In a racially charged nation, it can be difficult to see where Asian Americans stand in a national discourse on racism that seems black and white. With the unlawful assaults on the Black community and the administration’s harsh immigration legislations targeting people of color, Asian Americans need to enter the political discussion about where we stand in the fight against national racism.
In light of the violent outbursts that have occurred at Asian beauty supply stores and nail salons across the country, relationships between the Asian American and Black communities have been fraught with tension. In my own hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma, an Asian beauty supply store employee was charged with assault and battery after being caught on video hitting a Black customer in the face.
In contrast to the Black experience, the Asian American community seldom faces the same struggles when it comes to inter-communal economic support. In every major city, you will find an Asian district with mainly Asian patrons. From grocery stores to restaurants, Asians are the primary customers in these neighborhoods and the money earned by Asians is spent within Asian stores, supporting both the community and the businesses.
So why do Black communities struggle with creating self-sustaining economic neighborhoods? No doubt, the answer lies within the institutionalized obstacles put in place by government protocols or legislations to undermine Black success and economic growth. Historically, white America has responded to Black economic prosperity with violence and oppression, as seen during the Tulsa Race Riots in which the prosperous black community of Greenwood was leveled by the American government after Dick Rowland was accused of assaulting a white woman. This state-supported punishment of an entire community occurred as a means of culling the threat of a flourishing Black population.
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The Asian American experience in terms of socioeconomic success differs greatly from that of Black Americans. In a society that consistently oppresses minorities, Asian Americans have been pitted against other minorities to establish a racial hierarchy that values some ethnic groups over others.
The conflict between Asian and Black communities has always existed as a part of American history, especially as Asians have often been touted as the “model minority” and used as an example in which to compare other minorities. This myth of the “model minority” allows the hegemonic power in America to question why other minority communities are unable to be as financially or socially successful as the Asian American population, and implies that other people of color are not trying hard enough or working hard enough.
This perceived ranking of racial status helps white America maintain its social, political, and economic hegemony. Minorities compete against one another for rights, rather than opposing the oppressor, and the Black-Asian conflict is an example of how one minority benefits at the expense of another.
Because Asian Americans benefit from the oppression and disenfranchisement of other minorities, we need to recognize our privileges and hold ourselves accountable for our racist prejudices. We have the responsibility to support Black lives as we continue the fight for civil rights and march in solidarity toward a more unified and egalitarian America.
Despite our reputation as the successful minority, perhaps we will never be American enough. Our identity, no matter how many generations we’ve been in America or how much we’ve contributed to American society, will always be that of a perpetual foreigner. The Asian American community is built upon a history of immigration to America in pursuit of the mythic American dream. Our businesses often have immigrant roots, immigrant workers, or are run by immigrants. Our Asian neighborhoods and communities physically separate us from white communities. Our foreign languages and cuisines raise accusations of why we even dare to exist in a white, English-speaking America. All of this emphasizes that xenophobia is a strong factor in an anti-Asian sentiment.
The presidential administration has already shown that no one is safe from the cruel immigration legislations. Not the GOP’s constituents, not Trump’s voters, not the ardent racists who think “it wouldn’t happen to me.” And definitely not the Asian American community.
With all of this in mind, I ask my dad why he loves a country that hates him so much. Why he is so patriotic to a country that will never accept him as a true American, and that will always question his right to exist.
My parents are refugees of the Vietnam War and both experienced the horrors of a communist regime. They fled on tiny wooden boats and eventually made their way to America years later. To them, America is the savior that plucked them out of a war-torn country that they could no longer recognize as home. They came here with little money and were able to build businesses and send two children to college. They were able to do what every other immigrant dreams of doing by coming to America, and they are forever grateful for the privilege of being able to live here in peace.
To them, anti-Asian racism is just a small price to pay to live in the land of opportunity, but it’s not a price they should have to pay at all. It’s not a price that I, or anyone, should have to pay in order to live freely.
Now more than ever, minorities need to ally together to fight systematic racism and discriminatory policies. We need to support each other, mourn for each other, praise each other’s successes, and most of all, become a part of the solution we envision for America.
About the Author: Leslie Tran is a freelance writer, editor, and travel blogger with a passion for exploration and a hunger for experiencing new things. In her free time, she enjoys staying informed on the current sociopolitical climate and expressing her critical analysis on the impacts of these events.