Views expressed in opinion columns are the author's own.
In my sophomore year of high school, I got my first C ever in honors chemistry. It felt like the end of the world — like I let my family down with this shameful, sub-B report card grade. To this day, I still suck at chemistry. My general lack of knowledge in the sciences and math prevents me from being the stereotypical Asian genius. You know exactly what I'm talking about.
For generations now, Asian students have been characterized as wicked smart, possessing immense skill at math and science. CNN described the "model minority" as "a relatively prosperous and highly educated group that did not need any public assistance."
But these standards isolate and taunt those who, like me, diverge from the model. It's ultimately detrimental to Asian students everywhere, especially here at the University of Maryland.
In high school, I wrote a column for my school paper about the downfalls of the model minority myth. I didn't witness what the cavernous disparities within the Asian-American community really looked like until I got to college.
At this university, the fall 2017 undergraduate student body is 16.8 percent Asian-Americans, representing the largest racial demographic after white students. Asian-Americans have consistently been the largest minority group represented at many universities across the country, including every Ivy League class of 2020. At Columbia University, 28 percent — more than a quarter of its students — identified as Asian-American.
While this seems promising for Asian-Americans, it conceals the danger of the model minority myth. Time and time again, the immense disparities within Asian subgroups continue to be repressed, because it doesn't fit the public's view of what Asian-Americans are supposed to be.
But if you take a closer look, you'll find Hmong, Cambodian, and Laotian subgroups are all below 15 percent attainment of bachelor's degree. These last three groups are among the highest demographics with less than a high school diploma.
If you take it a step further and look at the median household incomes of Asian-Americans, you see the same wide inconsistencies. While the median annual household income for Asian-Americans is $73,060 — much higher than the American average of $53,600 — there are groups well below and above the average. Bangladeshi, Hmong, Nepalese and Burmese people all make less than $50,000 a year. The Hmong and Burmese also had some of the highest poverty rates. And because Asian-American households are larger than those of other demographic groups, their household income will be artificially larger.
These statistics only begin to show the quantified differences among Asian subgroups, highlighting many inequities we should concentrate on instead of only praising Asian-American students as ideal pupils.
Perpetuating the Asian monolith by describing Asian-Americans as studious, intelligent, STEM-focused individuals is extremely tokenizing. Because we are already held to such a high standard as the "model minority," the inevitable bouts of failure and stress that college exposes every student to are especially harmful.
According to Nkauj Iab Yang, the director of California policy and programs for the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center, many Southeast Asians become invisible in the education system. And for those who don't excel in math and science, it could mean years and years of not receiving proper help in the system.
She recalls the anxiety brought by high expectations in her own schooling. "It's like you're supposed to be performing well so you don't need help," Yang said in an NBC article. "So then when I needed help, I felt like I couldn't go and ask."
Steve Bannon, former White House Chief Strategist, is no exception to the rabbit hole of believing Asian-Americans are predisposed to success. In a 2015 episode of his radio show, Bannon incorrectly pointed out that "two-thirds or three-quarters of the CEOs in Silicon Valley are from South Asia or from Asia," when in fact only 19 percent of managers and not even 14 percent of executives are Asian-Americans. In addition, whites are twice as likely as Asians to hold such executive positions.
These numbers — from the average median incomes to the underrepresentation of Asian-Americans in Silicon Valley — only begin to broach the concerning inequities within our education system. The model minority myth is one many of mindless microaggressions that, at first glance, mean well. But while it aims to exalt an idealized group of immigrants who have conquered their American dreams, it pushes those who don't fit the mold further into obscurity.
Maris Medina is a sophomore journalism major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.