Behind the Model Minority: The Good and the Bad of Asian Americans

“They are quiet, peaceable, tractable, free from drunkenness, and they are as industrious as the day is long. A disorderly Chinaman is rare, and a lazy one does not exist. So long as a Chinaman has strength to use his hands he needs no support from anybody; white men often complain of want of work, but a Chinaman offers no such complaint; he always manages to find something to do. He is a great convenience to everybody–even to the worst class of white men, for he bears the most of their sins, suffering fines for their petty thefts, imprisonment for their robberies, and death for their murders. Any white man can swear a Chinaman’s life away in the courts, but no Chinaman can testify against a white man. Ours is the “land of the free”–nobody denies that–nobody challenges it. [Maybe it is because we won’t let other people testify.] As I write, news comes that in broad daylight in San Francisco, some boys have stoned an inoffensive Chinaman to death, and that although a large crowd witnessed the shameful deed, no one interfered.” -Mark Twain, Roughing It, 1872

Recently, I heard the term “model minority” used negatively by an Asian American woman. Clearly, there is some angst and negativity behind this phrase that seems positive on the surface I want to address.

What is the Model Minority Stereotype?

First off, what does it mean? This is a term to describe a minority that has more often desired and admired traits people respect or that society deems useful. It can also point to a demographic that, on average, achieves more socioeconomic success than other minorities. Asian Americans, and sometimes their immigrant parents, are often labeled the “model minority,” though it doesn’t always have to point to this race.

Some describe Asian Americans as a “model” because of the following admirable qualities:

  • they’re kind
  • they’re obedient
  • they don’t complain
  • they’re hard-working
  • they have strong family bonds
  • they don’t do drugs, smoke, drink, or party
  • they perform well in the academic system and respect it
  • they participate in less crime and illegal activities
  • they’re more reserved and likely to avoid conflict and fights
  • they will use their discipline to sacrifice short-term pleasure for long-term gain
  • they usually work their way up to a respectable, high income job (doctor, lawyer, engineer, vet, programmer, etc.)
  • they appear smart and accomplished (especially in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math)

Why Do Some Asians Hate The “Model Minority” Label?

While I view this as something to be proud of, some see this stereotype negatively. While initially surprised, I slowly started to understand others’ perspectives. Not everyone is filling their heads with success and positive self-help advice all the time like me, so it’s easy for others to fall into resentment, entitlement, or self-pity.

First off, having this label puts a lot of pressure on people. A stereotype of an entire population is an average. I’ve met plenty of Asian Americans who try hard but perform poorly in school and act rebellious. There are lazy Asians, as well as those who smoke and drink. The failed expectation can lead to feelings of shame, guilt, disappointment, anxiety, defensiveness, rebellion, and discouragement because they can’t meet the standards.

I’ve felt the sting too of being immediately labeled a certain way, good or bad, by my appearance. But over time, I realized it’s a natural, survival tendency for quick profiling that I’ve been guilty of too. I’ve learned to raise my own consciousness by not assuming and testing stereotypes when I meet individuals, thereby leading by example, and prove others wrong by action if I don’t conform to a stereotypical trait and be compassionate enough to realize how frequent certain traits are in a population to realize why stereotypes exist.

Along with this stereotype, you may run into the problem of people always assuming you’re perfect and “have it handled” when you need help. This can generate envy from or frustration in yourself. When people jab at you for always getting good grades through talent, not knowing that every Asian American you know who does studies their ass off or they make quips that you’ve got a massive project handled, when it will be a stressful situation that you’re not confident you can pull off.

Speaking up calmly, honestly, and kindly can help enlighten the population. Rather than bottle it in, let others know you’re struggling, you’d appreciate help, and you truly work really hard for your grades. Holding it inside won’t solve misunderstandings. Lashing out in anger won’t put others in a reasonable emotional state to be open to what you say.

Second, they can view it as some title thrust on them that prevents them from complaining about other struggles of the culture. When Asian American people are supposedly discriminated against in their career or dating life, they can’t complain because they were lucky enough to have been labeled the “model minority.” How dare anyone complain after that is placed on them?

Some claim this label was invented by white elites in the 1960’s as a form of politic control, so they could downplay racism in the education system or business world and other ways minorities suffer.

This is faulty, toxic thinking. We should be proud of all the positive biases people place on us and use that as an advantage. Of course, that also means we should stand up for equality if we see it, but not if it doesn’t exist and we’re using it as an excuse for our own lack of success. For what we lack or where we’re weak, we need to learn to develop compassion for ourselves and realize we can hold our head proudly and be loved despite those flaws.

Let’s do a quick exercise where you put this into practice. Despite all our strengths, we often still have trouble in the dating field:

As an Asian American individual, you have certain strengths, including a few that go against your stereotype:

  • strong work ethic
  • smart
  • kind and people-pleasing
  • you don’t drink, do drugs, or party
  • you’re moderately more athletic and muscular than the average man

But you also have these weaknesses, including a few that go against your stereotype:

  • you’re nerdy
  • you have a small penis
  • you’re shy and have poor social skills
  • you have a modest salary and aren’t rich (yet)
  • academically, you were only slightly above average
  • you have a different culture and upbringing from typical Americans

What do you do? First off, you don’t even have to do much with the strengths that people assume you have based on your stereotype. That’s a given. For the strengths and weaknesses that don’t align with your stereotype — such as having modest grades in school — don’t hide them or lie, and don’t play it up either. Be honest and mention it when asked, otherwise, people will distrust you for lying. In these matters, the positives of your stereotype will help you by washing over the shortcomings. People are more likely to forget and assume you’re, say “good at math,” when you’re not.

As for your weaknesses, outsource the work to a team or turn them into non-issues. If you have the innate talent, turn them to strengths, but usually this isn’t necessary. The weaknesses that fall right in with your stereotype should be the #1 thing you should fix first. Turning a weakness into a non-issue is so much easier than turning them into a strength. With beginner gains, most people can go from looking scrawny or out-of-shape to looking in decent shape within two years max. By pushing your comfort zone and using deliberate practice, you can get to at least an average level of social skills within a year or two as well.

Let’s say you have a deep weakness that will take time to fix that goes against your stereotype. Say you work as a janitor. As Gary Vaynerchuk says, have patience, work hard, and find something you’re passionate about. Some things just take time. You can’t speed up a pregnancy by three times by getting three women pregnant. Don’t feel like you have to knock it out of the park by becoming some absurd millionaire. Try to first just make it a non-issue by moving from janitor to accountant, marketer, professor, or sales executive.

With all weaknesses you have, you must put in good effort to demonstrate they aren’t true for you because they will assume it until you prove otherwise. Don’t be intimidated by this because it doesn’t take ridiculous amounts of work. Being confident and socially fluent easily shows you’re not shy. Simply getting in decent shape, or adding fitness photos to your dating profile, can disprove the stereotype that you’re a scrawny, skinny-fat Asian.

Tying your self-worth solely to your academic or life achievements is a common but unhealthy and inaccurate behavior. There are people who are debilitated with stress, low self-esteem, and self-love issues, even though they’ve made more money and achieved more than 99.99% of the world (I added decimals to that because it only takes earning a few dollars a day to get to 99% — that’s right, you’re better than you think).

Get a therapist. Use exercises I’ve mentioned. You can empower and heal yourself. Will Smith says that if you’re using an external source to determine your self-esteem, it’s not self-esteem since it’s not based on just yourself. Plus, he says it’s like viewing yourself through a cracked mirror; it’s a warped, inaccurate representation of yourself.

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There are plenty of ways to beat your competition, regardless of your obstacles. Here’s what you can do to increase your chances of success:

Squeeze the Juice Out of Life

So I was reading the book Rework. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s fairly well known in the business world and critically acclaimed by a ton of successful business people I respect, so I just had to read it a few times.

In it, I found some very contradictory information from what I had heard before. Many people don’t even read. Some people are on a higher level and read and absorb very useful information from incredible people.

Then, there’s also a point where you hit contradicting information from different sources having read a lot. (As a quick note, if you hit this state, you may want to consider taking action on that information rather than consuming more information. There is such a thing as information overload and analysis paralysis.)

This happens quite a bit; let me show you how I sort it out or at least try to.

1. Learn From Those Who Achieved Your Goals Starting Where You Did

You are not your stereotype. You are an individual with your own freedom of choice. I hit some contradicting information throughout Rework. One of which was this whole idea of “not pleasing your customers.” Now, I have heard from dozens of successful entrepreneurs to stop doing what you think is right and listen to your customers.

I still believe in this.

However, Rework has said to do the opposite. Or did it?

My first step is usually to figure out if this is actually contradictory. Usually, it may address different things.

This was further clarified in Dan Kennedy’s No BS Marketing book, 2nd edition:

If you’re a small business, you are a fool to copy a big business. “It’s like a lamb copying a lion.”

According to Dan, a big business has totally different objectives, goals, and problems.

Keep that in mind.

If you’re a big business, listen to advice geared toward big business. (Big is loosely defined, so I would narrow down even further if you can: 100k per year, 500k per year, 1 million per year, publicly traded, and if you’re publicly traded: microcap, small cap, large cap, etc.)

Turns out:

Rework is talking about the dangers of growing too large and listening to your customers.

You can’t do everything.

You hit a point of critical mass where if you try and listen to one customer’s eccentric demands for what they want the product or service to do, you alienate everyone else by making the product or service too convoluted or too overwhelming.

And Rework is saying that this happens all the time: that one client leaves, and you’re left with something that everyone else doesn’t want.

Rather than coming up with a software that tries to be everything: the go-to with all sorts of complicated, convoluted features (which gets overwhelming), you may have to decide on being the go-to solution for beginners.

Many businesses have found that they have made much more money by narrowing and niching down who they serve rather than trying to catch everyone. And it often required little acquisition of new skills on their part.

Examples would be like “I want to be the fitness coach for everyone: 90 year old woman AND 16 year old soccer athletes.” to “I am the go-to fitness consultant for 30 year old male CEO’s” or “I do social media for everyone” versus “I specialize in social media marketing for mid-sized law businesses”

For start-up’s, I still think it is incredibly important to listen to what your customers are willing to pay for.

Too many people come up with ideas that no one wants to buy and they’re too stubborn to move on or pivot and they keep borrowing money to sell this thing.

2. Copy Strategically

Sam Walton’s book, Made in America, is a must read. It’s something that’s timeless and should be consulted with frequently. There’s this one passage where he talks about how all his ideas were copied from someone better.

The exact quote is:

“Most everything I’ve done I’ve copied from somebody else.” –Sam Walton

Sam was adamant about studying others. He would go around his competitor’s stores for hours and record every little thing: how long their aisles were, what they stocked and where, where they positioned their items, and so on.

He would always look for the small things he could do better.

Then, Rework and No BS Marketing comes along and say’s not to copy.

What do you do?

Well, let’s look at the details:

Rework say’s not to use copying as it puts you in a reactive state. You can never be on the fore-front of innovation and the leader in your industry if you’re always copying the other person.

There’s a lot of truth to this.

Many people do not copy because they believe it is not ethically right.

I think there’s some truth to this.

There was a guy on Shark tank with a small online belt company. His cousin copied the entire idea behind his back.

But it’s also true that:

There’s a lot of horrible people right now who are cut-throat enough to copy you to a tee and disregard any “ethics.”

It happens all the time.

I have seen people copy and sell high priced online courses for a variety of things: Instagram, webinars, etc.

Some of them are so ruthless that they will change close to nothing about it and try to sell it.

Evan Carmichael had to deal with this when he had a dance business:

So what’s the right answer?

Well, in most of the cases I have mentioned, the copy cats are usually amateurs in business.

I can bet that most of them haven’t read many business books, don’t study successful people, or any of that.

Some probably just found out about the product and naturally tried to copy it.

“Modeling” or copying is a strange thing because many successful people emphasize how important it is in their teachings and yet many average folk naturally do it without having to be taught.

If you want to be successful, find someone who has achieved the results you want and copy what they do and you’ll achieve the same results. -Tony Robbins

Perhaps, the answer is that we need to elaborate on how to copy (see bullet points for the introduction of this article).

Here’s my interpretation:

Model after the most successful businesses and people in your industry within what is ethical.

By ethical, I mean that it should not be overboard: do not their entire Instagram course program to a tee while barely changing the agenda or curriculum, do not copy it exactly and try to change it up enough only to the point that most people can’t see that you’ve copied, do not copy your cousin’s business to a tee behind their back and not tell them.

If the person you are copying were to know about it and they would be extremely pissed off, that’s a negative.

It is important to copy and model successful people because many people really don’t. And they are successful for a reason, so it is worth doing what they do.

The second thing is:

Model specifically around the top 1% of successful people, to the size and type business you are in

The entrepreneur Russell Brunson does a lot of modeling for his sales funnels. For many industries and businesses, they have spent decades and decades testing everything: from price points to upsell’s. It would be very foolish to just guess and do it on your own when you can model.

“You Can Recognize A Pioneer By The Arrows In His Back.”

He gives the example of Agora publishing. They’re a billion dollar business. One of the executives was giving a speech and said how they had a bunch of competitors who had tried and failed to beat them in many ways: by undercutting them in price, by doing a premium product, etc.

This executive said that there’s no way you can beat Agora without copying them on pricing. They had spent millions every year on testing.

If you’re a big business wanting to compete in Agora’s space, you copy. If you’re a very small business, according to famed marketer, Dan Kennedy, do not copy them because they have different goals and objectives. They function at a different size. The big business has to deal with issues like bureaucracy and too many people: they have marketers who do stupid things with money because they are not directly attached to the financial outcome.

You have numerous advantages and different ways of going about it. There are still elements you can model and copy, but you want to play to your strengths of being small, lean, quick, agile, and able to pivot very quickly. You’re better of learning from the best business and best people who deal with small businesses.

But also realize:

Copying alone may not be enough.

Sam Walton was also on the forefront of innovation for Walmart constantly. He would try out new things. He set out his mind to learn about IBM, computers, and satellite technology when it was getting started. Before his competitors used it.

This put him a decade ahead and made one of the most profitable companies in the history of mankind.

Rework says that copying puts you in a reactive state where you always follow the leader to see what they do.

Warren Buffett, my favorite investor, emphasizes two big things:

  • ethics, which we’ve talked about already
  • creating and constantly strengthening your durable, competitive, advantage.

To do the second thing, you can not remain, as Rework puts it, a commodity just like everybody else.

By purely copying, you cannot stand out. You cannot be unique. You cannot create a competitive advantage and barrier to entry that prevents other people from copying you.

By just copying, you miss out on some of the higher levels of understanding of a business that truly make it great that are behind the scenes.

There’s a lot behind the scenes to some businesses.

For instance, let’s take a horse-riding business. You can duplicate copywriting, the sales pitch, the model, and so on from what you see. But the best businesses have a higher level of understanding of the selling process: they are not selling horse-riding -> They are selling what horse-riding gives the customer: an escape from a boring life, excitement, experiences, and feelings. This applies to many industries: they don’t just want a six pack -> they want to look good to attract a woman or they want to feel confident in front of their wife again.

Just copying the words skips over the higher level of understanding of things like the experience, feelings, and end result that a business should focus on.

This is a necessity because you can’t always assume people will be as kind as you. There will be people who will be cut-throat in their copying out there. And in the video below, I explain how you almost have to expect it and be fine with it going into the business world:

3. Don’t Focus Too Much on Your Competition

Oprah Winfrey has said that there have been hundreds of talk shows that have come and gone during her time. She say’s that she didn’t worry about other people.

She used a track and field analogy: You can’t win the race when you keep your face pointed at the competition.

So how do you use this with Sam Walton’s feverish examination of his competition?

Perhaps, different industries and businesses have different success principles (again, see what I said about small vs big business) just like physics principles don’t work with computer programming principles.

These principles cause cognitive dissonance, a well known concept in psychology where to contradictory beliefs or ideas cause you to reduce away the dissonance, sometimes illogically.

Maybe we can once again examine if they are really talking about the same thing.

Sam was in the discount retail business.

He formed meeting groups of local, small discount retail businesses to collaborate and critique eachothers’ businesses.

Small things like what aisle and height they shelved the teddy bears is knowledge that can be used to give you incremental edges in your business. He got a lot of advice from his group and studied all his competition: big and small.

Sam also had a very critical eye that weighted on learning, which was very different from everyone else. When his employees saw the worst retail store in the state, Sam focused on and found the few things that this store did better than him and delighted in implementing those things.

Oprah, on the other hand, was in a talk show host business, one where personality shines.

Just maybe it is because copying doesn’t always work in a personality-based business? All that copying to try and keep pace with your competitors in fear of them having some type of edge leads to everyone appearing the same.

Similar to how Jackie Chan stood out after Bruce Lee died by being his comical self while all the other asian actors tried to emulate Bruce’s tough guy persona.

I’m not sure if that is the true explanation. I do know that Sam and Oprah didn’t worry or become anxious about their competition.

Sam might have studied his competition intensely, but he was not a worrying man.

Maybe you can do both: model and learn from what they do better, but also don’t let worry overtake you.

Based on my readings, I would lean more on the side of not over-obsessing about your competition.

According to Richard Branson in a recent book I’m reading called The Virgin Way:

“Don’t spend all your time obsessing over what the competition is up to-divert some of that energy to looking in the mirror to see how you appear to your employees, your competition, and your customers.”

4. Work Smarter, Manage Effectively

Richard Branson has remarked that his mentee, billionaire Sara Blakely, both started out as jack of all trades.

This may seem at first contraditory to what everyone else tells you: specialize down, find that one thing you can be really good at.

What he means is probably to start out knowing how to do everything. You don’t have to be the best at it, but at least really get to understand how they function so you can hire accordingly.

Richard Branson is a master at deligating. And so, later on, he hires people better than him at certain tasks. Sarah does the same:

“The smartest thing I ever did in the early going was to hire my weaknesses.” -Sarah Blakely

The founder of AthleanX, a multimillion dollar fitness business, has said the same thing. He recommends you start off understanding how everything works: copywriting, sales, managing, production, so that later you can hire the people who are much better at the things you suck at.

As a quick note, it is also important to emphasize the fact that you should start deligating eventually. Many entrepreneurs have had the opposite problem of always doing everything themselves.

There’s numerous reasons for this: they want to keep it a small operation, they’re new and scared of becoming a leader or manager, they don’t like confrontation, they didn’t want this to turn into a real business, or they want all the credit.

The millionaire Chalene Johnson has talked about how after many years, she had to come to terms with a deep psychological issue of doing everything herself because she wanted all the credit.

5. Empathy is Key: See Through The Eyes of Others

Improving empathy is a piece of advice that is often given, but not executed on.

It’s one of those strange things where maybe it’s too common sense or it may seem logical, but no one ends up doing it.

A CEO or founder will put it on his calendar and never get to it. The real super-stars will do this constantly.

Sam Walton of Walmart spent an entire day driving around the country in a giant truck to experience how his truck drivers went about their day. This was after he was already a billionaire.


The model minority stereotype is one that we can leverage to improve our image even more. We have many traits we are admired for. Unfortunately, many Asian Americans view it negatively and focus on the negative ways it cages us rather than uses it to help us to be seen even more positively. For instance, some view it as a way to downplay racism.

Stereotypes will exist for a long time. The world is changing for the better so that not everyone resorts to small-minded classifications, but be compassionate and understanding of why others do. Use positivity to disprove through action and fight for equality when it exists. Don’t let complaining, blame, or resentment consume you because that won’t lead you anywhere, let alone success.

What’s holding you back? What’s it going to take to change your life?

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By Will Chou

I am the the founder of this site and I am grateful you are here to be part of this awesome community. I help hard-working Asian American Millennials get rich doing work they love.

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