Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this piece are solely of the author.
I first came to the U.S. when I was 18, to attend Wheaton College. Being an Asian immigrant and seeking higher education was well-received. White Americans did not view me as a threat because their views of Asians were steeped in the “model minority” myth.
The model minority myth means you don’t ruffle feathers, and that reinforces that America is a meritocracy. White people use this myth to wedge our community apart from other people of color and justify the oppression of Black people.
It also offers us proximity to whiteness; people who buy into the model minority myth say that AAPI people are not people of color or “basically white.” But the myth and our assumed proximity to whiteness is taken away when it’s convenient, as it was when the President needed a scapegoat for mismanaging the pandemic. Trump continues to refer to the coronavirus as the “Kung Flu” to associate the illness with people of Asian descent, fueling a stark rise in incidents of harassment and violence against Asians and Asian Americans nationwide.
Now, as Chicago enters its fourth phase of reopening and people re-emerge from isolation, many members of the Asian American community are anxious about re-entering public spaces for fear of being targeted with racist harassment and violence.
In her effort to address the violence the Chicago Asian American community is experiencing, Mayor Lori Lightfoot recently released a PSA to address the surge in anti-Asian harassment. In her statement, she named the Chicago police as one of the leaders in the city’s response alongside the Commission on Human Relations. The National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum worked for months with the Mayor’s office to speak out on this issue and call for a community response to anti-Asian hate, and we were explicit: telling people to call the police is not the solution.
That is because the police don’t exist to protect us; they exist to protect white supremacy. That’s why, when white protestors marched into the Michigan Capitol with guns or hung the Governor of Kentucky in effigy to oppose measures that would stop the spread of COVID-19, the police did not harm them. But when protestors demonstrate against police violence against Black people, the police beat them, shoot them with rubber bullets, tear-gas them, and arrest them.
For our AAPI communities of mixed immigration status households, the police are not an option. For Jessica Klyzek, a Chinese-American salon manager who was beaten and verbally abused by Chicago police officers that threatened to put her in a UPS box and send her “back to wherever the f—” she came from, the involvement of police did not provide safety, but instead escalated the situation.
Our fears of anti-Asian violence and harassment are very real. In March, a man stabbed members of an Asian American family, including two children, because of racist anti-Asian stereotypes around the spread of coronavirus. I wait in nervous dread for the next such act of violence. I have personally been yelled at in my Chicago neighborhood to “Go home and stay home, you China virus!” three times in the company of my young daughter. I also know the solution to the rise of anti-Asian hate is rooted in community, both within our physical neighborhoods and through solidarity with others.
If we call the police in response to an instance of anti-Asian harassment or violence, it may be because we’re looking to punish someone for causing us harm. But seeking punishment is not the same as seeking safety and a racist entity like the police, which acts to uphold white supremacy, will not work to stop the root causes of racism against us.
Do we really feel safer that a person is locked up by the police, knowing that the problem is much bigger than our safety? The protests over the murders of Black people by police have prompted many AAPIs to turn inward and confront our role in upholding white supremacy.
Already, many people can’t and won’t call the police to deal with crimes done against them, including those in mixed immigration status families who know that local police collaborate with immigration enforcement and Black people who can never be sure that the guns won’t be turned against them. Safety and security comes when we have real solutions that dismantle the root causes of violence to act upon when something bad happens, and when we know others will offer themselves up to help us when we need it. We are safer when everyone in our community is committed to creating a safe environment, especially for those with the least power.
That commitment is reciprocal and for members of the AAPI community, it includes understanding the harms that the police cause and choosing to talk with our neighbors instead. The protection we receive when we participate in white supremacy, as we do when we call the police, is extremely conditional and we are not the ones to decide when it is taken away. We must stand with the Black community and confront racial injustice because our collective struggles cannot end without toppling white supremacy. Our power and our ability to thrive will be valid and long lasting only when it’s shared by all.
About the Author: Sung Yeon Choimorrow is the Executive Director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF).
Feature Image via Getty