Examining racism in the Asian community

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.


  1. sonofrojblake says

    Hang on… White people have been being angrily told for at least a decade that people of colour *can’t* be racist, because racism is more than just the definition given in every dictionary. It is, we are reminded, a *structure* built by and for white people. If you’re not at the top of the heap (i.e. White, even if you’re dirt poor) you’re simply not in a position to be racist.

    So whatever it is Asians are doing, it’s not racism… Not the SJW definition, anyway.

  2. ardipithecus says

    Anybody can be racist. Systemic racism gives advantage (privilege) to whichever race is dominant in that system. Not all racism is systemic. Even where the racism is systemic, there are hierarchies. It isn’t just one dominant race and everyone else. So, A has privilege over everyone, B has privilege over everyone but A, etc.

  3. mastmaker says

    Extreme racism is rampant in the Asian countries that I know of -- India & Pakistan. (It’s called casteism, and it doesn’t depend -- solely -- on skin color, but still racism) . When they then move to US, it only goes down marginally, but caste-based discrimination is known to happen in US as well.

  4. says

    In the Mexican-American community it comes from the Spaniards. It is still basically a white constructed system that others buy into. My mother wanted to be thought of as white, while the Anglos didn’t perceive her as such.

  5. Kimpatsu1001 says

    @Sonof rojblake:
    Try living as a white man in Japan, and you’ll encounter racism every day.

  6. Matt G says

    My brother and a colleague’s friend (both white) spent a lot of time in Japan and experienced racism there. Eye-opening when you’re not used to it. A lot of people try to protect themselves from bigotry by aligning themselves with the dominant racial/ethnic/religious group and putting down another group. I’ve seen it in Hispanics, East Asians and South Asians. The group put down is always blacks. I’ve also seen people put down their OWN group. Gays putting down other gays to be more palatable to straight people, for example, or blacks putting down other blacks. I’ve also seen whites whose identity USED to be considered non-white (Irish, Italian, Jewish) put down those who are identified as non-white today. Bigotry is a disease.

  7. sonofrojblake says

    Fifteen years I worked for a Japanese company. Well aware of their racism and sexism, thanks. When they’re in a position to oppress, that is.

  8. Kreator says

    sonofrojblake @#1:

    White people have been being angrily told for at least a decade that people of colour *can’t* be racist, because racism is more than just the definition given in every dictionary.

    Racism = prejudice + power, and what it’s supposed to mean is that people of color can’t be racist against members of the dominant ethnic/racial group, in America’s case white people. Under this framework minorities can certainly be racist among themselves, especially because they’re acting within a system that supports it, while discrimination from minorities towards the majority would be prejudice but not exactly racism. Japanese people are obviously the dominant group in Japan, so they can be racist there, and so can be black people in, say, Ghana.

    I’m not arguing for or against, just stating the complete argument as I’ve always understood it. That said, I can’t let the part I bolded in the quote go without a comment: dismissing people who complain about racism as “angry” is a well-known form of silencing closely related to the way the conservatives in the US are framing the ongoing protests against police brutality.

  9. sonofrojblake says

    My bad, I should have added the qualifier “White people have been being angrily told usually in my experience by other white people… etc”

  10. mnb0 says

    “White people have been being angrily told ….”
    Vague. unspecified accusation usually equates poisoning the well (in this case SJW).
    Call me an SJW and I’ll take it as a compliment. As a white male I’ve experienced discrimination by black people in Suriname. Exactly this also made me realize the meaning of white privilige. I can always leave when things get bad, Afro-Dutch can’t. And yes, Afro-Surinamese and Asian-Surinamese discriminate each other too. They all discriminate indigenous people. Etc. etc.

  11. jrkrideau says

    Perhaps we should use a wider term than racism at times? I find xenophobia quite serviceable. I am not saying racisbm does not exist just that it can be too limiting at times.

    I have noticed in Canada, that we may see some discrimination based on language as much as race, at least in mainly English -speaking areas which is what I am most familiar with.

  12. Lorraine Smith says

    The facts speak for themselves… .. this is SATANIC thinking. this new group of lunatics coming out from the DEMOCRATIC party are full of hate toward Republican whites.. that is all it is. DONT BE FOOLED they have a diabolical plan of destroying America by making up false stories of “White” people being “oppressors”.. what rot.

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