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Asian American women have a higher median income than white men, but one statistic can never provide enough context to make a point about race in the United States.
Polemic opinion writer Rav Arora, a self-identified Sikh and contributor for the New York Post, capitalized on the model minority myth to produce another derivative opinion piece arguing that white supremacy doesn’t exist. In this particular op-ed, he writes that because Asian American women have a higher median income than white men in the U.S., white supremacy must not exist.
Five days later on Dec. 16, conservative commentator Lauren Chen made a similar argument in an RT piece with the same statistic, with the additional assertion that because Asian women are so fiscally successful, soon the American left will simply consider them white.
The model minority myth
The model minority myth posits that Asian Americans have inherent traits or value systems that allow them to be successful in the U.S., whereas other people of color do not but should. The term was created by a white man in the 1970s to deliberately drive a wedge in between minority communities during a period of high Asian immigration when the U.S. specifically welcomed highly-educated immigrants.
The myth has been disproven again and again and again. Not only is it blatantly misleading, but it’s also damaging to Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) and other communities of color. Although deployed to disprove white supremacy, the model minority myth is a creation and tool of that system.
Median income is not a clear indicator
In this latest iteration of the model minority myth, Arora and Chen base their entire arguments around a single metric: median income. According to data from the Census Bureau in 2019, Asian women have a higher median income than white men in the U.S. This one statistic, however, misrepresents the complexity of the situation. The simple argument that Asian American women are “better off” than white men ignores incredible complexity within the AAPI identity and community.
While certain groups of Asian Americans are indeed financially successful, in particular those of East Asian and Indian descent, the median income for other groups is far lower. The highest earners among AAPI women are Indian women, with a median annual earning of $60,879. Hmong women and Bangladeshi women, however, have a median annual income of $30,000 and $30,439 respectively. When looked at as an aggregate, Asian Americans are indeed doing relatively well, but the truth is that there are grave disparities within the community.
Almost twice as many Asian Americans have graduate or professional degrees as white Americans — according to the Washington Post, more than 50% of Asian Americans over the age of 25 have attained a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 33% of white Americans.
A more nuanced conversation
With that context, it’s evident that median income alone is far too vague a comparison. Another glaring issue with solely engaging with the median income statistic is that it doesn’t compare the outcomes of Asian women directly to those of white men working in the same industries. AAPI women face the smallest wage gap compared to other women, but they still only earn 88.5% of white men’s earnings. That amounts to an average of $400,000 in lost income over a 40-year career.
There are several other factors about these two opinion pieces which don’t make sense as well. White supremacy does not exist only in an economic framework; it is pervasive in other parts of our lives as well. There is more to racism than economics, although racism and economics are strongly linked, of course. Additionally, Asian women and white men are not the sole two demographic groups in America, and even within those groups, there are so many other factors that have to do with class, education, geography and even specific ethnicities that drawing conclusions about the entire country based on these two lumped-together groups alone is completely illogical.
There are insights we can gather from the median income statistic, but they come only from unpacking the larger context in which these numbers are situated. The extrapolations made by Arora and others on Twitter to disprove racism and white supremacy’s existence in our society don’t show the whole story because they’re designed to provoke, not inform.
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