Supporting Black Communities As An Asian American
Sharing experiences as a minority and understanding the unequal impacts of racial bias
Coming from a town that is 79% white¹, I was no stranger to racism growing up. The cultural differences between my home and upbringing clashed with that of a “conventional” white American family. At the same time, the shared values on education and existing biases such as the model minority only served to help me and my career. That’s not always the case for people of other minorities. Knowing how it feels to be marginalized, those experiences shape why I believe so strongly today that we should take action to address the inequality that black communities consistently encounter. Here’s my story.
On the bus rides to elementary school, I felt different. On some days, we would play games tossing around the best insults we could think of at each other. Between the “Yo mama” jokes, there were always ones with racial or cultural undertones. It didn’t help to have a family name that could be mispronounced as another word for toilet. Though, I was secretly glad that I didn’t have the misfortune of having another common Chinese name (Wang). It never seemed quite fair to me at the time. My other friends all seemed to have more commonly accepted names like “Smith” or were more part of a culture that didn’t seem so foreign. I would think to myself at the time, “How do I cast off enough of my Asian identity to fit in and be truly American?”
As we grew older, these explicit expressions of racism and culture faded away. Instead, they were replaced by implicit expressions of the expectations that stemmed from societal preexisting biases.
While I lacked the language to precisely describe it at the time, I fulfilled the model minority myth to the letter. I saw myself as a reserved and hardworking student, never questioning authority. I had good grades and never caused trouble, the model student. Of course, this had its advantages. I found more creative variants of the age-old excuse “my dog ate my homework”. I found that the more outrageous and ridiculous it sounded, the more people tended to believe me. That helped, especially on the odd occasion that it was a complete fabrication to avoid bad marks on my report card.
In all those years, my biggest concern in life was getting a bad grade. That alone speaks volumes to the opportunities and good fortune I’ve had growing up with family members that shielded me from the harsh monetary-focused reality of the world. In all those years, I’ve never had to worry about basic necessities, much less profiling or policing. I’ve never hesitated to wear a dark hoodie as I walked back home from a convenience store, or to sleep soundly in my apartment at night. I’ve never encountered the same systematic inequality that exists in America today.
This pattern extends beyond policing. Empirical studies have shown that having stereotypically black names results in fewer opportunities across the board. These limitations extend across the board from Craigslist listings to government reach outs and even doctors’ recommendations². Despite good intentions, these biases have even been written into software like Google searches that we use every day. These instances reinforce an incorrect notion that black communities aren’t as deserving of the same opportunities as others. Without the chance to improve themselves, black communities cannot “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” and equally cannot hope to fix the existing implicit biases that are so deeply rooted in society. It’s this vicious cycle that perpetuates a social-economic barrier to success.
As members of a minority, we’ve all had challenges with racism, either explicitly or implicitly. It’s this understanding that allows me to understand why this systematic inequality isn’t right. The current playing field, ingrained by systems of laws, expectations and technology, is inherently unequal. Acknowledging the bias that exists at an individual level doesn’t help remedy the situation. Instead, systematic changes like Affirmative Action in colleges or diversity programs in companies are the first step to recognizing and realizing American dreams for generations of Americans to come.