The image of the now released American Hmong policeman Tou Thao, who was turned with his back when George Floyd died in police custody in Minneapolis last Monday, has sparked a discussion on how to tackle the issue of anti-blackness in the Asian to approach the American community.
Thao has been described by activists as a symbol of America’s complicity in fighting blackness after the death of Floyd, a black man who begged for his life while officer Derek Chauvin at the time stabbed his knee on the back of his neck.
Minneapolis police identified former officers Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng, as well as Floyd’s detention, in addition to Thao, who had previously been involved in violence incidents.
Several experts said this is a crucial moment for Asian Americans to tackle the issue productively, starting with unpacking the prejudices in their own communities by first addressing the historical context behind the anti-blackness. Kabzuag Vaj, founder of Freedom Inc., a nonprofit that aims to end violence against minorities, women, and the LGBTQ community, underlined the importance of recognizing that Asian Americans are using their own forms of oppression deal with, but they are not to be compared with the black community.
“People have no prerequisite for what anti-blackness is,” said Vaj, the Hmong American. “Yes we [Asian Americans] are in pain and we suffer from oppression, discrimination and racism. Black people are sitting in another boat. In addition, their struggle with the police, at least in this country, has a long history of 400 years of control and occupation. I think it’s really important that we acknowledge that. “
Tensions between the black and Asian communities have been around for a long time. The tense relationship is due in part to the fact that they have faced each other throughout American history, Vaj said. One of the most glaring examples is the Los Angeles riots that followed the acquittal of four white police officers for excessive violence in the video-beating of a black construction worker against Rodney King. Companies suffered damage of around $ 1 billion, with about half owned by Korea. The gap between immigrant Korean business owners and their black customers widened.
The organizer, who herself comes from a refugee family, said she could look back on her own people’s trip to the United States as evidence. When America resettled Southeast Asian refugees after the Vietnam War, many were brought to poorly funded urban areas with little infrastructure, such as Long Beach and Stockton, California, or the Bronx, New York, where black and brown communities already existed.
“If you get into this situation and live among other poor black and brown people with very little resources, there is this strain between the communities that have to fight for the same resources,” said Vaj. “There is not enough for all of you.”
In addition, the resettlement efforts did not include sufficient introductions between refugees and the communities in which they now lived, said Vaj. The color communities have often not humanized the information provided to the new immigrants, she added.
“You have learned everything you have learned through the lens of white supremacy. And that’s what this country is building on, ”said Vaj. Even now, the organizer said that she has received abusive comments and criticism from some members of her community for working with the black community.
Ellen Wu, a historian and author of “The Color of Success: Asian Americans and the Origins of the Exemplary Minority,” overlapped many of Vaj’s thoughts. She noted that white dominance in the past has benefited from the exploitation and destruction of the black community.
When Asian Americans came to the United States, white supremacy also targeted the group. The government passed racist laws like the Chinese exclusion law and promoted movements like the anti-Japanese movement of the early 20th century.
But Wu explained that white supremacy took other forms over time. The white liberals feared that anti-Asian racism could endanger the United States’ place as world market leader and hamper imperial expansion abroad, and tried to dismantle Asian exclusion laws and practices during and after World War II.
“In other words, they expected a geopolitical payout to recognize Asian Americans as” exemplary citizens, “” said Wu.
In the 1960s, white liberals used the stereotype of an exemplary minority to suppress black social movements and used Asian Americans as “evidence” of meritocracy and equal opportunities for colored people. As she mentioned in her book, politicians have used Japanese-American “success stories” after World War II as a tactic to reshape the Japanese-American arms detention and weaken the civil rights movement. Compliance with the state and not rejection of the state would bring rewards, the politicians hoped to show.
“The suggestion was that hard work, along with unwavering confidence in the government and liberal democracy, as opposed to political protest, were key to overcoming racial barriers and gaining full citizenship,” Wu wrote.
The evolving forms of white supremacy, said Wu, gave Asians more room for social mobility.
“However, these wins come at a price: complicity with white supremacy.”
Wu noted that Asian Americans had a complicated history of mobilizing for and against the interests of black and other color communities. Many Chinese Americans endorsed on behalf of Peter Liang, an NYPD official who fatally shot Akai Gurley, a 28-year-old black father, in 2014. They gathered around Liang and called him the public prosecutor’s scapegoat, instead of demanding justice for Gurley and others exposed to police brutality, Wu said. Conversely, the # Asians4BlackLives movement from the Bay Area was in solidarity with the lives of black people in the same year. Other historical movements, including the agricultural workers’ movement in the 1960s, were led in part by Filipino agricultural workers such as the legendary Larry Itliong, who organized the historic Delano Grape Strike with Latinx workers.
Wu also made it clear that Asian Americans are a diverse group with sub-groups that have a range of power and privileges. Since its first relocation about 45 years ago, Southeast Asians, including Hmong, have dealt with the pain of impoverished neighborhoods and inadequate support against the backdrop of existing racial injustice, said Quyen Dinh, executive director of the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center.
The inequalities continue to this day. A report published by the center showed that Hmong Americans, at 39 percent and 38 percent, have similar enrollment rates for public health insurance to black Americans. In terms of education, almost 30 percent of Southeast Asian Americans have not yet graduated from high school or failed GED. In comparison, at 13 percent, that’s more than twice the national average.
“When aggregate data infuses our unique stories into the false myth of a thriving model minority, the experiences of entire communities become invisible,” said Dinh. “This perception dilutes and rejects the urgent need for more resources and support for Southeast Asian American refugee communities and hides the systemic barriers that our families have had to overcome in the past 45 years.”
Other advocates admitted that anti-blackness is a necessary but uncomfortable topic for many in the community to leave. Deepa Iyer, author of “We Too Sing America; South Asian, Arab, Muslim and Sikh immigrants are shaping our multiracial future, ”and racial justice advocates said Asian Americans should question the impact of policing and detention on color communities, particularly black communities.
Research shows that black men are 1 in 1,000 likely to be killed by the police over the course of their lives. In comparison, the average lifetime probability of being killed by the police in the general population is estimated to be 1 in 2,000 for men and around 1 in 33,000 for women.
“Let us not forget that state violence in the United States has also affected Asian Americans,” said Iyer.
She pointed out that in 2006 a police officer from Minneapolis, Jason Andersen, shot a 19-year-old Hmong American named Fong Lee who was riding a bicycle with friends. A purely white jury decided that Andersen, who claimed to have seen Lee with a gun, did not use excessive force against the teenager and exonerated him. A 57-year-old Indian grandfather, Sureshbhai Patel, was beaten to the ground and partially paralyzed by Alabama officer Eric Parker while visiting his son’s family.
“While police brutality against Asian Americans is not as common as it is against blacks, we cannot deny that police brutality and discriminatory policing attack black and brown bodies at disproportionate and alarming rates,” said Iyer.
Wu said that Asian Americans can not only offer a historical perspective, but also remind their own communities that many of the privileges they participate in are due to black movements.
From education to employment, the black community has made efforts to expand access for racist minorities, including Asian Americans. The historian argued that black Americans mobilized during World War II to pressure President Franklin D. Roosevelt to set up the Committee on Fair Employment Practices. After the war, there was a nationwide push for a law on fair employment practices, which eventually paved the way for positive measures to emerge in the 1960s, Wu said.
“In the 1970s, the federal government expanded the scope of positive action and associated efforts to promote minority rights to include Asian Americans, which resulted in greater employment opportunities for them in various sectors,” she said.
Many Asian Americans have given significant support to the black community during this time, many experts found, especially after tragedies such as Floyd’s death. Iyer noted that organizations, students, and activists have created toolkits, campaigns, and town halls to promote solidarity practices between black and Asian communities. She also mentioned that she saw examples of young people having conversations between Asian small business owners who run convenience stores in black neighborhoods and black residents.
However, change requires ongoing commitment and time and patience in these communities, Vaj said. She mentioned that her organization provides services to those who have experienced sexual assault and domestic violence, including many elders. She knows from experience that many stereotypical older Asian American generations, though resistant to change or not susceptible to unpleasant truths, know otherwise.
“The Hmong, Cambodian elders who didn’t grow up here and are survivors of the word genocide – if I can get a 76-year-old grandmother to understand love and accept and understand and understand an unisexual black, strange teenager I know changes can happen, ”said Vaj. “It takes time. And it takes love and it takes organization and political education.”
If Asian Americans avoided the race discussion, it would bring dangerous results, said Lakshmi Sridaran, executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together. In particular, when the community is watching the increase in anti-Asian hatred and racism amid the COVID-19 pandemic, they need to question their own confidence in law enforcement. She noted that some communities are turning to the criminal justice system to alleviate hatred.
“These complex relationships between different and common struggles are characterized by both interpersonal and state violence,” she said. “If we withdraw from these discussions, we will continue to anchor ourselves in white supremacy and continue to endanger other color communities.”