Asians Experience Racism Too

In the middle of my “LoveYourzStory X My Small Business” series, videos and stories started to trend around the internet – Asian hate crimes. I knew that once my series was complete, this would be a topic I wanted to address right off the bat. I watched the video of 84-year-old, Vicha Ratanapakdee, getting knocked down to the ground by that loser too many times. I sat there, watching the video on loop, feeling sick to my stomach. The more I watched, the more I wanted to break down and start crying. All I could think was: WHY?! Why would anyone do something so horrible to an elderly man that was out minding his business? I tried to put myself in Vicha’s shoes, what those last moments must’ve felt like. Though the video was grainy and low quality, I could only imagine the confusion and fear that raced through his mind as he saw a young adult charge at him.

Sadly, Vicha Ratanapakdee’s story was not the last. It seemed like the elderly Asian hate crimes started to trend one after the other. It got to the point where I couldn’t watch the footage for every new story anymore. It was violence overload. Especially the fact that most of these victims were elderly. It’s upsetting and disgusting to know that there are people out there that will pick on senior citizens that can’t defend themselves. When these assaults are captured on camera, it has its pros and cons. On the bright side, it is evidence. The suspect can be identified, and it is solid proof of the crime. It also brings awareness to the issues at hand when the footage goes viral. It makes people be more aware of their surroundings and what’s going on in their area. However, these viral videos can also trigger the losers out there that feed off of the attention, and try to keep the trend going.

With the help of social media, these hate crimes against elderly Asians were caught on camera and have since went viral. The world scrolled through in horror as these videos were uploaded one after the other. For all the verbal and physical attacks that weren’t caught on video, social media is still being used as a platform to tell the stories of these instances. Though these hate crimes are very unfortunate and upsetting, at the very least, I’m relieved that it is shedding light on some deep rooted issues that need to be brought up. We are living in a time where video evidence is almost necessary, or everyone will doubt the credibility of the victim. And even then, video or photos will sometimes still have people believe that there are two sides to every story. But this isn’t anything new to the Asian community. A lot of the time, Asians have to give proof and keep tabs on racially motivated hate. It is a huge misconception that Asians do not face racism.

Asians experience racism too.

People are surprised and shocked about Asians being targeted in assaults, but sadly, this is nothing new. Especially with COVID-19 and Trump referring to the illness as the “Chinese virus,” there has been a spike in anti-Asian beliefs and crimes since the pandemic started. In the years that Trump was president, we saw this country’s rotting underbelly of racist beliefs burst out at the seams. Some thought these racist beliefs and ideals were of the past, but they quickly realized that that was not the case. Having Trump as president for so many years changed the climate of America. And racists didn’t just come out of nowhere when Trump was president, they have always been there. But suddenly, racists felt bold and empowered, no longer hiding their true feelings of people of color when the “leader” of the country was spewing the same hate. We saw the climax of racial tension in 2020 with the Black Lives Matter Movement rising back up again after the death of George Floyd. People took it to the streets all across the country – even the world – to show solidarity with the black community.

The Black Lives Matter movement brought attention to injustices that black people face from law enforcement and society. This has opened the doors for other minority groups to express their struggles and feelings on the topic of racism as well. Having a melting pot of stories from people of different backgrounds make people feel like they are not alone. And even though 2 people come from 2 different cultures and backgrounds, that doesn’t mean that 1 person experiences oppression and racism while the other doesn’t. All parties can co-exist at the same time without taking away attention from the other group. People from different cultures experience different microaggressions, discrimination, and deal with stereotypes. Having this “but my group of people deal with more than your people,” mentality is where people start to divide and stray away from the bigger picture. And this is where I think Asians get cheated.

The common misconception is that Asians don’t face racism as severely as other people of color. Asians are seen as the “model minority.” thepractice.law.harvard.edu describes model minority by saying:

…The term “model minority” has often been used to refer to a minority group perceived as particularly successful, especially in a manner that contrasts with other minority groups. The term could, by its definition and logic, be applied to any number of groups defined by any number of criteria, but it is perhaps most commonly used to frame discussions of race. In particular, the model minority designation is often applied to Asian Americans, who, as a group, are often praised for apparent success across academic, economic, and cultural domains—successes typically offered in contrast to the perceived achievements of other racial groups.

Growing up in the Bay Area, the model minority myth is very prevalent. I remember being a freshman in high school in my advanced English class. I forget the subject we were talking about, but we were working in small groups, and one of my classmates said something along the lines of, “Well, Latinos are hard workers, doing the field work that no one else would do, unlike Asians who just sit in a cubicle and type in the office.” It’s that kind of mentality that pins other races against each other because one group thinks that they have it worse than the other, and instead of realizing that each group faces different stereotypes and forms of racism, they almost turn it into a competition of, “well my people suffer more than yours, so your suffering doesn’t matter.” And that mentality is dangerous. It dismisses a whole group of people’s experiences and deems it “not worthy” or “less important.”

My classmate was not trying to be hurtful with that statement. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t see anything wrong with that statement at all. In fact, those that are not Asian may be thinking – “What is so wrong about being under the umbrella of model minority? Doesn’t that mean that you, as an Asian, have it easier?” That is not the case. Especially when we group people of color into categories like: Asian, Latino, Black, Indigenous people- it causes us to think they we are all just lumped into one group, assuming everyone in that category has the same experiences, and that is not true. In fact, there is even racism within the Asian community. When people think of “Asian,” they think of light-skinned Asians, but there are darker skinned Asians as well. Asians face racism from their own community and from outsiders. Asians are expected to be successful, excel in academics, and be the model minority group, and though that is a “positive” stereotype, it can have negative effects.

Since Asians are seen as the model minority group amongst people of color, that can sometimes have other people of color look at the Asian community with hate. Bullying, making fun of, or making racist comments towards Asians is more acceptable and not seen as a big deal. When the videos of Asian senior citizens were released, I watched in complete horror. But when I scrolled down to the comments, I was so disheartened and angry. A lot of comments were saying that these crimes are nothing compared to what black people face on a daily. It made me so upset because these comments were basically saying, “since my community is suffering, I don’t care if your community suffers.” So many Asians support the Black Lives Matter movement and other marginalized groups, and it’s just so disappointing that some people genuinely refuse to stand with us because their community goes through similar acts of violence. That should be more of a reason to stand in solidarity with the Asian community. And it’s such a shame that there are some people out there that refuse to empathize with the Asian community because of their underlying hate and resentment they have towards the group.

By default, Asians are usually excluded from talks of racism. And even when Asians speak out about the racism they face, it is swept under the rug, doesn’t get much attention, or is dismissed because “other groups have it worse.” Society tells Asians that they should just suck it up, take the abuse, and just be thankful that they don’t have it as bad as others. This puts Asians in an awkward position where we will never be “white enough” but at the same time we are denied by other people of color because we “don’t know / can’t relate” to the magnitude of racism that their particular group faces. We neither fit in nor can relate with others – not even other Asians outside of our nationality since we have totally different experiences as well. For example, what I go through as a Filipino American is completely different from an Indian American, or a Japanese American, even though we fall under the category of “Asian.” The truth is, the Asian experience is disregarded and is seen as less important compared to our allies.

Asians have always been subject to proving that they also face racism. This is nothing new. However, what is new is the media coverage on these assaults and trends – targeting elderly Asians. As horrible as these assaults have been, the first step is recognizing that Asians are being targeted, and all of these cases are not just random. Now you can find articles, news coverage on TV, and specific social media pages dedicated to the rise in Asian hate crimes that have spiked over the last year. It takes a trend like elderly Asian hate crimes to finally make it on your TV screen. However, I truly believe that times are changing. These crimes are bringing the Asian community and other minority groups together, standing in solidarity, instead of ranking who has it worse amongst the races. Over the last year, I have seen a great shift in how people of color are banding together and uniting, having each other’s back and supporting one another, realizing that racism is intersectional, and we shouldn’t focus on denying other people’s reality. One group of people’s reality can co-exist with another group’s reality without being dismissed, downplayed, or compared. You can stand in solidarity with one group without taking away from another. We are fighting the same fight.

I love that celebrities are using their platform to express the injustices that Asians face that go unnoticed. Jeremy Lin has opened up about his disgust with the recent hate crimes towards elderly Asians, and has shared that being a professional ball player doesn’t exclude him from racism either. He has shared that he has been called “Coronavirus,” by other players, but refuses to name drop. He is using his platform to inform and educate his followers.

It’s very upsetting to see all of the videos of elderly Asians being attacked. It’s disgusting to know that there are people out there that will attack senior citizens that are defenseless and don’t stand a chance. It’s scary because a lot of people are already afraid to go out in fear of COVID, but now they have to fear for their safety as well. It’s hitting too close to home – as footage from the Bay Area surfaces. It’s crazy because the Asian population is so big in the Bay Area, it’s shocking to know that even somewhere so Asian diverse could be a hot spot for Asian hate crimes. A lot of people have organized rallies, have digged deeper into the microaggressions Asians face, and have started educating themselves on racism towards Asians. The first step is starting the conversation – we’ve been quiet and passive aggressive for too long.

Filipinx For Black Lives

Illustration by: Marielle Cabillo

In the last week and a half, my social media platforms have been flooded by opinions, video footage, and information about the BLM movement. Everyone is getting vocal. Everyone has an opinion. Everyone is posting non-stop. The problem is, everyone thinks their opinion is the right one. Some are willing to hear the opposing side, some are agreeing to disagree, some don’t want to hear it at all.

This whole week my group chats and messages have been blowing up. It seems like everyday, I’m hearing the story about another friend of mine confronting an undercover racist relative or friend on social media / text message. Everyone is fed up. People are done ignoring content on their timeline and just scrolling past because they don’t want to start beef. Nope, those days are gone. Silence has gotten us to this point. As a country, we’re realizing that staying silent isn’t the way. We’re realizing that ignoring undercover racists is doing a lot more damage than we think.

All these killings, protests, video evidence of police brutality are giving people the courage to finally speak up to those they call family or social media friend. I know it’s very tough, but the uncomfortable conversations need to take place. It starts in your household and those around you. That’s how we make change, by keeping the conversation going to educate ourselves, the people around us, who we raise, and who raised us.

I know confronting older family members or acquaintences you know on social media can be difficult for some. We all know that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, so I understand why some people feel on the fence about confronting someone so directly – whether that be commenting on their post, texting, calling, or in person. But the death of George Floyd has really forced everyone to look at the people around them and decide whether they want to tolerate and allow people with differing views to stay in their lives. It sounds a bit dramatic to cut someone off for having a different opinion, but when that opinion is about racism and in turn denies / undermines certain groups of people, we have to really evaluate who we choose to surround ourselves with. And in order to make that decision, the conversations needs to be had with friends and family.

Being from the Bay Area where the Filipino community is very big, it gives me a sense of pride when I see “Filipinx for Black Lives” signs at protests. And I know for a fact that a lot of Filipinx kids are trying to educate their elders and those around them on the Black Lives Matter movement. And this is not something that’s easily done, especially in the Filipino culture. There is a generational divide between first generation Filipinx Americans and their elders. Especially being born and raised in the Bay Area, we are fortunate enough to be surrounded by a diverse community, people from all backgrounds and cultures. We grew up in an environment that allowed us to think freely, accept people’s differences, grow up with friends of different cultures, and live completely different lives than our ancestors.

We literally come from two different worlds. Generally speaking, traditional Filipinx born and raised in the Philippines are pretty conservative. This is where the generations seem to clash. Speaking against a Filipinx elder is seen as complete disrespect. Especially if it isn’t your parents you’re disagreeing with. It casts a bad name on your parents and it takes “who raised you?” to another level. For that reason, many Filipinx children find it hard to oppose their elders and their views. So the cycle continues for Filipinx American children: fighting the urge to speak out, avoiding conflict by ignoring ignorant comments, minding their business because they’re not in the conversation even though they’re ear hustling. Because we know, either from experience or how we were raised, that you should always respect your elders, and sometimes that means never speaking out of turn.

“If you don’t agree with what they’re saying, or maybe what they’re saying is wrong, it’s okay. Just ignore.”

We’ve been taught to ignore. Ignore the ignorance. Ignore the racist views. Ignore out of pocket and unacceptable comments. And if you speak out, you are shamed and seen as disrespectful. It’s a toxic cycle, because it punishes Filipinx Americans for speaking up and having an opinion. We are taught to comply and if you disagree, disagree silently. We are taught that your age is the deciding factor on if your opinion is valid or not. And in turn, basically saying respect comes with age and not earned.

This is the dynamic in a lot of Filipino families. But people shouldn’t get a pass to be racist because they’re older. This closes the door for open conversation and for education to take place. Sometimes conversations aren’t even started because you get the sense that some of these elders are already set in their ways of thinking, and no amount of facts, stats, or common sense can change their minds. So instead, some stay silent because what’s the point of stirring the pot if nobody’s gonna eat it anyways?

The truth is, if you confront an elder Filipinx relative or friend for being racist, they will deny it with all of their being. They are completely oblivious to how their comments, views, and microagressions hurt other people. And when someone responds on the defensive when confronted, it’ll feel like the conversation is going in circles. You can’t force someone to hear you out. Successful conversations only take place when both parties are willing to be open minded. When confronting someone about being racist towards the black community, they may use the excuse that they aren’t racist because they don’t use the “N” word. But there are so many other ways where racism can take root.

And it all stems from self-hate and fear. And that self-hate and fear has been passed down through generations through microagressions. Some traditional conservative Filipinx elders will swear on their graves that they aren’t racist, but when some really stop to think what they were taught when they were younger, there’s no hiding the fact that a lot of what we learned is racist and damaging.

Who you choose as a partner is a big deal in the Filipino culture. I’m pretty sure it’s a big deal in every culture as well, but I can only speak from my own culture. We are taught to look for a successful partner, of the same race preferably so there are cultural similarities, but if not, you better make sure they’re light skinned and rich. Bringing home an African American partner is frowned upon, while bringing home a Caucasian partner is seen as a victory. If your African American partner is successful and making good money, they get less shade points, but you’ll still get the side eye and be the talk of the party behind your back. If you bring home a Caucasian partner, they will be more accepted, and you’ll get looks of approval. A silent “good job” head nod will go around from aunt to uncle. In fact, your relatives will start to awe and woo over your future light skinned children who will *fingers crossed* inherit the “good features” of being white. Also known as, they pray your kid won’t have a Filipino nose.

And that’s an ongoing theme in the Filipino culture. They are so blatantly ashamed of their dark complexion and Filipino features. They have adopted the notion that darker skin is ugly and unwanted, and everyone should strive to be lighter. Lightening soaps and other products are so heavily advertised around the Philippines. They have celebrities swearing by these products, they have doctors on commercials, they have little Filipinx brown kids hating their skin. We are taught from a young age that being dark is something to be ashamed of, it’s something that needs to be “fixed,” while being lighter is the “goal.” But it doesn’t stop at wanting lighter skin. No, this goes deeper than the outside appearance.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my people and I’m proud to be Filipino, don’t get it twisted. I just know that we as a community and as a people are not perfect. There are toxic behaviors and ideals that should not be circulating around anymore. It’s 2020. It’s time to do better, act better, and be better. That being said, a lot of the conservative Filipinx elders try to do just that, in terms of being a model citizen. We as a people work hard, we push ourselves, we try to abide by the rules. Some serve in the military, some go into the police force, some take the route of civil servant. And unfortunately, some believe that their time being served will get them the same perks and treatment as white people. They try their hardest to be model citizens and get the approval of the white man. But the truth is, as a Filipinx in America, you can try as hard as you want to adopt the American culture, try to get their features, act like them, lighten your skin, forget where you came from, but you will never have the same privilege as a white person. We will never be on the same playing field because we are a minority.

We have more in common with our Black and Brown brothers and sisters who are also fighting to be seen as equals. We are all on the same boat, even though some people don’t want to acknowledge it. Instead of tearing our brothers and sisters down, we should link up and put up a united front. Because we are all fighting the same battle. Some groups have it way worse than others, but it is up to us to stand up to the oppressors.

There are some people that genuinely believe that everyone has an equal chance of making it, and that the playing fields are even regardless of your economic background and race. The argument of “if they are not successful, it’s because they chose that life.” Which is somewhat true, but only to an extent. The playing fields are not even, and a lot of systems for people of color, especially black people, is set up so they can fail. And if you can’t see that through which neighborhoods get good school funding, what foods are offered to those who are on a budget, the stats of those incarcerated, I don’t know what to tell you.

Some will argue that this is more of a reason for minorities, especially black people, to work 10 times harder. But the point is, why should they have to work 10 times harder just to make the playing fields even? It shouldn’t be like that. Unfortunately, this is the reality for so many people. It is in our Filipinx privilege that we are not the main targets of oppression and police brutality. However, please don’t get blindsided and think that you are the exception to the rule. You are still a person of color.

I believe a lot of the Filipinx elders are opposed to the idea of standing with the BLM movement because they are misunderstanding what it stands for. So let me make this clear : standing for the BLM movement doesn’t mean you condone looting, it doesn’t mean all cops are bad, and it doesn’t mean that only black lives matter. The older Filpinx mindset is to believe that all the rioters and looters are a part of the protests. I’ve seen some referring to the protesters as “animals,” “barbaric,” and “thugs.” Please, please, please remember your history, and know that these are loaded terms. Never forget that Filipinos were showcased in Zoos for the amusement of others, to show and “prove” that we were barbaric and animalistic. How Americans view Filipinx people has changed and we have came a long way since the 1900’s. But it is time for us to stand in unison with our black brothers and sisters who are still having those labels attached to them to this day.

It is time for Filipinx people to stand and support black lives like they support black culture. For all the undercover racist Filipinx people who take part in these dance challenges to songs by black people, to those who cheer on black people but only when they’re winning your city a championship, to those who try to adopt the fashion, style, and slang, this is a message for you. You can’t love black culture only when it’s convenient for you. You can’t love what black people produce talent wise but leave them hanging when it comes to their rights and lives. You can’t chant “all lives matter” when you know you’re turning a blind eye to black people and their struggle.

Black people are dying every day from police brutality, and we are refusing to let this go on any further. The truth is, a lot of people are pressed about well known businesses burning down, churches, flags, etc. Things that are easily replaceable and essentially mean nothing. The fact that people care more about burning goods than black people’s lives is beyond me. You’re more pressed about people burning flags? Flags that were never meant for them, representing a nation that was never meant for them to be included in, a land they built for free and still get treated like second class citizens? But seeing black and brown people dying, being mistreated, arrested, maced, beaten, etc, is so common to you that you’re basically used to it? It’s truly a shame.

It’s time to have the uncomfortable conversations with family and internet friends. Silence is letting hate breed, especially if you have black people in your own family. Im proud of my Filipinx brothers and sisters who are speaking out against those closest to them, even if it’s difficult. Even if you’re seen as rude, disrespectful, abnoxious.

The generational gap is something we’ve struggled with. But times are different. Our generation are allies to the Black Lives Matter movement and the black community. We are no longer staying silent to appease those who can’t see the bigger picture. Try your best to educate those who are too set in their ways of thinking.

Filipinx for black lives. We stand with you, we see you, we understand your frustration, and we’re here to break the chain of racism you might’ve felt from our community. It’s truly beautiful to see so many people of different backgrounds get together to fight for what is long overdue. So many people are breaking the chain of ignorance, unlearning racist ideals that they grew up on, and educating those around them. But it all starts with breaking the silence.