AAPIP Voices

2020: The Final Decade of the “Model Minority” Myth – A Perspective From Brandon Hadi, AAPIP’s Social Justice Fellow


In the short time that I have been involved with AAPIP, I have seen some bright and dark spots in this country’s philanthropic sector. The field of philanthropy has made strides toward advancing racial equity thanks to the tireless work of many, especially womxn of color and allies. As we all look to the future, which is ours to shape, I’d like to consider the 2020s as the final decade the philanthropic sector subscribes to stereotypes of any racialized group, and specifically, to unsubscribe from harmful “model minority” narratives imposed on Asians.

I first heard the term “model minority” in college. It was new to me, but little did I know these narratives had been around since the late 1960s, crafted as propaganda to delegitimize claims that racism impeded economic stability for people of color – African-Americans in particular. The pervasiveness of “model minority” narratives has been used for decades to drive a wedge between people of color, and has, admittedly, even been embraced by pockets of Asians. That’s the insidiousness of white supremacy; even if we are still dehumanized by these narratives, being seen as more human than another group may feel like liberation. So, API communities certainly have our own work to do, especially regarding anti-Blackness.

The “model minority” myth, derived out of though different from anti-Black racism, illustrates the multi-dimensionality of white supremacy. To effectively dismantle the system, we must address it simultaneously on multiple fronts. As social change agents in philanthropy, we are responsible for thinking critically and promoting equity. Here’s what the field of philanthropy can do this decade to end “model minority” narratives by 2030 and see Asians and Pacific Islanders as multi-faceted people; people who also face significant economic struggle.

First: Look at the data
Asians currently face the greatest wealth inequality of any racial group in the United States. Images of “crazy, rich Asians” paint and reinforce an inaccurate portrayal of the economic position of Asian and Pacific Islander communities. For every “rich” Asian you might see, for example, there are three Burmese, Bhutanese or Hmong struggling with poverty whom you do not see. In California, a recent survey commissioned by the Irvine Foundation found that nearly one in four working APIs struggle with poverty.

Second: Ask, are APIs in our portfolio?
For funders focused on education, are you aware that Pacific Islander and Southeast Asian communities are underrepresented in secondary and higher education? For funders working on immigration, did you know that Chinese immigrants are the original category of excluded people and that Asians make up the fastest-growing population of undocumented immigrants? For funders interested in racial equity, are you asking yourself where Asians and Indigenous people fit into the strategy, and are you engaging those on your staff with their own lived experiences? We could keep going, but I’m sure you get the point by now.

Third: If you can’t find an API nonprofit to fund, fund a Giving Circle
We know that making our communities a better place to live happens with or without funding from mainstream sources like big foundations. Usually this work is facilitated by a local nonprofit organization and oftentimes that work is also supported by everyday community members who are taking matters into their own hands. In API communities, this work is being done by formal and informal giving circles.

Giving circles offer foundations unique opportunities to become intimately connected to community, and for local foundations, a golden chance to overcome the challenge of cultivating a diverse donor pool from the ground up. Giving circles are not new; everyday people pooling their resources together to achieve greater collective impact has been around for centuries. But right now, there is an opportunity for mainstream philanthropy to engage with giving circles more meaningfully. Having supported the development and growth of over 50 giving circles from 2011-2015, AAPIP is looking to leverage the collective power of these giving circles on a national scale.

Now, I may just be a naive, hopeful young person working in the field of philanthropy, but I truly believe that our sector can collectively unsubscribe from these harmful “model minority” narratives. In doing so, we not only re-humanize those who have been stereotyped, but we reclaim our own humanity, too.

I am confident that by first equipping ourselves with credible data from sources like AAPI Data, consistently re-examining who we might’ve overlooked in our portfolios, and funding innovative models to democratize philanthropy, we will successfully lay to rest this racist propaganda by 2030.

To all of you, a Happy New Year, and a hat tip to all who are working tirelessly on the ground and in philanthropy to reverse the tides of white supremacy and lay the groundwork for a vibrant and inclusive democracy.

“Let us not let the future surprise us. Instead, let us shape it” -Raghuram G. Rajan

Brandon Hadi joined AAPIP in September 2019 as our Social Justice Fellow.