By Stephanie Liu, Contributing Writer
// George Floyd was killed on May 25, 2020, when police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for at least five minutes. Three other police officers stood by while Floyd was suffocating, pleading for his life. One of those police officers, Officer Tou Thao, is Asian.
George Floyd’s death, compounded with countless other instances of police brutality, became the focal point of a massive movement for racial justice. This movement forces conversations about race and racism to the forefront of social media and forces me to really consider the relationship between the Black and Asian communities – particularly Asian contributions to an anti-Black American culture.
Throughout this article, I will be using the terms “Asians/Asian community” and “African Americans/Black community” to describe general populations. Also, I am mostly addressing East Asians and recognize that there are different types of Asians facing different levels of oppression. I recognize that the language we use to address race is fluid and dynamic and my thoughts here are not meant to be taken as anything other than my own comments.
Asians are upheld in America as the “model minority”, a status that is contingent upon our ability to make ourselves palatable to the dominant white culture and leadership – the “system”. By playing along with the system, we may earn success for ourselves.
However, the existence of a “model” minority implies the existence of a “problem” minority. When the system depicts Asian success solely as the result of our collective work ethic, it invalidates millions of hardworking African Americans and pins their struggles on personal and racial failures rather than a fundamentally racist social structure. This pits the two racial groups against each other.
Asians are also capable of ugly acts of racism. You might recall that insensitive detergent commercial from China from 2016 where a woman puts a Black man into a washing machine and he comes out light-skinned and Chinese.
Colorism, or the favoritism of lighter skin tones, is prevalent in many Asian cultures. I know this from experience; every time I visit my family in China, people say that I am “dark”, and not often in a nice way. The faces in commercials on television, on billboards, and on posters were all light-skinned Han Chinese faces.
In fact, at least in my experience, lighter skin tends to be associated with higher socioeconomic status in Asian culture. A particular Asian emphasis on achieving financial success leads us to at least subconsciously reject darker-skinned people.
And this is the fundamental problem; because Asians can benefit from the current white-dominated system and there is a connection between skin color and socioeconomic status, Asians are contributing to anti-Black sentiment whether they mean to or not.
The most extreme and well-known example is the death of fifteen-year-old Latasha Harlins, who was shot and killed by Soon Ja Du, who thought Harlins was stealing from her store. This no doubt contributed to the 1992 Los Angeles riots a year later, when Koreatown was looted and burned.
More often, Asian contributions to the anti-Black American system takes a more passive form, such as detachment from Black struggles. Part of the detachment is due to the perceived importance of upholding the model minority myth; if we keep our heads down, the white system will reward us.
But part of it is also plain ignorance and laziness. I know that I have not been very vocal on social media about the recent cases of police brutality. I also know that I am undereducated about Black history and Black issues.
It is well past time for me, as well as the rest of the Asian community, to tackle internalized anti-Blackness and take action to be anti-racist.
Of course, I recognize that Asian people experience oppression and hatred in America as well. It’s hard being a perpetual foreigner in a country you’ve lived in your whole life. And I’m not blind to the spike in anti-Asian hate crimes since the start of the pandemic. But if anything, this should make us more compassionate towards the everyday experiences of many African Americans.
Supporting the Black community now will not detract from the Asian community. Just as the Black-led Civil Rights movement provided the basis for many of the rights we enjoy today, demanding justice for George Floyd and other victims of police brutality will, hopefully, lead to greater accountability within the law enforcement and justice systems, ultimately benefiting all people of color.
The Black community is also deserving of our help not only because their advancements are our advancements, but also due to their inherent value as human beings and their massive contributions to America. The exploitation of Black labor and Black ideas built this country, and they must receive proper compensation instead of being murdered in the streets by police.
So how can we help as non-Black people? Sign petitions, write emails, call officials, and donate to Black organizations to enact justice and change. But even when the protests die down and the stream of posts about Floyd trickle to a stop, we must keep supporting the Black community.
Listen to and amplify Black voices. Educate yourself on Black history, the history of racism in America, and how racism manifests today. Support Black-owned businesses and Black creators, keep donating to Black activist organizations, and please vote with Black wellbeing in mind.
Black lives matter every day, and the Asians must push past prejudices within the community and within ourselves and stand proudly beside the Black community.
Where to donate:
- Black Visions Collective
- Reclaim the Block
- North Star Health Collective
- Louisville Bail Fund
- Black Lives Matter Global Network
- National Bail Out
- Black Youth Project
- Minnesota Freedom Fund
- Donate to help protesters in the Bay Area: Bay Area ARC Bail Fund/Bay Area Bail Fund
A list of Black Instagram accounts compiled by various Blueprint members:
Click here to access a reading list of resources to educate yourself on systemic racism and the black experience in America.
Podcasts to listen to:
- Still Processing: Jenna Wortham and Wesley Morris
- Black On The Air: Larry Wilmore