Updated: Feb 23
Dear Asian Youth,
“Racism against Asian Americans is so normalized.” This is a statement that I'm sure that many Asians have found themselves saying or sympathizing with. I myself am guilty of it as well, and while it is not entirely wrong, it is counterproductive in establishing POC (Person of Color) solidarity. Regardless of your intent, the idea that racism against Asians (or any other non-Black POC) is normalized requires a point of comparison. Racism against Asians is normalized compared to whom? That statement is often an indirect reference and comparison to racism against the Black community. It is a reaction towards Black hypervisibility: the disproportionate amount of attention placed onto the Black community whenever race is concerned. Moreover, it is a reaction to the notion that racism against Black people is already visible enough and that we need to start centering the issue of racism around non-Black POC such as Asian Americans.
It is a common narrative for Asian people to react to anti-Asian racism by comparing it to racism against Black people. For instance, in response to being addressed with an Asian slur by comedian Shane Gillis, Andrew Yang tweeted: “It’s also the case that anti-Asian racism is particularly virulent because it’s somehow considered more acceptable. If Shane had used the n word the treatment would likely be immediate and clear.”
There are several issues with this narrative. The first is the misconception that racism against the Black community is somehow less accepted within America in comparison to other forms of racism. The truth is, all racism is in a sense “normalized,” it is merely displayed in different ways for every minority community.
In this context, the normalization of racism is displayed through the invisibility of Asians and the hypervisibility of Black people. Both are results of the system seeking to breed division between people of color. It is a direct consequence of the racial binary that exists within our country in which whiteness and blackness are seen as two ends of a spectrum. Racism against Black Americans is hypervisible because they are seen as the antithesis to whiteness, the main oppressor. The Black and white binary paradigm of race can be attributed to white enslavement of African Americans that has set them as the standard for racial abuse.
America’s focus on Blackness and whiteness as the core of white racism does indeed contribute to the marginalization of non-Black people of color. As a result of the oversimplified paradigm of racial relations based on white versus Black, other issues of race become less visible and are often lost within the artificial spectrum. Especially when it concerns the model minority who are purposefully racialized in a way that elevates them to the white status and thus makes them invisible in a white America. The intentional emphasis of the model minority blurs away focus from disadvantaged Asian Americans and seeks to invalidate the struggles of other minority communities for living in poverty. It is a focal point of white supremacy to display the successes of Asian Americans' as proof that systemic racism doesn’t exist. Nonetheless, Black people are not responsible for creating this artificial racial hierarchy.
The involuntary hypervisibility of Black experiences is not a privilege nor is it the fault of the Black community that our experiences as the model minority are rendered “invisible.” It is not the job of solely the Black community to dismantle the system of Black against white; instead it is all of our jobs as minorities to combat the system which purposefully pits people of color against each other. It is counterproductive to partake in an oppression Olympics in an attempt to bring attention to our own issues. One does not need to degrade the Black community to uplift your own voice. Continuing the legacy of anti-Blackness will not liberate Asian Americans from racism under white supremacy; if anything, it only preserves it.
It is imperative to understand that when we address racism, it is up to our community to raise and organize awareness for our own issues. It is an unfortunate reality, but we cannot expect those outside of our community to immediately recognize that racism against us exists to such an extent without continuously pushing to bring attention to it. It is not the Black community’s fault that their movements and racial issues have garnered “more attention” than ours.
The Black Lives Matter movement did not, however, gain momentum this past year because anti blackness is “less normalized” or called out more. It took centuries of movements and protests shedding light on racism against the Black community, for our government and society to even begin to acknowledge the issue of systemic racism. This is an example of why hypervisibility and visibility are not one and the same. Hypervisibility doesn’t mean that Black people have triumphed over racism. Black people are hypervisible as the “other,” as the antithesis to white America. It means that while anti-Blackness within America is scrutinized (such as the perpetuation of black stereotypes or police brutality), it is often not recognized. The fact that lynchings and sundown towns continue to exist is proof that despite it’s hypervisibility, the Black community is not always visible.
To return to the original point, racism against Asians is normalized, but so is racism against every person of color. The normalization of racism against Asians is exhibited through its invisibility, while the normalization of racism against Black people is exhibited through its hypervisibility. Both are intentional products of the same system. Making these comparative statements only serves to increase division between people of color and shifts focus away from the system of racism itself. Indeed, we should not be letting racism against our community remain invisible but we should strive to bring awareness to our plights without invalidating the progress that the Black community has made for themselves. Progress will not be made as long as we remain divided.
- Feileen Li
Cover Photo Source: CNN