“TESTING THE ‘MODEL MINORITY MYTH’”:
A CASE OF WEAK EMPIRICISM
Robert S. Chang
As the legal and political wars rage over affirmative action, the role
played by Asian Americans is increasingly disputed.
Should Asian Ameri-
cans be included in affirmative action programs?
Do such programs harm
Asian Americans because spaces that should be given to them are instead
given to less qualified Blacks and Latinos?
Does Asian American success
indicate that affirmative action polices are unnecessary?
At stake in each of
these questions is the notion that Asian Americans are the “model minor-
The model minority designation often depicts Asian Americans as
achieving success through cultural values and hard work,
as a blueprint for others who want to achieve similar success.
tive attributes of Asian Americans are used to illustrate their ability to over-
come discrimination and to juxtapose them with other racial groups, whose
failure to overcome discrimination is then blamed on a lack of these cultural
traits and an ethic of hard work.
This juxtaposition may then be used to
imply that social policies such as affirmative action, welfare, or reparations
might be wrongly directed.
Critical discussion of the model minority designation is now standard
fare in Asian American jurisprudence.
A number of scholars have cri-
Sturm Distinguished Visiting Professor of Law, University of Denver Sturm College of Law.
fessor of Law and J. Rex Dibble Fellow, Loyola Law School, Loyola Marymount University.
Princeton University; M.A., J.D. Duke University.
Assistant Professor of Law, Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law.
sity of Texas, J.D. American University, LL.M. Columbia University.
Nicholas D. Kristof,
The Model Students
, N.Y. TIMES, May 14, 2006, at 4-13 (link).
Little Asia on the Hill
, N.Y. TIMES, Jan. 7, 2007, at 4A24 (link).
Robert S. Chang,
Toward an Asian American Legal Scholarship:
Critical Race Theory, Post-
Structuralism, and Narrative Space
, 81 CAL. L. REV. 1241, 1260 (1993), 1 ASIAN L.J. 1, 20 (1994).
, YAMAMOTO ET AL., RACE, RIGHTS AND REPARATION:
LAW AND THE JAPANESE
AMERICAN INTERNMENT 267-69 (2001) (discussing and criticizing the model minority myth); Pat Chew,
The “Reticent” Minority and their Paradoxes
, 36 WM. & MARY L. REV. 1
(1994) (same); Frank Wu,
Neither Black nor White:
Asian Americans and Affirmative Action
, 15 B.C.