The Breakdown The World

Yes, religious persecution still happens in the modern era

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines persecution as “the act or practice of persecuting especially those who differ in origin, religion, or social outlook.” In today’s society, we are hyper-aware of targeted, systemic racism, oppression, and prejudice thanks to movements like #BlackLivesMatter, #TransRightsAreHumanRights, and #StopAsianHateBut these issues have been woven into society’s fabric long before these movements hit mainstream media in 2020 and 2021. They’ve been around since the beginning of time. And what’s a major part of identity that has driven humans, culture, and history for centuries? 

You guessed it: religion. 

With the many religions throughout the world (Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism, Confucianism, etc), come the differences of belief, practice, and culture. When one of these religions has an advantage over another (through geopolitical means), someone is going to be oppressed. It’s simply how power works. 

It happened to the Christians who were persecuted by the Romans for being monotheistic and believing in a king (Christ) other than Caesar. It happened to the Moriscos (also known as the Moors) during the Spanish Inquisition, who were tortured for practicing Islam after the Reconquista prohibited it. It happened to the Jews for simply not being Arian, who were herded by the droves into concentration camps, ovens, and body pits in Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II. 

But these are examples from the antiquated, barbaric past, right? Freedom of religion is a no-brainer in a democratic, modern world, right? Certainly, you’d never find a case of religious persecution in the U.S. of all places. Right? 


In fact, religiously targeted crimes were the highest percentage of U.S. hate crimes in 2019, most of which were anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim. 

As a Catholic, whose faith aligns closely with that of Judaism and Islam both theologically and historically, I can tell you that these crimes are not because of religions hating each other. Today, the vast majority of Christians, Jews, and Muslims don’t view each other as infidels who must convert or perish (unlike say, during the Crusades). As a Catholic, I can tell you that Christianity, Judaism, and Islam share the same ideals of compassion, forgiveness, and tolerance. And all three groups believe in the same idea of one God. 

So why does religious persecution still happen? 

The religious hate crimes we see today are driven by politics or race. For example, when a Mosque in the Netherlands was vandalized with pig’s blood in 2017, the neo-Fascist, anti-Islam group Pegida were the culprits. 

Anti-Muslim hate crimes prevailed in the U.S. (and throughout the world) when refugees from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries flooded Europe and North America after I.S.I.S. rose to power in 2014. Because the refugees practiced the same faith as the extremists in Syria, people saw them as inherently dangerous. If all Muslim refugees were terrorists, why would they be fleeing the violence of their home countries? Once again, religious-based xenophobia was on the rise.

So when Pegida attacked that mosque in 2017, it’s worth noting that their doctrine has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with the xenophobia in Germany when they saw an influx of Muslim refugees.

The religious hate crimes we see today are driven by politics or race.

With that said, xenophobia itself can oftentimes be traced to fears spurred by other forms of extremism. People often forget that extremism represents political/military fanatics and not religion itself. Perhaps the most recognizable case of religious misconception was the rise of Islamophobia in the U.S. after 9/11. In a country forever changed, many angry Americans equivalated extremism/terrorism with Islam itself. It didn’t matter that Muslims also lost their lives on that day and that they were just as horrified by the attacks as the rest of the world.

When visiting a Washington D.C. mosque shortly after 9/11, President George Bush made it clear that the attacks “violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith.” Too many people forgot this crucial truth. This can be attributed in part to the cultural differences that separate Islam from Catholicism, Judaism, or Buddhism, but understanding these differences is what leads us to the heart of one’s faith. Laying beneath the visible differences between Muslims and Christians are the fundamental principles of compassion, kindness, and knowing that we are all creations of the same God. When one recognizes this, they will see that more similarities bind religions instead of separating them.

So if religious oppression can be dated back to the Roman Empire, how do we finally end it? 

We don’t. People who have no regard for the law or for morals will continue to commit crimes no matter how many laws, rallies, and marches blaze through a country’s sociopolitical scene. What we can do, however, is bridge the gap between our religions. While our religions may look and sound different, it is the faith (not the institution, which is another story entirely) that connects us. If you yourself are religious, think about the ways in which your religious freedoms are being oppressed in your daily life (if there are any). 

People often forget that extremism represents political/military fanatics and not religion itself.

You may not recognize it consciously, but we are surrounded by microaggressions every day. Despite Christianity and Islam being the largest two religions in the world, religion itself has been under attack in recent years. There is a growing mistrust of religion in general, particularly among the younger generation. On social media, there is an unspoken negative stigma against embracing religion. I can’t imagine how Muslims experience these microaggressions when the news constantly pushes misconceptions about their faith almost daily.

And there’s nothing wrong with not being religious! The problem arises when those who don’t believe disdain those who do.

On the surface, these things feel small but they contribute to modern religious persecution on the whole. If the mainstream media reported world news with a balanced angle, and if non-religious people were less disdainful of faith, people might start to feel safer in openly worshipping without fearing ostracism from those with different values, cultures, and beliefs.

Educating ourselves on what makes us alike rather than what separates us will help decrease the spread of stereotypes that pit one group against the other. Watching the biased, politically-driven news doesn’t count; it only perpetuates stigmas and misinformation, particularly about Muslims in the Middle East. Never vilify what you don’t understand. Learn about it before you fear it, or God forbid, hate it.


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The Breakdown Economy East Asia The World

Let’s talk about karoshi, Japan’s fatal workplace problem

TRIGGER WARNINGS: Mentions and discussion of suicide

We first heard of Japan’s suicide problem when Logan Paul filmed his controversial 2018 vlog in Aokigahara Forest, eerily known as the country’s “suicide forest”. The graphic video sparked outrage when Paul and his friends discovered a corpse hanging from a tree, and instead of shutting off the camera (or not posting the video at all), he and his friends lingered around the corpse, making jokes like it was all part of a tourist attraction. In addition to learning just how ignorant Paul was, the world was left wondering one vital question:

Why is suicide so common in Japan? 

If you’ve ever heard of karoshi, you already know a huge chunk of the answer. Coined in the 1970s, karoshi translates to “death by overwork”, where victims either commit suicide from mental exhaustion or suffer a heart attack or stroke. Much of this problem can be attributed to social expectations that leave people relentlessly overworked, sleep-deprived, and generally living the existence of a robot.

The hours at a typical Japanese office, particularly in fast-paced cities like Tokyo and Kyoto, are brutal. 15-20 hour workdays are not uncommon; neither are employees catching a few hours’ sleep at their desks, only to wake up wearing the same clothes the next morning to begin the grueling cycle all over again. 

All work and no play isn’t just taxing on the brain and its dopamine production, but in Japan, it has become physical. Between 2008 and 2019, Polish photographer Pawel Jaszczuk captured salarymen asleep on the streets, too exhausted from their 60-hour workweeks to make it home. 

“If you go to Japan, it’s very common to see businessmen sleeping on the streets, often near the main train stations,” Jaszczuk said in an interview with Vice. “It’s nothing new […] I want people to view the photos and think, do we really want to end up like this? Are we just being used?”

In 2011, an estimated 2,700 people committed suicide because of problems at the workplace. Over time, this problem has not disappeared. In 2020, there were about 1,918 karoshi-related deaths. Famously, Tadashi Ishii, former president of an advertising agency called Dentsu, had to resign in 2016 after 24-year-old employee Matsuri Takahashi worked 105 hours overtime in just one month and jumped off the building’s roof. While grieving, Yukimi Takahashi, Matsuri’s mother, condemned Japan’s toxic workplace culture and called for reform following her daughter’s death. To further address the issue, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe introduced a work-life reform plan, but the real initiative occurred in 2017 when the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry introduced Premium Friday.

In 2020, there were about 1,918 karoshi-related deaths.

[Image description: Yukimi Takahashi speaking about her daughter's death.] Via
[Image description: Yukimi Takahashi speaking about her daughter’s death.] Via
This initiative’s goal was to stimulate the economy while promoting a better work-life balance. Premium Friday encourages employees to leave work early on the last Friday of the month to go out and shop. However, this hasn’t had the success that businesses hoped for; in 2019, only 11% of employees have gone home early on Premium Friday.

Why is karoshi such a problem? More importantly, why do people work so much overtime? 

Karoshi’s existence can be traced back to the post-World War II era with Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida’s determination to rebuild Japan’s economy and thrust the nation back into the global superpower sphere. Workers were offered lifelong job security as long as they contributed to growing the economy by putting their jobs first. This meant that your job came before your personal physical and mental needs. Work-life balance? It was never even a thought. 

Today, Japan’s economy is the third-largest in the world. So why does this post-WWII work culture still suffocate people? YouTube channel Asian Boss took to the streets to find out. One woman explained, “When you see that everyone around you is still working, you feel pressured to stay behind as well because you feel bad going home first.”

This is part of the reason why Premium Friday has yet to really make an impact, even four years later. It also doesn’t seem to matter that in 2018, Japan’s Parliament put a limit on overtime to 99 hours a month and implemented penalties for companies who ignore those rules. The negative stigma that surrounds leaving work at a normal hour, despite colleagues staying late, persists. Premium Friday can’t change that within a few years. 

Another man in the Asian Boss video added, “If you leave work when your colleagues are still working, you are destroying company morale.”

Serving one’s company, it seems, drives Japan’s work-life society. Being overworked and overwhelmed is not unique to the country, but it is certainly a particular trend there. It’s hard to peel away layers of ingrained social stigma; valuing work over self-care is ingrained within the minds of Japanese workers and has been since the end of World War II. 

Perhaps Premium Friday would see more success if its goals focused less on leaving work to spend money (to further contribute to the economy), and more on highlighting self-care


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Europe The Breakdown Politics The World Policy Inequality

There are 85 unelected lawmakers in the UK who only got the job because it was their birthright

With each new election, Britain becomes more politically engaged – the turnout at the 2019 General Election was the second-highest since 1997. In some ways, being able to vote was just as much a milestone to me, as was being able to finally legally buy that cheap bottle of vodka from my local store. Even those that claim they’re not really into politics, always end up voting when the time comes around. Yet not one person in the country voted for the 85 hereditary peers currently sitting in the House of Lords who make decisions that affect every single one of the 66 million people living in the UK. 

Hereditary peers are part of the House of Lords, which along with the House of Commons, makes up the UK parliament. While the members of the House of Commons are voted in by the public in elections, the members of the House of Lords have not been chosen by the public. The majority of members (called Life Peers) are chosen on the advice of the Prime Minister – who is voted in by the general public – however, 85 of the Lords are only there because of the family they were born into. These are called Hereditary Peers.

Because of the title they inherited from their father – Duke, Earl, Viscount, Baron, etc – hereditary peers are eligible to take one of the reserved places on offer in the House of Lords. They can only be appointed by other hereditary peers in a closed by-election that only uses candidates from an exclusive Register of Hereditary Peers – it’s like the worst sort of high school clique where no one new has joined for 1000 years. 

The number of hereditary peers in the House of Lords has been significantly cut since then-Prime Minister Tony Blair brought in The House of Lords Act of 1999. However, there are still 92 seats available in the House of Lords for hereditary peers to sit in.

And since the House of Lords is responsible for making and shaping laws – covering vital areas such as welfare, health, and education – these unelected hereditary peers are making decisions for every single citizen in the UK, despite not one of these citizens ever actually voting them in.

On top of being unelected officials with the same parliamentary powers as their elected counterparts, studies have shown how hereditary peers are also logging in outrageous expense claims to exploit the taxpayer who, chances are, had no idea these hereditary peers even existed.

Simply put, the system of hereditary peers is elitist, racist, and sexist. It doesn’t belong in a country that has undoubtedly been made better for its diversity.

The system of hereditary peers is elitist, racist, and sexist. It doesn’t belong in a country that has undoubtedly been made better for its diversity.

On the UK Parliament’s official website, the House of Lords is described as offering a ‘diverse experience’ – something that sounds to me like utter horse shit. The current hereditary peers are all men, all white, nearly half went to Eton, the average age is 71, and they own at least 170,000 acres of land between them. Ah yes, diversity. 

In a country with a capital city where 40% of the population are from a Black, Asian & Minority Ethnic (BAME) background, it’s utterly deplorable that the parliament these all-white hereditary peers are part of is said to represent a diverse Britain. It also doesn’t take a genius to realize there are no BAME families in this long list of inherited titles and lands, and since hereditary peers are only chosen from an exclusive register, there will only ever be hereditary peers from white backgrounds making decisions for a country where almost 14% of the total population are not. 

The UK is also known for making waves in the modern feminist movement and fighting hard for women’s rights and gender equality, yet all 85 of the current hereditary peers in the House of Lords are male – and this is no coincidence.

Hereditary peers still follow a system of primogeniture, The Peerage Act of 1963 claiming that female peers could claim their hereditary titles, as long as they didn’t have any brothers to claim it instead. To put this into context, even the British Royal Family got rid of the primogeniture system over a decade ago.

Many of the bills that the House of Lords debate are about women’s rights. This means that the 33.82 million women in the UK, are having decisions on issues such as sexual and reproductive health and domestic abuse, decided for them by 85 men who were only eligible for their job because their fathers were born male as well.  

Female protestors marching for a woman's right to walk home safely at night.
[Image description: Female protestors marching for a woman’s right to walk home safely at night.] Via Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona on Unsplash

As of now, the process of rewarding those lucky dukes, earls, viscounts, and barons that were fortunate enough to be born into that family with an automatic seat in the House of Lords, shows no sign of stopping. However, a Bill by Labour Life Peer, Lord Grocott, that seeks to phase out hereditary peers by scrapping by-elections, and instead not replacing the current office-holders when they die, resign, or are expelled, has since passed its Second Reading.

But don’t get excited just yet. This is the third time Lord Grocott’s Bill has been put forward as the first and second attempts were blocked by enough of the Lords to pass – can you guess which Lords they were? 

I should note that hereditary peers aren’t universally bad. Nonetheless, they still shouldn’t be sitting in the House of Lords because no one voted them in. And with hereditary peers blocking any attempts from others to remove them, it’s likely the House of Lords will be able to continue functioning as a private members’ club for an elite few for a little while longer.

That is, the elite few lucky enough to be born into the wealth and privilege that represents no part of the Britain I know or love at all. 

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USA 2020 Elections The Breakdown Inequality

What is the Electoral College and why it might be time to bid it farewell

“Democracy is the government of the people, by the people, for the people.” Abraham Lincoln’s idyllic words envisage a universe where normal people are empowered to elect their ruler via majority vote. While that may be the case for most countries, the United States, like in everything else, does things a little differently. The American democratic process uses a method called the Electoral College in order to elect their President.

It is imperative to distinguish the popular vote from the Electoral College. The popular vote is what the general populace casts indicating which candidate they want to see as the President. So what you see most Americans doing on social media and the news, marking ballots, is actually just the first part of the process.

The second, and arguably the more fundamental is the Electoral College. It is based on the 538 Electoral votes of which a candidate needs 270 (roughly half) to win a majority. The battle for the golden number “270” has been the highlight on most news channels. But here is what the 538 electoral votes represent:

[Image Description: A pie chart depicting the breakdown of Electoral Votes]
  1. 435 seats of Congress, which are allocated, proportionate to the populations of each state. A census tracking population changes is conducted every 10 years to increase or decrease the number of seats per state.
  2. 100 seats of Senate (2 for each state)
  3. 3 specially allocated seats for Washington D.C (as per the 22nd amendment)

In essence, this marks an implicit conferral of power from the people to Electoral voters who have “pledged” to cast their votes in alignment with the majority of votes cast by the state. But it is important to note that the electoral vote count is not an accurate representation of the population of the state because each state irrespective of its numbers is granted two seats in the senate. This means that the ratio of population to electoral vote becomes distorted. Citizens of some states thus become more significant than others.

[Image Description: A map coded with red states (representing Republican states) and blue states (representing Democratic states) from the 2016 election.] via The New York Times
More people are familiar with the red (Republican) and blue state (Democratic) map analogy. Yet, it is important to realize that no state is completely red or completely blue. Even a highly Republican centric state would surely have some democrats to boast of. Yet when Electors cast the vote, they go by a “winner-takes-all” paradigm. All of the seats for the state vote for the Republic majority. There is no microcosmic representation of the population ratio voting for the minority in the electoral seats. Even if a candidate wins the majority by 1%, they take 100% of the seats for that state.

You might be thinking, “but that makes democracy and our contribution to it so indirect. Why was there a need to add the second step?” Well, the answer to this dates back to 1788 where the founding fathers of the nation such as Alexander Hamilton, sought to balance the will of the populace against the risk of “tyranny of the majority, in which those of the masses drown the voices of the minority out”. Hence, the Electoral College emerged into being a crucial mediation step, a kind of middle ground between the popular vote and the electoral vote.

It was enshrined by Article Two of the Constitution with good intention to make sure that populous states containing the majority of the population did not monopolize the election results. It was also thought that normal people did not possess sufficient information to make an informed decision. With the recent politicization of most social strata, the raison d’être of the Electoral College could be thrown into question altogether.

Yet even in 1788, there was some contention in the Philadelphia Convention where all 13 existing states of the time had to ratify the constitution. Southern states that were pro-slavery had greater populations due to the number of enslaved people than the Northern states which were anti-slavery and had a primary population of free people. Southern states, seeking to increase seats in Congress pushed for the 3/5th clause. The clause stated that an enslaved person would count as 3/5 of a person while determining the seats in Congress. While enslaved people had no rights and experienced severe disenfranchisement, white Southerners exploited their humanity yet again and thrived off overrepresentation in Congress. The Electoral College thus has a dark history of benefitting white Southerners.

Even today, the Electoral College is responsible for redirecting power from certain people towards others, albeit in a different context.

The entire fate of the election rests within the territory and with the people of “swing states” such as Florida and Michigan (which typically shift allegiances with every other election cycle). Whilst the Presidential candidates become complacent in their respective “safe states” (red or blue), swing states become the primary battleground where the campaigning war is waged. 

It sends out the message that some voters are more valuable than others. As a result, citizens living in safe states who do not subscribe to the overarching political inclination of the state might also feel like their vote would not make a difference. The indirect nature of the process makes voters feel isolated from the eventual outcome. This translates in terms of low voter turnout.

Yet, the Electoral College despite its apparent success of over two centuries of ensuring a seemingly stable political arena is being questioned for its authenticity. A September 2020 Gallup poll found that 61 % percent of Americans were in favor of abolishing it. In fact, this debate resurfaces every few years, as its shortcomings are exposed. In 2020, Pete Buttigieg claimed: “The Electoral College needs to go because it’s made our society less and less democratic.” In recent memory (the past 20 years), two Republicans have won Presidency despite not having the popular vote. In 2000, Al Gore won the most popular votes but lost the electoral vote to George Bush. Whereas, in 2016, Donald Trump with a mind-boggling deficit of 3 million popular votes won the electoral vote. 

My proposition? Remove the electoral college and restore democracy back into the hands of the people.


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The Breakdown Race Inequality

Cultural Appropriation vs. Cultural Appreciation: Know the difference

The Breakdown is a Tempest exclusive series that attempts to tackle issues, concepts, terms, and histories that are relevant and intrinsic to conversations about social justice. This is our version of a 101 on Social Justice, with a grassroot level approach that hopes to simplify and make political and cultural conversations accessible in a global level.

The debate around cultural appropriation versus cultural appreciation has existed for a while. However, it gained significant momentum recently after the re-emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement after criticism against how Black culture has been heavily appropriated in pop culture and fast fashion. Since May a number of celebrities, influencers, and brands have been called out for cultural appropriation on mass media. One such example is Reformation – a sustainable clothing brand – who was called out for the lack of Black models on their Instagram feed. The brand has since attempted to diversify its feed. On the other hand, rapper Bhad Bhabie came under fire for comparing herself to Tarzan and had to defend herself against accusations of appropriating Black culture.  

But there’s always a question when you see people donned up in clothes, ornaments, or participating in things that are not part of their culture. Are they appropriating another culture or is it appreciation? 

The academic definition of cultural appropriation is “taking over of creative or artistic forms, themes, or practices by one cultural group from another. It is in general used to describe Western appropriations of non‐Western or non‐white forms, and carries connotations of exploitation and dominance.” Appropriation involves enacting on certain parts of a culture such as clothing or hairstyle without a full understanding of the culture and reinforcing stereotypes or holding prejudices against its people. It can also involve not crediting the culture itself or its creators.

An example of cultural appropriation could be wearing a bindi. Buying a bindi from a tourist shop or a company that just produces the item does not give you the full perspective of the culture. In fact, in some ways, it creates a false perspective that it is just merely a decorative ornament. Bindi symbolizes different aspects of the Hindu culture and Indian women who wear it, do so with significance to their culture. 

Wearing a bindi or another piece representing a specific culture might get you positive attention or appreciation. However, when someone from the same culture wears an item from their culture but gets more negative remarks than positive is where it becomes problematic. For instance, wearing a ‘hipster’ headdress is not okay. The warbonnet headdress perpetuated by Hollywood projects the view that all Native American’s have the same culture. There are, however, approximately 500+ distinct tribes with their own cultures. Warbonnets or feather headdresses are not a fashion choice but a symbol of respect and honor that needs to be earned

People are straight-up told that their cultural practices are old-fashioned or conservative. Often times, they may be told to conform to the social norms, or worst case, they may become a target for hate crimes. Remember, when Zac Efron wore dreadlocks “just for fun”? To which, he was reminded that Black people get turned down on job interviews for wearing locs and braids. 

Cultural appreciation, on the other hand, involves appreciating and taking an interest to understand another culture. This involves sharing knowledge with permission and credit those who belong to that culture. For instance, when you purchase an item you buy it directly from the creators. You understand how the item is intended to be used and learn the value it holds in the culture.

Once, a friend of mine was invited to attend a sermon at the mosque. Despite being agnostic herself, she explained to me that she understands the significance of wearing a headscarf to the mosque and respects it. Therefore, she intended on bringing a headscarf to the mosque and cover her hair to show respect during the sermon.

Cultural appreciation involves paying respect to the artists and creators and understanding the origins of a culture. Remember, 2015 Met Gala’s high-risk ‘China through the looking glass’ theme? Rihanna was one of the few attendees of the gala who wore a dress that was crafted by an esteemed Chinese designer. It is not the perfect contextualization but at least a more suitable one. 

I cannot stress enough how important it is to know the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation. Romanticizing and sexualizing certain cultural aspects whilst rejecting other aspects that do not interest you trivializes the culture. Appropriation perpetuates stereotypes and racism. It obstructs the views and voices of those who belong to the culture giving it to those who have appropriated it. 

With Halloween just around the corner, here is a quick reminder that culturally appropriated costumes are offensive and should not be worn. Wearing costumes that are cultural stereotypes literally reduces an entire culture and its people to a costume. Need I remind you of Scott Disick’s costume of a ‘Sheikh’ or Julianna Hough who darkened her face to portray a character from Orange Is the New Black. A good idea is to do some research and find out whether or not your costume is racist. Bear in mind though, if you need to do a lot of explaining as to why your costume is not racist, then it is a sign that you should reconsider. (Here is a handy guide of “costumes” you should NOT be wearing)

The bottom line here is that there is a fine line between appropriation and appreciation. We live in an increasingly globalized world and it is important to be mindful of our words and actions. Certain behaviors are never appreciative and should be avoided. It is a learning process but one that is not too difficult. Keep educating yourself because, at the end of the day, we all learn and grow everyday.

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Immigration The Breakdown Race Inequality

The model minority myth: a benefit or a burden to the Asian American community

The Breakdown is a Tempest exclusive series that attempts to tackle issues, concepts, terms, and histories that are relevant and intrinsic to conversations about social justice. This is our version of a 101 on Social Justice, with a grassroot level approach that hopes to simplify and make political and cultural conversations accessible in a global level.

The concept of the “Model Minority Myth” has been in existence since the late 60’s, however conversation around it has increased following the BLM movement, especially through conversations around how Asian Americans intersect in the systemic racism and inequality that disadvantages minorities in the US. So, what exactly is the Model Minority Myth?

The term “Model Minority” was first used in 1966 to refer to the growing success of mainly Japanese Americans, but has now grown to include both South and East Asian Americans. The myth distinguishes Asian Americans as law-abiding, productive, and polite citizens who have achieved higher success than the general population. Since its inception in popular media, the Model Minority praises Asian Americans for their apparent success across economic, academic, and cultural domains which is oftentimes used to contrast the achievements of African Americans and Latin Americans. 

Asian Americans have not always been praised as being the model minority. The 1965 Immigration Act revered years of restrictive migration that prevented immigration from Asian countries. The Act allowed for a greater number of immigrants, namely highly educated professionals and scientists, to migrate to the US. Highly educated individuals were prioritized before any other profession which essentially set them up for success in the US in comparison to African and Hispanic Americans. This then posited them as being the “ideal” immigrant of color.

The myth itself marks Asian Americans with seemingly positive characteristics and many Asian Americans have embraced the positive stereotype, but it does raise the question as to whether the Model Minority myth is a benefit or a burden on the Asian American community as well as other minority communities. 

On the surface, the myth hoists up the community on a pedestal for their relative success, which emphasizes the progressiveness from being referred to as “Yellow Peril” and accused of flooding the country. But now the Asian American community is seen as a socially integrated, economically successful, and an upwardly mobile racial group.  

However, the Model Minority Myth can appear to be a double-edged sword. Although it does have positive characteristics associated with it, those same characteristics, of being quiet and diligent, limit Asian Americans from reaching leadership roles within corporate jobs as they are perceived as lacking confidence. This has essentially contributed to the phenomenon of the “Bamboo Ceiling” – a metaphor that stunts Asian Americans from climbing above a point on the corporate ladder – which is harmful to the Asian American community. The concept of the Bamboo Ceiling is reflected by the fact that Asian Americans make up 27% of the corporate workforce, but only hold 14% of executive seats. The positive stereotype praises the community for thriving in school and work, but again it asserts that Asian Americans are incapable of doing anything outside that scope.

On a societal level, the myth has been frequently used to drive a wedge between Asian Americans and African and Hispanic Americans. During the peak of the civil rights movements, Asian Americans were used as an example to suggest that no matter how ingrained racism could be, it could easily be overcome by working hard and by being a law-abiding citizen. They were used as proof that the inequalities that minority groups faced were brought about by sheer laziness. It allowed the white majority to rid themselves of any responsibility for the systemic racism that was faced by African Americans through Jim Crow laws.  The inaccurate idea, of hard work being able to counteract racism, has continually been reinforced amongst the Asian American community which further created a belief that other minority communities, especially the African American community, were simply not working hard enough; some members of the Asian American community have used the narrative to undercut the experiences of black people since the myth places them as the superior minority. The myth further neglects the historical inequalities that have formed from the enslavement and dehumanization of African Americans and the deeply entrenched racism that occurred as a result. So, as African Americans consistently experience police brutality and racial profiling, the Model Minority myth acts as a shield to protect Asian Americans. 

The trope of the wealthy successful Asian appears to further the burden on the community as it obscures the fact that they are the most economically divided racial group in the US. It also takes away from an individual’s own lived experiences as it homogenizes them, portraying them as a monolithic group with a singular identity that cuts out the struggles and discrimination that they face. 

The myth is still very relevant within today’s society, continuing to feed into the Model Minority Myth could do more harm than good especially in the long term. Not only does it impede career paths by supporting the bamboo ceiling, but it also allows Asian Americans to be used against other racial minorities as an example as to why systemic racism does not exist. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has reignited old prejudices against Asian Americans which contradicts the idea that working hard and being a law-abiding citizen can overcome racism.  

The Model Minority Myth has remained controversial for decades with some people wholly embracing the myth for its positive stereotypes as they benefit off of it, whilst others see it as a burden on the community as the stereotype limits their potential earning and their ability to get promoted. Although it is important to realize that some Asian Americans have benefited from a broken system and recognize their own privileges, there also needs to be a continual strive for change as the myth creates a burden on the Asian American community and other minority communities. 

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The Breakdown Gender Beauty Inequality

The destructive side of Korean beauty standards

The Breakdown is a Tempest exclusive series that attempts to tackle issues, concepts, terms, and histories that are relevant and intrinsic to conversations about social justice. This is our version of a 101 on Social Justice, with a grassroot level approach that hopes to simplify and make political and cultural conversations accessible in a global level.

I recently watched the newest installment of K-Pop group BTS’ docu-film, Break The Silence: The Movie, which included documentary-styled interviews of BTS members and a closer glimpse into their lives during their 2019 Love Yourself: Speak Yourself World Tour. 

One of the members of BTS, RM, gave a speech to a crowd of fans during their tour and stated how he viewed his self-worth as less because of his dark skin. This was a striking statement to me because he is only slightly tan in complexion. Yet, his slightly tanned skin was enough to make him feel unworthy. This is a clear testament to the rigid Korean beauty standards that many celebrities and Korean society at large are forced to adhere to. In fact, it is so common for Korean artists to undergo plastic surgery before their debut if their natural looks do not fit into the Korean beauty model. 

Porcelain, pale skin. Double lid eyelids with larger eyes. V-shaped jaw. Slim figure. This is Korean beauty standards. But where did it come from? The preference for fair skin can be traced back to it being a symbol of status. South Korea was an agricultural society, where privileged classes didn’t work under the sun and therefore had lighter complexions. Due to this divisive and classist view, darker-skinned Koreans are often associated with being a lower class. K-Pop stars reinforce these narrow beauty standards that many South Koreans idolize. Watch a K-Drama or a K-Pop music video and you are sure to see the images of fair-skinned, slim, double-eyelid, large-eyed entertainers. It is even common practice to bring photos of favorite K-Pop idols to plastic surgery consultations. 

South Korea’s strict and sometimes concerning beauty standards are often attributed to lookism, a term defined as discrimination or prejudice based on physical appearance that usually doesn’t fit societal notions of beauty. The societal pressure to look beautiful and ‘above normal’ fosters an environment that can be dangerous, both physically and mentally. In a 2017 study, it was found that in South Korean adults, a higher weight status often lead to more depressive symptoms. The reasons for these results were related to concerns about being overweight and fearing body-related stigma. The oppressive standards of beauty and appearance leave many with feelings of inadequacy. Even in the case of South Korean celebrities like RM. 

South Korea has the world’s largest number of plastic surgery procedures per capita. Thousands of South Koreans undergo double-eyelid surgery, and procedures to slim their face and noses. It is so common, that many teenagers are gifted cosmetic surgery as graduation gifts. Interestingly, plastic surgery itself doesn’t have a stigma attached to it in South Korea, unlike in many other countries. It is merely seen as an extension of beauty treatments. This only highlights an obsession with appearance which can have detrimental effects on notions of self-esteem and self-worth. 

A further example of the severity of South Korean beauty standards is the 50 kg myth, which is an ideal created by the media that shames women who weigh over 50 kgs. This ideal is perpetuated by idolized Korean celebrities who openly discuss weighing 40-something kgs. The media glorifies under-weight celebrities who subject themselves to unhealthy and often dangerous diets, such as the paper-cup diet. In addition to this, most Korean clothing stores carry a “free size” which is essentially a “one size fits all”. Of course, this one size is always a small.

Media consumption is what impacts Korean beauty standards the most. Images from advertisements, movies, television, magazines to music videos perpetuate the model of Korean beauty. Celebrities undergo cosmetic surgery and disturbing diets to maintain the narrow Korean beauty standard. When you are constantly bombarded with a very specific look and told this is what is considered beautiful and acceptable, it creates the desire to belong. You then transform yourself into a person that fits the societal notions of beauty. These restrictive ideals of beauty can become a choke-hold that leads to self-hatred, depression, and eating disorders.

However, there is a growing feminist movement in South Korea where women are rejecting the rigid beauty standards imposed onto them by society. Many women shave their long hair. go make-up free, and post it on social media as part of the “escape the corset” movement. The movement brings freedom to South Korean women who have been constrained by a patriarchal society and the impossible standard of flawless beauty. In doing so, they are able to address the unequal power structures in South Korea which oppress women.

South Korean obsession with a certain ideal of beauty and appearance, looks concerning from foreign eyes. Although, many South Koreans do not see the fuss, especially if it benefits them. If you fit Korean beauty standards, it lands you jobs and success. However, I can’t imagine the immense pressures to appear flawless, slim, pale, and above normal constantly. Lookism leads to a highly-critical view of self and others around you. As normalized as it is, what happens to those who can’t afford cosmetic procedures? Are all the procedures, diets, and beauty treatments ever enough? Or is it a continuous hyper-critical view of yourself and your perceived flaws, as well as a constant need to improve to fit the societal ideal of beauty? These are concerning thoughts, however the brewing pushback from the “escape the corset” movement is a necessary step towards self-acceptance and powerful resistance that demonstrates hope for change.

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Reproductive Rights The Breakdown Inequality

Here’s what you need to know about Roe vs Wade, the landmark decision that shaped abortion rights in the US

The Breakdown is a Tempest exclusive series that attempts to tackle issues, concepts, terms, and histories that are relevant and intrinsic to conversations about social justice. This is our version of a 101 on Social Justice, with a grassroot level approach that hopes to simplify and make political and cultural conversations accessible in a global level.

From the time abortion was legalized in the US, a woman’s right to an abortion has been stigmatized and politicized, becoming a divisive political battleground between Pro-Life and Pro-Choice. Now, in the wake of Ruth Bader Ginsburg‘s passing and the weight of the elections looming ahead, Roe vs Wade, the landmark decision that shaped abortion rights in the US is on thin ice.

Roe vs Wade was issued in 1973 by the US Supreme Court and legalized abortion across the United States. The decision involved the case of Norma McCorvey, referred to in her lawsuit under the pseudonym “Jane Roe”, who became pregnant in 1969 and wanted an abortion, which was illegal in the state of Texas. The lawsuit was filed in the US federal court against her local district attorney, Henry Wade. The US District Court (for Northern Texas) ruled in her favor, but the state of Texas appealed this ruling to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court decided to strike down the Texas law banning abortions, which essentially legalized abortion across the country.

Two important decisions came out of Roe vs Wade that still holds to this day. The US Constitution provides a fundamental right to privacy under the 14th Amendment that protects a woman’s right to choose whether to have an abortion or not. However, the right to an abortion is not complete and should be balanced against the government’s interest in protecting prenatal life and a woman’s health.   

Therefore, under Roe vs Wade, a framework was created to balance both government interests and a woman’s right to privacy. The court defined the rights of a woman into three trimesters. However, since the decision, a number of opponents have pushed for stricter abortion laws, and many regulations placing restrictions on abortions have successfully been passed in several states.

The reason as to why Roe vs Wade is at risk of being overturned is a lot more complicated than it appears to be; it stems down to multiple reasons but ultimately leads back to the Supreme Court. Roe vs Wade has always been controversial with multiple presidents looking to challenge it. President Gerald Ford, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush were amongst those who opposed Roe. President Reagan who was in office between 1981-89 used his administration to attempt to reverse the abortion ruling and made it a top priority of his Justice Department.

During the 2016 election campaign, Trump pledged that he would appoint Justices to the Supreme Court who would look to overturn Roe. The US Supreme Court consists of nine members who serve lifetime appointments; the court is typically split evenly between right and left-leaning individuals with one swing vote. However, since being elected, President Trump has already appointed two right-leaning Justices to the Supreme Court (Neil Gorsuch in 2017 and Brett Kavanaugh in 2018), and the recent passing away of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg creates more worry for abortion rights as a seat on the Supreme Court has opened up.

Unsurprisingly, Trump has nominated socially conservative Jurist Amy Coney Barret, and if approved by the Senate would then result in an extremely conservative Supreme Court (6:3). Given that the Senate holds a majority of Republicans, it appears to be very likely that Barret’s nomination may lead to her joining the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court shapes public policy in the US, and its current conservative nature creates worry for abortion rights and Roe vs Wade. As we speak, opponents are attempting to, or have succeeded in passing regulations that ban abortions based on fetal age and type of procedure. Currently, these issues are being contested within the lower courts of the US but could easily make its way up to the Supreme Court which could have a full reversal on abortion rights in the US. 

So what happens if Roe vs Wade is overturned? The answer is quite simple. Roe vs Wade established a framework for abortion regulations at a federal level, so if overturned by the Supreme Court abortion rights would revert to the decision of the States. This would mean that abortion rights will only be protected in less than half of the states, and it will become illegal in about twelve. In another ten states, their trigger laws state that the legislature is allowed to meet and decide upon the legality of abortion but given the conservative nature of these state legislatures, the likelihood of abortion being made illegal is relatively high. Overturning the decision would also mean that more than one-third of all American women of reproductive age would lose their access to abortion. Laws relating to abortion would vary widely across the country which would further increase the discrepancy in reproductive rights between individuals in the US.

If you’re interested in learning more, here are some sources that further explore Roe vs Wade

Reversing Roe – available on Netflix

AKA Jane Roe – FX Documentary

Is this the end of Roe vs Wade – VICE News Discussion

Some Thoughts on Autonomy and Equality in Relation to Roe v. Wade – Essay by Ruth Bader Ginsburg


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