Anti-Asian racism in the U.S.
Discourse on race usually seems to be black and white in more ways than one. This country was rattled with endless stories of police brutality this past summer, scratching the thinly-veiled facade of racism being a thing of the past. Efforts to end white supremacy are long overdue, and addressing it is a step in the right direction (even if it’s the bare minimum). However, this approach alone is insufficient in addressing America’s complex and ongoing relationship with racism.
The FBI warned the nation of a potential surge in anti-Asian hate crimes around this time last year. The novel coronavirus was finally classified as a pandemic, and the number of Asians who were victims of hate crimes was creeping up. And although we may no longer have a President who dubs the virus as the “kung flu,” the damage has already been done.
Recent headlines show that the association between East Asians and the pandemic has already been established and validated. An 84-year-old Asian man in San Francisco was killed in broad daylight, and the family believes that the crime was racially motivated. The FBI has yet to release exact statistics, but it’s jarring to see these cases rise as the pandemic progresses. Between March 19, 2020, and Dec. 31, 2020, over 2,800 cases of anti-Asian hate crimes were reported to Stop AAPI Hate, an initiative created by the Asian Pacific Policy & Planning Council (A3PCON), the Asian American Studies Department of San Francisco State University, and Chinese Affirmative Action (CAA).
It makes sense that some solidarity within the Asian American community arose from this trauma, particularly among East Asians. However, this frightening crime trend is also highlighting how racial minorities are not immune to being perpetrators of racism.
The murderer of the elderly San Francisco man was a 19-year-old Black man. Many Asian Americans understood that this heinous crime was a reflection of the man who committed the crime and not his race. However, far too many allowed this incident to reinforce their anti-Black racism. The rhetoric flooded into online communities such as subtle asian traits, with some individuals feeling justified in blaming Black communities and Black movements such as Black Lives Matter.
This is not the first time that anti-Black racism has reared its ugly head in Asian-American communities. Most notably, the 1992 riots that followed the Rodney King trials heightened tensions between the Black community and the Korean American community in Los Angeles. Saigu, which translates as “429” in memory of the date of the riots, caused havoc on over 2,200 Korean-owned businesses and caused approximately $400,000 in damages. This incident left many Asian Americans feeling hurt and sparked bitterness against the Black community in some.
However, it takes more than one incident to spark a longstanding and widespread problem. Asian Americans have been heralded as the "model minority" in recent years. East Asians seemed to rise to success despite discriminatory policies and racism. Many climbed their way to prestigious jobs and schools to the extent that there’s debate over whether Asians should be considered white or people of color (POC). This title of "model minority” may be considered a flattering compliment to Asians and Asian Americans, but its implications are harmful, including to the demographic to which the name applies.
The model minority paradigm reinforces the notion of the American Dream: anyone can achieve success and wealth with enough hard work. This is a reality for some, myself included. I was taught from a young age that my grit and determination would earn me a place in an elite university and great success from my family, friends, and school community alike. However, individual testimonies are not evidence. My success — and that of many other individuals with similar experiences — does not erase the systemic racism that puts others at a disadvantage and robs them of these same possibilities. While I was able to afford SAT books and AP exams, a disproportionate fraction of other POC were barely scraping by. I’ve never been profiled for walking down the street while listening to music, yet Elijah McClain was choked to death for doing just that. I’ve never had a check payment’s authenticity questioned, yet the same could not be said for George Floyd. The list goes on.
Asians becoming the model minority isn’t a testimony of a disadvantaged demographic’s resilience. The narrative is simply an evolution of systemic racism. It provides a false pretense of extinguishing racism and tells others who have not achieved the same success that they, too, can rise to the top with their own merit. The model minority myth gives some a sense of entitlement to dismiss racism and a reason to pat themselves on the back while excusing their racism against others.
Today, racial minorities need to recognize that we are capable of being both negatively affected by white supremacy and also contributors to white supremacy. It can feel easy to ignore the problem or even find a scapegoat. However, we are not immune to perpetuating racism. Many of us have witnessed firsthand the negative consequences of racism, as we’re seeing our community attacked at alarming rates. It’s time we reflect on how we may also be part of the problem as well.