Sometimes as a white person, the idea of white privilege doesn’t necessarily hit us as hard as we might think. This is not to say we are ignorant of the concept of white privilege or that we believe that racism against minorities is some sort of myth. However, some of the aspects of racism are subtle enough to elude us. Sometimes all it takes is for us to perceive people in certain ways in order for them to conform to those notions as an entire ethnic group – and thus, a new form of racism may be born.
According to a statistic gathered by Clio Chang, 73 percent of the adult Asian American population in the United States was born in another country. First of all, a startling statistic in itself when you consider that, as of 2010, the Asian American population in the United States was over 17 million and has peaked over 20 million as of 2015, according to Pew Research. But, after that, consider the historical significance of the Asian American population. Historically speaking, Asian Americans seem to have one of the quieter backgrounds. African Americans had loud outcries of historical significance during the likes of the American Civil War and in the 1960’s during the fight for civil liberties. Hispanic minorities have had a tumultuous run in recent years, particularly regarding immigration policy and all the racism that has very likely stemmed out of that. Even the Muslim population has faced bitter persecution in the form of flagrant accusations regarding terrorist attacks and this persecution has recently been renewed with vigor in the Trump presidential era in the form of travel bans.
But when we consider the historical struggle of Asian Americans, the history doesn’t seem nearly as turbulent. Yes, there were the internment camps during World War II, where Japanese Americans were rounded up for the sake of “American protection” or whatever the propaganda may have said at that time to justify it. But the history books trail off after that. Is it because Asian Americans had an easier time in the post-World War II era than other minorities? And if so, what did they do differently to avoid our wrath as the racial majority? There was obviously a massive influx of Asian immigrants in this time period if 73 percent of the Asian American population weren’t even born here.
Consider the stereotypes that Asian Americans might carry with them. We’ve all heard the jokes regarding mathematics and music. Clio Chang alludes to the perception of a hard-working people who are known almost predominantly for keeping their heads down. But is this by accident? Chang’s research also uncovered remnants of a newspaper called Gidra that covered extensively the goings-on during the Vietnam War (which also make mention of one or two ugly displays on the part of whites) and the need for the Asian American population to stand up in some form of solidarity.
The fact is that Chang stumbled onto something rather fascinating; there haven’t been many political or social activists of Asian descent in American history. A phenomenon that Andrew Sullivan ironically explains rather well while commenting on airline victim, Dr. David Dao.
“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?”
While many of these points may or may not be true, it also brings to light America’s indirect influence upon the Asian American people. And Chang suspects that creating such an identity may have had a long-lasting impact with negative implications that could affect the history and ability to affect history on the Asian American population. It emphasizes a community that, courtesy of an apparent need to appeal to the racial majority, has been threatened to lose its own identity and ability to speak out regarding issues that are pertinent to itself. And while it may have had a voice at some point in time (the Gidra newspaper, for example), the voice has become so silenced historically that those who would benefit from hearing it might, as Chang so eloquently says, “not even remember they existed at all.”