When it comes to racism in America, white people, looking through the lens of white privilege, love to expound on the reasons why black people have so many problems in America. Of course, the problem is never systemic racism, and always something to do with blacks themselves. They’re too entitled, they get coddled, they don’t have a work ethic. Nonsense like that. We whites tend to act as though it’s perfectly okay to talk that way, too. We call it “helping,” and “understanding.”
Looking at it another way, though, what would the white community do if Asian-Americans, whom we tend to tout as the “model minority,” talked about us the way we talk about black people? Anil Dash, an Indian American entrepreneur who co-founded the social media analytics company ThinkUp, tweeted about just this very thing. Read some of what he said and see how it makes you feel.
For those who don’t know, the Chinese Exclusion Act virtually eliminated immigration from China to the U.S. The Exclusion Act was passed in response to fears that Chinese immigrants (who white people on the West coast thought of as racially inferior) were taking jobs from Americans. The law was made permanent in 1902, and wasn’t repealed until 1943, when we had China as an ally against Japan in WWII. However, Chinese immigration was still severely capped until 1965.
Dash makes a good point. If Asian-Americans talked about us white people the way we whites talk about blacks, there would probably be a huge push to restrict, or prohibit, immigration from Asia, because how dare they?
And we’d throw a livid fit if they did that. But you see, white people aren’t the problem, when you see through the lens of white privilege. “This is just a deflection from the real problem!” screams white privilege. It’s not, though. From an economic and cultural standpoint, Asian Americans have exceeded white Americans in an awful lot of ways. There’s a lower crime rate, they tend to earn more, they’re often better educated, and they even have a lower divorce rate. So, if economic status and education are licenses to say disparaging things about other races, then it’s logical to give Asians that license to talk about us whites that way.
Yes. This. Nobody should have to endure that, so why do we think everything is all good when we dehumanize black people? We rationalize it away, or we try to “help” by telling the black community what they should do to fix their situation. Worse, we tell them what should and should not offend them. The thing is, when someone tells you, “Hey, you’re not helping, and you’re actually making it worse,” shouldn’t you listen?
Given that Asian Americans have such a leg up on us white folks, in “our own country,” Dash’s point is spot on. We’re not that different. We just think we are because we have to feel like we’re superior to someone.
We’d be angry. We’d be very angry, especially if police brutality towards whites was what it is towards blacks. If we had that problem, and every time a white person was killed by police, the media insisted on pulling up their crime record with the implication that the victim must have deserved it, we’d be angry, too. What’s worse is that we know it, but instead, we’re up on our white horse trying to analyze the plight of black people from on high, instead of actually coming down off the pedestal, taking off the white privilege glasses, and trying to actually learn something about it.
White privilege comes with a phenomenon known as “distress of the privileged.” When you come from a segment of the population whose way of thinking and cultural identity was dominant, and you see that dominance slipping away (which is happening here), you get scared. You get distressed. It’s part of why white people fight so hard against the idea of white privilege. It’s why white people insist on blaming blacks for their problems. It’s why the religious right fights so hard against LGBT equality. Their way of thinking is no longer the prevailing way of thinking, and they’re scared.
We tend to see Asian Americans as being the way that immigrants and minorities ought to be. We white Americans tend to think that Asians come here, work hard in college, and work towards getting good jobs or starting their own businesses. Then they work hard in those jobs and businesses. They’re the embodiment of what immigrants are supposed to do when they come here.
Most black people here aren’t immigrants, but they are a minority. So are Asians, who also behave how minorities ought to behave.
The only problem is, if Asian Americans talked about us this way, we’d be angry. We’d be upset. We’d wonder who they think they are, talking about us like that. We’d wonder why they acted so superior to us. Can we have a little empathy for the black community, instead of trying to tell them what their problems are, and blaming them for the problems of a system that’s rigged against them?