Updated: May 28
Dear Asian Youth,
I see unarmed black men suffocated, lynched, and shot. Currently, there’s an influx of such tragedies surfacing online. This is America in 2020: a place where the police can drive into crowds of civilians that demand justice for black lives, a nation where a father must instruct his son how to survive if a cop were to kneel on his throat, and a world that thrived and continues to thrive off of centuries-long prejudice within American institutions. Amid a global pandemic, there are protesters who rally for haircuts and businesses to re-open because they feel their freedoms being abridged. Yet, there’s another group of protestors, a group whose voices have been silenced countless times, who demand to be heard. However, in the act of fighting injustice, they are met with pushback, rubber bullets, and a system designed to ensure their downfall.
As cities nationwide are left in disarray— streets littered with debris while buildings and cars are set ablaze — we must realize that this chaos is the manifestation of frustration dating back before the Civil Rights era, to the moment hundreds of thousands of men and women were deemed property and forcibly brought to America as slaves. History has shown us that racist mindsets have not changed much, and they’ve only evolved to a point where forms of extreme racism, like KKK rallies, Confederate flag demonstrations, and police brutality, are the only manifestations of racism to be called out. Even so, many people of color, especially African Americans, experience microaggressions ranging from being racially profiled at a store to having successes attributed solely to their race — a notion derived from affirmative action. Racism today shouldn’t be criticized only at its most extreme form; rather, it’s important to note that it can be subtle and woven into everyday sentiments and conversations. Racism can take the form of skin whitening products and even a black man being barred from entering his apartment because he didn’t look like the ‘typical’ resident. Racial prejudice has entwined itself everywhere, even in Asian communities.
It was the year 1676 in Virginia when both white indentured servants and black enslaved groups were disenfranchised, the former for not owning land and the latter for their skin color. These groups were rendered powerless in what was once a thriving colony abounding with tobacco plantations. When prices started falling, economically disadvantaged Virginians felt neglected by an indifferent government. A white colonist named Nathaniel Bacon saw the blatant social inequities between the rich and the poor in Virginia. After an altercation with a neighboring Native tribe, he demanded government assistance and support to combat Native Americans (to which the government refused). Land the Natives lived on could be given to the economically disadvantaged, he thought, socially mobilizing impoverished Virginians to a position where their voices could finally be heard. So, frustrated with the government’s neglect, he led riots and protests with indentured servants and enslaved people. Under Bacon’s leadership, they captured Jamestown and burned it to the ground.
Although the rebellion gradually fizzled out after his death, it left a lasting impression on white officials. This rebellion seared into their minds that when white indentured servants and black enslaved people work together, they can upend the societal stratifications that hold them back. Soon after, the Virginian government made the decision to distinguish all whites from black people; they expanded the rights of white servants to prevent solidarity between the two marginalized groups. With their new privileges, the indentured servants no longer aligned themselves with the black enslaved people they once fought alongside — turning a blind eye towards the slaves’ suffering because those issues no longer affected them. History has only repeated itself with the inception of a newer racial wedge: the model minority myth.
This pervasive stereotype propounds the belief that Asians are capable of achieving higher success than others, assigning any success of an Asian as an intrinsic quality of race. By praising instead of disparaging Asians, the myth creates an illusion of anti-racism. In reality, it establishes a destructive racial hierarchy between minorities — one where white people are bolstered to the top. “It’s just a compliment to Asians,” some may argue. However, by establishing Asians as a group other minorities should aspire to, non-Asian minorities are relegated to a position whereby they need to change to be seen as hardworking and worthy, fostering competition and hate between people of color. Consequently, we expend energy fighting each other rather than collectively working against white supremacy.
However, during times like these— when consecutive videos of unarmed black men and women brutalized by the police and protestors demanding for justice flood our news feeds — we, the Asian community, must pull through. Growing up in an Asian household, I’ve noticed certain iterations and explicit statements that root from stubborn anti-blackness. It’s baffling. Are we not also a marginalized group that faces racism and discrimination? When they were granted more rights and status, white indentured servants in Virginia grew indifferent to the cries of the black enslaved community. Today, we have to ask ourselves this: where does our empathy lie? Like those white indentured servants, do we simply stay silent? In the wake of George Floyd’s killing and countless others, we must begin to understand the struggles of other marginalized groups and work to become their allies.
One way to work against anti-blackness in our communities is by educating ourselves and others; hold important conversations with our families on why the movement is inflamed after George Floyd’s murder. Conversations with Asian parents about these matters may not be easy; rather they can be precarious, volatile exchanges or even verbal banters at the dinner table. Try to understand where your parents' perspectives are coming from and what experiences they’ve lived through that have molded their sentiments. Tell them you’re not invalidating their experiences, but that because of those experiences, they should hold a better understanding on why millions of black families are frustrated, angry, and grieving. Call out our friends and family members when we hear prejudiced remarks and make them cognizant of their own anti-blackness — no matter how uncomfortable it may get. Remember, discomfort is natural, but ignorance is not.
During the Civil Rights Movement and numerous other instances, the black community fought for basic human rights, which paved the way for the freedoms the Asian community enjoys today. By recognizing our place of relative privilege, we can leverage it to become allies for the black community. Yes, we have the option to turn a blind eye because these atrocities don’t directly affect us. Yes, we can remain blasé and resume our lives as thousands of others’ are put on hold. And yes, recognizing our place of privilege and internalized anti-blackness won’t be easy nor comfortable. But by doing just that, we can begin to pilot change within ourselves and our Asian communities. During this tragic piece of history, let’s refuse to be passive bystanders and instead become allies.
- Angela H.
To learn more about Bacon’s Rebellion, please see the link below.
For resources on how to help (petitions, funds, etcetera), click the link below.