The Silence of Asian Americans on Black Injustice

We can’t breathe.

On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man died after having his neck crushed under the weight of white Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin.

The same way you’d pin an animal to the floor for misbehaving, for eight minutes, Chauvin used his knee to pin Floyd’s neck to the pavement. The incident has been ruled a homicide caused by “asphyxiation from sustained pressure,” according to USA Today.

Police brutality is not new to America. We have seen incidents like this time and time again, notably, the recent killings of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. This particular incident led to a strong uprise in protests and social media activism, sending shockwaves throughout the world.

In the midst of the complex conversation about the Black Lives Matter movement, privilege, and the history of institutionalized racism in America, other nuanced dialogues have been brought to light. One in particular addresses Tou Thou, the Hmong American officer who can be seen in the videos of the public murder. He has become a symbol of a phenomenon seen much too often in the Asian American community — staying silent.

“Please, please, please, I can’t breathe, please man,” Floyd desperately said as Thou stood over him, watching. The man was clearly dying, gasping for air, struggling to stay conscious, and the Asian officer did nothing to help him.

Moments later, Floyd fell unconscious and onlookers began to confront the officers. “Check for a pulse,” one onlooker can be heard saying. Thou, with his back to the unconscious man, is seen trying to ward off the onlookers.

Minutes later, the young nephew of the owners of Cup Foods, the people who originally called the police on Floyd for allegedly using counterfeit money, came out of the store to try to intervene and stop the police, according to the Washington Post. Officer Thou then proceeds to shove the young man away from the scene.

This is why America is enraged.

 

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With America seized by racial unrest, Los Angeles is on fire again. Peaceful protests in the city turned violent in recent days, with images of looting and burning buildings captured by news helicopters overhead. For many, the images hark back to the riots of 1992, after four police officers were acquitted of assault for the beating of Rodney King.⁣ ⁣ The parallels — including looting and destruction fueled by anger over police abuses — are easy to see. The differences, though, between then and now, are stark. This time, the faces of the protesters are more diverse — black, white, Latino, Asian. And they are bringing their message to the people they say need to hear it most: the largely rich and white communities of Los Angeles’ Westside. To read more about the protests, click the link in our bio. Photos by @bdentonphoto.⁣

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In the last several days, chaos has erupted. Young people from all walks of life have joined forces, almost in an unprecedented manner, to rally behind the Black community through the brutality. Peaceful protests, riots, looting — all of this has come as the result of the death of George Floyd and centuries of racial oppression in America. Conversations about race relations, politics, and history have been brought to the surface, however, like Thou, some Asian Americans have chosen to stay silent.

Throughout history, the Asian American community has tended to remain quiet relative to other communities when it comes to politics or being vocal about injustices. It is a reoccurring phenomenon for the Asian American community. Why is that?

 

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It is due to a multitude of reasons. There seems to exist this fear, or what some may consider paranoia, towards the government within the Asian community in America. This can be seen in how Asians have disproportionately lower voter turnout and political participation. It can also help explain why Asian Americans are the least likely out of any racial group to report that they intended to fill out the 2020 Census. However, along with this, Asian Americans are also the least likely to “express familiarity with the census,” according to AAPI Data.

If we think back to our parents or grandparents who immigrated to America, it becomes clear. They had to up and move their entire life to a foreign country in search of a better life for themselves and their future generations. Imagine going through life feeling like an alien in your own home. That feeling is bound to manifest itself in fear, not only of the government but also of ruffling any feathers or causing any trouble.

The thing is that often times, these fears are not addressed, and thus, are passed down to younger generations. Over time, this has created a culture of Asians being obedient, turning their heads away from police brutality, and staying silent even when their voices are needed in the conversation.

 

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Circa 1969: “Yellow Peril Supports Black Power, Oakland, California”

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Overall, we are seeing progress in the younger Asain American generation when it comes to participating in politics and being vocal. According to AAPI Data, voter turnout “jumped from 28% among Asian Americans in 2014 to 42% in 2018.” It is predicted that this trend will continue into the 2020 election. Along with this, young Asian Americans and AAPI celebrities have been becoming more vocal during this time with the Black Lives Matters movement and the killing of George Floyd.

However, in order to create real change, we need to have a sustained effort. Therefore, no matter what your stance is, it is important to vocalize it, because, at the end of the day, it will lead to more dialogue. What we need is for people to have more honest conversations so we can better understand each other, thus heal from our past, and move forward as a united society who sees past skin color.

In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.: “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” 

We can’t breathe. Now is the time to speak up. 

Feature Image via @nextshark

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