Overlooked and Discounted
Over the past year, crimes against Asian Americans have increased dramatically, culminating in the unprovoked brutal murder of 84-year old Thai immigrant Vicha Ratanapakdee in San Francisco two weeks ago. Many on the left and the right are confused by this racial-dynamic outside of the black/white binary. Exasperating this confusion are hate-crimes being perpetrated by traditionally marginalized groups.
However, this confusion is something that Asian Americans are already familiar with. Asian Americans operate outside of the dominant binary that exists in America’s racial landscape. As a result, we are excluded from discussions, overlooked for roles, emasculated by our peers, and fetishized by our suitors.
The concept of averages dominates the racial discourse. Because the “average” Asian American appears to be doing quite well in this country academically and economically, people diminish the Asian American minority experience.
The model minority myth has facilitated efforts to exclude and perpetuate hate against Asian Americans. Although many point to former President Donald Trump’s rhetoric against China’s mishandling of the coronavirus as the catalyst for the rise in Asian-American hate crimes, hatred towards Asian Americans has much deeper roots across the political spectrum. It is a long story that involves war, immigration, exclusion, entrepreneurship, urbanization, rooftops, sexuality, success, internment, assimilation, and culture. To suggest that Donald Trump is the origin anti-Asian rhetoric is convenient, but it is ignorant and insulting. The story is complex and nuanced, and it exists outside of the dialogues we have become used to having.
The Asian American experience can be summarized by being overlooked and discounted. Asians are actively discriminated against by higher education and the job market. A tech company this year posted a job listing saying Asians need not apply. A public school district in Washington State published an equity report saying that Asians were not people of color. Despite Asian American’s economic success and high-educational attainment, there is only one CEO of an S&P 500 company of East Asian descent. While European or Latin American accents are considered attractive, Asian accents are mocked and ridiculed. Data from dating apps shows that Asian women are fetishized and Asian men are emasculated and desexualized.
Completely invisible in America’s mainstream, Asian Americans and anti-Asian sentiments can be comfortably ignored by American society. Furthermore, whenever anti-Asian events are in the news, they are co-opted to fit the racial binary. Affirmative action policies that discriminate against Asian applicants get appended to narratives adopted by conservatives, who have similar complaints about white applicants. Similarly, events surrounding anti-Asian hate and discrimination are utilized by leftist activists who co-opt these instances to expand their complaints against white supremacy, despite the blatant flaws with their messaging.
Asian Americans are without a home in America’s racial landscape. We are allies when convenient, but enemies and scapegoats at the drop of a hat. Persons of color in one instance, beneficiaries of “white privilege” the next. The anti-Asian sentiment is a nuanced topic in a landscape devoid of gradation. While most aim to fit their understanding of anti-Asian actions within their current, often unequivocal world view, I encourage people to consider the Asian American experience with subtlety, complexity, and empathy. After all, it’s how we engage with our own unique experience every day.