Dao-Yi Chow Wants Asian Americans to Interrogate Their Privilege
On a recent Zoom call to address the lack of diversity in the STEM field, a small group of educators and scientists (and myself, a fashion designer — go figure) were tasked with coming up with new ways to help introduce real-world applications of science and math to the next generation. The conversation was aimed at identifying and creating specific career opportunities for BIPOC students.
For clarity, one of the organizing members wanted to make sure we were all aligned as to whom BIPOC actually included. For instance, a Black or Latinx student studying abroad would certainly be qualified, but would a Chinese American student graduating from Yale be considered for the program?
The question caught me off guard. Being Chinese American, I’ve always naturally considered myself to be a person of color. But I acknowledge that many people may not see me as such, including other Asians.
My hesitancy spoke volumes to the current state of the AAPI community, the #StopAsianHate movement, and the enduring “other-ism” we’ve faced since the first wave of Chinese immigrants landed on the West Coast of the United States in the 1850s. Amidst the rising violence and hate crimes against AAPI, we’ve seen some semblance of solidarity and collective organizing among all the various Asian ethnicities. But the movement has been hindered by a lack of cohesive identity within the greater context of the social justice movement spurred by protests against police brutality.
While colorism within the Asian diaspora has continued to exclude many Southeast Asians and Pacific Islanders, for many Asian Americans there exists a space between BIPOC and whiteness — a racial purgatory of sorts that serves as a middle ground between wokeness and privilege. Some of this suffering has been self-inflicted. And some of it can be attributed to the institutionalized constructs of White America which have helped to create and perpetuate a model minority myth that places more value on one group over another to create tension and divisiveness, separating minority groups from one another and keeping them from uniting their struggles into a greater, more powerful movement.
Unfortunately, some AAPI communities continue to succumb to the model minority bait, embracing this seductive lie and clutching on dearly to the allure of White adjacency. They’re told you’re different from the rest of “them,” so long as you don’t steal jobs from hard-working Americans or spread deadly viruses that cause a global pandemic.
Conversely, in the wake of the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and the countless other innocent and unarmed Black men, women, and children, it was second nature for many Asians to stand in solidarity with the Black and Brown community because we considered ourselves one of them. It was evidently clear to some of us that the same systems that continue to murder, incarcerate and terrorize Black and Brown lives are the same ones responsible for the murders in the Atlanta spa shootings that left eight victims dead, including six Asian women.
Historically the smoking gun takes aim at the next group to disrupt the natural order of whiteness. And for some, it was obvious that the violence would land at our doorstep sooner or later. Our own politicians predicted it. And the most powerful leader of the free world encouraged it — with his harmful rhetoric of the coronavirus that normalized anti-Asian violence.
My own experience growing up in N.Y.C. and eventually raising a Black son at an early age gave me a unique and intimate look into the pervasive anti-Blackness emanated from the surrounding world and especially within the Asian community, including, painfully, from my own family. For most non-white people, the reality of being treated as Black or more accurately, a second-class citizen, is not an easy concession.
But it isn’t until we all understand that our safety and progress is inextricably tied to the protection and advancement of our Black and Brown brothers and sisters, that we can truly stand to stop the hate. It isn’t until we interrogate our own privileges and complicity within the web of White supremacy that we can unite as a greater AAPI community. And it isn’t until we have the difficult discussions within our own families and communities that we can recognize that our missions are wholly aligned.
Back to my Zoom call.
After my moment of pause, it was evident that the power of the BIPOC acronym was only as strong as those who choose to identify as such. And by identifying, I mean embracing, loving, and caring for the term with all of its complexities and, yes, all of the attending baggage that comes along with it.
If my fellow Asian brothers and sisters can come together to demand the world to #StopAsianHate then they must come together just as swiftly and urgently to demand that #BlackLivesMatter. The opportunities for freedom and justice only grow stronger when we dismantle all systems of hate, not only for ourselves but for one another.