Saying Goodbye to the Model Minority
“You speak so well!” for a black person
“You’re so eloquent and smart!” for a black person
“My parents love you, they think you’re so different from other kids!” compared to other black children
The sum of my childhood and adolescence was filled with micro-aggressions veiled as compliments that I was too naïve to understand. I was raised by a West Indian mother who instilled in me that academics would be my key to the “American Dream”. I obtained that key through my love of reading, which allowed me to score higher than my classmates on standardized tests and Accelerated Reader quizzes. Even in elementary school, I believed that academic excellence would overshadow the most obvious facts about me: I was black, and I was poor.
You couldn’t afford to be black and struggle academically; this weakness put a target on your back. My black classmates were the first to receive a red frowny-face, a time-out, or a call home to their parents. Black kids were labeled disruptive and disobedient, and the school would never consider that our home life could have a negative effect on our performance in school. Students of color who live in poverty have to deal with not having food to eat, quiet spaces to do homework, or parents who can dedicate time to help them with their assignments every day.
Most first-generation Americans know the myth of the “Model Minority”. Supposedly by being smarter, studying harder, and having less fun you could earn a career that would take you and your family out of poverty to earn a shot at the American Dream your parents sacrificed so much for. In theory this made sense, so I bought in. I dedicated myself to school and made a conscious effort to separate myself from other black kids. I viewed other poor, black kids with contempt, writing them off as ghetto and making myself feel better than them. I happily accepted the micro-aggressions from every teacher, administrator, and parent in the hopes that it would give me access to what really guaranteed me the American Dream: Whiteness.
But I soon realized what I had staked my identity and value on, quite frankly, was bullshit. It was in 2008 and 2012, when I watched an Ivy-League graduate and gifted politician run for president, and get called a nigger that I realized this. It was in 2012, when I watched my classmates mock the death of Trayvon Martin that I realized this. It was in 2013, when I attended a football game during my senior year, where my high school played a predominantly-black team and hung a bear from a noose that I realized this. It was in 2014, when I witnessed people who gave me validity in my intelligence excuse the murder of Michael Brown that I realized this. It was watching the murders of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Aiyana Jones, and so many more go without justice that I realized this. It was in 2016, when the country decided upholding whiteness was more important than the humanity of others that I realized this. The culmination of all these events had left me shaken; realizing that being a model minority didn’t guarantee me anything in America.
If you are a person of color, you have to realize the American Dream does not exist. There is no amount of education, money, Christian faith, or relationships with white people that will make you not black. Your blackness is visible and it unfortunately means that you are valued less in society. You do not have access to the privileges that are given to white people. Being a person of color means you will experience inequality in housing, wages, criminal justice, healthcare access, and education. Acknowledging these truths freed me from the performative intelligence that I had clung to for so long and instead allowed me to celebrate who I truly am. I am a black woman who is proud to have two immigrant parents. I have a deep love for reading and trap music. I am both parts Angela Davis and Cardi B. There is nothing I can do that can erase my blackness and what it means. And I wouldn’t want to. So now I just do whatever the hell I want.