anti-Asian racism and hate crimes, anti-Black racism
The day after I sent this essay for design, a white man killed eight people, six of whom were Asian women, in an attack that targeted Asian businesses. It would be embarrassing to disclose the amount of time I spent scrolling on Facebook and Instagram that first night, desperate to see anyone other than the Asian American activists I follow acknowledge the attacks. All I found that night was a white friend’s post about making bibimbap for dinner. The next day, #AsiansAreHuman is a trending hashtag. That we are human. Some of the Black leaders I most admire share beautiful statements of love and solidarity. I receive DMs from friends across multiple continents seeking to verify that I am, in fact, Asian. I get almost as many gaslighting comments suggesting that racism against Asians isn’t that racist as I do messages of solidarity and care.
I am still filled with anger at the fact that the attacker was driving a Hyundai. The Chosun Ilbo and the Korea Times Atlanta edition report that he yelled “I will kill all Asians.” The American press focuses on his reported “sex addiction” and “bad day.”
My mom sends me photos of the cat to cheer me up. As always, my first thoughts had been worry for my mom and my grandma, and yet she is trying to cheer me up. I don’t have a nice reflection or conclusion to draw from all of this. All I know is that I am holding complexity, so much of it. I’d ask you to hold some of it too.
Non-Asians, if you are silent right now the Asians in your life have noticed. Now and in the future, if you find yourself drawn to say something that even remotely suggests that we do not experience racism or that it’s not that “bad,” stop yourself. Because that rhetoric can cost lives. Asian community, I love you and when you take up space it makes my heart sing.
I’ve seen the model minority myth deployed to diminish the severity of recent violent hate crimes against elders in our community. While I’m Asian American and white, people tend to think I’m anything but—and because I have access to certain spaces due to how I look, what’s affected me most as this wave of hate crimes proceeds is that I’ve heard this kind of rhetoric coming from both white people and other BIPOC. It hurts to see our communities fail to stand together. So let’s be clear.
The model minority myth is propaganda that was created to forward both anti-Blackness and anti-Asian racism.
The idea of the model minority has its roots in anti-Blackness. It was created during the Civil Rights Era in order to undermine Black Americans’ efforts to expose the systemic racism they’ve endured and survived for 400 years.
In 1965 the Immigration and Nationality Act replaced the Asian Exclusion Act of 1924 (and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882), which had first banned and then strictly limited Asian immigration to preserve American homogeneity (read: whiteness). With this change, US immigration policy suddenly shifted from severely prohibiting Asian immigration to giving preference to well-educated and skilled workers. The point was to favor professionalized immigrants who would perform economically. Thus Asian Americans suddenly began to look more economically successful.
The model minority myth is propaganda that was created to forward both anti-Blackness and anti-Asian racism.
The idea of the model minority also served as propaganda during the Cold War. The Soviet Union highlighted American racism to undermine the image of US democracy, and in return the US sought to paint a narrative that American “minorities” could succeed under democracy. They needed a public image campaign, and they needed a token.
In addition to being anti-Black, the model minority myth erases the racism that Asian Americans have endured and survived—xenophobic immigration bans, obscene labor exploitation (which had learned much from enslavement and sharecropping), concentration camps, dehumanizing sexualization and infantilization, blame for disease outbreaks going back almost 200 years, and a perpetual foreigner myth that leaves nth-generation Americans being asked where we are from, denying us a feeling of belonging in our country of birth.
The idea that we can attain “proximity to whiteness” additionally works to align Asian Americans with conservative and capitalist agendas and foments anti-Blackness within our own community. One experience that really shredded my heart was when the Asian owner of the liquor store in my neighborhood in Chicago followed me around the aisles, I think because she thought I was Black because of my complexion and my big, curly hair. There is a lot of anti-Black racism in Asian communities, as there is in all communities in this country, which was literally built through anti-Black oppression (and on stolen land). Of course there are racist Asians who want to buy into the myth that we can attain whiteness and the safety it provides. The “proximity to whiteness” idea also conveniently forwards a narrative that anti-Asian racism is less “severe,” allowing violence against Asians to continue.
The kinds of racism Asian Americans have endured have also not set our communities back economically in the ways that anti-Black racism tore people from their nations and histories and have subjugated them under slavery, Jim Crow laws, redlining, voter disenfranchisement, mass incarceration, and police brutality.
Our response to this moment cannot be to call for further policing, which we know harms the Black community.
Just as it can be harmful for non-Asians to focus on anti-Blackness in our community as a way to end the conversation about anti-Asian racism and our safety, we must continue to fight anti-Blackness in our community. Our response to this moment cannot be to call for further policing, which we know harms the Black community. Of course it’s disheartening that some of the perpetrators of recent anti-Asian hate crimes have been Black, but solidarity is not about keeping tallies. The defense of life and dignity can have no caveats. As an Asian American, I fight for Black liberation first because I value Black lives, second to honor the Black activists and people who have stood with and for Asian communities throughout history and now, and third because, as the teaching of the Murri people articulated by artist Lilla Watson affirms, “Your liberation is bound up with mine.”
As someone who doesn’t “look like” the races I am, I know that racial solidarity is what has allowed me to survive in this body. All the mixed-up racism I’ve experienced and colorism I’ve benefitted from has made it extremely clear to me that there is “No pride for some of us without liberation for all of us,” as Marsha P. Johnson said. The New York Times recently reported that the 91-year-old man who was attacked in Oakland’s Chinatown in February and misidentified as Asian is actually Latino. We can’t know what community his attacker believed he belonged to. The need for solidarity extends to all of our communities, and benefits all of our communities.
Even the term “Asian American” was created as a term of solidarity—much like Black women created the term “women of color”—to unite a very broad and diverse group of people so we could have a political voice. The legendary Japanese American activist Yuri Kochiyama worked in tandem with Black freedom movements throughout her life. Solidarity was her message, too: “My priority would be to fight against polarization. Because this whole society is so polarized. I think there are so many issues that all people of color should come together on, and there are forces in this country who want this polarization to take place.”
A more intersectional look at our community is also revealing: the idea of Asian American economic success is undermined by the fact that Asian Americans are the US racial group that experiences the highest income inequality within our community. Our communities are also experiencing an alarming joblessness rate during the pandemic, and our unemployment rate is now higher than that of whites or Latinos.
The “proximity to whiteness” myth excuses violence against Asians as not or “less” racist. If you are bringing up “the model minority” or “proximity to whiteness” right now in order to end the conversation about violence against Asian elders, you are participating in what white supremacy wants you to and using an oppressive tool against all communities of color.
White supremacy undermines solidarity among BIPOC communities intentionally. Resist it.
The legendary Resistance Auntie drawing is by the artist shing yin khor. The term “Model Minority Mutiny” was coined by Soya Jung, and I am grateful to the activists Michelle Kim, Amanda Ngyuen, Liz Kleinrock, Kim Saira, and David Yi, whose recent work has contributed to my thinking above. I welcome comments and corrections on this post from BIPOC.
I believe that storytelling is one of our greatest tools to advance justice, belonging, and joy. In Kochiyama’s words, “Consciousness is power.” I’ve included here a reading list of 1) the articles that have most helped me understand this current wave of anti-Asian racism and 2) my all-time favorite books about the Asian American experience. This selection is in no way comprehensive, but rather what has spoken to me.
Articles that have resonated for me in this moment
Anne Ishii of NPN Partner Asian Arts Initiative wrote this incredible op-ed Why my fight against anti-Asian discrimination had me confronting racist mac and cheese in Philly, and her framing of it in AAI’s newsletter is even more powerful
- As an Asian-American, I'm Tired of Being Racially Gaslit By My Peers by Jennifer Li
- The history of tensions — and solidarity — between Black and Asian American communities, explained by Jerusalem Demsas and Rachel Ramirez
- After Atlanta: Teaching About Asian American Identity and History by Elizabeth Kleinrock
- Asians Must Stop Comparing Our Issues to Black Lives Matter by Elliot Sang
- Working for Equity and Social Justice? Know What Your Asian Colleague is Experiencing by Diana Huynh
- How to support Asian American colleagues amid the recent wave of anti-Asian violence by Jennifer Liu
- Black and Asian Feminist Solidarity Letter by Black Women Radicals and Asian American Feminist Collective
- How the Model Minority Myth Perpetuates Anti-Black Racism by Pragya Bhagat
- Talking to Kids about Anti-Asian Racism by Rebekah Gienapp
- The Muddled History of Anti-Asian Violence by Hua Hsu
- On Anti-Asian Hate Crimes: Who Is Our Real Enemy? by Michelle Kim
- This Is What No One Tells You About Being Asian In America In 2021 by Saron Kwon
- What This Wave of Anti-Asian Violence Reveals About America by Anne Anlin Cheng
- Ignoring The History Of Anti-Asian Racism Is Another Form Of Violence by Connie Wun
- There is no anti-racist movement without fighting anti-Asian discrimination by Jeneé Osterheldt
I recommend purchasing titles from Bookshop.org, on which you can support local bookstores like Black-owned Community Book Center and Baldwin & Co. in New Orleans, or Asian-owned the Dial in Chicago. Libro.fm does the same for audiobooks.
- The Next American Revolution and Living for Change by Grace Lee Boggs
- Passing it On by Yuri Kochiyama
- Heartbeat of Struggle: The Revolutionary Life of Yuri Kochiyama by Diane Carol Fujino
- Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong
- The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
- On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
- America Is in the Heart by Carlos Bulosan
- No-No Boy by John Okada
- Where the Body Meets Memory and Turning Japanese by David Mura
- Fairest by Meredith Talusan
- Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
- We Gon' Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation by Jeff Chang
On my list as a new Southerner:
- Water Tossing Boulders: How a Family of Chinese Immigrants Led the First Fight to Desegregate Schools in the Jim Crow South by Adrienne Berard
- A Different Shade of Justice: Asian American Civil Rights in the South by Stephanie Hinnershitz
A few recent children’s books that I wish I’d had when I was young:
- Eyes that Kiss at the Corners by Joanna Ho and Dung Ho
- Drawn Together by Minh Lê and Dan Santat
- Ho'onani: Hula Warrior by Heather Gale and Mika Song
- The Most Beautiful Thing by Kao Kalia Yang and Khoa Le