Unmuting Asian American Voices

by Jennifer Wang, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus & Amy Xiao, Opinions Writer
photo courtesy of NSHSAgainstRacism

A group of unknown hackers intruded Chinese teacher Lan lan Chen’s AP Chinese zoom meeting on the morning of April 15. The hackers subjected the class to a slew of racial and derogatory terms across the screen, many related to COVID-19. Chen and her students immediately asked the “Zoombombers” to leave, then ended the meeting. The incident is currently under police investigation.

“Inevitable” is how senior Lucy Chae described the recent “Zoombombing” incident, when nearly 30 unidentified hackers infiltrated an AP Chinese class and unleashed a torrent of vile racial slurs and mock-Chinese. Enraged, Chae decided to speak out, publicizing the event through major news channels and rallying her peers to spread awareness of the surging anti-Asian sentiment across the globe. Her parents, however, harbored concerns.

Chae then went from combatting racism to resisting her parents’ disapproval. Worried that Chae’s activism would wreak administrative retribution, Chae’s parents cautioned her advocacy. “I don’t think it’s the cause they’re against — it’s me being involved in situations that could be controversial,” she said. Chae’s parents are not alone in their reservations towards these protests. 

Many Asian Americans, like the former presidential candidate Andrew Yang, question the effectiveness of confronting anti-Asian hostility. In his op-ed for the Washington Post from April, Yang wrote that antagonizing the perpetrators of racist attacks is unproductive; instead, Asian Americans should “embrace and show our Americanness in ways we never have before.” But have we not tried for decades to be “American” enough? As Asian Americans, our existence is conditional: if we want to stay out of harm’s way, then we must behave as the respectable and compliant token minority we are expected to be and internalize any racial discrimination. 

In senior Amy Xiao’s experience, nowhere is this mentality more evident than the difference in how her parents interact with her teachers. While many other parents are quick to speak up and argue for their kid, justified or not, she said her parents will never question the decisions of an educator. Their attitude reflects the traditional Asian cultural values of respect, obedience and filial piety. 

Though these values are not inherently harmful, they manifest in a submissive mindset  — the very mindset that leads Asian American teenagers to cling onto desperate displays of “whiteness,” such as opting for a casserole over fried rice, and Asian politicians like Andrew Yang to claim we only need to display our “patriotism” to be accepted. We listen to our superiors and keep our heads down, but what happens when our leaders in the highest office are perpetuating racism with infectious phrases like “bat-eater” and the “China virus”? 

Asian Americans are victims in the scene of racial violence, but our complicity in the system of power and our debt to other people of color cannot be ignored. We are the “good” immigrants, who uphold the insidious racial hierarchy by mounting its steps. At the onset of the 20th century, Asian Americans who sought to climb the socioeconomic ladder peddled stories about their traditional ideals and Confucian ethics to promote themselves as the model minority. 

According to Ellen Wu, the director of Asian Studies program at Indiana University, Asian Americans portrayed “themselves as upstanding citizens capable of assimilating into mainstream culture,” but their success story was quickly “co-opted by white politicians … to proclaim [the country] a racial democracy” and to deflect attention from institutional racism and its role in the persistent struggle of other minority groups, especially African Americans. 

Intrinsic to the model minority myth is our culture of complacency and the ongoing story of American bigotry. By embracing our perceived collective success at the expense of minority voices, we are blind to the history of the current spate of Asian American prejudice. In the wake of the coronavirus, the swell of hate against Asian Americans has unmasked the rampant ignorance and decades-long xenophobia underlying their praise. This unabating hate has made one thing clear: Asian Americans — whether first-, second-, third- or fourth-generation — will always be foreigners.

We are not exempt from the hate that forces our fellow Americans to bite their tongue and fear for their lives while jogging down their street. The “zoombomb” on the AP Chinese class will not be the last racist attack at South. Already, in a junior biology class, profanity was hurled at students in another zoombombing. The use of the n-word in this and the earlier incident has also hurt the black community. 

Now is the perfect moment for Asian Americans to rekindle the spirit of “Yellow Peril Supports Black Power” that emerged during the Civil Rights Movement, to stand in solidarity with other minority communities under siege. The battle cannot be won alone. Let this pandemic be our wake-up call to unite and mobilize, break the mold of the model minority and push back against racial scapegoating and divisive rhetoric against all communities.