Author: Caroline Le, Community Catalyst Dental Access Project Intern
The death of George Floyd, among many other Black Americans, serves as a wake-up call for our nation to confront the racism that plagues every aspect of American society. Derek Chauvin, the officer who murdered George Floyd, did not act alone. Tou Thao, a Hmong-American officer, also witnessed Floyd’s futile pleas for breath under Chauvin’s knee, and without remorse, enabled his white colleague to continue. Every day, Black Americans leave their homes debilitated by fear: fear of a law enforcement system that continually targets and unjustly murders Black individuals. Yet, the Asian-American community has consistently remained silent.
Being labeled an Asian American comes with a privilege: in any moment, I have the ability to flex my white-adjacent skin and reap the benefits of the white experience. Consequently, for most Asian Americans, it is easier to assimilate to the harmful “model-minority” myth, which describes the Asian-American community as a group of law-abiding, hyper-intelligent beings, than not fitting in at all. My childhood friends expected me to be a math genius, a child piano prodigy, and an ivy-league prospect. All of these expectations were formed on the assumption that my own Asian parents were able to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” and achieve the “American Dream” because perseverance is a quality unique to the Asian race. In reality, the Asian community does not share a secret gene that increases our success rate in this country. Though my parents are the two most hard-working people I know, my family owes our financially stable, safe, and healthy life to our white-passing privilege.
The Asian-American community has allowed for the fear of discrimination to hinder us from standing in solidarity with the Black community: a community that has endured a level of brutality that we cannot empathize with. The “model-minority” myth serves as ammunition against Black people: the Asian community is described as obedient, brainy, and forgiving, to contrast the notion that the Black community is not. White Americans have carefully manipulated the Asian narrative, advocating for our success behind closed doors, in order to condemn the Black community for paling in comparison.
Asian Americans have witnessed their children become entrepreneurs, doctors, and lawyers because of the arduous efforts of Black Americans. Despite violent counterrevolution, the Black-American community insisted on their freedom and pioneered a pathway for immigrants. The Immigration Act of 1965 directly piggy-backed off of the momentum created by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Yet, Asian Americans have forgotten that the myth is man-made propaganda. Instead, we wrap the American flag tightly around our bodies and cry for our complexions to shield us from further discrimination. Ultimately, by remaining silent on the plight of Black Americans, we have adopted an anti-Black sentiment ourselves.
The “model-minority” myth codes the Asian American experience in this country as if we were artificially intelligent robots. It has blanketed us with a false sense of privilege — a feeling of security that we have become accustomed to. The “model-minority” myth serves as a racial wedge, ensuring that Asian Americans experience loss when advocating for the Black community. Despite its foundation in anti-Blackness, Asian Americans remain silent while conforming to the “model-minority” behavior. We have been conditioned to believe that the loss of our white-adjacent privilege is too great of a sacrifice.
The emergence of COVID-19 has reignited an anti-Asian sentiment across the globe. It marks the first instance, in my lifetime, that I have been the victim of violence because of my race. I have been cursed at, shoved, and glowered at by white strangers who subscribed to racist COVID-19 rhetoric. COVID-19-related xenophobia has reminded the Asian-American community of life without the shield of white-adjacent privilege. Moreover, it is a reminder that the white-passing privilege we experience is temporary. The white community no longer cares to claim us, as the virus that is responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands has been nicknamed the “Chinese-virus” and the “Kung-Flu.”
Our community will always feel the effects of racial discrimination as long as the “model-minority” myth is upheld. The white-passing privilege Asian Americans receive is contingent on fulfilling a distorted narrative at the expense of Black lives. Asian Americans must dismantle the “model-minority” myth that emboldens an anti-Black sentiment within our community. I urge the Asian American community to evaluate the depth in which the “model-minority” myth has influenced our pursuit of certain hobbies and goals. I challenge the community to advocate for young Asian Americans who show passion for a craft or occupation foreign to the expectations of the “model-minority” myth.
In the moments that our community is tempted to choose privilege over allyship, we must remember the racism we experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic. When we fight for justice for the Black community, we fight for justice within our own; together, we may dismantle the system of white superiority that upholds the “model-minority” myth and ensure that the advantages we experience in this country are not contingent on the impairment of other communities of color.