Asians generally don’t participate in discussions about white supremacy. Even more rare from our communities are conversations about our own active part in racism, specifically the ways we let ourselves become weaponized to perform anti-blackness.
We subscribe to white supremacy’s “Model Minority Myth,” believing that we do not share the same experiences with black folks in the U.S. simply because of assimilation, hard work, and our supposed submissiveness and respect for authority. We repeat and internalize anti-black rhetoric and stereotypes to justify police brutality, socio-economic inequities, and the many other ways black people are abused in our society. Whatever it takes to convince ourselves that being better able to navigate white supremacy and capitalism will save us from racism.
“We came to the United States with nothing, and if we can pull ourselves up from the bootstraps. Why can’t they?”
This question that we frequently ask ignores anti-black racism and the history of solidarity black people have given to us. Here are three ways, of many, black folks have helped to uplift Asians that we don’t acknowledge or talk about.
1. Black people have financially supported Asians for decades.
Almost half a century ago since the end of the Vietnam War, Vietnamese refugees have increasingly found a niche in the American workforce by providing manicures. They currently dominate half of the U.S. nail care industry, and 80% of it in California, by offering prices nearly a quarter to half off of the costs from luxury salons. Going after their own piece of the “American Dream” Vietnamese refugees began applying for cosmetology licenses and opening up shops across the country. It was often communities of low-income black folks that they targeted as a demographic.
News articles and think pieces over the years about industrious Asian refugees never mention that this success was funded by equally hard working black people, especially black women and those in the LGBT community.
As a child of Vietnamese immigrants I often saw that on the corner across the street from most of these family and friend-owned nail salons, there was a beauty supply store owned by an immigrant Korean couple. Next to the nail salon was usually a Chinese express restaurant owned by Chinese immigrants. And a few storefronts down were usually dollar stores, laundromats, and dry cleaning services owned by any variety of immigrants who were either Middle Eastern, Asian, and Pacific Islanders.
Asians take money from black people, from their communities, and go back to our ignorant bubbles of suburban comfort to shelter, clothes, and feed children who will most likely inherit an attachment to the “Model Minority Myth” as well. We admire that they worked so hard to put us through school so that we could attain an education that we (with a double edged sword) are stereotyped for. But we never stop to think about the people who helped our parents give us the things they never had.
2. Black people were always our first allies.
Before there was this fear that all brown people were cheap labor, drug dealers, and terrorists, the United States had a fear of Asian immigrants. It went on for centuries. We were the “Asian Invasion” or “Yellow Peril.” We were threats of cheap labor, drug dealers, and foreign enemies. This was how we were perceived in the United States and generally all of Western society.
Asian women particularly were targeted with a special blend of misogyny and racism, especially with the Page Act of 1875. The law’s own language says that it’s legislation that’s meant to “end the danger of cheap Chinese labor and immoral Chinese women.” The part about “immoral Chinese women” generally meant any Asian woman who could possibly be a sex worker. Asian women were forced through subjective tests and trials designed and proctored by different white men on a case by case basis. Like, are they married? How pretty are they? How do they walk?
For centuries Asian people were targeted with dozens of laws from The Page Act of 1875, The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, The Immigration Restriction Act of 1917, National Origins Act of 1924, and so on.
With a large number of Asian women prevented from entering the United States, the majority of Asian men were alone without support as they worked for nearly nothing on plantations and railroad tracks. Their only support were black people working next to them. Together, Asian and black folks were subjected to an abuse of their labor. They watched images of themselves ridiculed and mocked through that era’s entertainment. Black people were the very first allies and friends of Asian people from the first moment they entered the country.
Black women especially provided emotional labor and love to disenfranchised Asian men. The US Census of the mid to late 1800s saw that 57% of interracial marriages at the time were between Chinese men and black women.
This emotional labor from black allies since the 1800s extended to the Japanese Internment Camps of the 1940s. Japanese Americans, due to another wave of the U.S.’s yellow panic, were forced out of their homes and put into detention camps for almost a half decade. It was black allies who showed solidarity and emotional support to Asians by visiting detention centers and camps with food, pictures, gifts, and whatever else to boost their spirits during these years.
3. Black people died for our civil rights.
Black people continued to support us another couple decades later by leading the Civil Rights Movement.
Because of black people guiding the fight against injustice in the 1960s, immigration rights were finally expanded and Asian people were able to freely be with their loved ones. And of course our civil rights, gained from the blood and sweat of black people, obviously go way beyond immigration. Thanks to black people, all people of color were able to begin accessing the promise of equal rights in the legal, cultural, political, and social parts of society.
While we distance ourselves or justify each time an unarmed black person is murdered by white supremacy either through the form of police brutality or manipulated poverty or everyday acts of anti-blackness, it’s black people who rush to our side in solidarity.
In one of the most prominent hate crimes against Asian Americans, two white men killed a man named Vincent Chin in the 1980s. They used him as a sort of effigial scapegoat, blaming Asian people for a loss of jobs in the auto industry. According to witnesses, they cracked Vincent’s skull open in a brutal beating with a baseball bat all the while yelling racial slurs at him. This murder sparked an outrage, which grew when the killers were simply given a fine and three years of probation. It was one of the rare moments in U.S. history when Asians, as a whole, finally stood up for themselves and expressed their rage against white supremacy in the streets.
And who was right next to us in our protests? Black people.
The next time Uncle Wong wants to shame a Black Lives Matter protest, remind him of Vincent Chin and all the other Asian people assaulted and killed without justice. Tell him our families wouldn’t even be here without the work and blood black people put in for our immigration and civil rights. When he fixes his mouth to say black people steal, remind him that his nail salon in Detroit would be nothing without the black women who give him his business. Our struggles are connected to each other. Fight anti-blackness. Provide solidarity. It’s time we do better.
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