Is There Privilege in Being Asian American?

Is There Privilege in Being Asian American?

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Photo by Werth Media, cc, Flickr.

Over the past week, news headlines, talk shows and internet traffic have been filled with commentary on the shooting death of 14-year-old Trayvon Martin. Martin was shot by Florida neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. Zimmerman has claimed self defense, but there is strong evidence from witnesses and a 911 recording that Martin was profiled and targeted because he looked "suspicious": i.e., he wore a hoodie and was Black. Now reports are investigating whether Zimmerman used a racial slur in that very 911 call.

Deservedly, the incident has sparked a great deal of outrage and media responses. One piece that moved me was Michael Skolnik's powerful and, dare I say, confessional response: "White People, You Will Never Look Like Trayvon Martin."

"I was born white. It was the card I was dealt. No choice in the matter. Just the card handed out by the dealer. I have lived my whole life privileged. Privileged to be born without a glass ceiling. Privileged to grow up in the richest country in the world. Privileged to never look suspicious. I have no guilt for the color of my skin or the privilege that I have. Remember, it was just the next card that came out of the deck. But, I have choices. I got choices on how I play the hand I was dealt. I got a lot of options. The ball is in my court."

But social privilege is not exclusive to white people in America.

As Asian Americans, if we are going to stand in solidarity with our African American brothers and sisters, we must not only acknowledge our forms of privilege, but leverage the influence that comes with that privilege in order to serve as allies to Black communities as well as other marginalized groups. There is privilege for many Asian Americans in not generally being perceived as threatening, which allows us to move about public spaces without eliciting suspicion.

On the other hand, Laotian American teen Fong Lee who was shot eight times and killed by Minneapolis police because they claimed to see a gun on him while he was out riding his bicycle. Korean American artist Michael Cho was shot and killed by police, allegedly for approaching officers with a tire iron in his hand which he refused to lower. In post-9/11 America, Sikh and Muslim Americans are unjustly clouded with suspicion, by fellow citizens as well as the government.

While privilege exists in various forms specific to Asian Americans, strong parallels can be drawn between the African and Asian American communities and their histories. African Americans like Martin, who are followed and feared, have more in common with Fong, Cho and other racially profiled Asian Americans than one might think upon first glance.

And while there is privilege in the "model minority" myth that that gives Asian Americans access to academic settings because of assumed hard work, high standards and good intentions, there is a well-publicized debate about discriminatory admissions practices with regard to Asian American applicants in higher ed. In K-12, meanwhile, researchers in lower-income school systems such as New Orleans have found that of 450 students surveyed (almost half of them Asian American), "over 70% don’t have textbooks to take home from school or use in class." In New Orleans, where African Americans are 60% of the city's population, Black and Asian American students enduring the same educational inequalities have a chance to unify.

There is privilege in how Asian Americans came to the United States, which does not include a history of slavery. Yet, although the public imaginary envisions Asian Americans as entering the country on H1-B visas or as scholars, many of us come from a legacy of being exploited "coolie" labor on Hawaii plantations, subject to unjust taxes based on race, targeted by immigration bans and quotas, or considered less than human in the eyes of the judicial and immigration systems. Many undocumented Asian immigrants currently live in the shadows and toil under exploitative labor conditions; speaking out against abuse exposes them to deportation and separation from their families.

Coming to recognize our forms of relative social privilege in the context of such histories and complicating realities is how Asian Americans may experience Martin's death as relevant, and part of our causes, too.

Not sure where your privileges do and don't lie? Take the White Privilege Pop Quiz, for some food for thought. What your answers may say: that privilege isn't just white, and the lack of privilege is not just Black.

Please do not hear any of this as my trying to discount the very real racism and violence that are directed toward either community; this moment is not about oppression Olympics. This is about the Asian American community standing with the Trayvon Martins and Fong Lees of the past, present and future and doing our part in a united struggle for justice.

 

Comments

 
Anonymous

Posted Mar 27 2012

I think that the privileged Asians are primarily wealthy East and South Asians. We are achievers, We are entrepreneurs, Most of use are at least second generation immigrants. Unfortunately, we do not have much in common with Blacks. We are not eligible for affirmative action programs that Black and Hispanics get. Why should we feel guilty for the hard work that we put in studying while other kids were playing video games. We are not guilty for our success. Success is gained by hard work., not the color of your skin.

Anonymous

Posted Mar 29 2012

you make me embarrassed to me asian.

Anonymous

Posted Mar 29 2012

people like you make me embarrassed to be asian.

Anonymous

Posted Mar 30 2012

I just speak the truth.

Anonymous

Posted Apr 1 2012

Asians, Indians, and every other non-white race will one ruin everything this country stands for.

Anonymous

Posted Apr 8 2012

You White devils already ruined everything this country stood for. If Blacks Asians, Hispanics, and other non-whites came together on this planet we could easily wipe you aholes out.

Anonymous

Posted Jun 28 2012

Privileges? Sure, if you study your ass off like a half-human cyborg for the first part of your entire life without saying a word about how you really feel about anything just so you can work your ass off for the second half under some over-priveleged imbecile who takes credit for everything you do.. I am an Asian-American in every sense of the word, Im half Asian, half white. I came here at an early age, though I am mixed I am way more Asian that the full-blooded ones I have come across who grew up here, I can see it in their world perspective and behavior, they are white and they think they're the same as white. They're messed up in the head and often mock their own cultures. There are some similarities between Asian and Black, I never hear the term Jewish-American, Italian-American, Irish-American, only Asian-American and African-American and of course Native-American. They further isolate us to make us foreign like we don't belong. Words are powerful and they do have an impact. Why is it when white kids shoot up a school they're simply "students" but when an Asian boy does it he is suddenly a "Korean student" in every news report? He grew up in this country, he is a product of America, why they labeled him Korean is no mystery. None of us are from here, the only real "American" people are the Indians, yea lets not even acknowledge they exist, they bring up sobering memories we would rather not face. Privileges? Maybe if you come from a rich family to begin with, even then thats not a privilege but a luxury. I have met an Asian guy who is so far gone from growing up in America that he has come to believe he is in fact actually black. Literally black. Im not talking about him imitating black culture just dressing a certain way or listening to rap music, he truly believes he is black. Asians don't exist in American media, we are emasculated, when you see Asians on TV we are flying tree to tree and doing Kung Fu or cooking Chinese food, oh and playing roles of Yakuza gang members. There are no heroic characters, you cannot find an identity or know where you fit in which leaves kids not even knowing how to act which in turn leaves a lot of them identifying with the next closest thing, being black. I once went over to my Asian friend's house who is from Laos and as he escorted me to his room his father spoke to him in their native tongue probably saying something like "Keep it down up there, people are trying to sleep..", he very quietly mumbled away proceeding up the stairs saying "Ching-chong, ting-tong" and laughed as if he was ashamed, it blew my fucking mind lol! He is Asian, he is full-blooded, one look at him and there is no escaping the obvious fact, at age 32 he is on meds and damn near every word out of his mouth is a lie, one after another, its like talking to a lunatic. He claims to be a crip, uhhh, you live in NY, you never even leave your room, you sell tiny amounts of Marijuana from your room just to play gangster because you can't leave your comfort zone where in it you are the God of your own crazy delusions, you control everything that we see or do, I've seen him sport hair-do's where he thinks he's a west-coast gangster from the 90's, 10 braids coming from his head attached to multi-colored plastic hair barrettes, lol wtf is your major malfunction!? For anyone black reading this that might take offense, imagine seeing a black friend denying his own roots, not just denying it but hating everything about it so much so that he has mental issues rendering him incapable of telling the truth even to himself. I live in a sort of rough place, I have been attacked and people have tried to rob me, everyone I know sells drugs or have sold drugs, not a whole lot of Asians here. The one other Asian I find is out of his mind lol! Most Asians aren't rebellious, I am, if I am angered I show it, I will not bend over and take it quietly, sorry thats just not me. Most of you study religiously scared to venture out and mingle, yes I say scared. Its true, if something happens to you you turn it into some traumatic event and view all black people as this or that, I can take a beating and I will dish it out, I am a man, lol it really doesn't phase me. I am what I am and with real honesty Asians like me are the only ones who can talk about privileges because Im not going to go with the grain, I will speak my mind. No, we do not have any privileges, gtfoh with that. Too many quiet Asians too scared to stand up and be real about things, you all know what Im talking about. Black people have nothing to do with our own progression in this country, they have their own issues and its an entirely different matter since they are BLACK and we are ASIAN, Trayvon gets killed and you talk about Asian privileges?! This is exactly what Im talking about, wtf.. Grow a pair. Smh.

Anonymous

Posted Jul 8 2012

@Anonymous' comment starting with, "Privileges? Sure, if you study your ass off like a half-human cyborg...". False even before a person gets to know an Asian they will automatically assume they are smart and a college graduation or heading to college that is where you guys have privilege. And that Asian could be dumb as a brick could even be a College/High School drop out, yet most will assume just because of their race, they are Asian, that they will successful that RIGHT THERE is privilege. If a dumb Asian and a dumb Black person were walking most would assume that the Asian was smarter than the Black person, that RIGHT THERE is privilege. Also it's privilege for Asians not to be in the media(excluding the Music and Entertainment Industry I admit those aren't fair for Asians) the media is always picking us black people over whites when it comes to showing us do crime a black person got tired of this and made a website called WHITE WATCH(google it). Asians are not shown doing crime unless they are doing killing sprees that is privilege. The news media always shows Black people in a negative light, I personally would love if we weren't in the media to be honest. So though Asians deal with some racism they still have privilege out of the rest of minorities, hint hint (Model Minority). Asians denying they have some privilege out of all the minorities are in denial. Also and I forgot to add though I have nothing against Asian people (I love Korean/Chinese/Japanese Culture I listen to the music particularly Korean music and the dramas) but I love how Asians complain about not being on Television and movies yet when they do get a show (Hawaii Five-0) they keep the same people that don't even want them in Hollywood or keep them in the same/limited roles(white people) yet won't hire a black person to be part of the cast that is what is wrong with us minorities. White people usually gives us stereotypical roles yet when we get a show we still keep them in our shows and don't allow any other minorities that haven't done anything to them.

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