Diana Jue-Rajasingh

Growing Up Trying to Understanding Black and White as a Yellow

Posted in Family, Personal by Diana on July 15, 2016

If white, as it has been historically, is the top of the racial hierarchy in America, and black, historically, is the bottom, will yellow assume the place of the racial middle? The role of the racial middle is a critical one. It can reinforce white supremacy if the middle deludes itself into thinking it can be just like white if it tries hard enough. Conversely, the middle can dismantle white supremacy if it refuses to be the middle, if it refuses to buy into racial hierarchy, and if it refuses to abandon communities of black and brown people, choosing instead to forge alliances with them. – Mari J. Matsuda, We Will Not Be Used

Last week was a difficult one for America. Since I’m in India at the moment, I don’t even get to experience what the atmosphere must be like in person. But when I read the news reports and the responses from people I know, I felt very heavy hearted.

Here are some memories of growing up and learning about blacks and whites as a yellow person. In my home, we were particularly vocal about race — as in, race is something we spoke about pretty vocally. I left some of the more racially-charged comments out. Here are some memories, in roughly chronological order.

  • My dad had a white manager who used to “joke” about dropping an atomic bomb onto South Central Los Angeles, which is predominantly black. My dad never found the “joke” to be very funny, but he repeated it out of a blend of anger, sadness, and that sarcasm that you use when you don’t know how to react.
  • “Be thankful for blacks and Hispanics. If they weren’t around, we’d have it a lot worse.” — my dad.
  • I watched the Rodney King police beatings on TV from my grandparents’ house. I didn’t understand what was going on. My grandparents and parents were frightened by the consequential LA riots. My dad said that if I hear gunshots from home, I should lie facedown on the ground floor utility room to lessen the chances of stray bullets hitting me.
  • One of the main reasons that my parents sent me to a preppy all-girl high school was so that I could “learn to talk to white people.” However, my friends ended up being all Asian, and one of the worst insults was to be called “white-washed.”
  • My high school history teacher walked us through American history through different lenses. When we were finished with the African American unit, I thought to myself, “I am so thankful to not be black.” I had finally understood that black in America is still so hard.

I think that a lot of Asian Americans don’t know how to react to the police brutalities and to the reality of institutionalized racism within our justice system. Asian Americans are a minority, like blacks and browns, but we’re a “model minority.” Being in the middle, we both experience privilege (which we have to acknowledge!) and also discrimination (which we also can’t brush off). It’s easy to be indifferent when our own “kind” is sitting pretty comfortably. It’s easy to stay silent so that we don’t ruffle any feathers in the wrong way.

I personally believe that we Asian Americans should get behind #blacklivesmatter. Blacks and Hispanics have had to fight in ways that our most recent generations of Asian Americans cannot identify with, although we also cannot ignore the price our ancestors have paid and the price that some current immigrants are paying right now. Rather than ignore the more evident struggle of blacks, Hispanics, and other groups, let us Asian Americans actively acknowledge it within our own communities, speak against the racist speech and violence wherever we find it, and allow individuals we know in those communities the space to speak out wherever we can.

If you’re interested, here are a few articles and initiatives on the matter:

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