Join 3,382 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


A Model AskMetafilter Post
January 27, 2013 11:27 AM   Subscribe

When did people stop using the term "model minority"?

During my high school years, these being the mid-to-late 1980s, it was not uncommon to hear the term "model minority" usually in reference to East Asians. The expression is, of course, problematic for quite a few reasons that I don't think I need to elaborate on here. It's been a long time since I've heard that phrase or seen it in print so I'm going to assume that it's dropped out of common usage. (In American English, at least.)

So when did people stop using the term?

Many thanks in advance.
posted by jason's_planet to Society & Culture (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I was born in 1985 and I've never once heard this.
posted by DoubleLune at 11:30 AM on January 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Where were you living in high school?

I graduated 1993. I did my last two years in England, before that I was in high school in Mississippi and I never heard "model minority" either. Perhaps it's a regionalism or you had a wacky teacher. I heard lots of other less-than-auspicious usages for minorities but not that one.
posted by amanda at 11:33 AM on January 27, 2013


Where were you living in high school?

The Northeast of the USA.
posted by jason's_planet at 11:36 AM on January 27, 2013


I'm half-asian, I used to hear "model minority" alot, and then it fell out of favor. If you have never heard this phrase, you're probably not the best person to answer this question.
posted by 23skidoo at 11:36 AM on January 27, 2013 [10 favorites]


I'm half-asian, I used to hear "model minority" alot, and then it fell out of favor.

Do you remember when?
posted by jason's_planet at 11:37 AM on January 27, 2013


People still use this, just not as publicly (thank goodness). It's more used behind the scenes in schools and in academic papers about education than in common vernacular. I've read papers on education from one to two years ago and they were using the term both in positive and negative lights. I think, though, that it started disappearing officially in the early 2000s. I went to school in California from 1993-2010 and I heard it frequently.

I'd wager that Americans who haven't heard the term before likely lived in areas that are predominantly white and/or privileged.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 11:38 AM on January 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


I have only ever heard this expression in a negative sense - as an example of a seemingly positive but ultimately pernicious stereotype.
posted by atrazine at 11:38 AM on January 27, 2013 [10 favorites]


Born in 89 and I've definitely heard it (east coast). Once in a while someone will use the term in an ironic ("ironic") way. I've heard it all the way up to 2008/2009 but not very often. I think it used to be more common in the 90s and slowly fell out of use. I used to read a lot of Asian American blogs/websites and there were more than a few entries about this term. I'd like to think that public awareness, discussion/blogging helped to stop the widespread use of the term but who knows.
posted by driedmango at 11:42 AM on January 27, 2013


Definitely still used in academic papers, but it looks like more as a comment on stereotypes.
posted by supercres at 11:44 AM on January 27, 2013


I'm half-Asian-American, and the term was definitely in use in the Bay Area when I was growing up (as something to live up to in the '80s, with more acknowledgement of the sorts of problems this expectation created in the '90s). I moved to New England in the late '90s, and since then, it's not something that comes up in casual conversation; when I've heard "model minority" in recent years, it's been either in social justice/sociology readings, or as a sarcasm-laden identifier among fellow Asian-Americans and hapas.
posted by Pandora Kouti at 11:44 AM on January 27, 2013


Wikipedia says the the term was coined in 1966, in an NYT editorial. Google's ngram usage chart agrees. The term doesn't fall out of use in the general English language books (probably for the reason that supercres suggests?), but interestingly it falls out of English fiction quite rapidly after the mid-1990s.
posted by Emera Gratia at 11:47 AM on January 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was born in '81 and have only ever heard the term used in explanations of why it's a problematic term.

Then again, I mostly grew up in a part of the US that, until recently, didn't have a significant Asian community, and also a part of the US that, in the 80's and 90's, was still reeling from the aftermath of Jim Crow and the civil rights movement. People who didn't use the N word were considered refreshingly PC and non-racist.
posted by Sara C. at 11:54 AM on January 27, 2013


I was born in 1983, grew up in NJ, and used to hear the term used quite a bit in reference to both Asian and Jewish populations. Again, no so much anymore, except for in analyzing why the term is problematic (ie, "model minority" stereotypes are just as hurtful and damaging as other forms of racism).
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:58 AM on January 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


My high school years were the same as yours, and I was in Houston. We have lots of minorities, East Asian and otherwise. Today's the first I've ever heard of this term, although I guess the concept is not unknown to me.
posted by Houstonian at 12:00 PM on January 27, 2013


I still hear it being used, although not as frequently. I went to high school in LA, and college at UC Berkeley, and I participated in lots of discussions about diversity in school/affirmative action/etc..

In the context of the UC system, there was plenty of discussion about diversity and the ways that Asians/Asian-Americans in the UC system complicated questions of diversity, including discussion of the idea of a "model minority". I'm still in an academic setting (grad school in Atlanta), and I occasionally still hear the term, although usually used in a meta kind of way, with the user of the word critiquing the concept while referring to it.

For me personally, the drop in usage from when I was in college (2002-2006) to when I started grad school (2008) was probably more about shifting from California to the South, and so I wouldn't necessarily attribute it to any broader trends.
posted by andoatnp at 12:23 PM on January 27, 2013


I'm Asian, born in '87, and I've actually never heard this used in speech. I've mainly seen it used on the internet in a negative sense to refer to stereotyping of Asian-Americans.
posted by pravit at 1:04 PM on January 27, 2013


I suspect that the term has mostly been used on the west coast of the US; most other areas of the US didn't have very large Asian populations prior to that term being widely understood as problematic.

My grandparents (one is originally from California, the other one is an academic from Washington state; both are white and have lived in Louisiana for 50+ years) use the term unironically. However, they are the sort of people who don't entirely get why I object to them calling my partner a Chinaman, so...yeah. I think I may have heard the term a few times in elementary/middle school in a small midwestern city during some discussions about statewide standardized testing and No Child Left Behind (so 1990's-early 2000's).

Otherwise, I've only heard it used ironically or in discussions of why it's a problematic term.
posted by lemonadeheretic at 1:12 PM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I heard the term before. Maybe in 2001-2005. Can't remember the context - probably academic as I was in college at this time. This would be in New York.

I haven't heard the term in ages and completely forgot about it until this question. I've never heard it in everyday speech, only to illustrate issues with stereotypes/racism.
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 1:14 PM on January 27, 2013


I too have only ever heard this term in an academic context, generally when discussing the ways in which stereotyping can be harmful even when the stereotypes themselves are generally perceived as positive, or when discussing things like cultural assimilation and the strategies that immigrant communities employ in attempting to become successful in unfamiliar, often hostile, host cultures.
posted by Scientist at 1:25 PM on January 27, 2013


definitely used to describe me last night at a party. earnestly, too. (west coast, mid-20s)
posted by raihan_ at 2:20 PM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I still come across this phrase regularly in the media and would not have known it had fallen out of favour had this thread not existed.
posted by modernnomad at 2:41 PM on January 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


In the context of the UC system, there was plenty of discussion about diversity and the ways that Asians/Asian-Americans in the UC system complicated questions of diversity, including discussion of the idea of a "model minority".

It seems worth noting that the UC system/culture has a way of excluding Asians when talking about minorities, namely by talking about "underrepresented minorities". (The NSF does too, though they talk about "underrepresented groups" and include women and people with disabilities.) Sometimes "underrepresented minorities" is the precise statement, but I think sometimes it can function like "model minority".
posted by hoyland at 4:42 PM on January 27, 2013


In the context of the UC system, there was plenty of discussion about diversity and the ways that Asians/Asian-Americans in the UC system complicated questions of diversity, including discussion of the idea of a "model minority".

Yeah, it was particularly prevalent in Berkeley in the mid-to-late '90s (although already generally qualified as "the myth of the model minority," which somehow wasn't used as a book title until 2008). I vaguely remember seeing it used in mainstream publications like Time around then too.

But with regard to your general question, I'd guess people stopped using it when Ronald Takaki stopped being a cultural force (sad to say).
posted by psoas at 5:37 PM on January 27, 2013


I grew up in NY (graduated HS in 1995) and heard it a lot throughout HS, college, and into grad school. I study race in the US, though, so I probably skew towards hearing these types of phrases more than most. By the time I was in grad school (1999-2005, in CA), the conversation around "model minorities" was about the problematic nature of the concept, about the damage it had done to Asian American racial politics and stereotypes specifically, and about how it was a concept used to shame/blame other minority groups rather than addressing core questions of poverty, education, etc., and the cultural specificity of individual racisms. I haven't heard the phrase in at least 5 years, maybe more like 10 if you exclude academic conversations or specialized media.
posted by obliquicity at 7:29 PM on January 27, 2013


I'm 37 and live on the west coast. I'm definitely familiar with the concept of what you're talking about, but I've never heard that term.
posted by peep at 10:14 AM on January 28, 2013


33, South Asian (Indian), grew up on the East Coast, have never heard it used colloquially, only ever in discussions of race with some academic basis. I have definitely been addressed in terms of being one and I suspect that those people would have used the term if they'd known it, but anecdotally I can't recall a situation like raihan_'s. So I guess I'd say that in my experience, people never really stopped using it, but it has pretty much only been used to describe a pattern of racial treatment in negative terms and not a direct address (e.g. "Oh, you're such a model minority").
posted by Errant at 6:26 PM on January 28, 2013


OK.

I'm getting the sense that the expression kind of peaked in the mid-to-late nineties and went downhill from there, that it persists mainly in ironic usage and as a description of a negative stereotype.

A hearty Thank you to everyone who took the time to share experiences in this post!

Thanks!
posted by jason's_planet at 4:58 PM on January 29, 2013


« Older Has anyone created a game - RP...   |  Someone contacted me about usi... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.