An Asian American Perspective
By Darin Wong | August 10, 2020
We struggled, too.
I was this close to diving into the plight of Asian Americans and their struggles against racism and oppression. I was this close to writing about the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the cultural genocide of Filipino men and women in the early 1900s, and the Japanese internment camps during World War II. I was this close to writing about the tragic and unfair lives of Queen Liliuokalani, Anna May Wong, Baghat Singh Thind, and Vincent Chin. I somehow imagined that it would elicit similar emotional and political fervor for supporting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) as did the Black Lives Matter movement and murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd did in sparking solidarity for African Americans.
I was high-key, so ready to spit facts about the need for justice for AAPIs. But to do so, I believe, would be comparable to shouting “All lives matter” in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. Or equally as infuriating as a best man trying to take the spotlight from the groom. Or equally as annoying as that obnoxious, know-it-all kid reminding the teacher that she forgot to collect today’s homework. Like bruh, just zip it already.
Rather, I hope that these thoughts encourage other AAPIs to stand alongside our Black brothers and sisters — to know that this fight against an outdated system is not about us, but equally for us. As Paul puts it, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together,” (1 Corinthians 12:26).
The model minority myth
The model minority myth perpetuates the idea that obedient, bootstrap-pulling, Asian Americans are the prime examples of immigrants achieving the American Dream and that all other minorities need to follow suit. However, writer and activist Helen Zia summarizes its true intentions in an interview with Time Magazine: “To say that this minority is the ‘good minority’ means you’re essentially saying there’s a bad minority, which keeps people divided,” (Lang, Time.com).
The term states exactly what it should be — a myth. Who determined which people groups were labeled minorities? Who decided that we were the model?
Statistically, the model minority myth may appear to be true. The assumption that Asian Americans are academically gifted is a stereotype that, in some cases, seems to be reinforced by data. Frank H. Wu writes in his book Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White, “Every Asian American ethnic group, except Filipinos, attends college at higher rates than do white Americans,” (51). To attribute this quality to Asian Americans does not elevate our status in any way, but only covers the underlying racism hiding underneath. It also makes it easier to overlook the equally brilliant, Black, Brown, and Indegenous minds in our community.
In other matters, Black-Asian tension is a real thing, too. Korean American shop owner Soon Ja Du shot and killed African American teenager Latasha Harlins over what she perceived as her stealing orange juice in 1991. The ensuing outcry (along with the Rodney King Riots) led to over $400 million in damages to Asian small businesses and communities (Lah, CNN.com). This further cemented disdain towards Black people, which is still prevalent among Asian American immigrants today.
While I am confident that our AAPI-identifying church members are outspoken in saying that discrimination is a major no-no, I am still concerned about our idleness with our hands and feet with regards to supporting our Black and Brown brothers and sisters. “Whoever is slack in his work is a brother to him who destroys,” (Proverbs 18:9 ESV). I am at fault too.
In tune with God, in tune with others
The reason why I immediately helped break down equipment after our physical services in San Francisco was not just because I’m introverted and hate speaking to people — it was also because our post-service mingling got me feeling all kinds of uncomfortable. The few times I’ve tried, I observed what looks almost like those oil and vinegar plates that fancy restaurants give out for bread. Pockets of Black people talking here, pockets of Asian people around the rest of the room… but no apparent mixing unless some greater force comes down upon us with overpriced, sourdough bread.
Luke nails it on the head with what I always deemed the greatest church ever. “And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people,” (Acts 2:44-47 ESV).
Not that differences in culture and identity were thrown out the window, rather, they were embraced effortlessly without the noise that Satan tries so hard to annoy us with. When there was a need, they came together. Their selflessness was only achievable because of their clear focus on God. Not the latest political drama, not the newest line of clothing brand, not that new boba shop (yep, I said it). Because they were so in tune with God, they understood clearly that their unity was a result of understanding His grace. They understood clearly His mission of making His name known.
And right now, our mission as AAPIs is to make sure that justice keeps flowing. We cannot solely pray our hearts out or nod in agreement to the sermons in hopes that God will change everything, but we are the vessels from which change will stem from. We have to reject the idea of the model minority, and instead do something worth modeling after.
Okay Darin, you stated your criticism — now what? As an Asian American, I believe that we need to engage with other POCs through actions and words in order to show our support. Some ways to start combating social injustice include (obviously it becomes more difficult the more introverted you are):
- Initiate awkward conversations with non-AAPIs by introducing yourself and asking get-to-know-you questions
- Join Welcoming Team and be intentional about greeting non-AAPI attendees at church
- Befriend other POC coworkers
- Be conscientious of what clubs you join, what stores you go to, etc.
Now that’s all nice and dandy, but it really is more than that. We need to adopt anti-racist morals. Open space for our Black brothers or sisters to talk if they are hurting. Research the history of AAPI oppression and understand that this isn’t just a Black or Brown issue. Don’t skirt around the topic of police brutality, racism, or systemic injustice, but be active in learning and discussing it. More “advanced-level” ways to combating social injustice include:
- Protest police brutality and attend protest rallies
- Be proactive on social media in exposing social injustice
- Develop spaces for allyship and conversation
- Volunteer in high-need areas
- Speak out when witnessing racist ideologies
And sure, my suggestions are not foolproof and won’t work for everyone. I am not Black and will never fully understand what it means to be Black. Heck, you may be reading this and be thinking, “This guy is racist!” It is always hard to speak about these issues when both the introverted stereotype and the model minority myth are working against me. But that is the thing: God doesn’t call only when we feel prepared. He never has. So to my AAPIs, it’s okay to never feel prepared.
I’ve said and done racist things that I am not proud of. But I do want to learn, and I invite my fellow AAPIs to silence this model minority myth and to iron out the injustices laden in our civic fabric. I will leave you with this quote from a hero of mine, Grace Lee Boggs: “Love isn’t about what we did yesterday; it’s about what we do today and tomorrow and the day after,” (Boggs, The Next American Revolution).
Boggs, Grace Lee, and Scott Kurashige. The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-first century. University of California, 2011.
Lah, Kyung. The LA riots were a rude awakening for Korean-Americans. CNN, 29 Apr. 2017, https://www.cnn.com/2017/04/28/us/la-riots-korean-americans/index.html. Accessed July 25, 2020.
Lang, Cady. The Asian American Response to Black Lives Matter Is Part of a Long, Complicated History. Time, 26 Jun, 2020, https://time.com/5851792/asian-americans-black-solidarity-history/. Accessed July 26, 2020.
Wu, Frank H. Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White. Basic Books, 2001