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MODEL MINORITY

Frank Chin, playwright, said in 1974 something that might still apply today: “Whites love us because we’re not black.”

There’s only one way to confront the term “Model Minority” in the United States, generally applied to Asians, including South Asians. That way is to understand it as the intentional and painstaking act of ‘modeling’ a minority in the image of the majority. That, Chin was saying, was what some Asians do or feel they must: stay as far away from blacks and hispanics as possible because then the white majority won’t get “spooked” by them. By the way, since the 1940s the word “spook” which originally meant difficult to see, has been used derogatorily toward black people.

Honestly, this is sort of like the terrible, very bad race and color problem in William Blake’s 1789 poem “The Little Black Boy.” There, the African boy twists himself into quite a knot trying to tackle and somehow conciliate the violent mysteries of race and color. He says, poor boy, of his English counterpart:

I’ll shade him from the heat till he can bear, 

To lean in joy upon our father’s knee. 

And then I’ll stand and stroke his silver hair,

And be like him and he will then love me.

Yeah. Right on. BE LIKE HIM AND THEN HE WILL LOVE ME.

But how can this one little black boy reconcile the problems of inside and outside, black and white? It’s difficult, he admits.

My mother bore me in the southern wild,

And I am black, but O! my soul is white;

White as an angel is the English child: 

But I am black as if bereav’d of light

I’m black, I’m white. Now black, now white, now black outside, now white inside. It’s a maze. And a chiasmus. (And I’m fairly sure that Blake, one of the smartest men in history, meant us to feel a-mazed)

That’s what we’re still doing as “model minorities,” twisting ourselves inside and outside into shapes of the right color and phenotype so that we’re not mistaken as black or Hispanics. In 1923, in The United States vs. Bhagat Singh, Bhagat Singh Thind demanded naturalization from  the US Supreme Court because as an Indian man, he said, he was a “high-caste Aryan.’ Indians were Aryans, so almost white.

Listen, I once had a colleague comfort me during some form-filling bonanza — where of course I filled every demographic category as ‘other’ — that I was really Caucasian. Being Indo-Aryan. It was unfortunate the institution didn’t take that point of view, but she herself fully endorsed my racial superiority as racial distance from blacks or hispanics and proximity to the Caucasus. I think she meant well. Because she didn’t know what she meant meant. I didn’t want to be Caucasian, like her, so that she’d love me. I didn’t want to be liked by her because I wasn’t black. I wasn’t going to emerge from that form-filling room schizophrenic like Blake’s poor little black boy. Sorry Michael Jackson, it still do matter if you’re black or white.

For more on the ‘model minority’ see

Also, in my novel in the works, Homeland Blues, a good bit of this issue forms the core of the story. Wish me luck, folks.

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Published by nibheart

I write, I recite

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