What Asian Americans Owe African Americans


October 5, 2015

By Chris Punongbayan, Executive Director

*This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post on October 2, 2015.

Trayvon Martin. Eric Garner. Sandra Bland. Michael Brown.

It feels like nearly every day I’m confronted with yet another video in the news with raw scenes of violence against African Americans. We are in the middle of a civil rights emergency and the Black Lives Matter movement is on the front lines.

I am horrified by these deaths. But what is equally disturbing to me is how many Asian Americans distance themselves from these attacks on African Americans, as though what happens to another community of color has nothing to do with Asian Americans. This separation is destructive and perpetuates the model minority myth, a racial stereotype deeply ingrained in the American psyche asserting that Asian Americans aren’t like other (read: lesser) minority groups.

In some regard, it’s not surprising that Asian Americans are so disconnected from what’s happening today. There is an incredible dearth of education in this country about the history of civil rights. For newer Asian immigrants, there is even less opportunity to learn about this new country they now call home.

The untold story is that Asian America is what it is today because of the African American-led civil rights movement. The first step that we can do to bridge the distance among communities of color is understand our interconnected roots.

The 1960s is perhaps best known for laws like the Civil Rights Act. But 50 years ago today, on October 3, 1965, the Immigration and Nationality Act was also passed in the midst of the social upheaval of that period. This immigration law has been absolutely transformational for American society because of the drastic demographic shifts that were brought about in its wake.

From 1820 to 1965, only 1.5 million Asians immigrated to the US. After 1965’s immigration act, more than 10 million Asians have immigrated to our shores. Were it not for the centuries-long struggle led by African Americans on behalf of all excluded communities, we as a nation would not only have a lot fewer civil rights, we would not have nearly the racial diversity we do today.

The Asian American community, nineteen million of us strong, could be the tipping point that shifts the balance of power against white supremacy. But what’s more, we Asian Americans must challenge the anti-black racism that exists in our own community. In 2015, when police brutality is a daily news headline and African Americans are senselessly murdered by law enforcement, Asian Americans must stand as allies to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Black lives matter unconditionally. We Asian Americans owe it to African Americans to hold ourselves accountable to this undeniable truth.

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