“Are you sure you want to go to school there? Isn’t it near Detroit, which is full of dangerous black people?” said my Chinese dad after I had gotten accepted to the University of Michigan last spring. My dad was not supportive of my decision to enroll at the University for a few reasons — one of them being his perception of Michigan as a crime-ridden state overflowing with violence among the black community.
I told him, “Actually, the University isn’t that close to Detroit, and the black population at the school is less than 5 percent.”
“Oh, of course there aren’t a lot of black people attending. They’re too lazy to get in,” he responded.
Appalled at the words that had just come out of my dad’s mouth, I expressed my disgust. “That’s racist. You shouldn’t say that,” I said, leaving the conversation at that without reading into his anti-black racist statements.
Unaware of it at the time, I had enabled my dad to continue believing his racist behavior was acceptable by not speaking up. In being silent, I was also at fault for subconsciously perpetuating anti-black racism. One year later, in the wake of the recent violence and brutality against members of the Black community, I am reflecting on the past in an attempt to unearth my internalized anti-blackness and learn how to be an Asian-American ally.
On May 25, George Floyd, who was a 46-year-old black man died in the custody of four Minneapolis police officers, among them, Tou Thao, a Hmong-American. In a video of Floyd’s arrest, Thao is seen looking on as his partner, Derek Chauvin, holds his knee to Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. Thao also defends Chauvin’s use of force by saying, “If he can talk, he can breathe,” after Floyd tells the officers that he was struggling to breathe.
Consequently, Thao’s lack of action has put himself at the forefront of discussions regarding anti-blackness in Asian-American communities. Many see him as a symbol of the position Asians have within a system that allows us to reap the benefits at the expense of oppressing black people. Thao’s compliance has also been used to actualize how the model minority concept encourages Asians to side with and even become the oppressors.
The model minority concept is a stereotype created to uplift highly-educated Asian Americans while simultaneously putting down other people of color, namely Black people, for stereotypically falling short of the same achievements. White America has used the model minority concept to pit minority groups against one another, contributing to anti-Asian sentiments in the Black community and vice-versa. The tensions between Asian Americans and Black Americans have a long history dating back to the Los Angeles riots of 1992, but Thao’s involvement as an accomplice to Floyd’s killing has put a new emphasis on the inherent anti-Black racism prevalent across the Asian-American community.
Thao’s silence has been used as a comparison to the way some Asian Americans are choosing to not speak up regarding Floyd’s death, the Black Lives Matter movement or systematic oppression at large. Some have noticed those who were outraged about the anti-Asian COVID-19 racism earlier this year are now being silent about anti-Black racism.
Twitter user Trinh Quyen tweeted,“If you’re an Asian upset about COVID racism, but silent about the police murdering a black man or a white woman weaponizing the police against a black man, you’re selfish and selective about your anti-racism. And you need to think about your complicity in anti-black racism.”
Nevertheless, some Asian Americans are attempting to dismantle the anti-Blackness in their community and stand in solidarity as allies. They are not only spreading awareness about petitions and donation funds over their social media platforms, but are also learning how to be actively anti-racist online and offline.
“We all perpetuate anti-Black racism in our daily lives. We can’t fight anti-Black racism unless we can notice its manifestation in ourselves and others on a daily basis in our workplace, social interactions, and online engagement,” said Michelle Kim in her article, “30+ Ways Asians Perpetuate Anti-Black Racism Everyday.”
People are taking steps to be an anti-racist ally by educating themselves, recognizing their privilege, listening to African-American voices and combating racism wherever they find it — including in themselves and the members of their close circle.
In attempting to actively become anti-racist, I am reflecting on my past and thinking about the ways I have unintentionally participated in anti-Blackness. Last year, I overlooked my dad’s stereotyping of all African Americans as violent and lazy, and I did not try to educate him about why he was wrong. I should have informed him about why he should never assume a person is dangerous or lazy, and is therefore unable to attend an ‘elite’ university like the University of Michigan, due to the color of their skin. Such destructive racial stereotypes have permeated through the Asian-American community for years, but this is an opportunity to deconstruct them and stand up for other minority groups. Marginalized groups have often grappled with each other in the past, but we fail to realize that we would all be much stronger working towards racial equality as allies.
While I continue to meditate on and learn from the expressions of anti-Blackness in my past, I am also trying to be conscious of where it appears in the present. To be anti-racist, one cannot simply tolerate racism; one must fight against it daily. As allies, we need to do our part in advocating for Black voices to be heard and respected. As Asian Americans, we need to recognize and confront anti-Blackness in our homes even if we feel uncomfortable. As human beings, we must demonstrate our care for our black brothers and sisters.
Tou Thao serves as a wake-up call for Asian Americans. We can either take actions to demand racial justice by fostering a sense of solidarity, or we can be silent as we watch more members of the Black community die in the arms of systemic racism. Understand that our actions have the ability to make change. Black lives matter — today, tomorrow and forever.
Jenny Chong can be contacted at @firstname.lastname@example.org