(Op-Ed) Dismantling Asian Stereotypes, Now
Guest contributor: Laura Han
Laura is a regular contributor to ECC Inclusion Advocate. The views expressed in this commentary are her own.
Your stereotypical Asian has stellar grades, especially in math, a tiger mom, plays piano, watches Kdramas or anime, and drinks boba.
The Asian identity encompasses the model minority myth and boba liberalism, which Redditor @diaspora_is_red described as the “all sugar, no substance” approach to “reconnect[ing] with your roots” . An Asian is light-skinned, middle-class, smart, and attains their Asianness by consuming sensationalized food, merchandise, and content .
Boba liberalism strips the breathtakingly complex Asian identity down to the most superficial labels—identity markers that detach the objects of consumption from their cultural and historical inheritances. Essentially, it means drinking boba without interrogating its multicultural origins in British imperialism. It means assuming all Asians enjoy boba and have the financial freedom to afford a $3 to $6+ drink, even though many AAPIs live paycheck-to-paycheck. It means eating dim sum in a Chinatown without acknowledging the repercussions of the Chinese Exclusion Act. It means repeating Andrew Yang’s model minority jokes or flaunting his “MATH” slogan, without considering what would happen if teachers neglected Asian students because “all Asians are smart.”
Swarthmore student Chili Shi’s ‘22 noted, Yang “made real political gains positioning himself as the…model minority” . His choice speaks to Sau-ling Wong’s “self-Orientalization,” where AAPIs exaggerate their otherness to preserve their status in the American hierarchy . Thus, the boba-toting, checks-all-the-boxes AsianTM can feel culturally endowed and “woke” while profiting from a “selfish and corporate-verticalized ownership of identity” . This hierarchy, “often characterized by complicity in white supremacy, performativity, and East Asian privilege,” excludes other Asian-identifying groups, to the detriment of other POC (not just Asians) in the long run .
By elevating Asians as the model minority, white society maintains its meritocratic facade and denies systemic inequality: if AsiansTM can succeed, then racism doesn’t exist and social status depends on effort alone; other POC are simply delinquent and lazy. As the “chosen” group, AsiansTM often chooses to ignore microaggressions: a man shouting “KONICHIWA” in passing, the hackneyed “no, where are you really from” question, among others. In this way, AsiansTM becomes white America’s willing victims, their buffer against the rage of other minorities towards the unfair social hierarchy.
But, the instant AAPIs threaten white America, it turns against them: the onslaught of anti-Asian hate evidence this much. Indeed, the indiscriminate violence highlights how the disingenuous monolith the AsianTM identity constructed does more than neglect AAPI’s cultural diversity and varied experiences. While excluding non-AsianTM Asians, it also, paradoxically, homogenizes Asians—even those who did not remotely resemble a Chinese person were attacked and blamed for the “Kung-flu.”
Rejecting the AsianTM identity means viewing your ethnicity not as a product for consumption but a part of you, something shared. Something lived. It means “studying your history and feeling solidarity with your homeland against imperialism” . It means tracing the AAPI experience from European imperialism and exploitation (not only in Hong Kong and India, but Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia) to the fetishes that objectify and exotify AAPI women (e.g. Vietnamese war-brides, sex tourism, and mail-order brides).
Boba does not define your Asianness. Instead, the yellow hue to your skin, be it light or dark, and your devotion to understanding your culture’s defining histories and experiences does.