Since last March, there have been over 3,800 anti-Asian racist incidents in the United States. And just last Tuesday, a white man killed 8 people at three massage parlors in Atlanta, 6 of whom were Asian women. I have been sitting in anger, frustration, and sadness this week. I am angry at the system of racism, at the recent atrocities against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, but mostly, I am angry at my own community and myself. In the 2020 presidential election, Vietnamese-Americans shifted the most to the alt-right compared to other minority groups, and they were the only Asian group to prefer Trump over Biden. And a few months ago, on the January 6th insurrection, the Vietnamese-American flag was among one of the several flags flown at the steps of the Capitol building. This may be a surprise to some, but this eagerness to enter into whiteness is a narrative I have always grown up with.
I grew up aspiring to whiteness. My family taught me that to distance myself from blackness was to be a good Asian. I beamed in pride when others threw “model minority” myths at me: that I was gifted at math, that I was a good student, etc. I felt ashamed when I deviated from those stereotypes. At school, I laughed alongside white classmates who made Asian and “slant-eye” jokes. When black classmates were unfairly and disproportionately targeted for things like dress codes, I stayed silent and was grateful it wasn’t me.
Coincidentally, the killings in Atlanta last week mark the same day as the My Lai Massacre 53 years ago, where over 500 Vietnamese civilians were raped, lynched, and killed by U.S. troops during the Vietnam War. When I look back at my moments of complicity, I am haunted by the memory of My Lai. For every instance I looked the other way, for every instance I chose comfort over recognizing the violence of this system, was I staining my hands with the blood of every Vietnamese child, mother, and daughter massacred in My Lai? I think of the murder of Thong Hy Huynh in 1983, a Vietnamese refugee and high school student stabbed in the torso by another high school student in a racially motivated attack. The model minority myth does not protect us from white fragility and racial violence. Every time we choose whiteness over embodying our own narratives, we are doing an injustice to Thong Hy Huynh’s name and all those who came before and after him.
This is not to minimize the weight of actions taken by those who directly and intentionally perpetuate racial violence. The remnants of colonialism found in our bodies of international law, universities, healthcare systems, and security frameworks all work to both benefit the white man and pit minorities against other minorities. White perpetrators rely on the historical fetishization of Asians and racialized ideals of Western superiority to maintain the propagation of hate and violence against and within our community. Therefore, to deny racism or sexism, as the police did in the Atlanta case, is to continue to gaslight and uphold a dangerous, violent narrative.
As such, we should look at any manifestation of racism in our BIPOC communities as one stemming from reactionary self-preservation and harmful racialized policies. I am highlighting my own story not as a condemnation of myself or Vietnamese-Americans but rather as a critical look at the ways in which whiteness has entrenched our communities and separated us from each other. In many ways, the fascist undercurrents and inferiority complexes within the Vietnamese-American community are the result of internalizing colonialist, paternalistic, and Orientalist tropes that both France and the United States have imposed on us since the 1880s. We have internalized racism and white supremacy, woven them into stories of the Vietnam War, and negated our own 4,000-year old history.
But this story of self-preservation and internalization is not unique. It cuts across many NBPOC (non-Black people of color) communities in the United States. It is shaped by narratives of “model minorities” and liberal promises of assimilation.
Noura Erakat‘s essay on Black-Palestinian solidarity illustrates the parallel of minority communities across the country by focusing on Arab-Americans’ complicity and distancing from blackness: “Proving eligibility for whiteness rather than challenge its exclusionary and racist premise” is always a choice available to immigrants. While this choice can be influenced by self-preservation and a desire to live, it is a choice nonetheless.
This is why we cannot underscore the importance of intersectionality enough in this moment. Minority communities are continually forced to choose which side of the color line to stand on. My childhood aspiration to whiteness rejected not only my Vietnamese identity but also the identity of every single person of color in this country. The recognition of my own story inside the Arab-American story that Noura Erakat puts forth is an example of how these struggles, while experienced authentically in many different ways, are intimately cut from the same strand. When we distance ourselves from other communities’ struggles against whiteness, we become oppressors of ourselves and of one another.
The reality is as a non-white person, I will never be part of the “white” side of the color line because the very definition of U.S. white supremacy, as Erakat writes, is that it is “a system of racialized governance that privileges and protects white entitlements through law and police violence.”
The fight against racism is also global, and we need to recognize intersectionality against systems of brutality and white supremacy around the world. This isn’t a call for equality. There is no such thing as “liberal inclusion.” This is a call for the revolutionary dismantling of global racism and imperialism. Justice cannot be justice if it is being upheld by a system that serves the perpetrators. The system must go.
Resources in the wake of AAPI violence:
- Red Canary Song, a grassroots network of Asian and migrant sex workers (give here)
- CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities
- Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM)
- Asian Prisoner Support Committee, support for AAPI prisoners
- Stop AAPI Hate
- Sex Worker Harm Reduction Resources
- Black and Asian Feminist Solidarities, an ongoing collaborative project between Black Women Radicals and the Asian American Feminist Collective
- Asian Pacific Environmental Network, build power and resilience in working-class Asian immigrant and refugee communities through environmental justice
- Asian Mental Health Collective, network normalizing and de-stigmatizing mental health within the Asian community (donate here)