Chapters 13 and 14

Chapter 13, Why are our students so angry? 

Oluo’s son nervously tells her that he doesn’t want to attend a school assembly for Veterans Day, despite the fact that he normally loves school. He recently decided not to say the pledge of allegiance and made good arguments in support of his decision, including that he doesn’t believe that there is equal liberty and justice for all Americans. Oluo, her son, and his classroom teacher have talked about this decision and worked out an agreement. Now, his music teacher is pressuring him to say the pledge during the assembly and tells him that the visiting veterans will yell at him if he doesn’t. Oluo is sad that her young son has to be protected from his adult teacher and that he can’t do things white children do, like play outside with a gun.  

Oluo was born in 1980, and she hoped that the model Black family promised by television’s Cosby family would be her adult reality. Instead, her son is inheriting a world of massive minority incarceration and violence. Oluo’s generation raised their children with the hope and promise of exceptionalism and acceptance, but the U.S. social system perverts Black people’s efforts to succeed and continues to punish minorities. These children were raised fighting for civil rights like their parents did, and they continue to fight, but they also see that not much is changing. Oluo’s son was one of several hundred to walk out of school in protest after President Trump was elected. Young people can reveal how society is unjust and inequitable. Oluo believes that it is up to adults to nurture them so they can destroy the unjust system that is the foundation of U.S. society. 

Chapter 14, What is the model minority myth? 

Oluo grew up poor and connected with other poor children more so than she did with other Black children. She and her friends found comfort in eating dry ramen and wearing secondhand clothes without the world’s judgment. Many of those friends were Asian Americans from places like Guam and the Philippines, but in her social justice work, she rarely considers Asian Americans because she falls prey to the American myth that they are hard-working, smart, and successful. Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) are victimized by the model minority myth, in which they are fetishized as a racial minority for reasons ranging from their intelligence to their work ethic and their family dynamic. American society has used the model minority myth to both advance and denigrate Asian American interests.  

It is problematic in part because it lumps together all Asians under one minority. In reality, people from Hawaii, the Philippines, Guam, Korea, and China are very different culturally, linguistically, and economically. America has imposed different immigration mandates and restrictions on various groups of Asian people at different times, meaning they have different histories with American naturalization and different work histories when entering the country. Asian Americans have a high level of educational attainment in the United States, but this statistic hides stark differences by nationality that leave Cambodian, Laotian, and Chinese Americans far behind. In reality, only wealthy Asian Americans have access to quality higher education and generally only in fields such as math, business, and finance. Asian Americans are strongly underrepresented in corporate leadership. Worse, Asian American hate crimes are underreported and misunderstood. Because of cultural stereotypes, Asian American women suffer more from domestic violence than their white counterparts and Asian Americans rarely hold politically powerful positions. Like other minorities, Asian Americans suffer from microaggressions and other forms of racism, but they are also told that they have it better than Blacks or Hispanics. Any effort to fight racial inequity in the United States must include Asian Americans.  


Childhood should be a time of unbridled joy filled with imaginative play and nurturing care, but Black children suffer from America’s racial and social inequities. Oluo makes this point vividly with her son, who must decide whether to say the pledge, how to discuss his concerns with his teacher, and how to manage the situation outside of the classroom. He’s young, but he’s well aware of his identity as a young Black person and how American society treats racial minorities. He’s determined to stand against injustice. Nevertheless, he is a child. He has toys and he likes to play with them, outside, with his friends. So when his father tells him that he can’t take his toy gun outside, he is hurt and confused. Those feelings are reinforced when Oluo explains to him why. It’s devastating for a child to learn that some adults harbor ill will toward people of other races. Although Oluo and her forebears have fought for decades for social change, progress has been insufficient, and America remains stubbornly entrenched in white supremacy. As her child reckons with these painful revelations, adults must recognize that young people have a long fight to attain justice. That feeling is both crushing and exhilarating. Young people carry the burden of taking society further, but they realize that and are up for the challenge. 

Americans are divided by economic class as much as they are by race, but that fact is often glossed over in national conversations about socioeconomic status and race partially because of the model minority myth. The Asian American community has earned a reputation for being hardworking and educationally successful, but it is a reality for only a small segment of that community. Other AAPIs, such as Filipino Americans or Pacific Islanders, are generally not included in this stereotype, and they are more likely to be blue-collar workers, denigrated by white America for relying on social support services. These distinctions are rooted in part in America’s immigration policies, which, historically, elevate economic policy rather than humanitarian goals. The reality is that racial fear is a greater motivation than nearly anything else. Asian Americans in particular have been strictly regulated. Discrimination and circumstances limit their job options and keep them segregated, often living in crowded, squalid communities. Economic advancement under these conditions is challenging at best. In reality, Asian Americans who are successful in the United States are often those who come from wealth and had access to English language education, so the model minority comprises only a very small sample of all Asian Americans. Indians, Laotians, Cambodians, Micronesians, and others are generally excluded from this stereotype and are often perceived as being particularly unsavory for “refusing” to conform to expectations. 

Asian American stereotypes and AAPIs’ perceived success contribute to the oppression of these minority groups while also erasing their individual identities. White America has a stereotypical image of Asian Americans as quiet, passive, studious, and unemotional. When Asian Americans reflect this fetishized ideal, they do not gain agency or social power, for example by holding government positions, because they are expected to be meek. In some instances, their assumed success makes them targets of hate crimes perpetrated by people who believe that Asian Americans’ success comes at the expense of their own job security. However, Asian Americans who do not embody the model minority image face different kinds of oppression. They receive fewer resources or social support because, according to the model minority myth, the stereotype of their success makes them invisible to wider society. Asian Americans are often excluded from civil rights battles because they face different challenges than Native Americans, Blacks, or Hispanics. These differences can also lead to civil rights movements overlooking their problems with agency and representation, causing Asian Americans to fall further behind in American society, the ultimate result of the model minority myth.