Marina Fang writes about the fact that the current protests have been the occasion for many young Asian Americans to have sometimes uncomfortable conversations with their parents and other elders about racism in their community.
Anti-Black racism in Asian communities is tied to the “model minority” myth, which white political leaders, particularly in response to the civil rights movement in the 1960s, wielded in order to drive a wedge between Asian Americans and other people of color. Many Asian immigrants internalized that mentality, operating under the false impression that being a “good” immigrant could help them assimilate into whiteness and align themselves with white people.
For Asian Americans, anti-Black racism routinely comes up in coded terms during everyday conversations. Several people recounted that some of their early memories of what they now know to be anti-Blackness came when their parents would associate Black people with criminality, such as warning against going to “a rough neighborhood” because it was “unsafe.”
“At the time, I really only interpreted that as parental concern for my well-being,” Cara Harbstreet, who is Korean American, said of her mother. “And now in hindsight, I have seen that statements like that [were] really her own internalization of this anti-Blackness that I think she absorbed not only from assimilating into white culture, but also those biases that stem from being Asian as well.”
Dismantling anti-Blackness in Asian communities also involves trying to dismantle other deep-seated prejudices, such as colorism. Skin-whitening treatments are popular in many Asian cultures. As Gajjar noted, lighter-skinned South Asians are considered to be more valuable and tend to be in a higher social class than darker-skinned South Asians.
“Just the fact that South Asians are willing to go against their own people … that just kind of shows you that inherent sort of anti-Blackness that we have built into our culture and our communities,” she said. “The problem starts there.”
This discussion of the racism within our community is long overdue.