Christina attended college in Nashville, Tennessee, very different from her high school which was made up of seventy five percent Asian students. When she began to attend, her university’s student population consisted of only about twelve percent Asians. During her freshman year, Christina actually considered joining Greek life but she ultimately declined to join in order to focus on her grades. She admits, “Looking back, that’s what I said, but honestly, I was just nervous to do something that people like me didn’t do and I wasn’t willing to pioneer for that.”
Christina eventually joined her college’s Asian American Student Association (AASA). She not only met friends through this group but also planned and attended events that helped raise awareness about Asian American culture. The AASA also partnered with other student organizations such as the Black Student Association, often attending and promoting events hosted by each other. Christina explains, “I think the members were hyper-aware of the fact that minority groups don’t support one another enough. So the organization purposefully combatted that and tried to be as vocal about issues like Black Lives Matter as much as possible.”
“I was just nervous to do something that people like me didn’t do and I wasn’t willing to pioneer for that.”
When I Googled “asian american black lives matter,” I was shocked to see some of the top results. A 2017 article on NBC News described an incident in which an Asian American family in San Francisco was threatened for displaying a Black Lives Matter poster in their living room window. They received not one but two anonymous letters in the mail that demanded they remove the signs. The first said “BLUE LIVES MATTER. Get rid of the sign, or WE WILL” and a month later, the second said, “It’s time to replace your BLM sign. How about CHINK LIVES MATTER.”
Christina recalls supporting many of the BSA’s causes but questions what causes ASA lead for BSA to support. She admits that Asian Americans are in a privileged position in which they have been able to escape the level of disadvantage and discrimination that other minorities face. In a four part series called “On Asian America: Black Lives Matter,” the Medium author points out Asian Americans’ history of oppression and racism in the 1800s during which laws prevented Asians from owning land and gaining citizenship. Fast forward to present day, Asian Americans are considered the model minority which the author illustrates as the example of what “good immigrants” look like and reinforcement of the myth of the American Dream.
As a result, many Asian Americans are simply comfortable and reluctant to jeopardize their privilege. Christina says, “They don’t feel like there is anything that needs to be particularly changed right now.” Many Asian Americans believe they don’t experience prejudice and therefore, they find it difficult to empathize with groups that do. She highlights that many Asian parents raise their children to dismiss problems instead of directly facing them. “They’ll see someone being discriminated and instead of asking ‘How could that happen?’ or wondering how they can help, they will say ‘It’s okay. Crap happens.’” Christina explains.
“They don’t feel like there is anything that needs to be particularly changed right now.”
In a 2016 Politico article about a Black Lives Matter protest, the Asian American journalist covering the protest was asked “You’re Asian, right? Why are you here?” While more Asian Americans are deciding to be more vocal, many are still trying to figure out where or if they fit into the movement. Some outwardly support BLM and view elimination of police brutality toward Black people as a victory for all minorities. Others are stuck on the fact that Asian and African Americans are often on opposite sides of key minority issues such as affirmative action.
Christina believes she has fell victim to stereotype threat, a situational predicament in which people feel at risk of conforming to stereotypes about their social group. As a result, Christina has not been as vocal as she would like to be and has feared that if she misspoke, it would be a poor reflection of others like her. However, she speaks proudly of her involvement in AASA and believes that her and her peers’ participation in AASA created a ripple effect in greater advocacy for minority rights. She explains, “Although it may have been small scale, it was successful.” And that’s where it starts.