By Nealay Vasavda
This article is a response to “Why Asian-Americans Might Not Talk About Ferguson” by Liz Lin, as published by The Salt Collective.
For months now, debates over police brutality and the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter have dominated the Twittersphere and the American media. What has stricken me the most in the wake of the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, however, is the apparent lack of a response from the Asian-American community.
I do not mean to say that many — if not most — Asian Americans have not followed the events that have unfolded over the past few months. In fact, most of my peers in the Asian-American community have strong opinions about the matter. However, very few of those peers have openly expressed their feelings. Others are neutral, calling the #BlackLivesMatter movement irrelevant to their lives. Of those with an opinion, many remain silent in fear of backlash for speaking out about an issue that does not directly involve them.
But this issue does involve them.
In Liz Lin’s article, “Why Asian-Americans Might Not Talk About Ferguson,” she explains that the Asian-American community has been trained to keep their heads down and avoid causing a commotion. This has been in an effort to be accepted and succeed in America.
But just like our black counterparts, we too are subjected to stereotyping and racism. Only these stereotypes are those associated with being the “model minority.” We are universally expected to be good at math, intelligent, reliable and other positive characteristics that inherently come along with simply being Asian. On the other hand, the black community faces stereotyping and racism that is by no means flattering.
The problem with the “model minority” myth, as Liz explains, is that we began to believe it ourselves. We separated ourselves from the black community, as was likely the intent of the myth in the first place.
Their struggles became theirs alone — not ours. And we left them to fend for themselves.
As an Asian American who grew up in a predominately Asian area — my high school was 85 percent Asian — I lived the majority of my life in a bubble, blind to racial prejudice and injustice. It was not until I came to Union that these things began to stand out to me.
I do not mean to say that Union is a racist place where I see instances of discrimination everywhere I look. In fact, I mean quite the opposite, because Union has opened my eyes in a way they had never been opened before.
I have lived in numerous places throughout my life, even just in the past few years that I have been at Union. Traveling back and forth from California to New York, I have been to dozens of airports around the country and encountered people from all over the world.
Why do I bring this up? Because it is during these experiences that I — the “model minority” — have experienced the realities of contemporary America.
When I, a 20-year-old college student, rarely get through airport security without getting concerned looks from fellow passengers or additional “random” screening by a TSA agent solely because of the color of my skin, it is clear that racial prejudice still exists in this country. I joke that I shave before flying because it speeds up the process at airport security, but this is no laughing matter.
Stereotyping of all Muslims or those with brown skin as potential terrorists is not only racist and offensive; it is factually incorrect. Anyone is capable of being a terrorist, but the slant in American media given against Islamist extremism paints a particular picture in American society. This is once again noticeable in light of the tragedy at Charlie Hebdo in Paris.
I am not a terrorist. I was born in Kentucky and raised in California. I am just as American as — literally — KFC. Yet I am still subjected to the kind of systemic racism faced by the black community, though I admit to a lesser extent.
Asian Americans ought to speak out against racial injustice in this country. But first, we need to address problems within our own community.
I am ethnically Indian, but often am not considered Asian — even by my fellow Asians. Perhaps that is part of the problem. Our community being composed largely of first- and second-generation Americans, we divide ourselves and our loyalties to the countries our parents came from. We thus fail to speak with a unified voice.
As I’m sure many Union students from the Asian-American community can attest, Asians tend to be racist and prejudiced even amongst other Asians: Chinese versus Indian, Korean versus Japanese and so on. If we can move past that, perhaps we can move past accepting the model minority myth and become a powerful voice in the fight for racial equality.