“Japanese Family Awaiting Internment”/Photo by Dorothea Lang
By McKenzi Thi Murphy
“What kind of Asian are you?”
We are the forgotten. We are called the lucky ones, and then shunned by our fellow people of color. We sometimes do not even realize we are one of them. While the likelihood of an Asian boy being shot down by the police is far less than that of other boys of color– though violence against South Asians is very much an issue– Asian Americans suffer from the institutionalized and normalized racism just as any other minority group does. It is a different kind of discrimination and oppression, but no less harmful. We are not, and have never been, white. Not only are we being targeted by the majority, the racist people in power, we are discriminated against by our fellow people of color. But we cannot be waging war against ourselves when there are bigger battles to survive.
The racism Asians experience is subtler, and less likely to be called out on. Asian slurs are common vernacular, while the mocking of our accents make you the highlight of a party or an internet sensation. A childhood rhyme combines hideous stereotypes and offensive words, but as children, I, along with the other five Asians of my grade, would play right along. We all knew the rhyme well. “Ching chong, Charlie. I know karate…” We did not know how racist it was until years later. We did not know our eyes were “different” until it was cruelly pointed out to us.
We are even considered “the model minority,” which is a myth. A lie. This only furthers the idea that Asians do not experience racism. However, the Los Angeles County Commissions on Human Relations did a study on groups targeted by hate crimes in 2015. While, as a whole, hate crimes were on the rise, the group with the most dramatic increase? Chinese. From 2014 to 2015, hate crimes against Chinese people rose 1000%. While the numbers themselves were not nearly as large as other groups, but this was the only group who saw such escalation.
Perhaps the most blatant form of racism we experience is the attempt by America to completely erase us from history. As children, we are taught the whole of white history, but in textbooks, we gloss over the horrors they have caused. Black people are a unit, a disturbing bias though it may be; Native Americans a chapter, if written in a way to absolve white people of guilt. But Asians? We are a footnote of watered down simplification from Transcontinental Railroads to Japanese Internment Camps, the Chinese Exclusion Act to Napalm and Agent Orange. American history refuses to acknowledge the violence done to my people. There were 120,000 Japanese people incarcerated under the great FDR. We were the first people to be banned from immigrating to this country. Vietnamese children still suffer from the effects of chemical warfare today. Over 200,000 Japanese were killed by the atomic bombs. Death tolls and body counts of my people are ripped out of textbooks.
White people will leap through unimaginable hoops to justify discrimination against my people. Take for instance, yellowface. This was, and still is, a common practice in Hollywood. White actors are painted to look oriental, because apparently finding actual Asian actors is just too hard. And it is not just Hollywood. The supposedly diverse Broadway is steeped in Asian discrimination. Telly Leung, from “Aladdin,“ was told “Asian stories don’t sell tickets”, and Shoba Narayan, from “Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812,” was the only South Asian lead on Broadway in twelve years and the only South Asian in any musical during “The Great Comet“‘s run.
Our nearly non-existent representation in media, and entertainment is just the tip of the iceberg. The fetishization of Asian teenage girls. The blatant appropriation of our cultures. The fact that our cultures are lumped together haphazardly. The culmination is a socially acceptable path of racism, discrimination, gaslighting and complete disregard for my people.
But it is not a big deal, right? I should just answer the question, and stop complaining. Fine. I am a Vietnamese woman who is sick of your shit, and will not be a submissive little girl who keeps her mouth shut. Now, tell me. What kind of white are you?