Debby Nguyen is a Pharmacy and Data Science student at Northeastern University, a New York Times-featured writer, and the author of her new book Pills, Teas, and Songs, which discusses diverse medicine practices in different cultures.
#AsiansForBlackLives – How Tou Thao symbolises some Asian communities’ complicity in Anti-Blackness
Tou Thao, the disgraced Minneapolis police officer who is one of the four officers involved in the death of George Floyd, is of Hmong descent (a Southeast Asian ethnic group). The image of Thao just standing there whilst Floyd was being suffocated reflects both the explicit and metaphorical behaviours through which some East and Southeast-Asians are facilitating in Anti-Black racism and systemic white supremacy. It seems to be that many Asian communities are reserved when it comes to speaking about racial injustice in other minority communities out of fear that their own precarious privileges will be taken away. I feel that many people of Asian descent will identify with this sweeping statement. Thao’s ability to just stand there without interfering is inextricably tied to his identity as an Asian American police officer. If we remain complicit; if we stand idly by, keeping silent in the face of anti-Black comments, avoiding political action, then we too are guilty of just standing there as Black people suffer and are killed.
The positioning of Asians as ‘model minorities’ has a direct connection to Anti-Blackness and the continuation of white supremacy. Post-World War II, the perpetuation of the ‘model minority myth’ was leveraged by a white majority to pit East-Asian Americans against African Americans to demonstrate that racial groups could overcome discrimination, assimilate and reach parity with white people. It was created in an attempt to detract attention from the activism of the civil rights movement and when the US began to fear its exclusion of Chinese immigrants would hurt its allyship with China against Japan. This flawed belief was ingrained into the Asian community and is used to diminish the struggles of other ethnic minorities and if they would ‘work hard enough’ they too could achieve the level of socio-economic success that Asians had supposedly reached. This has further complicated the conversation surrounding Asian racism and this kind of tangential comparison inevitably functions as a racial wedge within Asian communities themselves as well as Asians and other minorities.
Part of the reason the killing of unarmed Black people continues to happen at an alarming rate is because we haven’t properly addressed a long history of racial terror which has treated Blackness as a proxy for criminality. We can no longer be silent bystanders that reap the benefits of privilege while the Black community continues to fight for justice and equality. The outrage we feel when facing discrimination, prejudice and racism must be equated to what the Black community faces on a daily basis. We cannot be an ambassador against racism towards Asians and not extend our advocacy to other minority groups as well. Recognising Anti-Black racism does not strip away from the validity of racism against Asians – it is not a competition.
It requires diligence to unlearn these stereotypes and inherent biases that cause tensions between minorities. The pivotal moment for Asians to tackle the subject of anti-Blackness in a productive way begins with understanding the problems in our own communities by first confronting the historical context behind their prejudice. Asians deal with their own forms of oppression, but it is incomparable to the systematic dehumanisation that Black people have faced during slavery and continue to confront on a daily basis. We must be vigilant not to become the “racial bourgeoisie”.
The abuse of police powers that continues to extinguish the lives of Black men and women is a part of a system where white supremacy and racist policies treat Black lives as less deserving of protection, resources and opportunities to live with freedom, safety, health and hope. This is the same system that causes Asians to be harassed, attacked and blamed for COVID-19, resulting in racial scapegoating that dehumanises us and invites harm. But clearly the pandemic has only further proven the fact that whatever position of safety Asians are afforded as a ‘model minority’ is conditional. To be anti-racist does not only mean we must be free of racism, but that we must actively fight it whenever we recognise it, even if it is within ourselves or communities. Every small action works towards dismantling systematic oppression. Lives —Black lives — depend on it.
Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.
Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.
We have grown since then, putting out bimonthly issues (we are contributor powered: apply to write for our next one!), and weekly reviews of culture, and news that is important to us.
You can find announcements, more news, and get to know our staff on social media: give us a follow, and learn how you can get involved today!
We do not claim to speak for all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. We are just here to give them a place to speak for themselves.