Asian Americans: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver – Transcript

John Oliver discusses the large and diverse group of people who fall under the term “Asian American”, the history of the model minority stereotype, and why our conversations on the subject need to be better-informed.
Asian Americans: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
Season 8 Episode 14
Aired on June 6, 2021

Main segment: Asian Americans and its racial discrimination
Other segments: COVID-19 pandemic in the United Kingdom and Brazil

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John: hi there! Welcome to the show, still taking place in this blank void, which I’ve nicknamed “Henry Kissinger” because it’s white, deeply unpleasant, and at this point, I’m just mad it’s still around. It’s been another busy week. Benjamin Netanyahu looks like he may have lost power, Anthony Fauci’s emails were released, and the white house partnered with Anheuser-Busch to offer free beer to incentivize vaccines. And “rewarding you with beer” really cements Joe Biden’s status as “America’s uncle who probably shouldn’t be left in charge.” But as the vaccination rollout continues in the united states, and life slowly returns to normal, it’s worth remembering many other countries are still very much in the grips of this pandemic. Take the united kingdom, which is currently planning to fully reopen later this month, even as experts warn a potential third wave of Covid may be under way. Demand is also growing there for a public inquiry into Boris Johnson’s mismanagement of the pandemic, following testimony in a committee hearing last week from former top advisor and “smug moby,” Dominic Cummings. He revealed a chilling moment from last march, when top government officials realized just how badly the pandemic planning had been botched.

Dominic Cummings: At this point, the second most powerful official in the country — Helen MacNamara is the deputy cabinet secretary — she walked into the office. She says, “I’ve just been talking to the official Mark Sweeney, who is in charge of coordinating with the department for health. He said, quote, “I’ve been told for years that there is a whole plan for this. There is no plan. We’re in huge trouble.” Helen MacNamara said, “I’ve come through here to the prime minister’s office to tell you all, quote, ‘I think we are absolutely fucked.'”

John: Wow. “There is no plan. We’re in huge trouble. I think we’re absolutely fucked.” You do not expect to hear an assessment that grim unless it’s from the team behind the Fyre festival, or Warner Brothers Discovery. Hi there, new business daddy! Just checking in to say I love the corporate logo you dropped this week! It looks like the opening title of “The Simpsons” if the font were not found. And quick note: “the stuff that dreams are made of” is a quote from “The Maltese Falcon,” about how the thing that seemed like a priceless treasure was actually no worthless garbage that brought chaos and despair to everyone around it. Anyway, good luck with the merger, I’m sure everything’s gonna go great! But the truth is, as bad as the details of Cummings’ testimony were, the U.K.’s Covid response pales next to that of brazil’s. President Jair Bolsonaro has been a spectacular failure, with the country recording over 1.9 million new cases in the past month alone. And Brazilians are understandably fed up, staging protests across the country this week.

Demonstrators want his government to account for the negligence in purchasing vaccines after trying to lead brazil towards herd immunity. No

Translator: Brazilian people always got vaccinated. It could have been the first country with the whole population vaccinated. Instead we see such irresponsibility.

John: That woman makes a great point, despite wearing what I assume biologists use to disguise themselves while watching crocodiles fuck. The Brazilian government is in the midst of an inquiry into its own negligence, and it has uncovered some bombshells — including that last august, Pfizer repeatedly offered brazil’s health ministry 70 million doses of the vaccine it was developing, but the company “got no answer.” No and come on, brazil. You can’t ghost Pfizer. They’re a company that was offering you a potentially lifesaving vaccine. Not a fruitarian entrepreneur-slash-poet you met on OKCupid. In that case, absolutely hit “ignore.” And that shouldn’t even be surprising given how publicly dismissive Bolsonaro’s been of the vaccines. No that woman’s crocodile hat wasn’t just showcasing her ability to serve looks that no are exuberant without being obnoxious. She was making an explicit reference to a shitty joke Bolsonaro told, about how companies wouldn’t take responsibility for vaccine side effects.

Jair Bolsonaro: If you turn into a crocodile, it’s your problem. If you turn into superman, if a woman grows a beard or a man starts speaking in a high voice, they want nothing to do with it.

John: Okay, that’s all complete bullshit, but if I may just address his insinuation that “if the vaccine turns you into a crocodile, that’s your problem.” Honey, no. If you turn into a crocodile, it’s your solution. No crocodiles are incredible swimmers, they can see at night, and instead of sweating they do something called “mouth gaping” that looks a little like this. And think how much embarrassment that would save you on a hot day! No pit stains on you, buddy. Just mouth open, dick out, swimming through life without a care. Because — thank fucking god — you’re a crocodile. And when you combine this new inquiries with brazil’s death rates, it is not surprising that 57% of Brazilians back his impeachment. Not only is he backing down, just this week, he approved this week.

The country with the world’s second largest covid-19 death toll will host the Copa America, welcoming south American teams for a four-week football tournament.

John: Yeah! Brazil is suddenly hosting a massive soccer tournament on just 13 days’ notice. It was originally supposed to be in Argentina, but it was canceled due to Covid rates. And yet despite that, Bolsonaro — whose country’s rates are significantly higher — is now choosing to host a tournament one senator has dubbed “the championship of death,” and which has inspired memes like this to make the rounds in Brazil. And I will say, that is a pretty cheerful little coffin. It looks like Clippy the paperclip popping up to ask you, “it looks like you’re about to hold a soccer tournament while your country’s death toll is sky high. Would you like to not fucking do that?” And look, what’s happening in brazil should be a warning for everyone because if vaccine misinformation continues to spread, and variants continue to emerge, the whole world could remain in trouble for a very long time. In fact, despite how comparatively well things seem to be going right now in the U.S.,if we don’t actively help get this virus under control globally, then to quote a former top U.K. official:

I think we are absolutely fucked.

John: Exactly. And now, this.

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Announcer: And now… People on tv lose their shit over the phrase hot vax summer.

The hot vax summer, that is what they are calling it. I can’t make this up.

Last summer was hot girl summer. They do substituted that word.

All vaxxed, no place to go? The hot vax summer.

Hot vax summer.

Hot vax summer.

Hot vax summer in the study.


To play on the hot girl summer.

Three words. Hot vax summer. So consumers are ready to spend — [laughter]


Hot vax summer. I am telling you. [Laughter]

Okay. [Laughter]

I don’t know. [Laughter]

Okay, Jan. [Laughter] what do you say?

I will borrow that, Charles, I love that philosophy. It is going to be a hot vax summer. [Laughter]

All right.

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John: Moving on. Our main story tonight concerns Asian-Americans. A group that currently makes up around 7% of the U.S. population, and is actually the fastest growing racial group, and yet despite that, Asian-Americans can sometimes be oddly overlooked. A recent survey asked respondents to simply name a well-known Asian-American, and the results were not good.

42% Of people said they don’t know one. The next most popular answers were Jackie Chan, who’s from Hong Kong, and Bruce Lee, who died in 1973.

John: Oh, come on. No disrespect to Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee, but that’s embarrassing even before you consider the poll was conducted while Kamala Harris — who is Asian-American — was vice president. How do you fuck up a question that easy? It’d be like asking Americans to name a “well-known Joe,” and getting back “What’s Joe,” “John Krasinski,” and “Joe Millionaire.” It is pretty clear many in this country don’t seem to know much about the histories or experiences of Asian-Americans. And to the extent that experience has been discussed in recent years, it’s often been in a tragic context, such as killings or mass shootings, or racism around the coronavirus triggering verbal and physical attacks in the street, as well as the kind of idiocy that forced local news to produce pieces like, “no, you can’t get coronavirus by eating Chinese food.” Because of course you fucking can’t. You’re about as likely to get coronavirus from eating Chinese food as you are to get chicken pox from eating KFC. That’s not going to happen, and it’s alarming anyone thought it might. And all of this has highlighted the need for us to have a long-overdue, better-informed conversation about the way this country regards Asian-Americans. And before we start, I fully recognize, the history of white people on tv generalizing confidently about this subject isn’t great — sometimes making statements that are offensive even when they think they’re being complimentary, like this idea that’s come up constantly:

They’ve worked their way past column as and column bs, past no starch please, to become our nation’s model minority. Listen to the numbers. Median family income, higher for Asians than for whites.

Once again, super achieving Asian-American students are becoming a phenomenon.

They are overachievers driven to excel by tradition.

The academic achievement of Asian-American students are so notable that in some colleges, students warn each other that if they end up in a class with a lot of oriental faces, get out. The grading curve, they say, will go out of sight.

John: Wow. That is jarring to hear, especially when delivered with such a weird combination of amused self-satisfaction and totally inappropriate sourcing. “I was eavesdropping on some teens last week, and I heard one of them say “never share a cab with a black person.” Just thought I’d pass that along, this has been, for some reason, the news.” But that idea — that “Asian-Americans are a model minority” — has been as persistent as it is problematic. So tonight, we thought we’d try and unpack both parts of this sentence. And let’s start with the first half: Asian-Americans. We’re actually going to spend most of our time on this term, because it’s having to do a lot of work. It encompasses a vast group who can trace their heritage back to more than 20 countries covering a huge amount of the world’s land mass, from Mongolia to Indonesia to Pakistan to Japan. And even some who fall under the term “Asian-American” — or the broader “AAPI,” which includes pacific islanders — feel it may not fit them, or that the broadness of the category means their experiences get erased.

People associate Asian with East Asian.

Filipinos aren’t so much dismissed, they’re just overlooked just because they’re not as popular within, at least the American culture.

Sometimes I will identity as Asian, but then other Indian people don’t identify as Asian.

“Why are you considered Asian, you’re in the pacific islander, wouldn’t you be considered more Hawaiian?” And I’m like, not really?

John: Yeah, the term “Asian-American” applies to a ridiculously large and diverse group of people. And there is clearly not going to be enough time to discuss everyone who supposedly fits under that umbrella in this piece, even though I do intend to talk very fast. So apologies in advance to all 127 Maldivian-Americans. I promise I’ll make it up to my one Maldivian-American fan in the future. I’m serious, Kareem — stay with me, trust me on this, you will be seen. But the fact the term “Asian-American” is so incredibly broad isn’t an accident — it was kind of the point from the start. Because it was first coined in the late 1960s by Asian-American student activists in California, who went on strike alongside black, Hispanic, and native American students to demand an ethnic studies curriculum.

In those days, the term “Asian-American” didn’t exist. We were all Orientals. In 1968, that was the first time that I heard the term Asian-Americans.

Asian-Americans encompasses everybody. I thought, wow, that’s something. People are finally starting to realize that we wear our race on our face.

John: It’s true. Under a system of white supremacy, we do tend to wear our race on our face. My face, for example, is currently wearing down market vintage colonial casual. I’d change into something a little less imperial if I could, but I can’t, so instead I wear these glasses. For those activists, the term “Asian-American” was an attempt to unite a massively diffuse community in solidarity, thus increasing their power, and, crucially, forcing their universities to devote resources to making sure the histories of all their communities were actually taught. It was a political term, a radical redefinition at the time. But it’s since become a common shorthand that can, unfortunately, end up being used in a way that is far too reductive and superficial, to the point where an old government PSA felt the need to make a pretty obvious statement.

People always ask me how I like America. My great-grandfather was born here. Like most Americans, we’ve been American for a long time. Some of us follow Asian tradition. My family is apple pie American. Mini bikes, football, rock guitar. All Asian-Americans are no more alike than any other kind of American. We don’t all look alike, do we?

Well, do we?

John: The fuck? Government money paid for that? Even this kid has a smirk that says “fucking white people.” Although, I’ll admit, the writer of that PSA defining “apple pie American” as “mini bikes, football, rock guitar” is magnificent. It should be the oath of citizenship. You put your hand over your heart, say “mini bikes, football, rock guitar,” and then you never ride a regular-sized bike again. Why? Because you’re an “American” now. And obviously, recognizing the diversity of Asian-Americans is about much more than simply recognizing those three children have three different faces. Because one of the main dangers of treating Asian-Americans as a single entity is that it obscures the reality of what’s happening for the different subgroups inside it. For example, about 10% of Asian-Americans live in poverty, which is actually lower than the overall U.S. poverty rate. But when you disaggregate the data — when you break it down by subgroup — you start to see a much more complicated situation, with Mongolian and Burmese-Americans having a poverty rate of 25%, more than twice the national average. And when it comes to education, while around 75% of Indian-Americans have a bachelor’s degree — well above the national average — for Bhutanese-Americans, that figure is just 15%, which is well below it. The point is, disaggregating the data can reveal big disparities you couldn’t see previously. Looking at averages for Asian-Americans as a whole is like looking at the average income of the Hemsworth Brothers. It’s very misleading when we all know some hems are worth a lot more than other hems are worth. And look, using the term “Asian-Americans” to represent a political coalition made sense, and still does, to some extent. But a coalition is not a monolith. And to start to understand some of the present-day differences here, it really helps to understand the differences in when, and how, people came to this country. And you can break down those experiences into a few broad categories, starting with those who arrived earlier, in the 19th century and the first half of the 20th. Asian immigration in that time was essentially a cycle of economic exploitation followed by a violent and restrictive backlash. This began with Chinese immigrants, who were recruited to work on the railroads in the 1860s. They faced virulent racism from the beginning, both from their bosses, who saw their lives as disposable, and from whites, many of whom saw them as unfair competition for jobs. At the time, a senator from California described Chinese immigrants as “automatic engines of flesh and blood” — making them sound like railroad-laying terminators — and demanded that the federal government “secure the American Anglo-Saxon civilization without contamination or adulteration.” And in 1882, with the Chinese exclusion act, he got his wish.

The Chinese exclusion law is one of the first really comprehensively restrictive laws. And it’s also the first and only time in the entire history of the united states that a group is singled out by name, Chinese by name as being undesirable. So this is truly a remarkable moment.

John: Yep, the poster says “hip hurrah” to the Chinese exclusion act, and if you look at the whole thing, it says in the middle, “hip hurrah, the white man is on top.” Which is a bit redundant. If you’ve said “hip hurrah” twice, you don’t need to say “the white man is on top.” It’s like saying “blue lives matter” or “welcome to Carrie Bradshaw’s bedroom.” “The white man on top” part is very much implied. And America committed to that exclusion policy. Here’s something you might not know: there were actually six Chinese men who survived the sinking of the titanic, but upon reaching U.S. shores, were not permitted to enter the united states to recover. Instead, they were forced onto another boat and sent away the very next day. Which isn’t just racist, it’s insensitive. Did it really have to be another boat? They had just been on the best boat and it fucking sucked. Could you not put them on a zeppelin or something? At the very least, let’s mix up the doomed turn of the century transportation methods here. And the experience of Chinese immigrants unfortunately set the template for the different groups that followed. Because waves of Japanese, Korean, South Asian, and Filipino immigrants later came over as agricultural workers, with those in charge often pitting the groups against each other with unequal wages and treatment. Each group that came faced the common experience of racial hostility, violence, and laws denying them the possibility of becoming citizens or owning land. Here is a poster targeting Chinese people, here’s a sign targeting Japanese people, and here is one targeting Filipinos. It’s just like the statue of liberty says: “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses… But not over there. Not there either. Definitely not in Maine. You know what, you guys just figure it out. Don’t worry, the signs will make it really obvious.” And no matter how long Asian-Americans or their families had been in this country, they were, as now, treated as perpetual foreigners whose loyalties were in question, with the most famous example of this being the world war ii internment camps, where 120,000 Japanese-Americans who’d been rounded up en masse were imprisoned. And to add insult to injury, when they were finally allowed to leave, the U.S. government had the gall to try and give it a positive spin.

If you don’t have money enough to get to your new location, the government through W.R.A. will make a grant of enough money to get you there and a little extra until the paychecks start coming in. This money does not have to be repaid. It’s a helping hand from Uncle Sam. It’s a big moment when you start to pack for your trip outside. It’s an even bigger moment when you walk through the gates, for the last time. And present your pass to the guard for the last time. And take a look at the barbed wire fence for the last time.

John: “And as you look at that barbed wire, you can think “fuck you, America” for the last time. Go ahead. We’re cool with it. You can even say it out loud if you want to. We’ll pretend we didn’t hear you, and then we’ll be even. In fact, let’s shake on that. You can say “fuck you, America” one time, and then we’ll be cool.” But around the middle of the last century, attitudes began to shift as the U.S. -locked in a cold war — came to see exclusion laws and racial quotas as bad for its global image. So laws like the Chinese exclusion act went away, to eventually be replaced by the 1965 immigration act. And this is the next broad category of Asian-American immigrants: those who came post-1965 as a result of that act. Because in contrast to the previous migrants, who were generally relegated to low-wage manual labor, a key thing this law did was prioritize educated and highly skilled workers like doctors and engineers. And it also tried to address specific labor needs, like when a nursing shortage resulted in overseas ads like these.

Labor recruiters and travel agencies started targeting Filipino nurses with ads that promised them bright futures in America.

One particular ad featured a basket that was decorated with the Philippine flag. It’s addressing the Filipino nurse saying, “dear nurse, if you’re not happy where you are right now, contact us.” And, “we can’t promise you happiness, but we can help you chase it all over the place.”

John: I’ve gotta say, that’s a refreshingly honest slogan. “You might not catch happiness — but you can chase it!” And it seemed to work, as nurses are one of this countries’ top imports from the Philippines — followed closely by, of course, Jollibee. The world’s greatest fast food mascot. Because believe me, unlike American labor recruiters in the ’60s, Jollibee can promise you happiness, and deliver it to you, in videos like this.

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John: Yes, please. I don’t know what I love more, Jollibee tastefully shaking that stinger like it’s a bottle of his signature ketchup or the coy flutter of those naughty humanoid eyes. Jollibee can get it! So very broadly, Asian-Americans before 1965 were largely exploited for their labor and legally discriminated against, while after 1965, there were many more who came as skilled workers and who faced fewer “formal” legal barriers. And then there’s a final group here, that had less to do with America’s labor needs, and more to do with its geopolitical interests: those who arrived as refugees. Because between 1975 and 2010, we took in over a million refugees from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Which wasn’t so much “generous” as it was a direct result of people seeking refuge from wars that America waged in the region. Basically, we bombed the shit out of their countries to thwart the spread of communism — sometimes in secret wars to fulfill henry Kissinger’s napalm kink — and then, once we took those refugees in, we didn’t really do much to set them up for success.

When it comes to refugees, we hold a lot of trauma, PTSD, mental illness from the war and the genocide.

We have in the U.S., with respect to our refugee policy, this doctrine of work first or work immediately. Doesn’t matter if you just came from a war zone and haven’t healed from the mental and physical traumas of war, we want you to get a low wage job immediately.

John: And that is really the full spectrum of the American experience, isn’t it? To go from the U.S. not giving a shit about your life abroad, to not giving a shit about your life here. Good luck! By the way, if you think you hear bombs again, try not to freak out — it’s either a holiday half the country kind of hates or some couple telling their friends what gender their baby is. Welcome to America! The point is, different groups of Asian-Americans have had vastly divergent migration experiences. And when you understand them more, the variation that you see — in everything from income to education to health outcomes — begins to make sense. And yet, groups that have, in some ways, so little in common, often have been unified, unfortunately, through the common experience of bigotry, as was the case in the early 1980s, when America’s fear of an economically ascendant japan led to a racist fervor at home.

Pretty soon, the finger of blame ended up on japan. All of this hatred, you could feel it, it was palpable.

Detroiters were invited for 50 cents a smash to take out their anger on Japanese cars.

John: Wow, that’s stupid. I honestly can’t think of a single good reason to beat up a car, except maybe if lightning McQueen owes you money. And to be honest, if you really want to hurt him, you don’t beat him with a sledgehammer. You light mater on fire, and you make him watch. That’s what you do. Everybody knows that. Where’s my fucking money, McQueen? But tragically, and unsurprisingly, that type of resentment and blame turned to violence, and eventually culminated in the murder of Vincent Chin, a Chinese-American man who was beaten to death by two white men who blamed him for what japan was doing to the U.S. auto industry. Chin’s killers were arrested and convicted, but the judge sentenced them to exactly no prison time, instead giving each of them three years’ probation and less than $4,000 in fines. And he insisted at the time he’d made the right decision.

Judge Charles Kaufman says justice was done. He would not talk to CBS news, but he did tell a Detroit newspaper that the two defendants were longtime, hardworking members of the community, adding, “these men are not going to go out and harm somebody else. I just didn’t think that putting them in prison would do any good for them or for society.”

John: Oh, it gets worse! That judge also said, “these weren’t the kind of men you send to jail.” And it’s hard to tell what criteria that judge used to decide what kind of men these two murderers were. Was it the color of the skin on their faces? The color of the skin on their hands? Or just judicial instinct — a gut feeling that these two men were, in fact, white? That’s the thing about the criminal justice system: at the end of the day, it’s more race art than race science. But the enduring legacy of the Vincent Chin case was that it managed to bring Asian-Americans of all ethnicities together to call for justice. And out of that sprang a new chapter of Asian-American activism and political identity. And that’s just the most famous example of a rich history of Asian-American activism. Which has often worked across racial lines, from the student strike we mentioned earlier, to Filipino labor leaders working with Cesar Chavez to organize a grape boycott, to Yuri Kochiyama’s friendship with Malcolm X and her advocacy for marginalized people of all backgrounds. And yet a prevailing narrative most people hear regarding Asian-Americans is one of conflict between them and other communities of color — like during the 1992 L.A. Uprising. And look, it’s not that those tensions aren’t very real. But it’s not the whole picture. And it’s also a narrative that fits into a much larger pattern, in which white America has actively pitted Asian-Americans against other communities. And that brings us to the second half of this sentence, and the “model minority” myth. The idea of the model minority emerged over half a century ago, in part because some Asian-Americans were strategically typecasting themselves in a bid to enhance their demands for racial equality. And they did so by promoting their communities as upstanding and hardworking. And as immigration law began selecting for skilled and educated Asian immigrants, the credentials of those new arrivals seemed to conform to the stereotype, which then took on a life of its own, especially in the civil-rights era, as whites, unnerved by black Americans’ radical challenges to the system, held up Japanese and Chinese-Americans and their success as evidence that they claimed disproved systemic racism. Very basically, America prioritized wealthy, more educated Asian immigrants, then turned to black people — who’d been subjugated for centuries — and said, “see? They’re educated and successful, why aren’t you?” And using Asian-American success to downplay American racism is a trend that very much continues to this day.

If America was such a hate-filled, discriminatory, racist society filled with animus against Asian-Americans, how do you explain the remarkable success of Asian-Americans in our country?

Their mindset is to just work really hard. It’s not to protest things and not to shut things down. It’s just to work really hard. Asians, the whole reason why they kick ass is because they don’t spend any time on petty bullshit.

Asians are concerned about hate crimes, but they’re very upwardly mobile, very success-oriented, very business-oriented. They’re model citizens in many cases in my view. Probably the most admirable ethnic group we have.

John: Wow, congratulations, Asian-Americans! Dick Morris thinks you’re the most admirable ethnic group we have. That’s so sweet of him to say. If you want to write dick a thank you note, just address the envelope to “shove this right up Dick Morris’s ass, New York, NY, whatever zip code Dick Morris’s asshole is in.” A central premise of the model minority myth is that the key to overcoming American racism is simply strong values and hard work — with the implication being that groups that haven’t succeeded simply haven’t tried hard enough. And putting aside how offensive that is, the truth is, whether or not you’re “successful,” living a life defined by a racist fantasy just isn’t good for you.

Striving to maintain the idea of a “model minority” has really severed my self-esteem. It really makes me feel that I’m nothing more than someone who could get good grades, someone who was supposed to be perfect, and be mum about everything.

John: Right. Trying to be perfect your whole life is going to be too much to bear. That’s why I made a promise when I started this show that I’d always get one fact in every story completely wrong. Is that responsible? Absolutely not. But it is what keeps me looking young. And the model minority myth is especially galling for some members of groups — like those whose families came as refugees — whose lived experience doesn’t remotely match the stereotype. The truth is, that kind of pressure can do real damage. Suicide is the leading cause of death for Asian-Americans between the ages of 15 and 24. And yet, apparently, only 8% of Asian-Americans sought help for their mental health, which is less than half the rate of the general population. And that is not just a result of cultural stigmas around mental health. It’s also what happens when you’re consistently told to quietly and happily accept discrimination because your version is the “nice racism.” But there is no nice racism. There is no silver lining to it, and there is no working your way out of it. You’re still perpetually treated as a foreigner, still asked where you’re “really from,” and Asian-Americans always seem to be one geopolitical crisis away from becoming the targets of violence yet again, whether it’s those internment camps for Japanese-Americans, or the spate of attacks on south Asians after 9/11, or all the recent racial violence during the pandemic. So the model minority myth is both a tool of white supremacy and a trap. And as with so many things in this story, with a community this diverse, there are going to be different perspectives on how to handle it. Andrew yang has annoyed some by leaning into it, with self-deprecating jokes and his fucking math hat. And he also angered many when he responded to the trump administration’s “china virus” rhetoric by writing an op-ed in which he claimed, “we Asian Americans need to embrace and show our American-ness in ways we never have before” by, among other things, “wearing red, white, and blue.” That argument prompted a backlash, with Eddie Huang tweeting, “fuck out of here with this America drag…you bumbling pineapple bun,” and I do get that. Because it’s pretty insulting to suggest two centuries of racism could be defeated by serving Uncle Sam realness. So all of that is, very simplistically, too broadly and probably too quickly, an abridged version of how we all got to where we are right now. So where do we go from here? Well, what is clear is, we have to find a way to have smarter, more nuanced conversations about the reality of the Asian-American experience. And we cannot do that without access to high-quality, disaggregated data that can help better fit public policy to the actual needs of individual communities. But that is not all. Because Asian-Americans have been warning for decades about all of this. Just watch a man tell a reporter, five years before I was even born, what I’ve been trying to tell you, during yet another one of those old “model minority” profiles.

But I suggested that compared to the black and Chicano, the Japanese-American has it made. He can get a job, a place to live.

It’s a situation where I think the question is not material, making it in terms of economics, but a question basically of human dignity. You know what I mean in terms of human dignity? Like, for example, we’ve been set in a certain category and many people argue, “man, you got a good stereotype! You got a stereotype that gets you apartments where you don’t have to pay a cleaning deposit because you’re so goddamn clean!” That’s our stereotype, but it’s an infringement, it’s a violation of our human dignity, ’cause they don’t view us as individuals, as human beings. We fit into a certain category, we fit into a certain box. That’s how they view us.

John: He’s right. It’s a category, it’s a box, but the thing is, you don’t learn anything from it unless you bother to look inside. Because obviously, no group, community, or indeed, individual, is just one thing. And when you reduce the Asian-American experience to that of a “model minority,” you’re omitting a history that includes exploitation and exclusion, but also includes activism, some infighting, challenges with issues like immigration, education, and access to social services that continue to this day, and an array of interests and achievements that go far beyond these two guys, to be as vast and diverse as America itself. And by the way, can you see who is in there? I told you, Kareem! I told you I got your back! I see you, Kareem! And I know this story has barely skimmed the surface of this subject, but I hope it’s at least introduced some of you to a bit of the history involved here, as well as what I think we can all agree is the world’s most fuckable bee.

That’s our show. Thank you so much for watching. We’ll see you next week, good night!


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