By: Catherine He
“Are Asians people of colour?”
That was a question that I received just a few days ago, but haven’t been able to stop thinking about since. When I first heard the words spill out of their mouth, I genuinely didn’t know how to respond. Was this a question that was still being debated, despite everything that the AAPI community has been enduring, events that have occurred extremely recently?
I realized that while this question might be exceedingly straightforward to Asians and other minorities, the answer may not be so cookie-cutter for individuals who do not fully understand the true meaning of racism, and what it means to be discriminated against. The most important part of this equation is that this question was asked; the desire to become informed was present. It is okay to not know as long as you are willing to be educated. Today, we will be breaking down this question and the long history behind it.
So what is a POC?
POC is an acronym that stands for “People of Colour.” The term became popularized in the 2010s, and is used in many English-speaking countries to highlight and emphasize the shared experience of systemic racism. Given this, it can be understood that the POC is an umbrella term for any person who is not considered to be “white.”
Oftentimes, POC have been subject to historic marginalization that the average “white” individual has not. Take Black Americans for example – they have had to fight an incredibly disappointing amount of discrimination to get to where we are today. From slavery to the civil rights movement, Black people are a group that have been historically marginalized – associated with lower and the peripheral edge of society.
The Model Minority Myth
Now, you may be thinking, “Have Asians ever been marginalized?” Thinking back, there may not be anything widely taught in schools like slavery and the civil rights movement, but that is on purpose. Many people are just unknowledgeable on historical events that have impacted the Asian community in the past, and this has everything to do with being classified as a model minority.
As beautifully explained by Learning For Justice, the “model minority” is a myth that has been instilled into our thoughts for centuries on end.
The myth of the model minority is based in stereotypes. It perpetuates a narrative in white Asian American children are whiz kids or musical geniuses. Within the myth of the model minority, Tiger Moms force children to work harder and be better than everyone else, while nerdy, effeminate dads hold prestigious – but no leadership – positions in STEM industries like medicine and accounting.
This myth characterizes Asian Americans as a polite, law-abiding group who have achieved a higher level of success than the general population through some combination of innate talent and pull-yourselves-up-by-your-bootstraps immigrant striving.SARAH-SOONLING BLACKBURN
After reading that, anyone would understand if the first thought that came to your mind was, “What’s so bad about being a part of a good stereotype?” After all, that’s how the Model Minority Myth came to be. It’s misleading, and takes things out of perspective.
We have to remember that Asians are POC, a group that has been historically marginalized by the majority in North America. They have been denied immigration because of the shape of their eyes, and most recently, they have been targeted for being associated with a virus. The Asian population has had its fair share of being on the receiving end of prejudice, and that matters. However, that ‘changed’ basically overnight.
Suddenly, after the Black community was being pressured for not being a part of functioning society (completely disregarding the obviously detrimental effects of slavery), a random Caucasian person that you’ve never seen once before in your entire life goes, “Oh, you are such a hardworking individual. Also, this one Asian I know is very rich. Other people that come from struggle should learn from you. You’re on par with me now.”
This is the basis of the Model Minority Myth. It is completely ignorant of the struggles of the Asian community that some like to say was just a historic phase, and pits minorities against each other as they resent Asians for being lifted up and celebrated for being hard working, when in reality this only happened because Caucasians wanted to express that they were not racist just because one minority group had succeeded, and is suddenly on par with a group that has never faced anywhere near the same troubles.
In turn, this diminishes their struggles, and deems it unworthy because they are now so ‘privileged’. Essentially, it dismisses hundreds of years of bigotry, making Asians appear desirable. However, underneath the surface and behind the smoke and mirrors, Asians are seen in the same light that they were in the 1920s – foreign people who don’t belong in the ideal of White America. In a nutshell, Caucasians make the Asian community look favourable until they are dealing with them one-on-one, in which they then proceed in taking part in racism to continue the cycle of inequity. However, when called out for their actions, they refuse everything and point out how successful Asians have been as a counterattack, denying their struggles with racism. It’s a never ending circulation of denying.
This also presents the issue of the strategy of ignoring colour, because this way you are ignoring all the hardships that were endured that the majority didn’t need to deal whatsoever. You’re essentially discrediting the minority community’s adversities.
The Asian community are POCs. There’s no doubt about that. While when you first look at the situation you may be blinded by Caucasian-perpetuated stereotypes, digging even just a little bit will bring you to the reality that so desperately wants to stay hidden from the sunlight. Even so, knowing this it is now our responsibility to bring these century-long issues to the surface as a crucial step in becoming an anti-racist society.