The Asian American Response to Black Lives Matter Is Part of a Long, Complicated History
In the United States, racial issues can often be raised along the lines of black and white - and especially at a moment when the world is forced to grapple with the way systemic racism is built into the nation's history , the reasons for this focus are clear. At the same time, the country has never been populated by just these two groups, and the way other minorities interact with both Black America and White America offers important insights into this past. A typical example: The complex stories against both blackness and racist solidarity within the Asian-American community.
In this week's issue of TIME, Pulitzer Prize winner Viet Thanh Nguyen examined how the "trap" of being an "exemplary minority" creates inequality not only for Asian Americans, but for everyone. This dynamic has come to the fore particularly in the presence of Tou Thao and Alexander Keung, two Asian American officers, when George Floyd died. Thao compared a viral tweet to the only Asian man in the middle of the white bidders in the film Get Out, while Hasan Minhaj, in a new Patriot Act clip, went against the blackness in the Asian-American community and stated: “We think we are not a part of it the story, but we're at the scene! That is why the overall picture is important. This does not happen in a vacuum, but in a system. "
This system has evolved for centuries and still affects the work of many Asian-American activists.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Asian Americans who worked as migrant workers in the United States were viciously (and often subjected to terrible, racist violence) vicious "yellow perils". This experience of discrimination created solidarity with the black community, who, according to Renee Tajima-Peña, the producer of Who Killed Vincent Chin? and PBS's Asian American documentary series has been featured in a variety of outlets. Frederick Douglass denounced the Chinese law of 1882, and an Indian immigrant was the publisher of Negro World at the beginning of the 20th century.
This connection continued until the following decades. But as with many facets of life in the U.S., it got more and more complicated in the 1960s.
On the one hand, as the civil rights movement in the United States introduced new ways of thinking about justice and equality, the leaders of Asian Americans were inspired and supported by black freedom fighters. For example, after Japanese Americans were viewed as a threat and sent to internment camps during World War II, this community offered support to civil rights leaders who were trying to repeal the Emergency Detention Act because they feared black activists would be treated the same could be subjected. The term “Asian American” was coined in 1968 by UC Berkeley students who were inspired by the Black Power Movement. Similarly, Asian American students gathered in the late 1960s as part of the Third World Liberation Front in the state of San Francisco and at UC Berkeley alongside black student organizers and other ethnic student groups, leading to student strikes that resulted in equal educational opportunities and the creation of education by ethnic study programs. Activists such as Yuri Kochiyama and Grace Lee Boggs not only learned about the radical framework conditions of blacks for the liberation of the Americans in Asia, but were also strong and active supporters of the movements of black social justice.
At the same time, however, the myth of the exemplary minority spread. The idea was that Asian Americans were more successful than other ethnic minorities because of hard work, education, and a law-abiding nature. However, much of the progress made by Asian Americans in the 1960s was not due to hard work alone, but also to the same systemic forces that held others down - such as immigration policy (such as the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965), abolishing previous anti-Asian immigration laws, and Prioritization of skilled workers) and political spinning against the civil rights movement.
"Before the myth of the exemplary minority, Asians and Asian Americans were exploited for their work, unlike" Yellow Peril, "" said Bianca Mabute-Louie, an ethno-study assistant at Laney College. “[The myth] emerged as the movements of black power gained momentum, and [politicians] tried to undercut these movements and say, 'Asians have experienced racism in this country, but due to hard work they have been able to do why can't you? “In this way the myth of the exemplary minority was really a tool of white supremacy to suppress movements of black power and movements of racial justice. ”
As Mabute-Louie notes, such a myth not only creates a monolithic identity for Asian Americans and makes their struggles invisible, but also drives a wedge between them and other color communities, especially black Americans, because it uses perceived Asian Americans. "Success" to invalidate allegations of inequality against non-white Americans. It also strengthens a structure in which assimilation into white society is the primary goal of other ethnic groups.
"To say that this minority is the" good minority "essentially means that there is a bad minority that keeps people divided," says writer and activist Helen Zia. "The problem is, if you endure a carrot, some people believe that we can get rid of this earlier portrayal and stereotype of the enemy and that we can be accepted, that we can ascend, that we can reap the privileges of the white masters. We may even be able to become white men of honor. "
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This dynamic did not mean the end of solidarity between the two communities: when Vincent Chin was beaten to death by racism in Detroit in 1982, black activists like Jesse Jackson, for example, were part of the movement for which his murder was called for justice. But there has been a wedge between them, and this tension has developed heavily in the mainstream narrative of recent history, largely thanks to the events that took place in Los Angeles in 1992.
This year, protests and riots broke out after four policemen who were caught on camera and brutally beat Rodney King, a black motorist, were acquitted. During the riots, Korean-American companies appeared to be targets for looting and destruction - something that had been associated with the 1991 Harlins murder of Latasha Harlins, a 15-year-old black girl, by a migrant Korean shopkeeper, Soon Ja Du after assuming that she stole a bottle of orange juice. Though you was convicted of voluntary manslaughter later this year, the perceived ease of her judgment helped fuel the flames for the Rodney King riot.
In recent years, the interracial conflict has often served as the primary framework for studying the interactions between black and Asian American communities. From a 2017 viral video documenting a Korean beauty salon owner physically attacking a black customer suspected of shoplifting; on the advocacy of some Asian Americans for the elimination of racial school admissions; In the split in the Asian-American community in New York via the NYPD police office, Peter Liang, after he was convicted of manslaughter after killing an unarmed black man, Akai Gurley, fatally, discussions about the race between them Both communities frequently act against blacks and beliefs.
However, experts say the tension is still far from the big picture.
"Conflicts have always been a central part of history, but talking about Asian and African American struggles is much more sensational than talking about daily work, finding solutions to problems, and working together." says producer Tajima-Peña. "Toni Morrison speaks of a master narrative that was not written by us, and this narrative [of these two communities] has always been conflict and tension."
Now that the United States is seeing mass uprisings against racial injustice and police brutality, some see an opportunity to continue the history of solidarity and put the history of division aside. While Asian Americans are still experiencing racism - just look up to the surge in violent anti-Asian attacks due to the coronavirus pandemic in recent months - they don't experience the same level of structural racism in the United States that those who are black do do, and realizing this fact has driven many to activism.
"Asian Americans owe so much of their presence in this country to the black struggle for freedom - from birth to the ability to tell our stories about education and culture to the civil rights we enjoy," says Jeff Chang, the author of We Gon 'Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation. "We want to be on the right side of history, and this side is fighting racism against blacks directly."
Some Asian Americans have focused on proclaiming racism in a way that speaks specifically to their own communities and families. For example, Letters for Black Lives, an organization that provides multilingual resources to help people talk to their families about Black Lives Matter, was launched in 2016 by young Asian Americans. The group has now updated its templates to reflect newer messages. And Dr. Anthony C. Ocampo, associate professor of sociology at Cal Poly Pomona, made a presentation on his slide deck with his cousins to talk to their family about what's going on in the news and how structural racism is going related.
Others create resources to educate Asian Americans about how their history overlaps with the history of blacks. Mabute-Louie has created shared Instagram zines that not only deal with the fight against blackness, but also provide a context to the history of Asian American and black solidarity. "There are many resources on how to be anti-racist and many books on white fragility," she says. "But many of the things I see are for whites, and we as Asian Americans have a completely different journey."
Ultimately, however, regardless of the method, these activists share the basic belief that the reaction of Asian Americans at this moment not only reflects this shared history, but will also help shape the future of these two communities.
“The power of Asian Americans who work for Black Lives Matters is that they send out a clear message: the same racist logic that suppresses our communities may look different in black communities than in Asian American communities, but it is still the same system. It is supposed to get us to the edge, to stay in subordinate positions, to stay out of leadership positions, basically to be in a position where we cannot write our own stories in this country, ”says Ocampo. "We have to be the authors of our story."
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