I recently finished my first year of college and although I don’t remember much of General Chemistry, I do remember a lot from my Race and Ethnic Relations class that left a lasting impact on me. In this class, I learned about a thing called “ethnic projects,” which was every group of immigrants’ journey to being accepted into the US racial structure. The closer a group got to being “white,” the more accepted they were and thus, their ethic project was considered to be successful. One of the two successful ethnic projects was the Asian American one. Yay us! However, in order for us to become more accepted into society and climb the racial ladder, we had to distance ourselves from other minority groups to show that we were better and deserved to be accepted into this white society, which we did. In order to be more accepted and be treated as equal to Whites, we pushed down and disassociated ourselves from the Black community. And so the anti-black sentiment grew. We bought into the idea that white/light equates to beauty and all things good while black/dark equates to ugly and poor that we then projected these ideas into whole groups of people. This absurd way of thinking even seeped into our community and gave rise to colorism where we put down our own people for the simple fact that they have more melanin.
We believed in the degrading stereotypes of Black people and that they were at fault of because of their own unfortunate fate. We bought into the idea that since we came to this country with nothing and were able to build up, Black people can do the same while disregarding the fact that we came here with an education and have systems built into this society that actually work to help us. We forget that while we worked to distance ourselves from the Black community, they fought for our immigration rights during the Civil Rights Movement and helped more Asians come into this country for a better life. We have not only perpetuated racial stereotypes but became part of the racial problem in this country.
A lot of people, when it comes to this topic, might still have the “why should we care?” mentality because it doesn’t directly affect us and because we have our own problems to deal with. There is no denying that the Asian community has also gone through many struggles in this country and have faced many acts of discrimination and racism. In fact, the global pandemic has been a great indicator of how many people in this country still have racist feelings towards Asians. However, by talking about the anti-black sentiment that our community holds and actively supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, we don’t minimize the struggles that we have gone through but rather shine a light to the fact that we have privilege in this country, much more than our Black brothers and sisters. We have the opportunity to talk and learn about the horrible injustices that the Black community faces rather than experiencing it firsthand. We know how much it hurts when people ridicule us for being Asian with things such as the fox-eyed trend, sexualizing traditional clothes, making fun of our food, so, how can we stand by and do nothing when we see our fellow people of color being murdered in the street? How can we hear their cry for help and do nothing? After all, how can we not help fix an issue when we were part of the problem.
I have no doubt that this community will give rise to great leaders, but before we can help lead this country, we have to first address how we have been part of the racial problem because if we are going to serve this country, we must fight and serve every single person in it. We, as the Asian community, must realize, recognize, and accept that we have been part of the problem. We must also recognize the privilege that we have in this country and use it to fight for those who can’t. We must listen to the Black community when they tell us that they need our help. We must listen to them when they say that something is racist or unjust and what change they want to see. We have let them down before, but we cannot and must not do it again because what is the point of being a leader when we can’t use the power and position to help uplift others.
Ruchitha Arvapally is a sophomore at Stony Brook University pursuing a double major in Biochemistry and Economics on the pre-med track.