I took AP US History last year, and my teacher told us about the many racist acts passed by Congress as a response to the influx of Chinese immigrants starting in the late 1800s: there was Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, the Immigration Restriction Act in 1917 and the National Origins Act in 1924. The first prohibited immigration for Asian laborers; the second further shrunk the already tiny quotas of the number of people from each country who could immigrate; the third prevented those already in the US from obtaining citizenship. These are examples of Yellow Peril, the fear of people from eastern and southeastern Asia. What frustrated me (besides the Acts) was how I was sitting there, burning up with anger and disgust, while my classmates had no reaction. This was a prime example of how Asian discrimination was viewed in the US today: as a tangential issue that deserves basically no attention.
Fast forward to 2016. While the names of victims of police brutality like Travyon Martin and Sandra Bland are seared into our memories, Vincent Chin is unknown. While textbooks devote pages to slavery and Jim Crow laws, the first time I heard of the Chinese Exclusion Act was last year, my junior year of high school. While #BlackLivesMatter has been trending constantly, Yellow Peril is basically unheard of. It’s indicative of larger problem: that Asian discrimination is literally unheard of by most people, even Asian people, almost at the expense of discrimination against black people.
This isn’t to say that #BlackLivesMatter isn’t important or Black Power isn’t necessary; it is to say that often, placing most or all of our focus on one form of discrimination often means other forms are seen as less legitimate. For a long time, I didn’t even think that Asians faced discrimination by white people and considered myself lucky; it wasn’t until this year that my eyes were opened. Then, when I did realize we faced discrimination, it took me a while to realize that it is legitimate. But too often, Asian discrimination is brushed off.
Furthermore, different racial groups (like Asian-Americans and black people) have been pitted against each other. Asian-Americans are supposed to be timid, passive, obedient, hardworking, and intelligent. Black-Americans are supposed to be aggressive, violent, uneducated, loud, and inarticulate. Because of these stereotypes, Asian-Americans are considered the Model Minority; if you just work as hard as those timid and quiet Asian-Americans, you too can be an engineer/doctor/professor! This Model Minority status harms Asian-Americans and other minority groups; failure is not an option for Asian-Americans and mental illnesses are seen as “being lazy” rather than legitimate problems. Black people, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, people living in poverty, are seen as “lazy” and “wasting taxpayer money on welfare” for not becoming engineers or doctors or professors. Their struggles to rise up the corporate ladder are seen as “illegitimate” because Asian-Americans are able to do it so easily. Asian-Americans are the Model Minority for everyone else to follow, so if they don’t succeed, it’s their fault.
This is why it’s so important for Yellow Peril to support Black Power. Asian-American voices are often silenced, either by themselves or by others. Black people have outwardly struggled with their treatment at the hands of white Americans for centuries. Asian-Americans recognize that there could always be another Vincent Chin and that the racist acts of the 1880s and 1900s have simply transformed themselves. Black people have to contend with a racist justice system (a paradox in and of itself) and racist people who still deny that black people are treated unequally. Asian-Americans have benefited off of black people being seen as “lazy”.
Black people have held resentment towards Asians for discriminating against them. Now is the time to rectify those wrongs, to bridge the gap that was created by white Americans in order to pit Asians and black people against each other. It’s time to recognize that Asian-Americans should and need to stand with their black friends, colleagues, classmates, coworkers, neighbors, friends, family. That the voices that Asian-Americans often don’t have can be given by vocalizing support of Black Power, that we can argue passionately in favor of it but remember that black people deserve the spotlight. It is time for racial minorities to stop pitting ourselves against each other and believing the lies spread by white Americans, and start joining hands.