It has been difficult to find the words that truly express my sentiments following the death of George Floyd and my growing distaste for my passive support for the Black Lives Matter movement. I am not extremely active on social media, but find myself looking at other avenues to support: donating $20 here, signing a petition there, and having smooth, non-confrontational conversations with people who do the same—20 minutes of my time, but here we are yet again. The recurring mistreatment of my Black partners is disheartening. It illustrates that something more has to be done, and I can do better.
I am a first generation Asian American. Growing up, it seemed easier to blend in: wear these shoes, bring peanut butter and jelly for lunch, speak like all those kids from Full House—don’t stand out. My parents never belatedly said, “Be more white,” but there was something undesirable about “getting dark” when I played ball in the sun. This idea that lighter skin represents beauty and nobility, this idea instilled by Filipinos’ Euro colonial history was instilled in me at a young age.
So, I sit quietly behind the scenes. I work hard, stay obedient, and assimilate —all characteristics that make Asian Americans the “model minority.” This narrative is promoted by whiteness and a racial hierarchy, and drives a wedge between Asian Americans and other minorities. A pecking order where white people sit on top, Black people sit on the bottom, and I sit somewhere comfortably under my white cohorts. It’s cozy here. I reap benefits of being considered a person of color, while the idea of “model minority” has made me more complicit with the injustices that another minority experiences.
I am not white. I’m not suggesting that Asian Americans have not experienced hardships, racism, or discrimination. I am saying that I have not experienced it to the level of the Black community. I’m not here to discredit your work, but also I am not afraid to go for an afternoon run, I am not worried about wearing a hoodie, and my parents didn’t teach me an overly cautious line-by-line on how to react to a police officer in the event that I get pulled over.
As an Asian American, I have benefited from Black victories on civil rights activism on immigration, voting rights, and affirmative action policies. As an American, I live in a county whose foundation is built on the exploitation of generations of Black people. The very least we can do as a community is show our support. Regardless of what we have personally experienced, or our interpretation of the law, there is something fundamentally wrong with the amount of unarmed Black people that have been murdered. The privilege my skin color has provided me has left me insecure that I am not able to truly support the Black community because I will never truly understand, but I realize now that it should not hinder me from making an extra effort. I hope that my Asian American community can do the same.
— MJ Santiago