  3. “Outright silencing of adoptees…” Interesting. One thing in my life has been identifying with my adoptive parents’ cultures (English and German). I’ve been deeply connected with English literature and was a fan of some contemporary English authors…(not now contemporary: C.S. Lewis, Tolkein, and Owen Barfield (so-called Inklings). Barfield connected me with some German culture through Goethe and the later Rudolf Steiner. Steiner pointed to the advanced culture of Vienna of the late 19th century, Nietzsche and the occult movements of the early twentieth century. Barfield set me at odds with some of my (white) literary friends – clergy – and Steiner set me beyond the pale for others. My parents did not like the occultism and were puzzled by it.

    For myself (a chemist by trade at that time) – the spiritual science of Steiner was extremely interesting. Then I became an Episcopal priest and was working with a group called Leadership Academy for New Directions (a name I thought indicated progressiveness) – and wanted to expound on the significance of Steiner’s thought for me. My mentor steered me away from it and directed my paper to something completely different. Two years later it dawned on me what he was doing: he did not want me to talk about Steiner. I was certainly being silenced about what I wanted to bring forward.

    It may be that if you take a culture to its creative limits – you find the places that conventional culture is uncomfortable with – but they are the places where you can begin to make reconnections and new connections with personally vital material – without feeling the loss of personal agency.

    • Hi Mark:

      I feel I’m missing a reference. While steering you away from speaking about Steiner clearly enough can be connected to silencing, I don’t know how it connects to silence minorities? (I assume you aren’t saying it is a silence of adoptees, since that probably wasn’t politicized for you at the time?)

      Thanks in advance for clueing me in.


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