If you recall the pilot episode of Fresh Off The Boat, it opens with “Ain’t No Future In Yo’ Frontin’” by M.C. Breed & DFC playing over a sequence of eleven-year-old Eddie Huang putting on an Orlando Magic baseball hat and starter jacket with gold chains around his neck. This here, was a perfect depiction of Black culture’s influence on my and particularly my other Asian friends’ lives growing up in Torrance, California, in the 90’s. We were influenced by Black music, Black television, Black fashion, basketball, and for an Asian girl with curves, there were two people who helped me learn to love myself through puberty—J.Lo, and Queen Bey.
We adopted Black culture as part of our own. Of course, we had the privilege of enjoying and celebrating its rich culture, without having to live their struggles. And while our parents and grandparents didn’t understand our love for Black culture, there were reasons we were not only drawn to it, but also related to it. As a kid, being Asian was like being the boring minority. You get stereotyped as smart and quiet. Black people were fun and liked to dance. Asian people are fun and like to dance, too, but that’s not usually our reputation—except for Filipinos, because they’re the masters of dancing and singing. At the same time, Black culture was also pop culture at the time. Who didn’t love TLC, Aaliyah, Destiny’s Child? Who didn’t love Fresh Prince of Bel Aire…and pretty much everything Will Smith did?
We share a lot in common with Black people. Ever notice with your Black friends they always make you feel like you’re part of the family? At least mine do. In our shared collectivist cultures, it’s never just about one of us, it’s always about our family and our community as a whole. So with that mindset, we all need to band together, because right now part of our community is hurting and consistently beaten with injustices. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Moreover, Asian-Americans are no stranger to these injustices. Some are even still living them today.
When you take a careful look at U.S. history, America has played its colored children like a sick game of favoritism with Blacks as the trouble child, Natives as the often ignored or forgotten middle child, Hispanics as the annoying step-child gained because they came with the land acquired, and Asians as the straight-A model child. They even came up with a name for the Asian child—“Model Minority,” which was really just a divisive tool to pit us against each other, especially against our Black sisters and brothers.
While Black history has been persistently oppressed, Asian-American history has been largely erased. We’ve all been sidelined in different ways, but without any of us, there would be no America. Last summer, I picked up my first Asian-American history book, The Making of Asian America, by Erika Lee. Not only was I surprised to learn that Asians have been a part of American history as long as everyone else (aside from the Natives who precede American history), but I was also angry. How did I not know this? Even though my parents immigrated here, and I’m only second generation American, I still feel robbed of my history.
Though we can’t equate all our struggles, we have shared many of the same pains the Black community still experiences every day. We have been lynched, we have been excluded, we have been indentured and enslaved, we have been spat on, we have been beaten, we have been killed for the color of our skin. Some of this has even occurred most recently with the spread of COVID-19. People of color have been in an abusive relationship with White America for as long as its history, and it’s time to end that cycle of abuse.
It’s time we stop letting white supremacy narrate our stories and define our lives and identities, and we can only do so by sticking up for one another. We can only do so, by lifting up those of us being beat down the hardest. We must end the violence and systemic racism. I saw the LatinX community talking about educating their parents on their community’s own racism and anti-blackness. So, taking a cue from them, for some of us a good starting point would be the same. Talk to your parents about the prejudices that they and our Asian community harbor. I’ve started asking my parents where some of these prejudices even come from in their homelands. There is no shame in examining our own prejudices and figuring out how we can do better and be better allies. I know I have. And as I’ve reflected on this over the past couple of weeks, I’ve thought about all the times I wished after the fact, that I had spoken up about racism either directed at me or other persons of color. I’ve also been inspired and empowered by the protests and voices of my Black friends to no longer worry about people telling me I’m being too sensitive when I do call out their racism, nor will I worry about making others in the room uncomfortable by calling out their racism. Why should any of us sit uncomfortably so as not to make others uncomfortable with their own racism. It’s time for racists to get uncomfortable. It’s time for people to experience being uncomfortable the way all of us persons of color have felt all our lives. So this is my promise to do better, and be a better ally.