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“Seeing someone with my cultural background doing nothing about the blatantly immoral actions right in front of him shook me to my core,” writes VOX ATL’s James Rhee. “It was then that I realized we, as an Asian community, have been doing the same thing for decades.”

Above: artwork created by James Rhee, VOX teen staff

Opinion: As America Watched George Floyd Die, I was Staring at Officer Tou Thao. Here’s Why. 

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There is a saying in the Asian community about Black Lives Matter: “Why bother in something that doesn’t involve you?” There’s an irony about this statement though. Although this movement doesn’t directly talk about our race, it directly affects us in a significant way.

It has been a few weeks since the passing of George Floyd, a Black American man. As the video circulated throughout the world, I can still feel the vivid anger and disbelief that coursed through my veins when seeing it for the first time. 

Although the horror of the video was centered around the white cop named Derek Chauvin, who had pressed his knee into George Floyd’s neck, there was an equally sinister scenario unfolding right before our eyes. 

As an Asian teen, my eyes darted to the other cops, specifically Officer Tou Thao. Thao, an Asian American, was one of the four cops at the scene. In the viral video we have all seen, he was the cop who stood by and looked away as Floyd cried for his mother and repeatedly told the officers he could not breathe for eight minutes and 46 seconds. 

Seeing someone with my cultural background doing nothing about the blatantly immoral actions right in front of him shook me to my core. It was then that I realized we, as an Asian community, have been doing the same thing for decades.

This video not only signified the systemically racist police brutality that has targeted minorities, specifically Blacks, but it also highlighted that the struggle of racism goes deeper than just an issue of Blacks vs. whites. Understanding that we are part of the problem is the first step of solidarity. Our role in the culture of anti-blackness should be to stand with them and fight for their justice. 

The Model Minority Myth

Although I do not speak for every Asian-American living in the United States, there is often a minority myth surrounding the Asian community as being quiet, nonchalant, and disciplined. We are still part of the vast population of minorities in America. But our struggles have been far less of a burden than our counterpart minorities. The white supremacy culture that built America was mainly orientated toward an anti-Black culture with the roots of slavery and segregation still being felt today in black communities. 

But Asians were soon to be the next targets of racial oppression with the American government passing xenophobic legislation that specifically targeted Chinese and Japanese groups. Policies such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and racially motivated internment camps for Japanese American citizens during WWII are all infamous examples of anti-Asian racism in this country. 

Decades passed. As more Asian immigration started to occur, the political tensions surrounding Asians drastically decreased, leaving more opportunities for upward social mobility in the Asian community. More positive stereotypes, such as being educated and wealthy, created the model minority myth, which also helped our status in a pro-white government. With prejudice linking the Black communities to more negative stigmas compared to more positive stereotypes surrounding the Asian community, it was easier for the Asian community to climb the socio-economic class. 

Opportunities in America for Non-Whites

The opportunities for immigrants to achieve the American Dream wasn’t always there. Many of the minority rights we have right now are due to the protests of past Black Americans who have paved the roads to freedom through the Black Civil Rights movements of the 1950s and 60s, not only for their race but for all minority races.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964/1968 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 are some of the most profound reasons why every race is treated without discrimination. (Well, they’re supposed to). Understanding that our freedom was largely given to us due to the works of Black protesters creates an atmosphere of trust and empathy.

But for eight minutes and 46 seconds, we stood along the sidelines as another Black man died at the hands of white systemic power. Since the 1850s, when the first major wave of Asian immigration to the United States occurred, we stayed silent because we were not the target for the majority of racial oppression in America.

Danielle Nguyen, a Vietnamese American student attending Rockdale Magnet School for Science and Technology, told VOX ATL about the importance of Asian solidarity. “I think most Asians can agree that as a minority group, we experience degrees of racism—though they aren’t to the same severity as experienced by Black people. Through this common experience, we should seek to support the BLM movement, as it directly benefits us as a minority group.” 

Complacency is not an option in an anti-Black culture, which can also be turned into an anti-Asian culture, as we’ve witnessed through the rise of the global Coronavirus pandemic. In the snap of a finger, our model minority status was ripped away as the virus created an atmosphere of blame, fueled by our president’s frequent xenophobic speech. Ultimately, the Asian community was a convenient scapegoat for the virus due to its origin from China.

Where Has This Silence Gotten Us?

Asian-Americans have had our fair share of racial oppression, but because of the white-adjacent privilege many of us indirectly received, many of us will never know the racial oppression that has been present in the Black community since slavery, through Jim Crow laws, to even police brutality.

For decades, we hid behind the race war between white and Black, choosing to ignore the injustices in our country, but that all changed with the Coronavirus pandemic. All of a sudden, we were the main targets of global racism, with the virus being the perfect xenophobic frame to paint our race upon. This opened our eyes that our “model minority privilege” cannot be protected with an illusion of fake white privilege.

Relations Between Asian and Black Americans

White-adjacent privilege is one of the many factors of our culture that divides us from Black communities, but there’s another big variable at play. Our relations and views of the Black community are also clouded due to many personal histories. When the George Floyd protests began nationwide, it reminded me of the tragedy that happened in the Asian community as a result of the L.A. Riots of 1992.

With the eruption of a violent nationwide protest of Floyd’s death, many of the same similarities today can be connected to the L.A. Riots, which occurred as an aftermath of the brutal beating of a Black man, Rodney King by Los Angeles Police. Dozens of stores, owned by majority Korean-Americans and other people of color, were torched and raided, causing years of tension between the Asian community and the Black community. 

Although some Asians still have feelings of resentment toward Blacks, much of that stems from the stigma surrounding the Black community. With the media exploiting Black protesters’ violence, the stigma of Blacks being violent and unlawful mirrors some of the viewpoints in the eyes of some Asians. But understanding that actions of one or two people do not determine the others in their community is one of many steps to solidarity. Bryan Chong, a Korean-American student attending Greater Atlanta Christian School, told VOX ATL, “Although we’ve (Asian and Black community) had our differences in the past, it’s time to stand in solidarity with them.”

Now is the Time to Speak Up!

It is hard not to notice our country’s climate is in a state of division. Whether it’s outside during protests, or even at home, we all have an opportunity to make a change for the better. Understanding that we, Asian-Americans, have a certain degree of privilege in America means to use that privilege to help not only our community’s injustices but also other minority groups as well. We can’t have justice until everyone does. 

Education is vital in combatting the ignorance of race and is one of the key solutions in standing with solidarity with the Black community. Combating racism with conversations isn’t an easy feat, with many people fixated on their viewpoints. 

But by continuing to challenge others to engage in sometimes-difficult conversations such as racism, prejudice, and anti-Black culture helps us be more socially aware. My single perspective doesn’t give a definite solution to the modern and future problems we will face surrounding racism, but conversing about one of many perspectives of this multifaceted issue is a step forward as a country. 

This isn’t just a two-sided issue. Everyone has a role in continuing to fight for justice, not only for you, but as a global community.


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