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Column: Larry Elder and the danger of the “model minority” candidate

The term “model minority” has a specific history in the Asian American community, but I can’t think of a better embodiment of its concepts than Larry Elder, the black Republican gubernatorial candidate who made a career out of saying the things white people like. to hear about black people.

Elder’s deeply held beliefs about race come to comfort the more racist and far-right wings of the Republican Party. He doesn’t believe systemic racism exists, says Black Lives Matter has caused crime rates to rise and all people of color in America need to fight racism is a pair of bootstraps to get back on their feet.

And I don’t think Elder’s sudden importance was an accident. Running a “model minority” candidate will likely become a common electoral strategy for the largely white Republican Party as it attempts to maintain control of a rapidly diversifying nation. Model minority candidates can help assert far-right perspectives on racism while offering a defense against the charge that the Republican Party is too white.

This strategy “allows the GOP to recognize race and racism, but it allows them to get away with changing any policy on it,” said Janelle Wong, professor of American studies at the ‘University of Maryland. “This allows them to approach the breed but also to minimize it. “

Which means that in the future, we will hear a lot of racial alarmism and talk about these mythical “bootstraps” which open a magical door to the American dream.

In preparation for this impending onslaught of cultural propaganda, I thought it would be instructive for all of us to learn to recognize a model minority candidate and learn what the term really means.

According to Ellen Wu, professor of Asian-American studies at Indiana University who wrote a book on the model minority effect, the “model minority” is also an idea, as well as a reference to a story. specific.

“Playing the right minority is a strategy that many different people have used, either by the minorities themselves or as a label that people have projected on various individuals or groups to move an agenda forward,” Wu said.

Journalists and academics began to apply the term to Asian Americans in the 1960s to explain why Japanese and Chinese Americans achieved financial success. Besieged by increasingly specific demands for racial justice from black civil rights activists, white leaders have been quick to seize the model of the minority narrative as a strategy to quell those demands. For white observers, the success of Asian Americans meant that American racism against blacks was not so bad.

At the same time, the United States began to selectively admit wealthy and educated immigrants from Asia. Visa categories favoring academics, students, doctors and engineers would become the main demographic determinants of today’s Asian American community.

What it meant to be a model minority has changed dramatically, Wu said. In the decades leading up to the 1960s, being a “good” minority meant ostentatious displays of patriotism, such as displaying American flags, speaking fluently. English, volunteer for the army and celebrate July 4th. After decades of selective Asian immigration, the term “model minority” has been associated with things like education, economic productivity, science, and medicine, in part because so many recent Asian immigrants were working in these fields. .

But throughout history, the term has always relied on the idea that there is a “non-model” minority – that some races are “bad” and others are “good”. The type of behavior considered “model” changes depending on who is America’s current “non-model” minority. But for me, being a model minority is always a strategy to avoid the negative effects of racism and xenophobia by helping the powerful.

Which brings us back to Larry Elder and the first characteristic of the model minority candidate.

First of all, you have to declare that systemic racism and white supremacy don’t exist, or at least are not as bad as everyone says. This message will make you a political darling almost overnight. If you publicly console the Republican grassroots concerns about racism, conservative celebrity awaits.

Elder ticks that box because he’s one of the nation’s most vocal racism deniers since Before It Was Cool, a longtime mentor to former Trump adviser and white nationalist sympathizer Stephen Miller.

“Someone who comes from a background like Larry’s and is willing to say all these things about racism – that’s a really affirmative message to white Republican voters,” said Rudy Alamillo, assistant science professor. policies at Western Washington University who studied the effectiveness of Republican appeals to the Latino community.

Second, the model minority candidate takes personal success or wealth as proof that America is a meritocracy. They often brandish their biography as if it alone refutes any racism and any hardship. They are deeply proud of the fact that they are a special and talented member of their race who has overcome discrimination.

And their belief in their own merit rests on accepting the inferiority of their community. Think of it as a first step on the people around you so that you can look like you’re getting off the hook.

Immigrant communities are particularly responsive to these calls because they are an important part of the narrative that brought people to America. And that’s why Elder resonated more than I expected in the Asian-American and Latin American communities, as recently reported by my colleagues Gustavo Arellano and Anh Do.

But just because hard work can beat racism doesn’t mean racism doesn’t exist. And more and more people are starting to reject this kind of call. A 2019 AAPI Data survey found that 55% of Asian Americans and a majority of Californians globally reject the “bootstraps narrative”.

Third, the model minority candidate will showcase his ties to his minority community when it benefits him, but he is unlikely to have too many real ties to his community. People rarely want to hang out with whoever throws them under the bus, as my colleague Donovan X. Ramsey found out last week.

We all probably know a Larry Elder. It’s not so surprising that an intellectual and bookish child who grew up facing pernicious stereotypes in a poor neighborhood has become a vehement anti-racist who takes fierce pride in pushing back against trends and stereotypes. I can attest to this: when you are a person of color you find yourself living your life rejecting the stereotypes that are applied to you. But by rejecting them so strongly, we often end up letting these stereotypes define us.

Democrat or Republican, and whatever your race, I guarantee you don’t want to elect a model minority candidate. If they decided to sell their own people, why would they treat the rest of us better?