The “model minority” speaks out

This open letter on Anti-Asian discrimination was sent to the Wharton community in October 2016. See accompanying workshop slides.

Dear Wharton,

We were disappointed to hear that Peter Linneman, Emeritus Professor of Real Estate at Wharton, recently made discriminatory remarks about Chinese men at a public real estate conference in New York (see WSJ article). At Wharton, we understand that discrimination against any member of our community is an affront to all members of our community. Professor Linneman’s comments contravene our school’s ongoing commitment to promote diversity and inclusion—they do not reflect the views of the Wharton community.

There is a long history of discrimination and violence against Asians and Asian Americans in the United States. From 1882 to 1943, the Chinese Exclusion Act banned all Chinese immigrants from entering the U.S.—the only ethnic immigration ban in this nation’s history. The U.S. also bears responsibility for Executive Order 9066 (and Korematsu v. United States), which authorized (and later constitutionalized) the incarceration of more than 100,000 Japanese Americans during World War II. Many other examples abound.

Today, anti-Asian discrimination continues to manifest itself through both microaggressions and hate crimes, including murder and mass murder. These acts are fueled by a variety of harmful cultural narratives, including the model minority myth, the perpetual foreigner myth, the hypersexualization of Asian women, and the desexualization of Asian men. Discriminatory statements that rely on these stereotypes also help to perpetuate the bamboo ceiling—the systemic exclusion of Asians and Asian Americans from top leadership positions in business, political, and social organizations.

A growing body of research confirms that business leaders must be competent on issues of diversity and inclusion (D&I) in order to be truly effective leaders.

To that end, we have been inspired to see our fellow classmates recognizing the importance of promoting diversity and inclusion through events, rallies, and open letters. For example, in the wake of recent acts of violence and discrimination against the Black, LGBTQ, and Muslim communities in America, student affinity groups brought Wharton together to learn about these different types of oppression and to express solidarity with the affected communities.

As a part of the ongoing student dialogue on diversity and inclusion, we invite you to attend a panel and open forum (see workshop slides) on Thursday, November 10 to explore the unique challenges faced by the Asian and Asian American communities in the United States. This event, which is sponsored by the Greater China Club (GCC), the Wharton Asian American Association of MBAs (WAAAM), Wharton Asia Club, and Return on Equality (ROE), is part of International Week (November 7-10), an annual initiative organized by the Wharton Graduate Association (WGA) to learn about the unique perspectives of our international classmates.

We also applaud the Wharton administration’s efforts to promote diversity and inclusion among the student body. For example, we commend administration-driven initiatives like the mandatory workshop for first-year students, the Return on Equality Fund for student-led events, and the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force for student programming. At the same time, systemic changes are necessary to enhance the culture and norms of our school—not only among students, but also among faculty and staff members.

In particular, we urge the Wharton administration to implement mandatory training on diversity and inclusion for all faculty and staff members. This training is critical to ensuring that our faculty and staff members continue to be effective educators—for our increasingly diverse student body, and against the backdrop of an increasingly diverse business environment. In taking the lead on this very important issue, Wharton would affirm its place as a leader among our business school peers.

Maintaining an inclusive community requires ongoing and active participation from all of us. We value the efforts that students, faculty, and staff have invested in promoting diversity and inclusion at Wharton, and we look forward to continued collaboration toward our vision of a more fully inclusive One Wharton.

Wharton Greater China Club (GCC)
Wharton Asian American Association of MBAs (WAAAM)
Wharton Asia Club
Return on Equality (ROE)
Wharton Graduate Association (WGA)

Yellow peril supports Black lives

As an Asian American, I am aware that my community does not engage nearly enough on issues of racial justice in America. We tend to embrace our status as the model minority and seek to dissociate ourselves from other communities of color. As immigrants and perpetual foreigners, we are constantly reaching for whiteness in the hopes that securing white privilege will signify that we have finally realized the American Dream.

And sometimes, America lets us in. We are praised for being hardworking and good at math. And we have been largely spared from the systemic violence faced by Black America for the past four centuries through slavery, segregation, redlining, mass incarceration, and police brutality.

But our access to white privilege is both temporary and conditional. The power to confer and revoke that privilege has never belonged to us. They can let us in, and they can shut us out. The U.S. once banned all Chinese immigrants from entering the country for more than 60 years and incarcerated more than 100,000 Japanese Americans during WWII (but not a single German American).

Our access to white privilege is incomplete. We are stereotyped as workers and middle managers, not CEOs (we’re just not natural leaders). Our women are hypersexualized (relax, it’s a compliment), and our men are desexualized (relax, it’s just a joke). Sometimes we even get to be sidekicks on TV shows.

Most critically, our access to white privilege is bounded by a zero-sum game that pits the Asian American community against other communities of color. Today, Asian Americans are a pawn in the campaign against affirmative action, a legal remedy that seeks to reverse the effects of institutional racism against Black and Brown America. We are told that affirmative action benefits underrepresented minorities at our expense. We are not told that affirmative action policies are designed to preserve the white majority (or plurality) at our expense — redistributing a minority of seats between Asian Americans and other people of color. This zero-sum game is critical because it keeps us occupied with hostility toward other communities of color, distracting us from challenging white supremacist institutions.

And so we use our political energies to protest the wrong things. It was shameful that thousands of Asian Americans protested the conviction of NYPD officer Peter Liang for killing Akai Gurley, an unarmed Black man. Instead of being angry at the fact that Liang was (rightfully) convicted of manslaughter, we should have been angry at the fact that almost no other police officers have been indicted — much less convicted — for killing unarmed Black people in this country.

Asian America has an important role to play in #BlackLivesMatter. But first we must decolonize our minds and reject the anti-Blackness we have internalized from our Asian and American cultures. We must learn to see ourselves as people of color (without reductively equating our experiences with those of all people of color). And we must acknowledge the many ways in which we are complicit in upholding the white supremacist structures of this country — in our selective sexual desires, our disdain for melanin, our antipathy toward affirmative action, and our fear of and contempt for low-income Black and Brown communities.

Asian Americans have so much power in our collective voice. We have the power to mobilize and advocate on issues that uniquely affect the Asian American community. And we have the power to stand in solidarity with our Black and Brown sisters and brothers to advocate on issues that matter to all people of color. We can join together to work toward our common goal of an American Dream that opens its doors for everyone.