‘It’s Not All Asians’: The Asian Problem With Blacks and Hispanics

“It’s not all Asians.”

Growing up, this was the sentence I would usually hear from an Asian person whenever I tried to explain how Asian racism affects me. There was one person in particular who was convinced that my concerns about Asian racism were unwarranted. This person, a guy who I became friends with in high school, was of Peruvian and Chinese descent.

In 2007, my friend and I were in our senior year of high school. Back then, my friend wasn’t necessarily concerned about his appearance, and he was open to hanging out with people of all races. However, by the time we were both in college, my friend started to get closer to the Asians in his neighborhood, and his behavior changed drastically. He would gel his hair to make sure that it would spike, and whenever he went out to an event, he would wear button down shirts and tight jeans.

It was clear to me that my friend was changing his appearance to appease the Asians that he was now close with, and for the most part it worked. He played up his Chinese side, and the Asians in his neighborhood embraced him.

As my friend adjusted his appearance to look more Asian, he would invite me to events in his neighborhood. Being a half black, half Hispanic male made me the outlier at the majority of the events that my friend invited me to, and I felt it.

The awkward conversations I had with the Asians that I would meet made it obvious to me that in their eyes, I was different from them.

My friend didn’t understand where I was coming from; he thought that I would be accepted if I got to know his friends better. Not convinced, I figured that I needed to dress like the Asians I was around in order to be accepted by them. So I started shopping at the stores Asians shopped at and began to wear the clothes that Asians wore; from American Eagle and Hollister to dress shirts and skinny jeans, I did my best to present myself in a way that I thought would appeal to the Asians I had met through my friend.

The awkward conversations continued. I still felt out of place.

At this point I knew that it would be impossible for me to be accepted by the Asians in my friend’s neighborhood. Given how he didn’t understand my initial frustration, I figured that talking to my friend wasn’t going to get me anywhere, and I was right. Once again, my friend downplayed my frustration and sided with the Asians in his neighborhood.

At this point, I should have realized that no matter what, he would side with his Asian friends over me.

I didn’t see the red flag, and I paid the price.

In the summer of 2009, a group of Asians confronted me because they thought that I hit on a girl in their group who had a boyfriend. I told them that I didn’t hit on the girl, but they refused to believe me. My friend, who had introduced me to this group, was in the area where the initial confrontation happened, but he did not intervene. When I told the group that I wouldn’t apologize for something that I didn’t do, they became angry, and after a few spectators told me to leave I decided to walk away.

As I was walking to the train station, the group caught up with me and demanded an apology. Once again, I told them that I wouldn’t apologize, but this time, they jumped me.

I blacked out and woke up a couple of hours later on the street, in a pool of my own blood.

When I told my friend the story over the phone, he said that it was my fault for getting jumped because I didn’t apologize.

I was shocked, how could he take their side? I’ve known him for far longer, and I didn’t do anything wrong.

In the following months, my friend continued to hang out with the group that jumped me. To him, it didn’t matter that I had to get stitches on my face after I was jumped; to him, being accepted by the Asian community was all that mattered. He never confronted the group that jumped me, and he never apologized for holding me responsible for the actions of his friends.

I still have a scar from the incident, just above my upper lip.

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Because we had so many mutual friends, I decided to keep him as a Facebook friend, but that was the beginning of the end for our friendship. As of today, I no longer talk to him.

Before I was jumped, the sentence, “It’s not all Asians,” did little to ease my concerns when it came to dealing with racist Asians. But after being jumped by a group of Asians and not seeing a single Asian person call out their own for jumping me, “It’s not all Asians,” no longer had any meaning for me.

What happened to me is but one of many examples of racism and intolerance in Asian communities. China in particular has ramped up its anti-black rhetoric in recent years; Chinese politicians are trying to “solve the Black population in China, and WeChat, an application used by nearly everyone in China to communicate, recently translated the words Black foreigner to nigger.

One would think that there would be plenty of Asian activists or celebrities who would cover the issue of Asian racism and look to address it, but I see very few, if any, speaking out. Instead, I feel as though the pressure is put on me to not harbor any animosity towards the Asian community. But that doesn’t make any sense, given that there are Asians who fear every Black person, I don’t get why it’s on me to understand that not every Asian is racist or intolerant.

Is it not on Asians to understand that they need to change the way they view Blacks and Hispanics? Why is it on me to prove to Asians that my skin color has nothing to do with who I am as a person?

Nevertheless, in the following years after I was jumped, I still tried to explain to people just how deep Asian racism can run in Asian communities. Some listened, but many didn’t. In one shape or form, most of the conversations that I would have would still end with the sentence, “It’s not all Asians.”

The denial continued up until I went to China last summer.

Knowing how whiteness is viewed as a sign of status and beauty in Asia, I went into China uneasy. I wasn’t sure if I would be treated differently because of my modest complexion.

In China, nobody told me to my face that my skin tone was a problem, but they told me with their actions.

Towards of the end of my time in China, I took a professional photo. After the photographer took the photo, she decided to make a few changes to my face.

asian racism black rafael santiago

When I paid the photographer, I asked for the original copy so I can show those who scoffed at my stories of Asian racism in the past what it was like to be me in China.

The people who were telling me for years that, “It’s not all Asians,” weren’t saying that sentence anymore.

I came back to the United States feeling vindicated; after years of denial I finally had a photo which captured the essence of my pain and frustration with racist and intolerant Asians. I also felt relieved because I knew that I wouldn’t have to hear my friends say that racism wasn’t a problem in Asian communities anymore.

But that vindication was short lived as the racism and intolerance continued. The most notable example came quite recently, and it came from a familiar place.

In the middle of January, my former friend, the one that sided with the Asians that jumped me nearly a decade ago, decided to chime in on the H&M monkey hoodie controversy. However, my former friend didn’t talk about the outrageously offensive hoodie or try to console the Black community. Instead, he decided to share a video of young Black men trashing an H&M store that had the title, “Violence at H&M Stores in GP: Avoid!!!”

I was angry that my former friend took the time to share a video which portrayed Blacks in a negative light just days after the H&M monkey hoodie controversy. Similar to how my former friend told me that I deserved to get jumped nine years ago, I thought that him sharing this video on his Facebook page was his way of saying that Blacks deserved to be compared to monkeys.

Considering confronting him about the post, I started to imagine what he would say. He’d probably tell me that he didn’t mean anything by it, that he just saw the video on his Facebook feed and thought it would be interesting to share. I decided to not confront him about the post because I knew where the conversation was going to go, I was going to go on a rant about how him and his Asian friends hate Black people and he would defend himself and his friends by saying that dreaded sentence, “It’s not all Asians.”

When that sentence came to my mind, I thought about why the sentence bothered me so much.

For years, I thought that the reason I hated hearing that sentence was because it downplayed the number of Asians that hate Blacks and Hispanics for racist reasons. But that wasn’t it, at least that wasn’t the only reason I hated that sentence.

Not every Asian that I met through my former friend was a racist, but I felt so uncomfortable around his friends that I felt the need to downplay my racial background and dress like an Asian person just to be accepted.

The Chinese woman who took my photo last summer may or may not have a problem with Blacks and Hispanics, but after taking one look at my face she decided to change my skin tone because she thought I’d be more attractive if my skin was lighter.

The sentence, “It’s not all Asians,” bothered me for all of these years because that sentence never acknowledged the fact that whenever I have been around a group of Asians, they have always made me feel as though there was something wrong with me because I am Black and Hispanic.

If you’re an Asian person who has Black and Hispanic friends, do you try to understand who they are, their interests, their struggles? Do you make an effort to be around them on their terms? Or do you only associate with Blacks and Hispanics when they attempt to assimilate into your culture, accepting your interests while trying to understand your struggles?

Do you only accept us when it’s on your terms?

It’s your choice to decide to stick to your own kind, but you’re not doing me, or any other Black or Hispanic person a favor if you only associate with us when it’s convenient for you. I shouldn’t feel the need to change who I am to appease you. I wear a fitted cap, I have a modest complexion, and I am not Asian. That doesn’t make me a bad person, but between the racist Asians who hate me because I’m Black, and the Asians who hold me to a different standard because I’m Hispanic, it certainly feels as though most of you believe that I am in fact a bad person.

To put it simply, I understand that, “It’s not all Asians.” But it’s enough.

Rafael Santiago is a graduate journalism student at Harvard University who has an affinity for Asian culture. However, his interest in Asian culture has not stopped him from covering Asian racism through an independent film and a Facebook page.

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