During a discussion about Ta-nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me, amongst comments about racism and social justice, I remember an Asian girl saying, “It seems like Asian voices are lesser than African Americans and Hispanics. It doesn’t seem fair, because we experience racism too.”
It’s easy to see why this is true. Growing up in an immigrant household, assimilation was considered the key to success: if we work hard and keep our heads down, we’ll be able to achieve success and prove that the sacrifice was worth it. As a result of conforming to the “model minority” stereotype, many Asian Americans learn to downplay the micro-aggressions and other forms of racism they face.
Not to mention, the topic of racial injustice often seems like a black and white issue. History classes are still frighteningly Eurocentric, and any mention of people of color generally focuses on black people. Asian railroad workers, the Chinese Exclusion Act, and Japanese internment camps are barely mentioned. Even modern media’s attempts at having open dialogue about race fall short of inclusivity.
The racism we experience is not one that is taken seriously.
The racism we experience is fetishization, often explained as “having a type”. It is living life as the nerdy sidekick, the math genius despite hating geometry with every inch of your body.
The racism we experience is disguised as a joke, curiosity, the “where are you really from?“ question doubting our assertion that we belong in America and in this conversation about race.
The racism we experience still exists so viscerally that while blackface is condemned, yellow face goes on under the radar.
Image Credit: Opus
Even if the (mostly white) mainstream media refuses to regard Asian Americans as, well, American, you would think we could find solidarity and refuge with other minorities, right?
Unfortunately, solidarity amongst other people of color can be a bit hazy. If you remember the 2016 Oscars, Chris Rock’s scintillating commentary about the dominance of white people in entertainment media was juxtaposed, rather hypocritically, with a joke about Asian accountants and child labor in Asia. Not to mention, the fetishization of Asian women and emasculation of Asian men in popular media.
Left with little to no tools or support to verbalize the unique experience that is Asian American engagement with race and racism, Asian Americans invalidate the constant emphasis of their foreignness and attempt to forget that they too are not a part of the white majority. Anti-blackness among older Asians also adds to this divide in the collective consciousness of minorities in America, adding an argument of respectability that defines Asians as overtly passive and African Americans as overaggressive.
However, we have to admit a certain level of privilege. When we leave our house and walk the streets at night, we don’t have to fear for our life. We are taught to trust law enforcement rather than be wary of them.
Naturally, we should use this privilege to defend and support fellow people of color (note: support, but not speak over), but we cannot forget that we are still not white, that discrimination against us is still very much alive.
Assimilation, as we should know by now, will get us nowhere. We can’t expect others to speak up for us if we don’t bother to identify the problem and argue against it ourselves.