- Emily Pan
Updated: Dec 27, 2020
Protesting the death of George Floyd (Image Source here)
In the 1800s and 1900s, Asian immigrants working in the United States as laborers were illy spoken of as the "Yellow Peril". Yet it was the discrimination they faced that helped bring about solidarity with the Black community. For example, Fredrick Douglass condemned the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, while an Indian immigrant served as the editor of Negro World. Similarly, the civil rights movement in the 1960s fostered new ways of interpreting justice and equality in America, furthering the support Asian American leaders and Black freedom activists gave each other. For example, a group of Japanese Americans, who were sent to detention camps during World War 2 later supported Black civil rights activists for fear that they would be subject to similar treatment. Moreover, the term "Asian American" came about in 1968 from students involved in the Black Power Movement at UC Berkeley, while Asian American students rallied with Black students at the same time.
Meanwhile, the "model minority" myth was spreading - it was the idea that Asian Americans were successful because of their hard work, education, and willingness to abide by the law. According to Bianca Mabute-Louie, an ethnic studies adjunct at Laney College, "Before the model minority myth, Asians and Asian Americans were exploited for their labor, othered, seen as ‘Yellow Peril'...[The myth] came about when Black power movements were starting to gain momentum, so [politicians] were trying to undercut those movements and say, ‘Asians have experienced racism in this country, but because of hard work, they’ve been able to pull themselves up out of racism by their bootstraps and have the American Dream, so why can’t you?’ In those ways, the model minority myth has really been a tool of white supremacy to squash Black power movements and racial justice movements” (Lang). Unfortunately, this myth shadows the struggles Asian Americans face and the use of the word "success" attempts to invalidate the claims of inequality non-white Americans face.
Since the pandemic began, 40% of Blacks and Asians said people have acted uncomfortable around them because of their race. In addition, 31% of Asian Americans say they have been subject to racial discrimination, 26% of Asian Americans fearing physical attack. Another key finding from a study described by CNN says, "About four-in-ten Black Americans (42%) and 36% of Asian Americans say they worry a great deal or a fair amount that other people might be suspicious of them because of their race or ethnicity if they wear a mask or face covering when in stores or other businesses. About a quarter of Hispanic adults (23%) and just 5% of white adults say they worry about this." Overall in the study, "4 in 10 US adults say it's become more common for the public to express racist or racially insensitive views toward Asian Americans since the pandemic began" (Shoichet). Since the coronavirus first appeared in Wuhan, China, and quickly became a global pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned that, "'Certain racial and ethnic minority groups, including Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Black or African Americans,' and also 'people who tested positive for COVID-19, have recovered from being sick with COVID-19,' may experience stigma during the pandemic" (Estrada). Blacks and Asians must stand in solidarity going forward, in order to counter racial oppression.
Many Asian Americans have already stepped forward in calling out racism in their own communities. For example, in 2016, young Asian Americans began the Letters for Black Lives organization. Others have taken to social media and sharing resources designed to educate and inform Asian Americans about how their history intersects with that of Blacks. Ultimately, these activists share the same belief that reflecting on their shared history with Blacks will help shape the futures of both communities. “The power of Asian Americans standing up for Black Lives Matters is that it sends a clear message: the same racist logic schemes that are keeping our communities down might look different in Black communities than they look in Asian American communities, but it’s still the same system" (Lang).
Estrada, Sheryl. “Pew: Asian, Black Individuals Say They Face Discrimination amid COVID-19.” HR Dive, 9 July 2020, www.hrdive.com/news/asian-black-individuals-say-they-face-discrimination-amid-covid-19-pew-su/581329/.
Lang, Cady. “History and Asian American Response to Black Lives Matter.” Time, Time, 26 June 2020, time.com/5851792/asian-americans-black-solidarity-history/.
Shoichet, Catherine E. “31% Of Asian Americans Say They've Been Subject to Racist Slurs or Jokes since the Coronavirus Pandemic Began.” CNN, Cable News Network, 1 July 2020, www.cnn.com/2020/07/01/us/coronavirus-discrimination-study/index.html.