Staff Writer Hanna Pham on Asian-Americans’ solidarity and complacency regarding African-Americans’ experiences of racist police brutality.
Watching the news this week is like entering a time machine to 2014 when riots overtook Ferguson, Missouri as a response to the shooting of Michael Brown by a white police officer, or the 1992 LA riots in retaliation to the unsolicited beating of Rodney King. But it is 2020 and African American men are still being shot for no tangible reason other than the colour of their skin.
It should not come as a surprise to anyone that George Floyd, an African-American man, was killed by police officers as he gasped that he couldn’t breathe—the “justice system” that allowed for 14-year-old Emmet Till to be lynched in 1955 is still in place and, evidently, is stronger than ever as the Black community continues to be murdered.
In fact, this justice system is a reflection of how the American societal structure devalues Black lives and, by extension, solely values white Americans. This pattern made even more evident by charging the officer responsible for the death of George Floyd, Derek Chauvin, for third-degree murder which is equivalent to an accident.
While now more than ever it is important for white Americans to acknowledge the special privileges they have been given in society in lieu of expansive racial equality — speaking as an Asian American myself, it is time for other ethnic groups, specifically Asian-Americans, in the United States to recognise the role they play in the systemic oppression of African-Americans.
The same system that has oppressed African-Americans has pushed the model minority myth of Asian-Americans which generalises the community’s narrative into a monolithic story of a group of people overcoming discrimination with a polite, hardworking nature, ultimately finding success in American society.
On the surface level, it seems like Asian-Americans are accepted and fully assimilated into society, but it is simply a tactic to drive a wedge between Asian Americans and African Americans essentially contributing to furthering the oppression of the latter.
Upholding and promoting the success of Asian-Americans as a whole, as an underdog, directly contributes to lessening the validity of the struggles that African-Americans suffer, diminishing the role that racism plays. It allows for the logic that the economic and political disparity of the Black community is because they do not possess the head down, hardworking Asian attitude.
To compare the Asian-American experience to an African-American is at best, a faulty analogy. Yes, Asian-Americans have a long history of discrimination and racism, but it is wholly different from the systematic “segregation, police brutality, and discrimination that African-Americans have faced .”
It is insulting to chalk up the economic and political discrepancies of African-Americans to a lack of a hardworking attitude. To put it simply, the promotion of Asian-Americans over African-Americans in American society completely disregards and ignores the immense role that systematic racism plays in the United States.
Not to mention, as much as the model minority myth both invalidates the Asian-American experience and downplays the systematic racism faced by African-Americans, Asian-Americans have benefitted from it. Asian-Americans have been in the United States for a much shorter time than African Americans. Yet, the median household income Asian-Americans is $72,000, whereas for Black Americans it is $17,100.
As much as our community has worked hard to achieve success in the United States, it is important to recognise that the same system based off of white supremacy that has given us permission to succeed has continued to perpetuate economic disparity in the African-American community.
Furthermore, we do use African-American vernacular and indulge in music and media created by the Black community. While this cannot be generalised to the entire Asian-American community its prevalence cannot be ignored. If we can so easily enjoy African-American culture, there should be no second-guessing in standing with Black Americans in solidarity against the injustices they face.
We need to recognise that we have benefitted from a system of white supremacy. We need to recognise how our actions perpetuate anti-black sentiment in our own community and combat it. We need to realise our compliance in oppression is evident as one of the four officers complicit in the murder of George Floyd, Tou Thao, is Asian-American. While he did not pin down George Floyd until he could no longer breathe, he did nothing to stop his murder.
We, as a community, need to treat this as a wakeup call. No longer can we blindly accept our role as a cog in the machine of white supremacy and passively watch as African-Americans continue to die. It is the time for solidarity, not for complacency.