Donald Sterling’s Love of Koreans Ain’t No Kind of Love at All

I was going to write a post about Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s apparent love of Koreans, even to the extent of renaming a housing development “Korean World Towers” in order to attract Korean tenants. Sterling’s preference for Koreans as tenants (and employees) came at the expense of African Americans who he has allegedly said are undesirable because they “smell and attract vermin.” And that makes his particular brand of racist jujitsu a near perfect example of how the model minority myth is so often used to justify racism against “problem minorities.”

But then a Race Files reader linked me to this article in Slate that pretty much says it all.

If you need some coaxing to read it, this paragraph in particular got my attention,

This will all sound very familiar to Asian-Americans, cast as the put-upon overachievers, whose head-down, by-the-bootstraps stoicism has resulted in remarkable educational and financial attainment. The “model minority” myth persists in part because it is cited as evidence that the system works. It makes for a great story—the plucky, determined Asian-American succeeding where others have failed. But the ultimate beneficiaries of this racial typecasting are the people who invoke the model as a bludgeon against others. Sterling’s admiration for his Korean tenants is actually a kind of scorn. After all, he still subjected Korean tenants to the same degrading treatment as everyone else—the only difference is that the Koreans seemed willing to take it.

That last bit, “the only difference is that the Koreans seemed willing to take it,” gets at an aspect of the Asian American model minority myth that is telling. Among the chief characteristics of the model minority is that those typecast as such are stoic, self-sacrificing, quiet, and uncomplaining. Whatever employers and society in general are dishing out (and where low-wage workers, poor tenants, and vulnerable women are concerned, our society dishes out a lot), model minorities are willing to take it, and as a matter of Korean or Chinese or Japanese or (place your preferred Asian ethnic group here) cultural pride.

Model minority women are quiet and submissive. If it’s a wife you want, they’ll take whatever you’re giving out as a matter of duty, and then follow that up by rubbing your feet and lighting your cigarette. Even better, you can buy one online, as you will find if you do as I did and google “Asian mail-order brides critiques of.” Over 3 million hits, and on at least the first seven pages (after which I gave up) there are nothing but mail order bride services or rankings of either these services or the ethnic backgrounds of the women according to the quality of the “product” (and one notable wikipedia page).

If it’s a good employee you want, the mythic model Asian is just right. S/he is meticulous, detail-oriented, mathletic (and who doesn’t want a human calculator?), diligent, and most of all, grateful. You don’t even need to promote them. The sacrifice they’re making for you is an “Asian” value.

And all to serve whom? Asians? I don’t think so.

This kind of thinking justifies the super-exploitation of the most vulnerable Asian immigrants and even makes exploiting them a virtue. And that, along with the way in which model minority stereotyping is used to justify racism against others in an “but some of my best friends are Asian” form of cultural manipulation, says it all, as does the number one comment on the article as of this morning,

How well I remember the hardworking Korean green grocers in NYC, whose families all joined together in a family unit to work the fruit/vegetable stands day and night.

Inner city blacks resented their success because they saw an entire family working together to form a successful business.  The blacks often shoplifted from them, and when caught, demonstrated in front of their stands.

I deplore Sterlings ugly racism, but as for Koreans and Asians in general, having lived around them, I have found them to be model hardworking citizens.

Yeah, seriously. And you should check out the queue that follows.

Read the article. It’s great critical commentary.


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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.

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