all autocompletes were screenshots of actual searches on 12/3/2013
photo credit: Mike Allen
The idea was inspired by the UN Women campaign by Memac Ogilvy & Mather Dubai.
Racism from Absence
In my 19 years in America, I’ve never been stopped and frisked. Cops are always nice to me. People have no problems sitting next to me on the bus. No one’s scared of me no matter what direction I pointed my cap.
The kind of Asian racism that makes headlines is cultural misappropriation -when some “insensitive” entertainer wears silk kimonos and painted faces to look exotic.
This never bothered me.
It’s the subtle, slippery racism that’s far more sinister. The absence of Asian leads in a non-martial arts movie or TV shows means I grew up knowing only non-Asian celebrities and role models. And if you’re an Asian guy, you are not the stuff of fantasies girls grew up dreaming about.
The absence of Asians from politics and upper management means that Asians can be hard workers and geniuses but never leaders.
Above all, there seems to be some perma-foreignness about Asians. It’s not unusual to be told to “go back to China” and to be mocked for an accent we don’t have. The manifestations of this viewpoint range from the seemingly harmless to the outright hostile. But the underlying message is the same. Asians are not real Americans.
I vividly remember seeing this racism first-hand in a conversation with one of my former business partners. I wanted to create a mentoring program in a predominantly Asian school organization.
He flat out told me he had no interest in helping Asians succeed in America. I asked him, “Are you serious?” He said, “Yeah.” He laughed a little.
He was serious.
It was a wtf moment for many reasons and was a major factor behind my decision to leave my position as a co-founder. I eventually heard from a mutual friend that he said I was a follower not a leader.
In retrospect, I’m fortunate to have heard him verbalize something that others keep to themselves. It allowed me to move on to bigger and better things instead of wasting time working with someone who never saw me as a partner.
This is the most important post I’ve seen in a while. Racism from absence is something that is predominant here on tumblr, which is shocking because this is the most politically correct and representative platform I have in my life. It’s not okay to joke about transgendered individuals, it’s not okay to joke about racism against black people, but apparently it is always okay to joke about Asians. Perhaps it’s because the internet is so US-centric, but the only POCs I’ve ever seen recognized or represented seem to be african-american/black, and calls for the end of institutionalized racism tend to ignore the equally long history of oppresion many Asian countries have suffered, and Asian immigrants in western countries continue to suffer. Ask yourself this: in a world where Asians make up the majority of the global population, have you ever seen Asian individuals valorized for anything other than being aberrations of the Asian culture? Wait- can you even name more than 10 Asian individuals valorized to the extent of mainstream popularity?
As an Asian in an international school, I’ve seen this type of subtle racism enacted every single day. When I work hard to achieve something and the results reflect my hard work, the response I most typically hear is “it’s because you’re Asian.” To hear that the hours I put into trying to be the best individual I could possibly be, coming home at 9PM after gymnastics to do homework late into the night and sleeping at insanely late hours or trying to balance Junior Achievement with community service, were not enough to gain recognition as Jasmine Chia and not simply another faceless slant-eyed member of the Asian ethnicity makes me truly wonder what it takes for an Asian to be represented in this world. My experience is something familiar to any other Asian who has had contact with the Western world:
Here is what I sometimes suspect my face signifies to other Americans: an invisible person, barely distinguishable from a mass of faces that resemble it. A conspicuous person standing apart from the crowd and yet devoid of any individuality. An icon of so much that the culture pretends to honor but that it in fact patronizes and exploits. Not just people “who are good at math” and play the violin, but a mass of stifled, repressed, abused, conformist quasi-robots who simply do not matter, socially or culturally. (source)
Next time we ask for POC representation in media, don’t forget Asians. Next time we see a piece of Asian amazingness, whether it’s He Kexin on the beam or Doona Bae in Cloud Atlas, take the time to humanize them instead of thinking of them simply as representatives of the Chinese gymnastics industry or the rising Korean wave of actors. When an Asian person is genuinely good at music, recognize that they worked hard for it. When an Asian chess prodigy wins the world championship, learn their name and not just the country they come from. Don’t pretend to get angry on behalf of geishas at cultural appropriation if you don’t stand up for the fact that cultural appropriation is the only form of recognition we get in mainstream media.
It’s up to you and me. As a fashion blog, I say post more Asian models, more Asian designers. This is not about fighting against some oppresive power, but fighting to make space in a silence that defines Asian existence. My existence.
Let’s not forget that there’s also varying levels of racism associated to the Asian identity. The attitudes towards East Asians, South Asians, and Southeast Asians are remarkably different — even though their cultures have all intermingled at different parts throughout history. The stereotypes of “Asian-ness” are all exaggerations of East Asians, while most South Asians aren’t even considered Asian by non-Asians. As for Southeast Asians, there’s internalized racism involved along with a long going history between East and Southeast Asians that have created the same mentality that current Americans have towards the Latin@ population. Unlike the commenters above, I and many other Southeast Asians have been regularly referred to as “the Mexicans of Asia,” which is offensive in so many levels (along with other, more specific, derogatory terms), and sadly, that phrase was always said by fellow Asians.
There is a long history of oppression between groups in Asia that has lasted for centuries before Western civilization even considered exploring east. However, due to the constant, oppressive power of a Western world through globalization and colonialism, this internalized and externalized racism is not only exemplified, but horribly disfigured to accommodate Western ideals. The Asian community is HUGE and while half of the Asian community (cough, East Asians) is exonerated and experience the racism stated above, the experiences of South Asians and Southeast Asians are completely different. True, in past history, East Asians have been racially profiled and physically abused, but that has started to decrease. South Asians are constantly attacked and lumped together, their identities stripped to only “Indian,” forced to deal with the stereotypes and racism of that identity. Due to the recent arrival of Southeast Asians to America (and the circumstances in which they travelled) many Southeast Asians live in low income communities and within their own racial category, consistently have the highest poverty rates. It’s to the point where Southeast Asians are racially profiled by the police and police have entered homes without a warrant and assaulted families (I also experienced this firsthand along with many other people I know). Where more than half of Khmer, Laotian, and Vietnamese people drop out of high school. Or that Hmong people (an ethnic group) are treated so harshly not just by Western society, but even by other Asian groups and subgroups that in official government documents, they get their own category and are monitored and profiled. That there’s a HUGE difference in poverty levels just within Asian identities.
So yes, it’s true that not all Asians are stopped and frisked by the police. Only those Asians with higher levels of melanin and don’t fit within the “Asian Stereotype.”
The above commentators tiptoe around the “Model Minority Myth.” The Model Minority™ is only given to people who have reached acceptable levels of “Whiteness.” True, many East Asians are no longer as publicly abused or mistreated, but like they said, it’s all silent. The discrimination and racism happens in the backfolds of law, government, corporations, etc. As for those who were unfortunate enough to have slightly above accepted levels of melanin, the abuse is public and loud. And often times, internalized racism from those trying to reach the Model Minority™ will be sure to continue to add on to this inequality by distancing themselves (which is dumb on itself, because it makes you a perpetual foreigner and only perpetuates animosity within the Asian community). It’s even worse if you so happen to identify with the LGBTQ+ community.
How the fuck are you going to just lump together 6th generation Chinese Americans, Indian immigrants, and Hmong war refugees? Their histories are so vastly different. Their backgrounds will be the determining factor on why they’re treated a certain way. There’s inequality among the Asian community. It has a lot to do with politics and cultural identities, but these lumping of of identities ends up erasing actual struggles and experiences of Asian subcategories.
Asian Americans do experience racism. Asians do experience racism regardless of where they are in the world. The manifestations of racism and discrimination will vary depending on one’s ethnic heritage, but it is very much real. It is present because of our institutions and which only continues to uphold microaggressions within the Asian community.