Confusion regarding the term “person of color” and where fair-skinned Asians fit in has always plagued the internet.
The quick answer to this debate can be found in its dictionary definition:
The Oxford Dictionary
By these definitions it’s clear that East Asians do belong to the umbrella term, POC. But in reality, it’s a bit more complicated than that.
Historically speaking, all Asian immigrants have experienced othering and discrimination based on race from the very beginning. Everything from the Japanese Internment camps, the Chinese Massacre of 1871, and the Asiatic Barred Zone Act proves East Asians didn’t always have it so easy.
And this yellow peril discourse hasn’t disappeared quite yet, East Asians are still seen as threats to jobs and American values. We live as perpetual foreigners regardless of our citizenship status. So in this current political climate with anti-Asian sentiment alive and well, it would be ridiculous to call East Asians, “the new white people.”
By labeling ourselves as POC, we as East Asians are not trying to victimize ourselves or claim that we experience the same level of racial discrimination as other darker-skinned POC. We’re simply stating that we are not white and that we too face racial discrimination in our day to day lives, just to a different extent.
When other ethnic minorities ridicule East Asians for identifying as people of color, they are silencing an entire race and dismissing their struggles. This is a tactic we know all too well. Whenever Asians are targeted in a racially-motivated hate crime or discrimination practice, we’re praised for lack of complaint, refusal to seek government assistance and silence. This practice has been proven to drive a wedge between Asians and other ethnic minority groups and it looks as if it’s been successful.
I know there are plenty of Asians who are not helping themselves. There are East Asians who are avid Trump supporters, who are pitting themselves against other ethnic groups in the affirmative action debate and buy into the model minority myth. In many ways East Asians, especially those with fair skin, are very privileged compared to other POC and we shouldn’t deny that fact. But at the same time excluding East Asians completely from the POC community doesn’t solve anything, it only creates a divide. After all, wouldn’t it be a much more productive discussion if we could all air out our grievances, share our experiences and produce a collective solution?
So yes, East Asians, like all other Asians, are people of color and yes, we are qualified to speak out about the racial injustice we face. And yes, water is wet.