Dear Anti-racist Activists: The World is Not just Black and White

It’s hard for me to figure out a way to begin this post. It’s a critique of anti-racist social movements, and at the same time, it’s an admission that Black folks are really put at the bottom of our country (or even the world) and White folks stay at the top, benefiting from white supremacy. Nevertheless, I thought of it after reading one too many article and academic journal, watching one too many video, and going to one too many protest where the dialogue holds a dichotomous view of racism, i.e., including only Blacks and Whites.

(Source: – New Orleans Workers Stand in Solidarity With People of Arizona)

I’m Asian. No, more specifically, I’m Vietnamese. And not just Vietnamese American, a Vietnam-born and naturalized American, who came here at the age of 12 from a line of refugees. Yet, too often I hear anti-racist activists speak about my heritage as if it is the same as a Chinese who came here five generations ago, as a Japanese who came from an upper-class family who migrated here with a work visa, or a Muslim Indian. Why do all those nuances matter? Because as John Stewart points out, some of us Asians came here voluntarily and some of us didn’t really have much of a choice. (No, it’s not the same as slavery!) And some of us, because of the darker tones of our skin and poverty (caused by coming here as refugees with nothing), experience life in the U.S. very differently than others. Vietnamese and other groups of Southeast Asians, for example, have a much lower high school graduation rate, college acceptance rate and college graduation rate. Our median family income and median family wealth are also much lower. Furthermore, we are also more likely than East Asians to experience racial profiling, police brutality, and harsher sentencing. If we commit a crime, we are in greater danger of being reported.

Not just that—along with Latinos, Middle Easterners and other immigrant groups—we are considered to be perpetual foreigners. Ask yourself this question: if Barack Obama was a Chinese man, would he have been elected? Sadly, there have been more than several times when a Black person at a grocery store told me to “go home”, or yelled “Konichiwa.” There’s prejudice and discrimination (rampant or not) within the Black community against other non-white groups. There’s prejudice and discrimination within the Black activist community itself against other non-white activists. And this makes me…sad. It’s no wonder that not too long ago, when a Vietnamese woman was thrown out of a moving police car after being sexually harassed by two Korean police officers, it barely made the news, even in the activist community that was fighting for justice for Mike Brown. Do most of us even know her name and the names of her offenders?

I’m not placing the blame on anyone. If you are part of a minority, you know that you’re taught to not get along with any other minority group. Asian Americans (an identity meshed together out of racist policies) are taught to hate Blacks, who we learned to see as “thugs,” who steal our well-deserved seats in colleges, and who, if only they work as hard as we do, can achieve the American dream. We are taught to look at Latino “illegals” with disdain, the people who came here and work for much less. And Blacks are taught to believe that Asian Americans don’t like them/don’t have their backs, and that all immigrants are stealing their jobs. Obviously, not everyone believes in those things, but a lot of us do. I definitely have, for the majority of my life. Again, we are not to blame. Systemic racism is. White supremacy is.

However, that doesn’t mean that we are off the hook. As Asian and Latino activists march against the school to prison pipeline, fair housing or police brutality, we need you Black and White anti-racists to march for immigration reforms. We need you to start going more in depth about how racism hurts us. Most importantly, we need you to include us in your analysis, writings, speeches, and conversations. Some groups might be better off than others in some aspects, but we are all equally victims of white supremacy. We need you to remember Grace Lee Boggs and many other Asian American Civil Rights heroes whose names are not passed along. Because guess what? Many Asian Americans are still hypnotized by the model minority myth. Many of us are still imagining ourselves as “honorary whites.” A lot of Asian American activists are doing the best they can to combat the Kool-Aid and to get the rest to realize that we have more common with our Black brothers and sisters than we do with white supremacy. However, if the majority of the academic journals and online articles, written by Black and White researchers, talk about racism only with those two binary colors, they won’t care. They won’t see themselves in the problems or as part of the solution. They won’t know that wage theft and the living wage affect their community just as much. They won’t know (or remember) that fair housing, the wealth gap and the representation gap are also big issues for Asian American households. They won’t realize that their “privileges” are conditional. If the majority of Black activists don’t show up to protests that deal with immigration rights, language access, human trafficking, and many other issues that tend to affect other non-white groups more, how do we know that you’ll have our back?


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