As 2020 has laid bare the extensive cracks in our societal foundation, the need for structural change comes into focus more than ever. Racial injustice and anti-Blackness in particular is grounded in the problematic origins of the United States. Anti-racist work calls for both critical reflection and action of our roles as individuals and more broadly as an Asian Pacific Islander American community. The change needed to dismantle racism will not come from the top, but from the grassroots. As members of a global community, we are accountable to all peoples, not just those we identify most closely with. Marginalized communities must stand in solidarity with each other to achieve authentic justice.
Many of us in the Asian Pacific Islander American community have experienced the harm of racism in our own lives. However, this experience does not absolve us of complicity in racist structures. In 2020, I have seen those within our community condemn anti-Asian racism amidst the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, yet hesitate to similarly address blatant anti-Black violence. Our own marginalization is tied to the oppression of other communities of color, so why do we maintain this deafening silence when we are not directly affected? The history of Yellow Peril, immigration quotas, and extensive xenophobia casts a long shadow on present-day APIA experiences. Many APIA people, myself included, grew up feeling that our existence in the United States would always be conditional. The model minority myth attempts to generalize APIA lives, erasing the diversity of experiences within our community. It wants us to believe that the best we can ask for is to become number two in a white supremacist country, that close proximity to whiteness will grant us some (but never all) of the privileges of White Americans. I urge my fellow Asian Americans to question whether this is truly APIA progress. Is this proximity success? Do we really think power is gained by positioning ourselves next to the most privileged? Is this really what we imagine liberation for people of color to be?
Authentic justice cannot depend on the subordination and exploitation of any community. The amplification of APIA voices in our society and government is tied to the elevation of other marginalized communities. We do not gain power by acquiescing to the rules of behavior white supremacy wants communities of color to adhere to. We can build our own by working in solidarity. We must listen to and advocate for each other, imagining a future that allows all to flourish.
Ellen Yang is an intern with the APAPA-Albany Chapter. She recently graduated from Yale University with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering.