‘Model Minority’: John Oliver Talks Racism Against Asian Americans

John Oliver this week turned his eye towards the “supposedly better situation” Asian Americans are in. 

South Asians
2 min read
Hindi Female

In the recent episode of the show Last Week Tonight aired Monday, 7 June, host John Oliver spoke about how America and American society downplay racism by attributing the concept of model minority to Asian Americans.

In the latest episode, Oliver shed light on the large and diverse group of people who are categorised as ‘Asian Americans’, the history of the model minority stereotype, and why conversations on the subject need to be better-informed.

He spoke about how Asian Americans are called the "model minority or "model citizens" and are therefore expected to keep mum, because they are assumed to be in a better position than most others economically. At the same time, other minorities are perceived as not working hard, and are often told if the Asians can do it, they should too.


The term ‘Asian American’ is used to refer to a huge part of population – from Pakistan to Cambodia. This is the first problem with the idea of Asian Americans, John Oliver says. The term came into existence as a means to unite people to seek dignity and rights.

However, the term Asian American which started as a political term has reached the cultural box, and there are massive differences between these groups in both cultural and socio-economic context.

Oliver points out that Asian Americans are considered to be more educated and economically sound than most Americans. But when the data is broken down and seen individually, one can see that Asians coming from states like Vietnam and Cambodia are far from being economically sound, and are quite below the national average which the "Asians in America" are considered to be well above, owing to the countries' recent past.

Another trope he says is viewing Asians as hardworking and intelligent, in turn forcing the young population to adhere to these stereotypes. This might be both challenging and pressurising as they are looked at through a single lens. Besides, there are also differentiated against and seen as outsiders, often asked "where they really are from", says John Oliver.

Last year, at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, America witnessed an uptick in anti-Asian hate crimes. To combat this, last month President Joe Biden signed a legislation to protect Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. That Asian Americans form 7% of the population of the United States, and are yet subjected to hate crimes highlight the prevalence of deep-rooted racism in the cultural fabric of America.
“The model minority myth is both a tool of white supremacy and a trap. What is clear is we have to find a way to have smarter, more nuanced conversations about the reality of the Asian American experience, and we cannot do that without access to high quality disaggregated data that can help better fit public policy to the actual needs of individual communities.”
John Oliver on the show, Last Week Tonight.

Oliver says putting Asian Americans in a box and asking them to keep shut is as much racism as it is when Asians are placed on a pedestal for being hardworking and successful. Addressing the racist tropes plaguing the country, he calls unto the ignorance of America.

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