The Bigotry Factor: O’Reilly and the Manipulation of the Model Minority Myth

I generally avoid commenting on the racism and ignorance of Bill O’Reilly because my guess is that he just plays a bigot to get attention. It’s an ugly ploy. Just check out the video clip from his show I embedded below. While he rants about Asian American liberalism in Hawai’i, the footage that runs of a Waikiki street scene mainly features women in tight fitting clothes, shot from behind. It’s the kind of thing intended to make you look.

Racism for money is the worst kind of bigotry. It makes O’Reilly a tempting target, but I just don’t like to feed the beast. However, the rant about the liberalism of Asian Americans that is featured in this clip deserves comment.

O’Reilly is promoting the lie that Asian Americans are, perhaps by “culture” or some other such non-existent shared characteristic, unusually hard working, and that hard working people are generally conservative. Hence Asian Americans should be conservative rather than liberal. It’s an exercise in myth making and illogical reasoning, but in this exercise he’s not alone. In fact, it’s a major tenet of conservative racial thought. And the fact that so many across the political spectrum buy into this belief makes it an extremely effective weapon in their war against the s0-called “takers,” by which they mean just about all of us.

So, here’s my response. First, Asian Americans are no more or less hard working than anyone else in the U.S. Saying we are denigrates Americans in general, especially those that conservatives have suggested lean toward liberalism because we are “takers” rather than “makers,” a belief that is at the foundation of Mitt Romney’s disparaging comments about the 47%. The reality is that  American workers put in more hours per year, take fewer days off, and are more productive than our European counterparts. In fact, some suggest that Americans are not just hard working but overworked, leading to a decline in the quality of family and community life that is evident all around us.

And there is no correlation between liberalism and laziness. The most reliably liberal voters in the U.S. are Jews, African Americans, and Latinos. To suggest that Jews, Blacks, and Latinos aren’t hard working is ridiculous. One is left wondering if Mr. O’Reilly and his cohorts know anything at all about the history of this nation, much less the contemporary demographics in factories, farms and food processing and packaging plants all across the country where the more onerous jobs, the browner the ranks of workers.

Another group more likely to lean liberal are women, especially single women heads of households. To suggest they aren’t hard working is just sexist misinformation.

But it serves the agenda of conservatives to laud the supposed industriousness of Asian Americans in order to disparage the work ethics of those who, by race or class, suffer from higher rates of poverty. It suggests that our work ethics and not the cumulative impact of historical injustices and public policy are to blame for social and economic inequities.

So let’s take this myth that Asian Americans are harder working than others apart. Asian Americans have the highest median household incomes among Americans grouped by race. But whites have higher per capita incomes than Asian Americans. Put those two facts together, and the reality that many Asian American households don’t fit the nuclear family profile may be more a factor in our relative success than our supposedly strong work ethic.

Those higher family incomes may include the social security benefits of grandparents who may also be depending on Medicare and/or Medicaid. That in turn might start to explain our relative liberalism. Combine that with the repellant effect of conservative attacks on benefits we’ve earned through lifetimes of investment, not to mention the racism and xenophobia of so many prominent conservative leaders (like Mr. O’Reilly), and the fact that over 70% of Asian Americans voters chose against the Republican in the presidential race looks less like an anomaly and more like simple math, as in bigotry + conservative economic policy = defeat.

So, no, I don’t like giving Bill O’Reilly the attention on which he so obviously thrives, but in this case, I had to make an exception. This myth of Asian American exceptionalism is not just an attack on Asian Americans. It’s an attack on all of us.




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By Scot Nakagawa

Scot Nakagawa is a political strategist and writer who has spent more than four decades exploring questions of structural racism, white supremacy, and social justice. Scot’s primary work has been in the fight against authoritarianism, white nationalism, and Christian nationalism. Currently, Scot is co-lead of the 22nd Century Initiative, a project to build the field of resistance to authoritarianism in the U.S.

Scot is a past Alston/Bannerman Fellow, an Open Society Foundations Fellow, and a recipient of the Association of Asian American Studies Community Leader Award. His writings have been included in Race, Gender, and Class in the United States: An Integrated Study, 9th Edition,  and Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence.

Scot's political essays, briefings, and other educational media can be found at his newsletter, We Fight the Right at He is a sought after public speaker and educator who provides consultation on campaign and communications strategy, and fundraising.

2 replies on “The Bigotry Factor: O’Reilly and the Manipulation of the Model Minority Myth”

This comment by JoAnn Morris is, I think, useful in understanding some of the dynamics here:
What’s chilling about using the myth in the way O’Reilly does is it confers the privilege of sham whiteness and the supposed privileges of supremacy on a group of people who are no more a monolith than any other race/culture/ethnicity. And then he questions why they wouldn’t want to enter the tent of conservatism of whatever stripe he’s selling by stretching the myth of the model minority so that it shows up like faces in carnival mirrors or the IPHONE APP that deforms our images.

If I ask 21st century Italian Americans, or Middle Eastern Europeans or Iris Americans, or…you get my drift, if they consider themselves”other,” as they were perceived by the power/political majority of the late 18th early 19th century when that generation immigrated here – the likely answer is no – because they are no longer “other.”

The “rest of us” don’t get “whiteness” conferred if we are non-white or the white poor. Not that we want it. I bring this up because the only way the rest of us become visible is in the deepening of myths surrounded and often built on old stereotypes that serve O’Reilly’s ratings and political factions during elections, deficit debates ( it’s the fault of the 47% rather than 10 years of unpaid war bills, tax loopholes for the 2%, etc.). His rhetoric also hurts all of us by making the rest of us visible and invisible simultaneously. Those who listen to and believe him don’t know the rest of us. They believe who we aren’t. They see who we aren’t and now he is adding Asian Americans to the role of “chosen other” framed in a “they are less than but…” stance. Who wants that?

Thanks for holding your nose and writing a critical and thought provoking piece.
Jo Ann

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