I’m still amazed and astonished by the ways in which COVID-19 has changed the world forever. Any of us would be hard pressed to find a single person on this earth whose life was not affected. It changed the way we move about in the world, it changed the way we interact with our loved ones, and most importantly, it highlighted the grave injustices that still exist in this country and around the world.
It’s no secret that COVID affected minority communities differently. For Black and brown people—living in underserved communities, it took a stronger affect on our physical health.
And for the Asian community, it increased the racism they were already experiencing in this country. As it has been in the past, Asians and Asian-American people began targets all over again as hate crimes against these groups grew in the wake of the virus, which had origins in China. It didn’t help matters that our President at the time, leader of the bigots, kept referring to COVID-19 as the Chinese virus.
Those who perpetuated hate crimes against Asians and Asian Americans somehow blamed them for the virus, believed they were inherently diseased—and expressed their ignorance and hatred in violent and sometimes deadly ways.
As a result, people across the nation, from all backgrounds, have become more vocal in the rise of violence against these communities.
Let’s put a pin in the conversation to acknowledge that in the past there has been tensions between the Black and Asian community for some time now. Asians have been widely regarded as the model minority. The stereotypes about this community are generally positive. (They’re smart, they’re hard working, good at math etc.) They have been used by white people as a pawn. Asian-Americans are often compared to Black people as what we should be doing. They point to them and say, ‘Why can’t you be like them?’
And in the quest to assimilate into the dominant white culture, Asian-Americans have often chosen to align themselves with whiteness instead of the plight of other minority groups. And for the most part, they have been rewarded for this choice.
But COVID-19 reminded us all that there is no way to become white. And when it comes down to it, white people are not offering full acceptance into their culture—largely because it’s one rooted in hatred and bigotry.
We’ll come back to this later.
Host of “The Real,” Jeannie Mai has decided to lend her voice to the violence that has taken place in her community. And rightly so.
She announced the fact that she plans to speak on a panel this week on the increase in hate crimes directed as Asian people.
And in her announcement of this activism, Mai wrote about her passion for the subject and why she’s lending her voice to the cause.
There is an issue with her comments though. And we see it from the very first sentence.
“Racism has no hierarchy.”
Yes, it does. And to pretend that all minority groups share the same experience in this and other countries is just not true—and honestly contributes to the reasons minority groups have not been able to unite.
We can start at the beginning of our time here in this country. For the most part, millions of Asians weren’t brought to this country as chattel. Asians in America and Asian-Americans were never regarded as 3/5 human by the United States constitution.
In other words, racism is a systematic practice of oppression and subjugation of a group of people. You’ll never hear me argue that Asians have not experienced racism in this country. The Japanese were sent to internment camps, there are racist caricatures of Asians in this country dating back centuries. And the hate crimes they are currently experiencing are a testament to that.
And while we shouldn’t make a habit out of playing Oppression Olympics, to determine which minority group has had it worse, the difference in the treatment of Asian and African Americans is one of important note.
I mentioned before assimilation and the model minority myth. In their quest to be embraced by mainstream culture, Asian Americans have played their own role in the oppression of Black people.
The examples are numerous. From the mistreatment of their Black patrons in predominately Black neighborhoods, to Asian people suggesting Naomi Osaka, who is half Black and half Japanese, bleach her skin.
So racism does have a hierarchy if another minority group is able to exercise power and even occasionally oppress another minority group.
I mentioned before that you’ll occasionally find Black people who are hesitant to speak up and out for the rights of Asian people. That’s because for many of us, Asians have been a part of our oppression in this country as well.
Things shifted last year during all of social unrest as a result of the death of George Floyd but that was an anomaly based on the way the Asian community has largely turned a blind eye to the suffering of Black folk at the ends of the police, the government and even our superiors at work.
I believe for true liberation to occur in this country, minorities need to unite and fight as a collective. We outnumber white people and have for some time now. It’s one of the reasons they’re so shook. They believe they’re losing control of their country. (Which is just not true considering they still hold most of the money and all of the power.)
But if this unity is to exist, there needs to be some acknowledgement: acknowledgment of the fact that the Asian community have benefitted and even exploited racism against Black folks to secure their foothold in this country. There needs to be some acknowledgement of the fact that Asians are not and never have been systematically oppressed in the ways Black folks have and still are—by nearly every governmental institution in this land.
Black people can and should call out the racism and discrimination against Asian people. It’s the right thing to do. And I don’t need Jeannie Mai or anyone else to acknowledge the oppression of Black people and contextualize it properly in order to do so. I believe in fairness and I don’t support the hatred or discrimination of any racial or ethnic group.
Still, let’s come correct when we speak about Black folk and racism.