VIEWPOINT: An Asian Perspective on 'Silence is Complicity'

June 7, 2020 by Rose Nguyen

“To be silent is to be complicit”.

This statement is representative of the overpowering force threatening the status quo; it urges people, regardless of their background, to speak up and take a stand with black communities in America until action is taken to protect all African Americans from police brutality. In the midst of imperative vocal activism, many Asians have chosen to stay silent. The lack of firm support from the Asian community has been extremely alarming and disheartening. This behaviour stems from ignorance and selective anti-racism. We are unknowingly proving that we are “white adjacent” by staying neutral in the battle many American minorities are being forced to fight in order to defend their rights. It is pivotal for Asians communities to start addressing racism as well as asserting their stance.

Why is “Black Lives Matter” a difficult conversation for Asian communities? Historically, race has been a sensitive subject for Asians, as many feel that the issue is out of their comfort zone. We were not taught about the magnitude of oppression against black people – we barely even talk about how racism affects us. Asians are not the primary target of systemic racism in America, therefore, many feel they have no place and no need to speak against it.

The model minority myth contributes largely to the separation between Asian and Black communities. This myth was created by Europeans to describe minorities who align themselves with European interests. In Professor Cathy Park Hong’s book Minor Feelings, she writes, “in the popular imagination, Asian Americans are all high-achieving professionals... We are reputed to be so accomplished, and so law-abiding.” This myth, combined with other negative stereotypes about other ethnicities, acts as a dangerous wedge between communities, as Asians are put on a pedestal while African American subordination is accepted. Even though the idea of a model minority is dated, it is still relevant. Instead of division, we need to start attacking racism as one united humanity. No minority should have to align themselves with white interests in order to be rewarded with basic human rights and acceptance. This myth needs to be demolished.

Furthermore, many Asians remain silent because the Black Lives Matter movement does not directly affect them, unlike the COVID-19 pandemic which heightened racism against East Asians. However, this is the exact reason why, more than ever before, people of colour need to support one another. Having experienced racism first hand, the Asian community needs to remember those feelings of anger, fear, and devastation. We cannot be against discrimination only when it applies to us.

There were three other officers present at the time of George Floyd’s death, all of whom did nothing. One of them, Tou Thao, was an Asian-American police officer who not only failed to prevent the murder, but stood guard and allowed it to happen. Many Asian Americans were rightly outraged and ashamed. “This hits home for us as we close out Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, a time when so many of us reflect on our Asian American identity and how it had emerged from the Black liberation movement,” said Alvina Yeh, Executive Director of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance. If we look the other way, we would be mirroring Thao’s mistakes. We need to do better in the ways we educate ourselves and take action.

Not being racist isn’t enough anymore, the world demands us to be actively anti-racist. It is necessary for all of us, regardless of race, to speak up for those who can’t; we must now work beyond our limits to protect the rights of all people, and stand up to those who want to take them away from us.

Rose Nguyen is a Grade 10 student at SMUS.

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