It's Time to Talk About Asian-Black Tensions
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The recent circumstances surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement have brought to light the racism entrenched in American society. Not only that, but Asian American police officer Tou Thao’s complicity in the murder of George Floyd, as he defended fellow officer Derek Chauvin from passersby who attempted to intervene, also indicates the Black-Asian tensions lurking underneath the traditional racial narrative between Whites and minorities. This relationship is apparent within the Stuyvesant community, with African Americans and Asian Americans sitting on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of representation in the student population. Across all New York City schools, Black students make up 25 percent of the student population, though they only make up less than one percent at Stuyvesant. This disparity not only directly impacts student culture and life at Stuyvesant, but also reflects larger systems and events at play and thus, merits the intervention of students, administration, and families to understand and engineer a solution to the issue.
Thao’s complicity in Floyd’s murder is not the first time America has witnessed such tensions, as history has shown time and time again. These racial tensions are a product of decades of white systems designed to pit minorities against each other. This racial dynamic surfaced during the 1992 Rodney King Riots, when growing resentment amongst Korean Americans exploded as a result of the numerous Korean-owned stores and businesses being burned down. This incident resulted in a series of clashes, only reinforcing the already rampant tensions between the Black and Asian American communities. Another example was the murder of Akai Gurley, an African American man, by Peter Liang, an Asian American police officer. To the African American community, Gurley’s death was just another instance of police brutality. To the Asian American community, however, it was a plot to use Liang, who was immediately given a life sentence, as a scapegoat purely due to his race. Countless Brooklyn streets were filled with protestors from both communities, holding signs saying “Liang Deserves Justice Too” and “Black Lives Matter” on opposite ends of the street, a powerful symbol of the racial divide.
Racial tensions are just as prominent on the micro level at Stuyvesant. Though not all students engage in racial comments or actions, non-Black students often fail to object to their peers who do. For Asian students, this problem is rooted in the fact that many come from conservative, immigrant households in which they are taught to avoid confrontation. Thus, many Asian students are not comfortable speaking out against racist remarks in school and home environments, allowing discriminatory rhetoric to persist. Children even subconsciously adopt these racist notions, especially in households in which implicit bias and acts of microaggression, such as being warned not to go into certain “shady” neighborhoods or marry certain people, go unflagged. Coupled with many Asian parents being heavily influenced by media outlets like the Chinese-owned social media app WeChat, these parents consume biased information and assume racist perspectives.
The language barrier existing between many Asian students and their parents further contributes to strained dialogue on racial issues. It is often difficult to have meaningful conversations regarding race when concepts such as “white supremacy” or “systemic oppression” cannot be easily translated to Asian languages. This heavily limits conversation on these topics, as many students, unequipped with the necessary resources to have productive discussions with their families, decide against having these discussions altogether.
Stuyvesant’s competitive nature in regard to college admissions only serves to exacerbate the tense relationship between Black and Asian American students. For the latter, pressure to demonstrate academic excellence as a gateway to attending top universities in the country is entrenched in their cultural beliefs. At Stuyvesant, such sentiments often translate to racism, consciously or not, when Asian students attribute Black and Hispanic students’ admission to elite universities solely to a perceived advantage they receive from affirmative action. Many Stuyvesant students do not agree with affirmative action, with 63.3 percent of students believing that race should not be taken into account in college admissions. In reality, however, children of donors, athletes, legacies, and persons of “special interest”—not those who benefit from affirmative action—have the greatest leg up in the college admissions process. As a result, affirmative action is widely perceived by the Asian American population to be the greatest hindrance to college acceptances.
In addition, the model minority myth facilitates the development of false images of both Asians and Blacks. This ideal depicts Asian Americans as the “successful” model other minorities should aspire to and overlooks the history of oppression against African Americans in the U.S., which has placed them on an uneven playing field with their Asian counterparts. These nuanced forms of racism only foster animosity and develop a distorted mindset in Asians, who believe their black peers’ acceptances are at the expense of their own. It is important to note, however, that Asian Americans, particularly immigrants, have faced their own forms of oppression in the United States, and may also not fully understand the magnitude of African American oppression. This calls for an even greater understanding and conversation of how systemic oppression manifests amongst different minority groups, as a start to eliminating many of these preconceived notions.
Ultimately, the onus for the creation of safer spaces for Black and Hispanic students rests on the vast majority of the student body that is not Black or Hispanic. On top of educating ourselves on the extensive and untaught history of Asian-Black tensions in America, raising conversations with family members about race will begin dismantling preconceived and well-established biases against Blacks at home. Upon our return to Stuyvesant, actively confronting racist comments and actions of other students will be crucial to overcoming the culture of complicity among the Asian student body. Participating in conversations regarding race, whether in Talk Circles Around Race, between family and friends, or with those who both share and oppose our own viewpoints, could be the start of major and long overdue change within Stuyvesant’s racial divide.