Sometimes I overhear comments like…
“I’m Asian, and I’m discriminated against, so is it my responsibility to fight for black lives?”
“I’m white, but do I really need to acknowledge my white privilege? Is it even possible to use it for good?”
Well, the short answer is yes. The long answer is hell yes.
And then there’s me: half white and half Asian. Growing up in a multiracial household, the topic of race brought about an interesting dynamic; my mother being a first-generation immigrant, while my father grew up in a predominantly Italian inner-city neighborhood in the U.S. As a ‘model minority’— emphasis on the quotation marks —my mother struggled in her journey as an immigrant yet was able to work her way up in American society, while my father spent the majority of his twenties trying to find his purpose and start a family. Either way, the privilege I have by being white-passing IS white privilege, despite the fact that I’m not ‘really white’ (according to some very angry and apparently bold teenagers). So, as both a POC and white, where is the balance?
The answer is actually quite simple: to use both privileges for good. As such, joining the fight for black lives is a necessity. Now, many seem to think that being a POC in any way automatically eliminates their responsibility to stand with #BLM, when in reality, it’s all the more reason to. Asians in particular fulfill a ‘model minority’ myth, in which the Asian standard of living is being a straight-A student, attending premiere universities, becoming doctors/engineers, etc. The model minority myth is a weapon to justify oppression of Black Americans in the eyes of whites; it is a combination of white privilege and anti-black racism all in one, making Asian-Americans a cultural wedge between oppressor and oppressed. This entire ‘model minority’ archetype is an issue unto itself, as it perpetuates unhealthy life habits for Asians and especially their children, but the truth is, we still benefit greatly from this perception of Asian success. Of course there is rampant discrimination against Asian-Americans, with recent attacks on Chinese-Americans for the COVID-19 crisis being an example. Despite this, many Chinese-Americans who fulfill their ‘model minority’ persona are not viewed as threats to the everyday American citizen, because they’re not culturally portrayed as such. Not to say Asians never face discrimination, again, that’s not true in the slightest. However, American society forces black Americans to face the brunt of these unjust realities.
It’s quite common for non-black POC’s to victimize themselves in response to a conversation about black lives, the most widely used phrase being “I’m oppressed too.” Other than the inherent wrongness of comparing oppression between marginalized groups, the hard truth is that non-black POC’s benefit both directly and indirectly from systemic racism against black lives. Our schools and workplaces are designed against black people; for instance, a study by The Atlantic found that regardless of poverty levels across the U.S., school systems with a higher population of white students inherently received more funding than schools with black students. White flight to suburban neighborhoods has left minority students in the dust, within failing and critically underfunded urban public schools. This combination of low-income households and a mostly minority student body leaves these school systems unable to break the cycle of poverty the educational system is built for.
What does that have to do with the current conversation?
Well, 29% of Asian-Americans are considered upper middle class, despite comprising only 5.6% of the nation’s population. Asian children often grow up in white suburbia, enabling them to have adequate access to schools, tutors, college prep, etc., greatly decreasing their risk of future poverty. This ability for Asian-Americans to work up the totem pole is an inherently systemic one, as Asians are time and time again expected to meet these milestones for success. Conversely, Black Americans face a system wired against them, one which actively inhibits their success. Practices such as the school-to-prison pipeline, which includes zero-tolerance policies for minor infractions and unjustly criminalizes students, leaves black students at a 3x higher risk of being expelled for the same infraction as white students. SRO’s, officers who are stationed inside schools, are located in 51% of high schools with high Black and Latino populations, and only 42% of high schools nationwide. Purposely placing these officers in minority-dominated schools not only reinforces the idea that marginalized students should be criminalized, but also vastly increases the chances of these students being funneled into juvenile systems through the school-to-prison pipeline. And, school systems are merely one example of racism targeted at African Americans, not to mention police brutality, inadequate access to healthcare, workplace racism, the minority cycle of poverty, employment vs. unemployment ratios, political representation, wage gaps, access to bank loans/mortgages, and many more. Again…systemic racism.
Apart from privileges as a non-black POC, my white privilege is an inherent platform to voice the need for racial justice. Remember, it is not the responsibility of black Americans to unwire a problematic system that white people created, especially given all of the trauma and heartache these systems have caused the black community. If anything, it is directly the responsibility of those with white privilege to dismantle these systems, mindsets, and conversations, to finally make false promises of justice a reality.
How do we do that?
Learn. Listen. Educate. Support black-owned businesses. Donate. Sign petitions. In order to achieve real progress, you not only have to seek out the racist practices of the society we live in, but recognize your learned anti-blackness and actively try to change it. Whether it’s realized or not, there are likely twinges of anti-blackness that are a result of exposure to the media, what happens in schools, how older generations talk about race, etc. Traces of this racism are unavoidable in our current society, and confronting those things you’ve unconsciously or consciously learned is the first step in genuine allyship. Do you feel ‘uncomfortable’ when a black person is walking near you? Have your teachers automatically thoughtless of a black student’s capability? There are countless micro and macro aggressions around every corner. It is our job to enact change.
I’ve linked some resources to learn more about the discussed topics, and other general resources about non-black POC and white privileges:
[you can find most of these novels on Amazon, but please consider buying from black-owned bookstores instead – it’s a great way to shift cash flow away from large corporations and into the hands of small business owners – here is a link to 22 Black-owned bookstores]: https://www.townandcountrymag.com/leisure/arts-and-culture/g32782756/black-owned-bookstores/
“Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption” -Bryan Stevenson
“Choke Hold: Policing Black Men” -Paul Butler
“Code of the Street” -Elijah Anderso
“Racist America: Roots, Current Realities, and Future Reparations” -Joe Feagin
“White Fragility: Why it’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism” -Robin DiAngelo
“The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” -Michelle Alexander
“Citizen: An American Lyric” -Claudia Rankine
“I’m still here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness” -Austin Channing Brown
“Racism without Racists: Colorblind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States” -Eduardo Bonilla-Silva
“So you want to talk about race” -Ijeoma Oluo
“What doesn’t kill you make you blacker” -Damon Young
“13th” (Netflix Documentary)
“Seeing White” (podcast)
Cited in article:
The Brookings Institution