by Mari Matsuo – Views and Analysis
I am Japanese American. I have experienced anti-Asian racism since grade school, whether it was generalized calls of “chopsticks,” “ching-chong,” “chink,” “chi-fry-ryce”; or the more specific, “Jap,” “Hiroshima,” “sushi roll,” “geisha girl.” I have been hit with “too bad your egg-roll family didn’t die in Fukushima.” I have been asked, “what country are you from?” and told to “go back to your home country,” despite being born in New York State. I have been sent photos of nuclear bombs, and I have been told I will be “raped like a $2 massage parlor ho.”
During World War 2, anti-Japanese racism was rampant. People across the country displayed banners in their neighborhoods and businesses saying “No Japs Allowed.” The President of the United States, Franklin Roosevelt, issued Executive Order 9066, which called for the imprisonment of thousands of Japanese Americans in concentration camps, guilty of nothing other than being of Japanese heritage. If my father, who was born in 1936, had already immigrated to this country then, instead of in 1959, he most likely would have been among those detained.
This being said, there is absolutely no comparison, whatsoever, between the racism I, as a Japanese American, have had to face, and that which my sisters and brothers who are part of the Black community have had to endure. My ancestors were not brutally enslaved in the biggest chattel slave trade in modern history. My ancestors did not suffer the consequences of Jim Crow. They have not been lynched in the streets, nor forced to bear the majority of the brunt of the illegitimate policy of stop-and-frisk which has led to a disproportionate percentage of their population being incarcerated and further disadvantaged, economically, socially, and otherwise.
If anything, East Asian Americans of the most recent generations, particularly Japanese Americans, have been considered a “model minority” in the US. Although we still face verbal abuse, and sexual objectification (in the case of women) and emasculation (in the case of men), we have also been put on a white-washed pedestal of academic and economic over-achievement, particularly when it comes to the arenas of math and science. We have been used by racism-deniers who, when confronted with legitimate accusations of systemic racism and discrimination, regress to the refrain of, “well, if racism is real, how do you explain how many successful Asian business people there are? Doctors? Professors?”
Not only does this ignore the majority of East Asian Americans who do not fall into this category, but it promotes a narrative completely devoid of the historical context of the US (which I will not get into at this time, but it is readily available from an unlimited number of sources). It is also important to note that part of the societal success of East Asian Americans in general, and Japanese Americans in particular, has some connection to our relative ease to physically assimilate. In a society where the darker the skin, and the kinkier the hair, the more discrimination is to be faced; our relatively light skin tones and straight hair have worked to our advantage.
And of course, white America loves to use Asian Americans as their shining example of the non-existent “post-racial” utopia, but when it comes to accurately representing us in media and popular culture, we are still overwhelmingly portrayed as either submissive, quiet, and weak, overtly sexualized, ninja-martial arts freaks, or, equally as bad, completely erased in the form of white actors and actresses who are given roles that belong to us.
I would also like to take a moment to point out that when people in the US refer to Asian Americans, they typically have in mind Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese Americans; little consideration is given to those of the multitude of other heritages, including, but certainly not limited to, Filipino, Cambodian, Hmong, Indonesian, Thai, and Indian.
Lastly, I insist that if we Asian Americans are to be contributors to the struggle against racism in the US, especially the intensified wave that is undoubtedly coming under the most recently “elected” President, it is essential we acknowledge the anti-Black racism that exists within the Asian American community. How many of our relatives, or friends, or community members, have we heard use slurs against Black people? Why has there been so much ambiguity among our people about the Black citizens who have not been killed by racist white people, but members of our own Asian American community? Where was our outrage over 15-year old Latasha Harlins, fatally shot by grocery store owner Soon Ja Du who – falsely – thought Harlins was stealing a bottle of juice (“a bottle of juice is no excuse, the truth hurts” – Tupac Shakur)? And we all know about Akai Gurley, an unarmed, nonthreatening father in Brooklyn, fatally shot in an apartment building staircase by NYPD officer Peter Liang. Why, instead of showing solidarity with Black Lives Matter, were so many Asian Americans quick to jump to the defense of Officer Liang?
When it comes to racism in the US, we may not be the number one recipients, we may not be the first to be hit, or the most intensely targeted. But best believe, we still are discriminated against, and oppressed, exploited, and disenfranchised by the same system of white supremacy that ceaselessly attacks our sisters and brothers in the Black community. If we are going to truly fight against racial injustice, we need to fight against it on all fronts, not only with those we personally identify with. And we need to show up, provide support for, and listen to all of those who are victims of racial prejudice and discrimination, especially when it comes from within our own ranks.