Divide and Conquer
We’ve spoken at length about the detrimental effects of the model minority myth on the Asian-American community. But what about its effects on other marginalized groups?
More often than not, the perception of Asian success in America and elsewhere is weaponized to diminish the struggles of black and indigenous people. The thought is that, if this group of POC can make it in America, then why can’t other marginalized groups?
This worldview is exemplified particularly well in Allan Sullivan’s 2017 New York Magazine essay: “Today, Asian-Americans are among the most prosperous, well-educated, and successful ethnic groups in America. What gives? It couldn't possibly be that they maintained solid two-parent family structures, had social networks that looked after one another, placed enormous emphasis on education and hard work, and thereby turned false, negative stereotypes into true, positive ones, could it? It couldn't be that all whites are not racists or that the American dream still lives?” Mentioning “two-parent family structures” and “emphasis on education and hard work” was an obvious jab at BIPOC communities, which are harmfully stereotyped as having broken family structures and unproductive family values.
The reality is that, despite facing struggles of our own, Asian-Americans have never had to endure the same level of dehumanization as black and indigenous people. Furthermore, assuming that BIPOC and Asian experiences can be compared in any way is a direct choice to ignore the legacy of systemic racism in this country. It also assumes that all Asian-American experiences are the same, when studies consistently show large financial stability gaps between groups like Bhutanese/Vietnamese-Americans and Chinese/Indian-Americans.
A large portion of Asians in the US come from highly-educated immigrants who had been selectively recruited to fill high-paying positions. This inherently puts many Asian-Americans in a position of privilege. In contrast, black people were never offered reparations or substantial job opportunities after emancipation from slavery. Indigenous people, along with black people, have been historically excluded from welfare and public aid programs. Their existence was largely ignored unless the US government wanted their land, and they were routinely massacred by brutal attacks and disease.
So while Asian-Americans have had their own struggles in America, their perceived success compared to black and indigenous people of color is due to their relative privilege, not their “cultural values.” However, many Asians believe in their “cultural superiority” over BIPOC because it puts them in a “positive” light. Racism against black and brown people from the Asian community ensues, which creates a divide between Asians and other POC. Contrary to popular belief, systemic racism and over two centuries of black and brown racial subjugation cannot be overcome by “hard work and strong family values.” We must stand in solidarity with all people of color and fight the weaponization of our relative privilege. The oppressors’ strategy is to divide by race and conquer, so we must unite in retaliation.
By: Himani Mehta