Real Talk: Why Black History Month Matters (to Asians)

Note: This post is about why Black History Month matters specifically to Asian Americans. If you need a refresher on the general importance of BHM, please refer to my previous post. Also, educate yourself. 

Asian Americans are in a peculiar position when it comes to race relations in the United States. When people talk about race in this country, it usually comes down to the relationship between black people and white people while other minority groups are mostly left off to the side. It’s like everyone is obsessed with the double-stuffed Oreo when there are plenty of delicious Asians and Hispanics around too.

Or something like that.

To an extent, it’s understandable. It’s impossible to argue that black people don’t have a more intricate and powerful history with the United States. After all, the foundation of this country was basically built upon the backs of African slaves. Asians didn’t really appear in large numbers until a good while afterwards.

Not to mention we are discriminated against in different ways. Asian Americans aren’t getting shot in the street at the same rates that black people are. Mass incarceration seems to affect the Asian population the least. In fact, some would say that we hold a certain amount of privilege, considering our stereotypes consist of being intelligent and hardworking. Whether you agree with that or not, it’s clear that the majority of our issues are subtle and less visible to the public consciousness.

And so, for all these reasons, when we talk about race, it usually ends up being about black issues. To which many Asian Americans respond by excusing themselves from the conversation completely.

This is stupid.

I would say that there are 4 types of people who take this stance.

  1. “I’m tired of talking about black issues. Asian issues are important too, so I’m only going to talk about them.”
    I get that. Really, I do. As I’ve explained above, I understand why black issues are at the forefront, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get frustrated at the lack of conversation on Asian American issues. We may be vastly outnumbered, but we’re still here, aren’t we?
    But the dissatisfaction we feel at not being recognized does not mean we should resent and shun the legitimate grievances of another oppressed people simply because they’re more popular than ours. It’s not the greatest popularity contest to win.
    Fight for our cause even when it seems nobody is listening. And fight for their’s too, because in the end, we’re all fighting for the same thing.
    If you don’t agree with me, stay quiet. Just remember that when the time comes and we can finally stand in the spotlight, our silence now will be damning.
  2. “I know that black people are discriminated against, but I’m not so I don’t care.”
    First of all, that is wrong; Asians face racial discrimination in America every day. It’s subtler, but it’s there. I’ll even name a few issues. Being unable to move up the corporate ladder because Asians are thought to lack “leadership skills.” Underrepresented and stereotyped in the media, which also leads to body image and mental health issues. Housing discrimination, no proper political representation, blanket statistics that fail to account for ethnic subsets which leads to the neglect of those groups. I could go on for a while, but why don’t you just trust me on this. Hell, even the white house agrees with me.
    But yes, you’re right, we don’t get gunned down by the police or thrown into prison at the same rates as black or Hispanic people do. And even though the immense pressure to succeed academically may cause severe emotional and mental health problems, at least people expect us to be doctors or scientists, not thugs or criminals, right? Okay, I’ll concede that.
    So…what do you want, a cookie? Just because you can argue that we’re better off than black people doesn’t mean that we should ignore their struggles. Where’s the compassion in that? Do you watch your neighbor’s house burn down with a fire extinguisher in your hand and say, ‘that ain’t my problem?’ Well, let me tell you, if and when the fire reaches your house and your dinky little extinguisher won’t be enough to save it, you’d better hope your neighbors have more empathy than you do.
    Also, the notion that we’ll forever be left alone to prosper as long we keep our mouths shut, is laughably naive.
  3. “I think that racism doesn’t exist and you all just have a victim mentality, pulling the race card, just pull yourself up by your bootstraps and be polite to the police officers, blah blah blah.”
    Well. I’m hardly going to convince you with a couple of paragraphs, so why bother. I suggest opening your eyes. Read a book or something.
  4. “I am not an activist. I understand racial inequality and I will fight it if it affects my life personally. But I’m busy living my own life and I’m not going to post some shit on Facebook because you told me to.”
    These kinds of people probably look at me and think that I’m just an annoying idealist, an armchair activist who just writes things on the internet, hiding behind a computer screen instead of getting a move on with his life.
    That’s…actually pretty accurate. Ouch.
    But honestly, this stance is the one I have the least problem with. It’s different from the first type because this kind of person doesn’t claim to be an activist at all and just wants to live their life. I can understand that. Not everyone can be an activist. Even if they have the armchairs for it.

Black History Month matters to Asians because we are all in the fight for racial equality together. Remembering and celebrating black history will only help shed light on the history of Asian Americans as well. In fact, once we reach a true retelling of the past, we can see that black people and Asian people have been working together for a long time. One of the founders of the Black Panthers was Richard Aoki, a Japanese American. The Black Power movement gave rise to Yellow Power and subsequent organizations worked together in the battle for civil liberties. On the third march to Selma, Reverend Abraham Akaka from Hawaii sent the leis worn by the marchers to show Asian-American solidarity. We were fewer in numbers, but we were there.

Why do you think the Model Minority Myth was created by white America at the peak of the civil rights movement? They wanted to pit us against each other because they were terrified of the things we could accomplish if we worked together.

We believed that lie and fought amongst ourselves for too long. Now is the time to stand united.

And kick racism’s ass.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
-Martin Niemöller


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