[OP-ED] Korean-Americans: The "Bellwether" for Model Citizens

James Ryu, Feb. 8, 2017, 11:55 a.m.


Touted as the world’s sweetheart in work ethic and efficiency, Koreans have become the “bellwether” for model citizens within the United States. Trapped by the brainiac caricature, there seems to be certain standards Korean-Americans must abide to: stoic, knowledgeable, and overly diligent. On paper, these are uplifting axioms that are praised and cherished. In an ideal world, there would be no complaints. However, this is simply not the case.

The aforementioned qualities are positive, but once blanketed over an entire ethnic group, the stereotypes sully the very core of a man and woman. Individuality and character are depleted, and Korean-Americans become caricaturized into efficient, well-oiled machines. The persisting racial stereotype reifies and consorts Americans to perceive Korean-Americans as a singular, one-dimensional entity.

There is no racial dichotomy. Proverbial SAT scores and college admissions seem to define a generation, and idiosyncrasies are thrown out the window.

Post-World War II liberalism in the United States set stage for the “model minority” status that forced assimilation of Asian-Americans through federal means. The very country that enacted the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 and exploited Chinese immigrants via Angel Island Station lauds and pats itself on the back, the definition of liberalism changing within its own turmoil. Racial liberalism forcefully and unnaturally convoluted immigration.

According to “The Imperatives of Asian American Citizenship,” a published academia periodical in the Princeton University Press, the article states that the very “ideology emphasized federal government intervention in orchestrating the social engineering” and that the United States attempt to recast Asian-Americans into “assimilating Others – persons acknowledged as capable of acting like white Americans while remaining racially distinct from them.” Mediocrity holds sway in the new form of liberalism that attempts to be inclusive, but the product became more exclusive. Racial logic inherently invents and promulgates the model minority status.

There is no true solidarity with this mindset. In some sense, the model minority status is an ideological form of Jim Crow laws, which is then compartmentalized into a cultural aspect. It would be unfair to make this comparison completely analogous to the African-American plight, but the underlying sentiment overlaps. Although not practiced and manifested into tangible actions, the ideology permeates through institutionalized racial structures that bog down minorities to this day. Positive stereotyping aggressively aggrandizes the dissenting sentiment.

Relative to other minorities, Korean-Americans have it easy. There is no pattern of deportation, profiling, police brutality, worker exploitation, and a myriad of other problems many other minorities face. These reasons keep Korean-Americans out of racial mainstream discourse. Undertones damage the Korean-American community instead of palpable action. The racism against Korean-Americans is not harmful, but it still slights and skews the very core of a man and woman. Stereotypes sully human nature.

When this group steps outside its social boundaries, there is confusion.

“What do you mean you’re not good at math?”

“Really? You’re majoring in Sociology? That’s weird.”

“Don’t get so mad. You’re usually so passive.”

It is hard to break out from the “smarts only” club that Korean-Americans are automatically a member of. We can be seen as the “bad boys” in the tech industry, but we get scoffed in jest when branching out to other fields and industries. Brain power seems to be the only characteristic naturally tied with Korean-Americans, and many Americans are copacetic when it comes to this issue. Uniformity, as if Korean-Americans are born and bred on a factory line, blots the collective, and individual, identity we succumb to. There must be an upheaval and revolution for future generations.

It needs to be ok to be dumb and Korean-American. It needs to be ok for Korean-Americans to excel in other fields not related to mathematics and sciences. It definitely needs to be ok to for intelligence and Korean-Americans to be mutually exclusive.  

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