Asian Hate Crimes and Black Lives Matter
Updated: Nov 12, 2022
By Ryan Park
With the recent rise in anti-Asian hate crimes during the pandemic came the concurrent spread of awareness about anti-Asian sentiment in the United States for the first time for many people. I, as a second-generation immigrant, was fortunate enough never to have experienced this racism firsthand. Many of my friends have not, either, but they were still greatly inspired by this new social justice movement that centers on Asian-Americans. A large part of this excitement is that Asian-Americans and their struggles are finally coming into the spotlight. In the past ten years, my dad has frequently complained about the often stereotypical portrayal of Asians in TV and movies. I have noticed that in the past year or two, he has switched from criticizing stereotypes to criticizing the increasing presence of Asians on screen as “pandering” because the absence of Asian presence is so deeply ingrained from him growing up. This made me realize how sad the story of Asian representation has historically been in the United States but also how there has been real progress made.
In the past two years, although attention has been brought to Asian American hate, national attention has mostly been on the BLM movement. Some Asians see this as “competition”: why should we get any less attention than Black Americans? Both types of racism are very real. And what about the model minority myth, the stereotype that Asian Americans are quiet, smart and hardworking? Many Asian Americans buy into this myth because it seems like a compliment. Who wouldn’t want to associate themselves with this group of millions of successful people? Jokes about these stereotypes are often made by Asians because they think they are praising themselves and their ethnicity, but this is problematic.
The model minority myth was created by white supremacists to demean the achievements of Black Americans; in addition, “it is white Christian nationalism, more than any other ideology, that has shaped xenophobic and racist views around Covid-19” (Demsas and Ramirez, “Tensions and Solidarity”). Even though the root problem is white supremacy, Asian Americans such as myself either do not understand this or choose to ignore it because anti-Black racism is so deeply ingrained in them. Since Asian Americans are supposedly so successful in America, if Black Americans are not as successful, it is assumed that this lack of success inherently has something to do with their race (Li, “Connection”). Because Asian Americans do not want to renounce the positive characteristics that come with the model minority myth, they instead agree with this claim and therefore participate in anti-Black racism.
This tension between Black and Asian Americans is nothing new—in 1965, for example, when a large number of Koreans immigrated to the United States, they encountered a hierarchy where white Americans at the top were given the best opportunities and all other racial groups were disadvantaged. These led to a large number of Korean American stores run in predominantly Black neighborhoods. These Korean American immigrants were unhappy with their low economic and social status and consumed American media that portrayed Black Americans as violent and uneducated; Black Americans felt animosity towards the new immigrants because they were unable to start stores of their own due to racism in financing and had consumed media from the Korean War that portrayed Koreans in a similarly negative light (Demsas and Ramirez, “Tensions and Solidarity”). It then comes as no surprise that the fact that so many of the assailants in Asian American hate crimes are Black further contributes to the anti-Black sentiment that Asian Americans feel, ignoring the white supremacy that is actually causing all of this.
Now, in recent years, some Asian Americans have tried to use the phrase “Asian Lives Matter.” At first glance, it seems innocuous—how is it different from BLM? After all, it’s about another oppressed group, unlike “All Lives Matter.” However, thinking deeper, it can be seen as a “competitor” to BLM in that we are attempting to take the phrase and turn it into something else. Instead of replacing BLM, we should use other sayings that do not take away from the struggles of Black Americans while still advocating for Asian Americans (Li, “Connection”).
Why are Asian Americans speaking up now? Maybe it’s part of the impact a new generation is having. Asians were the fastest-growing ethnic group in the United States between 2000 and 2019, according to Budiman and Ruiz at the Pew Research Center. The percentage of Asian Americans born in another country is decreasing, and with this new generation comes a new generation of second-generation immigrants like myself. We are less connected to the culture of keeping our head down and working hard just to get by, a stereotype that is part of the model minority myth.