The Minority Divide - An Asian American Perspective on Black Lives Matter
It is revolutionary to be standing on the fault line of a gargantuan shift in a nation’s ideology. The tectonic plates to the right and left of the fault chafe against one another, opening up a chasm and creating an angry scar. In this metaphor, I would hope that it’s obvious that these tectonic plates are the political parties our nation holds dear, and the fault line is the result of their combative natures. These plates and their faults cause earthquakes, sometimes small, sometimes groundbreaking. Here in 2020, I stand on the fault line of the biggest earthquake I have ever witnessed.
This month, due to the obvious racial tension choking the country, I have re-evaluated what it means to be Asian American. Being a minority in America is a struggle in itself- though I can admit that I have it far easier than the Black and Latino Americans living in impoverished inner cities. I hold a certain degree of privilege as an Asian, and I have found myself wondering how that can be when I look so similar to my African American counterparts. This issue of race is not something that was brought up in my household very often until recently. Of course, we would call ourselves socially progressive, but my family and I are so far removed from the real problems people face, that we are superficial in what we say. I find myself a victim to this sort of “surface activism” sometimes, when it feels as though my privilege has blocked me from truly connecting with societal issues. Recently though, in light of current events, I have begun to look deeper into my own existence and have discovered what lies in my skin- the privilege and pain its color holds.
I am a self-proclaimed liberal- with my mother identifying the same way, and my father veering to the safe, middle region of politics. I was a passive child, but one day it was like political dogma was dropped in my lap and forced me to become nothing short of opinionated. However, I was never entrenched in the racial movement, and I never fully understood what was important about it. But, when something like the death of George Floyd is presented to you, you have no choice but to listen, understand, and find yourself and your beliefs. After I heard of George’s death, I began to re-evaluate myself, as a teenager, as a liberal, and most importantly, as a minority.
The idea of “institutionalized racism” is well-embedded into the fabrics of our society. The phrase is tossed around irreverently and casually, and I suspect many people do not actually know what it means. While Black Americans have often received the shortest end of the stick with regard to systemic racism, no person of color is safe from this rampant bias. I am becoming hyper-aware of my own, though minuscule, experiences with prejudice; everything from elementary school peers making fun of my father’s accent, to seeing Indian characters portrayed as one-dimensional nerds in the media. There is a feeling of inferiority that comes with seeing such an integral part of your culture ridiculed constantly, and these microaggressions have the tendency to build. Luckily, I have always been oblivious to the goings-on around me and have only recently realized the ways in which I was treated in my childhood. My passion for standing up for Asian minorities increased tenfold a couple of weeks ago when I pinpointed this casual racism that I grew up with, and yet, I had not been struck with the same passion for the Black Americans that were being killed for a color so similar to mine. And, as the country raged with the fires of the angry and the oppressed, I sat in my bedroom and asked myself a couple of essential questions.
I first decided to establish the role of Asian Americans in society. Thinking about this topic helped me realize that Asian Americans have never had the same anger and emotion that other minorities have had against injustice. I want to avoid speaking on the behalf of an entire group of people, but I have noticed a common thread. It seems that we have internalized white supremacy, and have decided that, instead of fighting the institution, we must find a way to best thrive under it. So, after immigrating, Indian Americans took one look at America, and resolved to be “second best” to whites in a racist system. So, we worked hard (as most immigrants do), disregarding the racism we faced, and rose just high enough so that we didn’t experience violent and blatant prejudice. Then we taught our children how to thrive in the society, and they went on to Harvard and MIT and Stanford, never once questioning their position in relation to the other minorities. I fear that Asian Americans hold the same prejudices against Blacks and Latinos that white people do, simply because of the privilege that comes with being “second best” and feeling above other minorities that reside at the bottom of the totem pole. I have realized that Asian Americans have been complacent in a system based off of racism, because we have found a way to thrive in it and have either forgotten or have become blind to our own suffering and the microaggressions we face on a daily basis. This made me understand two things: firstly, why Asian minorities are seen as the “model minority”, and secondly, why we don’t recognize our own biases against African Americans.
I then asked myself the question of my own opinions and self-doubts regarding race, rather than focusing on the Asian American community as a whole. I have sometimes felt inferior in a predominantly white town, simply for being different and standing out; for having students look at me when we talk about slavery in class, even though I am not black; for feeling less attractive due to the Euro-centric beauty standards I have seen promoted my entire life. I have also examined my crippling fear of failure- which, believe it or not, does not stem from strict parents. I’ve quickly discovered that I feel that I cannot fail because academic success is the only thing keeping me high enough on the totem pole to be regarded as “white-adjacent”. And when this revelation came upon me, I suddenly realized just how deep racism in this country really runs. If fear of the supremacy system, and therefore failure, has plagued Asians throughout our history enough to turn us against minorities just like us, then what more is it capable of?
Finally, I asked myself the question of where to turn to next. I first identified that I hold incredibly progressive views in comparison to many others. And, while not unfounded, the existential crisis I experienced regarding my racial views was not as serious as it had felt at the time - especially because I had been working on a project to bring education to underserved communities and advocating for those less fortunate. And I have realized that it is okay to view myself as an oppressed minority, because in an odd way, I am. However, I have also realized the importance of prioritizing, and that African Americans are being killed in the streets because of a broken system that teaches fear from the very second of conception. The fact that a nation built on the values of unconditional life, can so callously take that life away without a legitimate cause is repulsive. African Americans have suffered in the chokehold of this twisted system for centuries, and now, we are barely scratching the surface of the injustices they have faced. Americans have always held a sense of superiority to other countries, a gruesome combination of patriotism and nationalism. But, how can we call ourselves greater, when half of us persecute our most vulnerable members, and the other half stand by and watch. As a society, we must focus on those least fortunate, and Asian Americans must concentrate especially on overcoming internalized racism and listening to and uplifting the fellow minorities we have worked so hard to rise above.
Pic Credit Clay Banks