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From the Washington Post:
By Jeff Guo November 29
Between 1940 and 1970, something remarkable happened to Asian Americans. Not only did they surpass African Americans in average household earnings, but they also closed the wage gap with whites.
Many people credit this upward mobility to investments in education. But according to a recent study by Brown University economist Nathaniel Hilger, schooling rates among Asian Americans didn’t change all that significantly during those three decades. Instead, Hilger’s research suggests that Asian Americans started to earn more because their fellow Americans became less racist toward them.
How did that happen? About the same time that Asian Americans were climbing the socioeconomic ladder, they also experienced a major shift in their public image. At the outset of the 20th century, Asian Americans had often been portrayed as threatening, exotic and degenerate.
The big concern among the working class on the West Coast in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries was mass immigration: leaders of the working classes, such as socialist novelist Jack London, saw the enormous populations of Asia as pools of cheap labor that American capitalists could use to crush the native labor movement in the U.S.
The immigration reforms of the 1880s to the 1920s lessened that quite rational concern by restricting the potential for mass immigration from Asia.
But of course as 99% of billionaires would tell you, we now know that the Law of Supply and Demand doesn’t apply to immigration because reasons. That’s why we have lots of immigration today and the labor movement is thriving. Who doesn’t know the names of today’s dozen most important union bosses? Such as that guy, and the other guy, and, you know, the guy who looks like Mike Ditka.
But by the 1950s and 1960s, the idea of the model minority had begun to take root. Newspapers often glorified Asian Americans as industrious, law-abiding citizens who kept their heads down and never complained.
Some people think that racism toward Asians diminished because Asians “proved themselves” through their actions. But that is only a sliver of the truth. Then, as now, the stories of successful Asians were elevated, while the stories of less successful Asians were diminished. As historian Ellen Wu explains in her book, “The Color of Success,” the model minority stereotype has a fascinating origin story, one that’s tangled up in geopolitics, the Cold War and the civil rights movement.
To combat racism, minorities in the United States have often attempted to portray themselves as upstanding citizens capable of assimilating into mainstream culture. Asian Americans were no different, Wu writes. Some, like the Chinese, sought respectability by promoting stories about their obedient children and their traditional family values. The Japanese pointed to their wartime service as proof of their shared Americanness.
African Americans in the 1940s made very similar appeals. But in the postwar moment, Wu argues, it was only convenient for political leaders to hear the Asian voices.
The model minority narrative may have started with Asian Americans, but it was quickly co-opted by white politicians who saw it as a tool to win allies in the Cold War. Discrimination was not a good look on the international stage. Embracing Asian Americans “provided a powerful means for the United States to proclaim itself a racial democracy and thereby credentialed to assume the leadership of the free world,” Wu writes. Stories about Asian American success were turned into propaganda.
Sure, but very similar dynamics were pushing American elites to get rid of Jim Crow and do nice things for blacks, who, after all, are much more charismatic on the world stage than are Asian Americans. For example, the US State Department paid for jazz man Dizzy Gillespie’s 1956 world tour (“Dizzy Gillespie’s Cold War Jazz Diplomacy“) and Louis Armstrong was even more of a regular as the State Department’s unofficial goodwill ambassador.
The President’s mother was very sensitive to which way the official winds were blowing from Washington through the U. of Hawaii, a major Cold War resource, and took it upon herself to do her part sexually by marrying an African and an Asian.
By the 1960s, anxieties about the civil right movement caused white Americans to further invest in positive portrayals of Asian Americans. The image of the hard-working Asian became an extremely convenient way to deny the demands of African Americans. As Wu describes in her book, both liberal and conservative politicians pumped up the image of Asian Americans as a way to shift the blame for black poverty. If Asians could find success within the system, politicians asked, why couldn’t African Americans?
Basically, nobody has agency other than white people. Who are evil.