By: Christina Lee
The society that white people have constructed has allowed for this—a Black Lives Matter movement. Reflecting on just the title itself, I can’t help but wonder what hasn’t changed in white America thus far that precipitated the need for such a movement, that we explicitly need to rally for the validity and worth of human lives. The social stagnancy scares me. We are repeating the same mistakes over and over again, and so the Black Lives Matter movement emerges, and we must begin to recognize once again the related problems that arise.
In America, Black Lives Matter doesn’t simply end with the story of Black Americans. It begins to spiral into a long-existing yet insufficiently discussed story about the dynamics between minority groups in America. The term “melting pot” that Americans love to throw around euphemistically ignores the elephant in the room, that America consists of drastically different ethnic and cultural groups. Especially during a time like this, when the racism targeted at these groups is at the forefront of national politics and social movements, the dangers of positioning the numerous minority groups in America in comparison to one another become amplified under the watch and control of white society.
For Asian Americans, this “comparison” comes in the form of the model minority myth. This “model minority” myth is not a new phenomenon. It can be traced back to the 1940s when the government forced Japanese Americans into internment camps. In response to the socioeconomic achievements of Japanese Americans even after suffering from a traumatic history, the concept of the “model minority” emerged, which asks, “If Asian Americans can succeed in the face of adversity, why can’t everyone else?
The problem with the model minority myth is that it assumes that all minority groups in America share the same experiences. It assumes that all minorities start off on a level playing field and that any discrepancies can be attributed to the sufficiency of each group’s “work ethic.”
What the model minority myth actually does: perpetuate tension among the various minority groups and ignite a sense of competition, comparison, and antagonism within their dynamics when in actuality, there is nothing to be compared.
Pitting minorities against minorities distracts from the main issue, that minority groups should be uniting against the Eurocentric society that enforces those ideals by attempting to direct those antagonistic feelings anywhere else but toward them.
The inability to dismantle the concept of the model minority especially during times like Black Lives Matter is especially dangerous. We must be uniting against a force that opposes the Black Lives Matter movement, not fighting each other.
I can’t speak for all Asian Americans, but at least within my small social circle, I know that this change begins by dismantling the stereotypes and prejudices that our own communities have perpetuated against other minority groups, particularly through anti-Black sentiment. The greatest problem is white society, the people who create and uphold our laws, who define what it means to be a person of color, who purposefully promote the value of “work ethic” as a valid method of succeeding in a society that we already know is rigged.
There are lessons to be learned, steps to be taken, mindsets to be changed. One of those first steps is for minorities to begin viewing their experiences from the perspective of white society. Despite the glaring differences, we are simply the “other” to them, and in this case, we can use this generalization to our advantage. We can unite under this sense of “otherness,” and Asian Americans can begin to dismiss the idea that we are an example of American success, that we exemplify the fairness of white American society. We can’t let them convince us with lies, and we can’t let them allow us to believe that this was a fair game in the first place. But this is what we can do: unite against the common enemy and recognize that although we experience different kinds of pain, we can feel. Sometimes, it’s a blessing to be able to.