People who exist outside of the white experience have enormous shoes to fill. If one lives in a white-dominated society, one lives in fear of ostracization, one lives in fear of the day their white-card is revoked and they’re dismissed into the annals of history.
“The moment the news came to me in January that COVID-19 was a thing… and that it started in China, I knew at that instant that I wouldn’t be at peace with who I am.” These words came from Ashley Jung; a student at Hollywood High and a member of the Asian Student Union. “One of my close friends, who is Korean, had a cold during February and she didn’t even dare to sneeze or cough next to her classmates. Because she knew what kind of comments she would get.”
African-American culture, Asian-American culture, Latin-American culture are all only as valuable as the profit they produce. A minority group that proves too inconvenient for the powers that be ends up falling to the wayside of government priority. Native Americans, for example, inconveniently upset the colonial fairy tale propagated by Americanism, and thus they receive just about zilch from the government.
The pattern repeats itself ad infinitum throughout American history. Asian migrants in the late 1800’s brought with them economic growth in the form of cheap labor (sound familiar?) but were castigated from society after the San Francisco plague of 1900, which originated in Chinatown. A minority is only as valuable as the power it bends to.
The myth of the model minority of the Asian American (and of the Jewish American, to a degree) reflects white-majority discomfort with the idea of minorities superseding white control of society. As Asian student Bhada Yun said. “There’s definitely the notion that Asians are the ‘weaker’ and ‘softer’ race, the one that is less likely to incite violence or fight back in general. This ties in with the model minority myth stating the Asians are the perfect minority in American society,”
Asians are only as perfect as the stereotype they fulfill and the submissive role they’re expected to play. ‘Sure, their culture is great and all, but if they’re bringing coronavirus to the US they shouldn’t expect to be treated fairly.’ The mindset of the privileged tends to overlook nuance, instead expecting all deviations of color, creed, sect, sex, or gender to fall into an easily controllable category. A minority is only as valuable as the role it fulfills in the white-controlled power dynamic.
Different minorities encounter different forms of oppression. In fact, some Asian students were surprised by the rise in hate crimes. Not every minority faces hate crimes on a consistent basis. “Especially in such a diverse place like LA I haven’t really heard about any violent hate crimes directed to the Asian community… at least, it wasn’t labeled a ‘hate crime’… just a being in a bad place at the wrong time,” said Asian Student Union member Elan Bernardo, a senior.
And as we can see from the rise of anti-Asian hate crime, mythologized minorities face dangerous scapegoating in the face of crisis. “I just bought six bottles of pepper spray for my entire family… My dad never wants me out of the house without him,” said Ashley, a sophomore.
Asian-Americans are a relatively small minority in the US, only accounting for roughly 6% of our country’s population. It begs the question, how can non-Asians help? How can we be allies, in crisis and outside of it? As Yun puts it, “I think the best way non-Asians can help is just… befriending Asians and keeping an open mind to their culture, society, and individuality. The best way to establish that an Asian ‘belongs in this country’ is literally by befriending them and accepting them into your social group. Go out and support local Asian businesses, restaurants, and communities.”
Anti-Asian rhetoric and media is so ingrained in American pop culture that when it manifests itself into the real world, we’re shocked by it. The portrayal of the Asian-American as bookish, submissive, and emasculated leads us to view Asian-Americans as a separate entity from the broader American population, and as a ‘quirky’ alien that needs to either assimilate or face the scorn of the majority. Educating oneself on the struggles of racial and ethnic minorities is a good starting point for becoming an ally.