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Why Anti-Blackness in the Asian Community Needs to Be Addressed Now

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at BU chapter.

While February is normally thought of as the month of love, relationships, and Valentine’s Day, for one community, it means so much more. February is Black History Month, and when it comes to race in our country, many issues are only seen as extremely black and white—literally. However, with various minority groups growing, non-BIPOC (Black and Indigenous people of color) voices are growing as well, and the messages we project into the world are of utmost importance because we have the ability to either define and be representative of what solidarity and allyship looks like or become pawns contributing to the enormous, intricate systems of white supremacy. 

Asian Americans are one of the minority groups that have been steadily on the rise, as we can see more and more representation in all facets, from films to politics. And while most Asian Americans are completely supportive of spreading the issues that our community faces, we still remain silent on the national spectrum, to not get involved in the struggles that other marginalized communities face, and avoid the harder-hitting subjects, particularly those surrounding the groups that are far more oppressed than us. It is absolutely unquestionable that the Black community faces issues that the Asian community fundamentally cannot even begin to understand—in comparison, our struggles seem almost few and far between. 

That is not to say Asian American struggles are trivial, but when a different community must battle with issues that literally determine life or death, it is our duty, as a group with more privilege, to use that privilege and stand with them in solidarity. But instead, the Asian community falls short too many times.

We see this most prominently with Andrew Yang and the rise of Yang Gang members who are of Asian descent. The reason he gained so much support from Asians was that he did bring to light some of our problems, but also because his entire candidacy stemmed from conforming to the Model Minority Myth, which is inherently rooted in anti-Blackness.

To decipher the Model Minority Myth, we need to take a step back and look at history and how history has the tendency to repeat itself. There has always been a racial hierarchy present that demonstrates the amount of power different marginalized communities hold, and in the past, marginalized communities have been able to rise up and gain more power by being racist to those below them on the hierarchy.

The Irish accomplished this perfectly, as they were not seen as white when they first began immigrating to America and were held at an inferior level just like Black people were. However, that changed once they realized the key to unlocking the status of whiteness: being racist to the Black community. The Asian community utilizes undeniable anti-Blackness, just like the Irish did, and it has aligned us closer with those who dictate the systems of power in our society: white people, who grant us more power the more we execute this racism.

This power that is given to us is in the form of the Model Minority Myth, which states that we are the “best” racial minority, and other minorities should look to us as to how to behave in society. This is fundamentally wrong and corrupt, not only because it sends the message that white people get to determine the manners in which non-white people conduct themselves, but also because it pits minorities against each other. We are literally given a place on the racial hierarchy that is above Black people, thus solidifying our social status on top. 

I’ve addressed the racist ways in which we have manipulated the system to obtain more power, at least compared to other people of color, but let’s delve into some concrete examples of the anti-Blackness that the Asian community actually participates in.

Like I stated previously, Andrew Yang tapped into the Model Minority Myth so much throughout his candidacy. This was probably to appeal to white voters, and we see this when he continually conformed to structurally harmful stereotypes surrounding Asians, such as the trope that we’re all good at math, thereby reaffirming the usage of the Model Minority Myth and all its connotations.

Along with this, in September, SNL’s Shane Gillis was exposed for his anti-Asian racism, even using a derogatory racial slur against Asians. While Gillis was undoubtedly horrendous and racist on all fronts, Andrew Yang’s response was to tweet, “…anti-Asian racism is particularly virulent because it’s somehow considered more acceptable. If Shane had used the n-word the treatment would likely be immediate and clear.” This in and of itself is completely anti-Black rhetoric—when Andrew Yang, and many other Asians, use the argument that more outrage would be sparked against someone saying a racial slur against Blacks, they are trying to assert the idea that our racism is somehow worse than what the Black community faces.

This is utterly false and undermines the massive struggles Black people face in order to validate our declaration of anti-Asian racism. We as a community do not have to undercut and compromise another community that has, throughout history and to this day, indisputably faced far more hardships than us. 

Beyond playing oppression Olympics, anti-Blackness in the Asian community is also prevalent through the facet of cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is when individuals of a dominant group adopt aspects of another group that has less power.

This is evident through the Kardashians wearing cornrows, Selena Gomez using Indian garments and cultural traditions for an entire album, and the multitude of Native headdresses worn at Coachella every year. The main perpetrators of cultural appropriation are overwhelmingly white people who confuse cultural appreciation with appropriation, ignorant of the history and meanings behind Black, Asian, Latinx, and Native cultures, but we must not excuse the cultural appropriation occurring in our own communities of color. As braids, dreads, and many different types of Black hairstyles are becoming increasingly popular, there are more and more Asians that have begun adopting them as well. Beyond hair, cultural appropriation can also transpire through other aspects such as speaking mannerisms, such as the way Ariana Grande gradually acquired a ‘blaccent’ throughout her career. A ‘blaccent’ refers to AAVE (African American Vernacular English), or Ebonics. We see this within the Asian community with Awkwafina, who has made amazing strides to promote Asian Americans but has undeniably used AAVE in a multitude of roles, particularly comedic ones.

Cultural appropriation is so significant not only because it completely neglects the long and complicated history behind different characteristics of a culture, but also because it literally manifests the power dynamics at play between groups of people. More often than not, those who face more systematic oppression are criticized for participating in their own culture, while those higher up on the racial hierarchy can get away with the same aspects of the culture they are appropriating, even being praised and celebrated at times. This is extremely relevant for Black people, as they face endless criticism for their hair or speech. Black hairstyles on Black people, from box braids to dreads, are not “professional” enough and the way they speak is not “articulate” enough. When Asians are able to adopt these features and get away with it with essentially no criticism, it is trivializing and minimizing Black culture down to an aesthetic while clearly displaying our unjust power over other minorities. 

Do Asians face enormous amounts of oppression and racism? Absolutely. But when I hear members of my own community use the n-word or argue that our oppression is comparable to that of the Black community, there’s something that needs to be done. Asians are completely guilty of contributing to the oppression of other minorities with less power than us, particularly Black people, as we continually affiliate our views with those of white people.

I primarily spoke about the anti-Blackness in my community through the aspects of the Model Minority Myth and cultural appropriation, but these issues are only the tip of the iceberg, and we have been silent for too long. It delights me to see Asian Americans fighting for justice, but that only happens when there is an injustice done specifically to Asian Americans.

Only promoting advocacy for the issues in your own communities while simultaneously declaring equality is a contradiction in and of itself. When Black people face oppression far beyond our scope of experiences, we suddenly have nothing to say, thereby proving our indirect anti-Blackness and lack of solidarity for other marginalized groups. If we don’t learn to broaden the extent of our fight for equality, it isn’t true equality. If we don’t begin to practice solidarity and allyship, we remain hostage to the white supremacy that aims to solidify divisions between minority groups. 

If we don’t actually address the ever-present anti-Blackness in our Asian community, we are merely subservient puppets to the enablers of the systems of racism that fundamentally keep the Black community on the bottom. 

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Celene Machen is currently a freshman at Boston University planning to double major in English and Math. Her passions include tennis, writing, and social justice. As an aspiring writer and activist, Celene's role models are author Jhumpa Lahiri and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, both of whom are BU alumni.
Writers of the Boston University chapter of Her Campus.