We as Asian Americans, have a unique position in this country and because of that, we have a unique responsibility. We are positioned somewhat, in the middle of a racially hierarchical society. We are not white and not quite fully accepted as Americans, yet not Black; so we are not feared or perceived as a threat. But it’s not about reaching the top of society, it’s about bringing those below you, up, and evening out society to better benefit everyone.
We know what it is like to be oppressed; more so, we know what it’s like to be enslaved, persecuted and incarcerated. Fortunately, we largely no longer suffer the most blatant and violent aspects of racism in our society, it’s evolved into more sophisticated and subtle forms.
We currently benefit from the very same society that oppressed us. We enjoy privileges that many other communities have not been given. Yes, we have worked hard and rightfully earned the liberties we possess but other communities have worked just as hard and received nothing, despite deserving it all the same. Primarily, we’ve been given access to the entitlements of society strategically, by the white-hegemonic structure.
Asian Americans have been used as a tool, to further oppress and divide Black and Brown communities. Our fight for social equality has been co-opted, and our successes used to throw salt in the wounds of others’ so-called failures. This tactic simultaneously keeps us subdued, as it is a condition of our indentured social contract of acceptance into the white structure; be obedient, work hard, contribute to society and don’t complain. Some of us have taken the bait and remain complicit in our subjugation.
The sense of security we enjoy is false, as it is built on the decimation of others like us. Just two months ago, Asian Americans were once again vilified, returning to the nostalgic “yellow peril,” as the face of the coronavirus. Now, that seems like a flash in the pan, compared to the string of atrocities against African Americans condensed in the last few weeks, endemic of centuries-long racism. This should serve as a reminder to us all, of how fast the public can turn against us given the wrong conditions.
We can no longer accept the allowances of our oppressors, we cannot continue to do what is expected of us. Far too often, our community does nothing because nothing is expected of us at all. We cannot remain on the sidelines of these conversations, for as long as we play into that, we will remain stagnant in our position in society. We will prove true, the stereotypes of the docile and complacent Asian American. Now is the chance to prove them WRONG and assert that we are NOBODY’S model minority.
It is now our duty to pay forward the privileges we possess. We need to take action to dismantle the system we are enmeshed in, that while keeps us afloat, will never allow us to sail. We need to remember our heroes like Richard Aoki and Yuri Kochiyama, civil rights activists and original members of the Black Panther party. We need to follow the lead of 81-year-old Christine Umeda, who was once incarcerated at a Japanese internment camp on U.S. soil, and now protests against the detention of migrant children at the southern border. These heroes understood the connectedness of all oppressed and marginalized people. They knew that to liberate the most oppressed in society, means to liberate everybody. That means today, nobody can truly be free until Black people are free.
What we can do now is listen, as well as amplify Black voices and stories. We need to follow Black leaders and show that we are with them, that we can learn to share their struggle and not just sympathize from afar. We need to talk to our families to ensure we are all on the same page. We can make the change where we can, starting with our own cultures, and begin eliminating the insidious acts of anti-Blackness and colorism that we want to rid of our greater society.
We as Asian Americans, need to see ourselves, when we see immigrants being feared and detained. We need to see ourselves, when Arab descent and Muslim Americans are viewed as existential threats because of differing ideology. We need to see the Black bodies, murdered in the street, as the full manifestation of our nation’s hatred and racism that could readily be turned on to us, if need be.
Individually, we are minorities, but together, the people of color are the majority. Once we choose to prioritize and value our shared experiences, rather than our differences, can we finally begin to access our true power.