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50 Years Later, Challenging the ‘Model Minority Myth’ Through #ReModelMinority

To mark the 50th anniversary of the term "model minority," the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center launched a social media campaign over the weekend using the hashtag #ReModelMinority to encourage a discussion about how Asian Americans are more than the "model minority."

The campaign also aims to show the harmful effects of the "model minority" stereotype on Asian Americans and other groups.

"This stereotype has plagued our communities for a long time," Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center Acting Director Jeanny Kim told NBC News. "Its longstanding use is not only homogenizing but also harmful to Asian Pacific Americans whose experiences are not reflected in the stereotype. As the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, we have a responsibility to reframe the public discourse toward a more inclusive understanding of Asian Pacific America and our many contributions to the nation."

The term "model minority" was first coined by sociologist William Petersen in a January 1966 New York Times Magazine article, "Success story: Japanese American style." In the article, Petersen attributed the apparent success of Japanese Americans only 20 years after their World War II incarceration in internment camps to cultural values, strong work ethic, family structure, and genetics.

Petersen's article follows the 1965 Moynihan Report, which blamed African-American culture and family structure for African Americans' socio-economic problems. The "model minority" analysis also pitted Japanese Americans — and, later, all Asian Americans — against so-called "problem minorities," which many say has distracted from charges of institutional racism.

Continued use of the term, it's been noted, has overlooked how the Immigration Act of 1965 preferentially allowed highly educated Asian scientists, engineers, and doctors to immigrate. It also masked the wide disparities of Asian Americans in income, employment, education, health, and experience.

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