In the Asian American community, there is this mentality of staying away from trouble unless that trouble directly affects you. From a young age, we are taught to stay out of everyone’s business, stay put, and to stay quiet.
The model minority myth perceives Asian Americans to achieve a higher degree of socioeconomic success. Asians Americans are deemed as obedient, respectful, and non-threatening. We’re the desirable type of immigrant. In other words, we’re privileged. And it’s hard to perceive our privilege when we think about the hard journey our immigrant ancestors faced for us to be here and the microaggressions we still experience today.
But there is this proximity of whiteness granted to Asian Americans by white supremacy and for a long time, we used that to silently succeed in America. But where has that really gotten us? It only took a global pandemic for our model minority status to be stripped away. Suddenly, Asian Americans are the face of a global virus. We spent so much time trying to conform and silence ourselves that we failed to realize we’re a result of racial triangulation and positioned in a racial hierarchy meant to conserve white privilege at the expense of Black Americans.
Although the violence of white supremacy against Black Americans feels distant and “not our problem”, it is closer to home than we think. In 1905, The San Francisco School Board created a segregated Chinese Primary School for Chinese children to attend, despite most being American-born. Their reasoning: “Our children should not be placed in any position where their youthful impressions may be affected by association with pupils of the Mongolian race.” In 1982, Vincent Chin was murdered by 2 white men who were angry at their unemployment in the auto industry as the presence of Japanese manufacturers grew in the U.S. Not only did they mistaken Chin to be of Japanese descent, they screamed, “It is because of you motherfuckers that we’re out of work” before beating him to death. Chin died days before his wedding and his murderers received no jail time, 3 months of probation, and a $3,000 fine.
The Black Lives Matter Movement is not dismissing the injustices towards Asian Americans or any other minorities. It is bringing awareness to systemic racism and combatting it. Black Americans have been kneed down by years of police brutality, redlining, housing inequality, mass incarceration, and so much more. The oppression against Black Americans is perpetuated not only by white people but Asians as well. And it is something that needs to be recognized, challenged, and confronted.
One aspect of speaking out is having difficult conversations with our parents and friends. The most challenging thing for me seems to be confronting my family for their prejudiced beliefs. I find myself struggling to find the right vocabulary to articulate my point and at times, it feels as if I’m talking to a wall. But this is meant to be difficult and uncomfortable. As much as we protest and advocate for this movement, silently walking away when our own people spit out the n-word will not fix this.
When we are sick, doctors first need to find the root of the problem. This is the root of the problem. Until we fix the root of the problem, where we first learned to clutch our bags around Black people and speak derogatory terms, there will not be change.
In the past, silence has protected Asian Americans in many ways. We learned to be silent to hide our broken English and to deescalate the situation when racial slurs are thrown at us. But there comes a time when silence is complicity. Silence is betrayal. Silence is looking away, the same way officer Tou Thao did when his white counterpart had his knees on George Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes.
Some of the very first Asian-American protests stemmed from the Black Power Movement and the Black Panther Party. Black Americans paved the way for generations of immigrants after them such as The Civil Rights Movement and the 1965 Immigration Act. The term “Yellow Peril Supports Black Power” began circulating in 1969 when Asian Americans showed up to support black activists like Huey Newton. They reclaimed the derogatory term “Yellow Peril” (that came about during the Chinese Exclusion Act), turned it into a phrase of empowerment, and used it as a form of solidarity.
The solidarity between Asian Americans and Black Americans is not something new. Bayard Rustin, a Black American who fought for imprisoned Japanese Americans after the Pearl Harbor Attack in the 1940s. Yuri Kochiyama, a Japanese American who advocated for black separatism and joined Malcolm X in his Pan-Africanist Organization of Afro-American Unity.
We all need to follow in their footsteps, strive to close this gap that white supremacy built to pit one group of minorities against another and dismantle anti-blackness from within.