Our Responsibility as non-Black POC

Stop saying you are one of the good ones without acting like it.

Tears began to well up in my eyes, my jaw clenched, and my shoulders stiffened as I read and reread this in shock. I am disgusted.

I am disgusted at the idea that Asian and South Asian Americans can have the audacity to claim that our struggle in America is equivalent to that of Black people. I am disgusted at the notion that Asian and South Asian American young adults can profit off the hard work and determination that their immigrant parents have put in to bring them to this country and claim such a feat as their own. I am disgusted that Asian and South Asian Americans can be blind to the privileges that distinguish them from Black and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC), such that they support or ignore these racist ideologies.

The oft-perpetuated storyline in Asian and South Asian communities is that we are model minorities who have worked hard to live out the American Dream. To many, it logically follows that other minorities who are not prospering must not be working as hard as we are. I have a hunch that this mindset is particularly rampant among middle to upper middle class immigrant parents who came to the US in the late 80s and 90s and found jobs that matched their qualifications as America’s economy was booming — these are the uncles and aunties who were lecturing you about how “Trump may have a point” as you stood in line for ice cream at your friends’ graduation parties in 2016. These immigrants have certainly struggled in America, but also found prosperity and stability in exchange for the work they put in. This is the America they know, and since they are themselves “minorities”, it does not compute that this formula would not apply to other minorities.

Yet, such a formula cannot apply to all minorities because being a “minority” in this country is not a monolith.

Not all minorities got to America the same way. Many of us came to America to flee oppression or to seek opportunity. Once we arrived here, we indeed had to fight for rights and opportunities, but at least we arrived with a knowledge of where we came from and our native language and culture intact.

The horrific starting point for Black people in America cannot be compared to this. When people say slavery is the original sin of this country, you must really understand how profound of a statement that is. There are people whose ancestors in this country were kidnapped and robbed of their native culture, language, and literacy. There are people whose ancestors were tortured and enslaved by the ancestors of the people who set up and run institutions across this country today. To justify slavery, the ideology that Whites are superior to Blacks became so critical to the functioning of this country, that it represents a special type of racism distinct from the very real racism between and against other POCs, myself included. This starting point has defined the lack of opportunity, misrepresentation by media, and mistreatment by police against Blacks in this country. That is generational trauma, and is the foundation of systemic racism. And that is why the American Dream has been more available to immigrants from Asia than to the descendants of American slaves.

This is not to say that we as minorities have not also struggled for equal treatment in America.

But, Asian and South Asian American people who consider themselves oppressed must recognize that even oppression falls on a spectrum, and at the deepest pole of spectrum lie the Black and Indigenous people whose oppression was the keystone in the founding of this nation.

Why it is important to acknowledge Black people as specific group among POCs

This systemic racism at the foundation of the United States is the reason the term “POC” blurs and important point. To be a POC who has benefited off that systemic racism and to not even acknowledge or address it and to instead lay still in comfortable ignorance, that is being complicit, and that is also racism.

I am thankful that the discrepancy between BIPOC and POC is finally coming to light. We must continue to acknowledge the idea that being POC is vague terminology. This is not a binary problem between white people and people of color. Non-black POC need to take a hard look and analyze what our place is in present day America. Yes, we are people of color. But our experience does not, in any way, compare to those of our Black and Indigenous siblings. We need to be more alert to declining in the participation of binaries. This is not a story about white people and POCs — this is a fight to attain justice for stolen lives.

The bottom line is this: there are minorities whose ancestors have chosen to be American, and there are minorities whose ancestors were forced to be American.

To be an Asian and South Asian American in this country and claim that everyone has an equal opportunity in America is ignorant. To claim that the reputation of Black people lies on Black people ONLY is ignorant. To claim that Asian and South Asian Americans are the model minority, utilizing the American Dream correctly, and that Black people are waiting for success to be handed to them is ignorant.

We owe the Black Community

The Civil Rights movement spotlighted the racial oppression that was held by these immigration policies within this nation. The Hart-Celler act of 1965 opened immigration from all Asian countries. But the only reason it was passed was because our Black siblings fought for ALL racial oppression, not just their own. They fought for us too. And as they protest on the streets today, they continue to fight for us. But where are we?

Modern day Asian and South Asian music draws from Black culture. Our party music in college stems from Black culture. Street wear and modern-day fashion stems from Black culture. To participate in these things is OK, but only if you stand up for the Black people that gave you that culture. Not to mention how impressive it is that Black people who were robbed of their ancestral African cultures managed to generate a new culture of Black America that is poetic, beautiful, and inspiring to even be appropriated by all other races here and throughout the world.

But how dare you appropriate Black culture, yet when the time comes, you cast blame on our Black siblings for grieving, anguishing, and standing up for their pain? How dare you conveniently ignore all the protesting and rioting that allowed our families to be here, yet condemn our present day Black siblings for paving the way for the future just as they did for us in the past? How dare you claim that we worked hard to get here, and that our Black siblings who have suffered eras of neglect, systemic racism, and injustice are just “lazy”.

What we can do now to act

Maybe it is uncomfortable to address this history. If you are staying silent because talking about systemic oppression makes you uncomfortable, and if you are “staying out of it” because you are afraid of graduate institutions and are uncomfortable of about its effects on your future, then be uncomfortable. Your silence is deafening, and I promise you, everyone is watching you choose the wrong side of history.

And if you are refraining from activism because of your lack of knowledge, that is no excuse. You have the tools. Educate yourself. Your lack of empathy is transparent when you are vocal about injustice towards your own race and silent about injustice towards others.

Black Lives Matter.

Always thinking, constantly dreaming, sometimes writing ⭐️

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