Why Ferguson Matters to Asian Americans

Korean protester captured by a South Korean soldier during the democratic uprising in Kwangju. May 1980.
Korean protester captured by a South Korean soldier during the democratic uprising in Kwangju. May 1980.

For weeks I have been in awe of the organizers and writers – Rev. Osagyefo Sekou, Jamala Rogers, Malkia Cyril, Ta-Nehesi Coates, john a. powell, Falguni A. Sheth, and so many others – who have placed the situation in Ferguson into critical historical and political context. This despite persistent attempts by police, elected officials, and mainstream media to erase that context with vilifications of black political protest and black life. I write this post to express my solidarity and rage, and to offer a response to the disturbing question that I’ve heard asked, and that demands an answer: Does Ferguson matter to Asian Americans?

First and foremost, the murder of Mike Brown by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson is causing profound grief at the violent loss of yet another black mother’s child. The expression of that grief by the Brown family, and the pained words of solidarity from Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, are necessary bedrocks for understanding the human toll that anti-black racism takes. What makes this a national political crisis is that Mike Brown’s death was not an isolated incident. It was excruciatingly unexceptional – one more deadly outcome of white supremacy in a human rights crisis that spans cities, nations, centuries.

The predictable and familiar response – mainstream media pondering whether Mike Brown deserved to die, the City of Ferguson sending in a militarized police force to occupy an already disenfranchised neighborhood, whites denying that this is about race, and the indictment of black rage rather than the indictment of the murdering police officer – these are the mechanics of how America normalizes black death.

That Wilson gunned down Mike Brown so close to the buried body of Dred Scott is a gut-wrenching reminder that the fight for the recognition of black humanity is centuries long, still raging, and yet unfinished. The only way to make sense of this is through the logic of anti-black racism, a logic that asks us to set aside our humanity.

In the words of black feminist writer Brittney Cooper:

The idea that we would show no rage as we accrete body upon body – Eric Garner, John Crawford, Mike Brown (and those are just our summer season casualties) — is the height of delusion. It betrays a stunning lack of empathy, a stunning refusal of people to grant the fact of black humanity, and in granting our humanity, granting us the right to the full range of emotions that come with being human…

Nothing makes white people more uncomfortable than black anger. But nothing is more threatening to black people on a systemic level than white anger… We should sit up and pay attention to where this trail of black bodies leads us. They are a compass pointing us to a raging fire just beneath the surface of our national consciousness.

I do not move through the world in the crosshairs of a policing system that has its roots in slave patrols, or in a nation that has used me as an “object of fear” to justify state repression and public disinvestment from the infrastructure on which my community relies. I am not public enemy number one in the ongoing U.S. domestic war over power and resources that has systematically denied black humanity. Yet as an Asian American, black rage occupies an important and intimate place in my heart and mind for at least two reasons.

First, I have said before that I come from war. My rage is not the same rage that Cooper describes. But I can relate to her when she says:

Rage must be expressed. If not it will tear you up from the inside out or make you tear other people up. Usually the targets are those in closest proximity. The disproportionate amount of heart disease, cancers, hypertension, obesity, violence and other maladies that plague black people is as much a product of internalized, unrecognized, unaddressed rage as it is anything else.

There is a word in Korean culture, han. It is hard to define, yet it deeply shapes Korean consciousness. To quote Elaine H. Kim, it loosely means “the sorrow and anger that grow from the accumulated experiences of oppression… When people die of han, it is called dying of hwabyong, a disease of frustration and rage.”

Coming from a people who were controlled, occupied, and threatened with erasure by outside forces over centuries, and brutalized as silage in a war between the United States and the Soviet Union, han was not something that I consciously embraced. It is in my blood. Han is Korean rage. It was expressed in protests against Japanese colonial rule in 1919, in the struggle for self-determination as the Korean war broke out in 1950, during student protests against the oppressive U.S.-backed South Korean government in 1960, and again during the democratic uprising in Kwangju in 1980.

I would never equate my inheritance of han to the real and imminent threat of violence that Ferguson’s black community and so many others face now. But I will say that I hold my own rage close to me, as part of my identity. I understand the need to defend, protect, and express it.

Secondly, America normalizes and indulges in black death in service to a dehumanizing narrative of black criminality. The exalting of Asian Americans as a model minority reinforces this narrative. And Asian death is rendered invisible when it has no value to the power structure. If Asian life falls outside of model minority and Orientalist narratives, if it doesn’t prop up ideas of American exceptionalism and meritocracy, it doesn’t register much. I was reminded of this a few weeks ago, when the story broke (but did not go viral) of Sandeep Singh, a 29-year-old Sikh man, who was run over and dragged 30 feet by a white man driving a pickup truck in Queens, shouting “Go back to your own country, Bin Laden!” That was less than a week before the two-year anniversary of a white supremacist shooting rampage that killed six people at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, WI in 2012.

The invisibility of Asian death, and the denial of any form of Asian American identity that doesn’t play by the model minority rulebook, is another reason why black rage holds such importance to me. It serves as a beacon when faced with the racial quandary that Asian Americans must navigate. As Jamala Rogers reminds us, the findings of the Kerner Commission in 1968, nearly 50 years ago, have come to fruition now: “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.”

In that reality, Asian Americans often end up somewhere in the chasm between blackness and whiteness – whether pushed there, largely invisible and struggling to dodge the crossfire, or diving in to eagerly reap the rewards of non-blackness. Our options are invisibility, complicity, or resistance, and black rage is a clarion call for standing on the correct side of the color line, for reaping the collective rewards of justice.

Asian America is not a monolith. We occupy both ends of the economic spectrum, and most people included in the Asian American demographic category identify by ethnicity, not by the western-conceived imagination of what’s known as Asia. But all the important work that advocates do to disaggregate demographic data and research is only meaningful if we are clear about the politics and values that hold us together as Asian Americans. Given that the U.S. economy and political system are rooted in anti-blackness, claiming our place in America means that we must take a position when faced with the separate but unequal worlds of whiteness and blackness. We are either left or right of the color line. There is no sitting that out.

Japanese and Chinese American organizations and leaders were active in creating the model minority myth, and they embraced anti-blackness. But Asian American identity was forged in the crucible of the black liberation struggle, and also centered demands to end imperialism and war. This is what it means to be Asian American. I choose resistance.

Organizers in Ferguson, with national allies, put out this vision statement last night:

We are striving for a world where we deal with harm in our communities through healing, love, and kinship. This means an end to state sponsored violence, including the excessive use of force by law enforcement. We are committed to an America that comes to terms with the trauma of its painful history and finds true reconciliation for it. Mass incarceration and the over criminalization of black and brown people must forever end, leaving in its place a culture that embraces our histories and stories. This means an end to racial bias and white supremacy in all its forms.

 Our dreams are directly linked with those resisting militarism, war, and state repression around the world. We will achieve this new beloved community hand in hand, step by step, in global solidarity with all people committed to lasting peace and full justice.

The mutually reinforcing myths of black criminality and the model minority have no place in the world envisioned by the people of Ferguson, defiantly standing their ground, armed with love and rage in the face of tanks and guns. That is the world that I yearn for, in which we can all thrive and be seen.

Does Ferguson matter to Asian Americans? Yes.


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By Soya Jung

Soya has been active in the progressive movement for over 30 years. During the 1990s she worked as a reporter at the International Examiner, communications and policy staff for the WA State House Democratic Caucus, and executive director of the Washington Alliance for Immigrant and Refugee Justice. She was the founding chair of the Asian and Pacific Islander Coalition, which formed in 1996 to restore food and cash assistance for low-income immigrants and refugees in Washington State. During the 2000s she worked at the Social Justice Fund, a public foundation supporting progressive organizations in the Northwest, and consulted for various institutions like the Western States Center, the Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity, the Nonprofit Assistance Center, the City of Seattle, and the Washington State Budget & Policy Center.

At ChangeLab Soya has authored two research reports: "Left or Right of the Color Line: Asian Americans and the Racial Justice Movement" and "The Importance of Asian Americans? It’s Not What You Think", and co-authored the Asian American Racial Justice Toolkit. She has convened numerous public events uniting scholars with social movement activists to explore race, gender, war/empire, and Asian American identity. Her writing has been published in Othering & Belonging: Expanding the Circle of Human Concern, and cited in places like the Routledge Companion to Asian American Media, ColorLines, and The Guardian.

81 replies on “Why Ferguson Matters to Asian Americans”

Totally agree but honestly I’m conflicted by the looting. That really undermines empathy for the communal rage

A few people looted, yes, but don’t let that fact undermine what is really happening. There are pictures online after the looting of members of the community, not the police, standing in front of these stores to prevent further looting.

There are always looters. Look instead at the greater numbers of people who stand in front of broken storefronts, preventing looting.

Also be aware that some of what is called looting is not–as in the case of the McDonalds that was broken into so that someone could get milk to rinse the faces of tear-gassed teenagers.

The community didn’t loot, a few criminals did. The actions of a few shouldn’t be blamed on an entire “community”.

This comment fully embodies what being a minority in this country is “The actions of a few shouldn’t be blamed on am entire community.”

Like the rioting in the 60’s in Oakland, there were rumors that the “New Black Panthers” had started the looting (with influence from an FBI informant?)
Again, I said “RUMORS”.
After the occurrence of BLOCKBUSTING, unfortunately nothing surprises me anymore. This is much worse than learning that Santa is a fictional character. The trouble is that many boomers (fiscal and voting majority in the U.S.) cling to these myths.

Great perspective on “looting” from author James Baldwin:

The way that people choose to express their rage in such an oppressive situation should not affect our ability to empathize with them or affirm their humanity and right to NOT be profiled and murdered by police. It is that very fear of “Black anger” that causes us to pay more attention to property damage than Black life.

(Also, there are many instances of protestors defending stores from looting:

Not being a Black person from Ferguson, I don’t think we can understand what it’s like to be there, or pass judgments on how people “should” react to centuries of police and state violence)

Did the white cop threatening to kill everyone convince you that all cops must have murderous intent? That was played all over the news as well. If it didn’t, then perhaps you are looking for reasons to hate Black people but will make every excuse for white cops.

If cops don’t care about murdering unarmed american citizens why should they care about those who are being looted. murder Vs looting. go figure

I’ve noticed that a lot of people have said exactly what you’re saying. You need to understand that there will always be the radicals in every political spectacle. There is no doubt about that. Anarchists, looters, bad-mouthers. But what is more important here? That this is legal racism and murder, or that there was property damaged in the result of the unfair due law process?

There isn’t always looting though. I can only compare to the tsunami and earthquakes in Asia (since that’s where I am from)- short of some food shops that were broken into out of desperation and fear of prolonged circumstances there wasn’t any looting of commercial items, of shops that wee still open for business. I think it’s an American thing.

Natural disasters, although devastating beyond imagination, do not implicate the public’s trust in authority and, in a similar vein, their sense of neighborly well-being. What has happened in Ferguson involves a feeling of betrayal among the public, specifically the minority, so explicit that the offended and their integrity as civilians of a state are tested and strained to the point of breaking. Be impressed that such little looting has occurred. Think of the UK riots just a few years back. It takes a strong, close knit community to transform betrayal into peaceful protests rather than utter chaos especially under the aim of a gun.

Keep in mind too, that some media were pretty quick to focus on the looting rather than the injustice of Mike Brown’s shooting and police brutality in Ferguson. Still, the media have detracted from a main cause for the protests.

Mike is dead, yes, tragically nothing can change that. But the continuing horror is that Officer Warren is on PAID leave and he hasn’t been charged, investigated, or arrested. His identity wasn’t even released for days after his shooting. Please don’t join the chorus is deflecting from the REAL injustice – Mike’s death. When you do, the media’s manipulative tactics won in steering you to believe that some innocent people deserve to die as teens, some people deserve to be oppressed, silenced, and terrorized. And that some people deserve a paid vacation after terrorizing, silencing, and oppressing innocent people.

So I could almost empathize with defacing govt or police property bc of this rage- but shopowners who had no connection to this event are being looted. A large portion of them are not even white shopowners (they are Asian)- I can’t wrap my head around this except to think that these acts are not rage driven but opportunity driven

I think that it helps to keep focused on the goal of equal justice. Keep your eyes on the prize! Remember the important idea that summary execution by police and police targeting of young black and brown men and boys is so outrageous and unacceptable and we should oppose that with no reservations. It’s possible to simultaneously notice that society is complicated and there are multiple things happening at any one time. You can multi-task! Nobody condones looting, but it’s NOT the main thing happening here.

I wouldn’t say “no one.” I think there have been multiple camps on social media discussing this particular issue, and some do seem to think that destruction (often in forms of burning or looting) is a “rightful” part of the process. It’s simple enough to do a search on twitter about it.

sorry, I weirdly skipped a word in there. I meant to say, a “rightful” part of the “revolution” process.

Soya, you say this: “Japanese and Chinese American organizations and leaders were active in creating the model minority myth, and they embraced anti-blackness.”

I suggest that you qualify that. It’s not true as a general statement. Although, as in any group, there are some who embrace the dominant narrative of anti-black racism, there is a rich history of Japanese Americans and Chinese Americans in active opposition to the “model minority” which was created in order to perpetuate the racial hierarchy with whites on the top, Asian Americans as second class, and blacks on the bottom. During the post WWII period, Japanese Americans worked with the NAACP legal efforts to start dismantling legalized racism. Two examples of this were the legal efforts to end miscegenation, and the Menendez case in California ending school segregation of Mexican American students. When Japanese Americans struggled to win redress for their unconstitutional exclusion and imprisonment during WWII it was in opposition to those who promoted the model minority, because model minorities never object to inequality. African Americans were our most staunch ally in that struggle. Japanese Americans and Chinese Americans are integral parts of the Asian American coalition that stands with African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans on many political, economic, and social issues.

sister_h, Thanks for commenting. Actually, during the post WWII period, the JACL worked with the U.S. government to advance the model minority myth. The reasons aren’t surprising. Before the model minority myth took hold, thanks to the collective efforts of the U.S. government, philanthropy, media (both mainstream and ethnic), scholars (notably including Japanese Americans), and groups like the JACL, Asian Americans (then identified by ethnic group) were despised. They were racialized as shifty, untrustworthy, dirty, disease-ridden, and criminal. Actively participating in creating the myth by instilling and rewarding white values and behaviors in Japanese and Chinese American families helped to left them out of such a denigrated racial stereotype. We are talking about a decades-long process, starting in the late 1930s. Ellen D. Wu does a great job of breaking down this history in her book, The Color of Success. But essentially, that was the prevailing, dominant approach then, a kind of liberal racial reordering that relied heavily on the inculcation and insistence of white norms of behavior (and necessarily, a distancing from blackness). There was resistance — those who resisted enlisting, zoot suiters, Chinese youth whom the community branded as “delinquents” who were getting criminalized by the police…

Several forces collided to create the conditions for the model minority myth to be created, including a desire to be seen and accepted as citizens (particularly following internment), Jim Crow and black resistance, and US global political aspirations that required “proof” that America was truly a democracy in which (at least certain) minorities could succeed amid not only segregation but also violent anti-black practices like lynchings, the Cold War, etc.

Ellen’s book explains it in detail from a historian’s perspective, and so well. I highly recommend it. And also shows how the presence of Asian Americans in Hawaii contributed to Hawaiian statehood, over the objections of Native Hawaiians. The model minority is both anti-black and anti-indigenous, and Asian Americans have absolutely played a role in creating and propagating it.

Again, yes, there has always been resistance to whiteness and model minority assimilation among Japanese American, Chinese American, and other Asian American groups, and identification with blackness. Absolutely. But that wasn’t the dominant or prevailing attitude in the ’40s and ’50s. We should not sidestep the truth of the complicity. The myth was not something that just whites forced upon us.

Also, under Reagan, when redress was achieved, in typical fashion he used redress for Japanese Americans as a way to applaud model minority behavior and reinforce the idea of black criminality. So there’s a very deep way that that campaign and its success was used as a weapon of anti-blackness.

Thanks for reading and commenting, everyone!

I’d like to hear your thoughts on whether maintaining the concept of the model minority myth as “not something that just whites forced upon us” is simply victim blaming–asking minorities in, as you’ve pointed out, historically powerless situations and with lived experiences of derision, abuse, theft of their livelihood, and internment, about why they participated in survival behavior. Do we view it as a practice of complicity and total willingness to embrace the overall power structure, essentially turning our anger on those oppressed and reviled communities? Or do we view it as an abused and oppressed community determining a means of survival after experiencing very real harm? Surely plenty of black communities adopted the same sort of complicity with the white power structure in the US, one that persists today in the sorts of “look the part”/”respectability politics” of oft-cited black icons like Cosby, Lemon, Freeman.

Yet when we view those perspectives, we view them in the context of the diverse attempts to survive and negotiate livelihood against the crushing oppression of a violent and unjust system, even if those methods didn’t go in the route of overthrowing the structure.

Why is the complicity of a harmed and oppressed people more important to point out than the society that oppressed them and approached them to support its model minority myth?

As a 5th gen Japanese American and having just written my thesis on the postwar rehabilitation of the Japanese American image, I can confirm that as a whole the Japanese American community took a relatively pro-establishment stance and continues to do so. It worked to our advantage greatly; within 10 years of internment, the mainstream print media was lauding us for our supposedly low crime rate, our supposed work ethic, our purported unflinching loyalty, etc. The term “model minority” itself would not be coined until much later, but the construct existed at least since 1955.

And I must say, it was a good bargain for Japanese Americans to make. I must admit, I personally revel in the model minority stereotype. The best tools get their own cases.

African Americans went through long journey and several sacrifices that benefitted Asians that include Indians. It is balance over due Forget about what our ancestors like Japanese Americans and Gandhi did for African American community, NOW , we ,YOU and ME directly owe that moral and ethical support to African American community. You are kidding if you say we did not enjoy the model minority privileges given to us by whites as Soya said . One privilege is obvious saying that “you are smarter”. . It is at the expense of African Americans. Please don’t put any white coat on it. If we turn away our heads and not raising our voices we loose one virtue of being human.

“History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people” – Martin Luther King Jr

Sister H – where were the Chinese and Japanese Americans during the LA Riots? I was there and no one supported my community. I live in STL and am literally driving to Ferguson to help organize, provide food, posters and to help keep the peace as a legal advisor. I thought this article was well written and clearly expressed what I’ve been thinking all week. If this were an Asian American, would our community have showed our outrage as the African American community did? Moreover, would the media and society have cared? Not so sure…

I remember them having to protect their own property rights with AKs and shot guns outside and on top of their businesses from black rioters and looters.

Funny how you forget that some white folks were out there looting,too, but no one remember that, I guess.

I think you raise an important point here, Grace. We all owe each other solidarity in the face of tragedy. But, where was anybody? And, more to the point, where was the city of Los Angeles?

Hello Grace L-

Compassion doesn’t always have to be out there where the cameras can catch it. As a Chinese American born in St. Louis, lived within a leisurely walk from Canfield Apartments since birth and then in Dellwood until I was about 15 years old, my parents’ restaurant served the community for 30 years. With only less than 1% of people who are Asian in Ferguson according to the Census of 2010, the Asian American community is composed of hundreds of ethnic and cultural groups lumped into one racial category so one of the challenges is that Asian organizations are fragmented and aren’t as established as the African or Hispanic community groups such as the Urban League and the Hispanic Chamber. Having said that, I can tell you that from behind the scenes, the recents are affecting the Asian community and conversations are rumbling with concern for the residents, the business owners, and empathize on so many levels. Speaking for myself, the circumstances are deeply personal. As a new mom who has lived in Dellwood for 15 years and having a Great Grandparent living in Ferguson resiliently for 30 years, I too want everyone as well as the community as a whole to thrive. I’ve seen Asian Americans come to clean up on camera, but they are simply are overlooked in the media whether that is intentional or not. The media, in my opinion, chooses to frame the narrative around a polarizing black-white issue so today I contacted NPR– and I hope to do the same with other news outlets– about that so they are hopefully taking it seriously. Another challenge within the Asian American community is figuring out where we fit when the dialogue is often polarized. Asian Americans have a history of racism that parallels African Americans, and that can be a place of commonality to build upon in terms of race relations. The common complaint is that Asians are always on the sidelines and silent, but in fairness, there is still a place for silence. It is found in listening and learning from those who want to be heard so that they can thoughtful find a way to be apart of the solution instead of jumping the gun. Asian American groups across ethnic lines are partnering to reach out the Diversity Awareness Partnership, the Department of Justice, the Regional Business Council, and other community groups to find a constructive way to work together. One of the observations Asians have made is that they have not been invited to the table to work on a collective strategy. Until that is addressed, we’ll continue to see action with inconsistent actions taking place. If interested or if you would like to spread the word, the Diversity Awareness Partnership is hosting a FREE Diversity Training workshops. on September 2nd and September 4th.

I’ve been a long time resident of Dellwood and Ferguson. My family has served these communities for over 30 years by having a Chinese restaurant business. I lived within a leisurely walk from the Canfield Apartments from the time I was born. Compassion does not always have to be where the camera catches it. In fact, I’ve seen footage of Asian Americans cleaning up but they were always in the background of a seemingly white-black polarized narrative in a way that the media frames it. To this day, my 1 year old son’s Great Grandfather has lived in Ferguson resiliently for more than 30 years in the heart of the protesting/rioting. Speaking for myself, the recent events concerns me deeply, and I do hope that the community as a whole thrives despite its difficult circumstances. One of the challenges in the Asian/Asian American community is that this group is really made up of hundreds of cultural/ethnic groups confined into one racial category. And with only less than 1% of Asians making up the Ferguson population, not all of them have the resources to organize; but in the same vein, I can tell you that conversations are rumbling on a collective and constructive way to partner with community groups including those with expertise on how to handle race relations. Another challenge within the Asian American community is our lack of a collective voice and participation in the political process but that is changing with the newer generation as well as the growth rate of Asians in America. The common complaint is that Asians are too silent; but there is still a place for silence. It is found in listening and learning from those who so desperately want to be heard. There is also a history of racism among Asian/Asian Americans which parallels that of African Americans so that can be in part be part of the common ground for race relations to take place. I wasn’t there during the LA Riots so I don’t know the dynamics of that, but I can speak to what happens practically in my own backyard.

While I enjoyed this article, I too was hung up on this idea of Japanese and Chinese American communities as a general statement, proliferating anti blackness and embracing the model minority myth. As in, why are these two particular communities singled out without qualification? Certainly it is counter productive to generalize on such a wide scope.

As an Asian-American myself, too often I see other Asian American groups pitting themselves against each other instead of taking the whole narrative of racial injustice in America into consideration. The need to single out groups works against the need to empower the Asian American community. We have all suffered from it in one instance or another, no matter our particular Asian heritage. Grace L, I can’t speak on the LA Riots, but Asian Americans from diverse backgrounds ARE watching what’s happening in Ferguson and are outraged by Mike Brown’s senseless death and the police brutality that consistently batter the African American community. As human beings, as CITIZENS, we should be outraged.

Hi Soya. Thanks for writing your analysis so cogently. I too have been wondering about this, and you said it: by getting outraged, denouncing Anti-Black racism, and joining the chorus for police demilitarization and criminal justice system reform… in doing all that, not only do we exercise our humanity and so keep ourselves from being lost to internalized oppression, we also add mass to a movement that’s bringing the “collective rewards of justice” ever closer to reality.

In my life, this plays out in one additional way. I find myself being translator and explainer of liberation speech to White folks around me. The model minority (if we’re not poor or have stigmatized language accents or non-fluent English) strangely gives me access to White people in a way that Blacks and Latinos don’t have. White folks listen to us [more]. So I use my voice to sneak around the barriers that racism has installed on our otherwise Good White People friends. And I mean friends in the most Quaker way, one telling another Truth.

There’s distant outrage and then there’s showing the fuck up. Black Americans have been getting whooped on since we first came here as chattel slaves. After a while, those sentiments of distant outrage mean nothing when you see it’s always YOUR people getting physically beaten and killed and having to suffer ALONE.

I thought this was great, especially wrt the “model minority” myth, but I have to say the “another son of a black mother” line infuriated me. Two parents lost a child, and considering how visible Mike Brown’s father has been, your decision to erase his suffering in favor of a fundamentally conservative narrative of maternal priority seems calculated. Note also that black fatherhood is already intensely politicized and full of erasing narratives of absence and neglect. That line comes across as both sexist and racist.

Most importantly, though, mothers don’t grieve for their sons longer or harder than fathers do.

Anyways I really think you’re great and the article is great, and I’m sorry for playing the social justice warrior nitpicking game, but that one line really got under my skin.

umm what about inner city refugee communities? You do know in cities where there are huge, poor and disenfranchized refugee communities Asian folk aren’t exactly treated like “model minorities” by the cops or the larger white community. You hear many frightening comments about welfare, destroying the neighborhood, bringing in gangs, drugs etc… Try getting out of San Fran for a while…

Good article, and I appreciate anger and han. I have written “In Korea and in Korean Americans, for example, there is a word for this – han – a collective feeling of oppression and cultural suffering that becomes woven into personal identity. As Asian Americans, we often think in terms of group identity and affiliation – so I think there is an Asian American han, which vies with cultural amnesia and dissociation from the totality of the Asian American experience to define the Asian American soul. Some of us can’t forget; others try to flee into the supposed safety of the river of forgetfulness.” We cannot forget. What we do with memory is where we find our freedom – I think rage is one option, but consciousness and love are others.

Re Anger and hypertension, etc – it’s more complicated than that. Claude Steele in Whistling Vivaldi points out how stereotype/identity threat causes changes in blood pressure. Thus internalized racism, and the constant feeling of not seeing oneself or being seen as ‘other’ or ‘lesser’ has its own effects, apart from rage.

Good work.

Ravi Chandra, M.D.

I don’t know why this got deleted, but I’ll try again:

Great article, thanks for writing it. I’ve written “In Korea and in Korean Americans, for example, there is a word for this – han – a collective feeling of oppression and cultural suffering that becomes woven into personal identity. As Asian Americans, we often think in terms of group identity and affiliation – so I think there is an Asian American han, which vies with cultural amnesia and dissociation from the totality of the Asian American experience to define the Asian American soul. Some of us can’t forget; others try to flee into the supposed safety of the river of forgetfulness.”

Memory is crucial. What we do with that memory determines our freedom and identity. Rage is one part of the expression of memory and personhood, compassion is another. When we talk about “black rage”, I think it’s important to note that the feelings are more complicated, for all of us. I heard a middle aged African American man say on TV last night – “I feel anger too – but someone has to keep a level head for these young people.” The situation is not the same as it was 50 years ago; we have a Black President, Black Attorney General, and Black police chief, among other representatives. But there’s the tragic sense that this is still going on, that there’s still an undercurrent of hostility, lack of empathy, and division that builds up between people and gets expressed in militarization of police forces and police state responses to African American men.

Thanks again,

Ravi Chandra, M.D.
San Francisco, CA

Asian Americans have a long history of abuse in the US by govt notably the largely Chinese building of railroads and Japanese internment camps. The model minority campaign was certainly helpful in mitigating some of this racism, but you only have to read period literature to see how poorly Asian Americans/Immigrants were thought of at the time. That being said, it is unfortunate that Asian Americans are often vandalized in protests and riots, but please note that these shops are often parasitic in nature. They are established in predominately African American communities, make the majority of their income from these communities, and rarely contribute to the community. More often, they are actively hostile/negative to members of the community on which they depend, so the rage is real. Asian Americans too often adopt the cultural (American) racism of their former oppressors. If the only local shop in your neighborhood treats you like a criminal when you enter the shop and you have pent up rage about being followed and accused every time you enter a shop, then they come to also represent a symbol of oppression. Not justifying the looting of a few individuals (which should not undermine the importance of the peaceful protestors), but offering some perspective on why these shops may be targets and how maybe a few looters shouldn’t be your main focus.

I don’t believe in trying to make a world utopia or even a whole large country that everyone will get along. There will be different sides and beliefs that is what humans have been doing since our beginning we are warlike creatures…. But we can be good to our close inner circle (family & friends) and there an individual can find peace. Have a strong mind, body, and luck that’s the survival of the fittest. I am saying that Asian Americans should read the facts & study the people but don’t stress or cry about others negatives problems. I am going to the beach and plan a trip to Vietnam to party selfishly with close friends so no tears for Ferguson cause I know no one there.

Agreed. After that nothing can be taken seriously because the premise is totally flawed. At the very least one must say that we don’t know what happened.

I don’t think this is just a race issue, though race could be a factor. Around the same time as the Ferguson shooting,a black cop shot an unarmed white man in Salt Lake City who failed to comply with the cop’s orders because he had headphones in and couldn’t hear them: The problem is abuse of power, by people of all races, against other people of all races. If we make this about race instead of abuse of power, we ignore a lot of same-race abuses that go on. I’m Asian too, and the last 200 years of Asian history are full of examples of Asians being shitty to each other in the name of resisting white imperialism.

With all due respect, Kwangju uprising is still a debated incident, with high probability of North Korean involvement with the intention of disrupting South Korean society. Considering the people of Kwangju rioted and took over police stations, while taking control of assault weapons, I would say this incident is a terrible example to compare with Ferguson and calling it a “democratic uprising” is questionable at best

This is true. the writer of the post should do more research on finding examples if you are going to involve politics

As an Asian, I personally refuse to be a part of this. You say that whites refuse to see this issue as racial…and yet what evidence do we have that this was racially motivated? Was it simply because the cop was white and the victim was black – thus, must be discriminatory murder? We don’t even know the truth about what happened! This might be my Asian side coming out – you know, the one that says that I should not get involved until I see enough facts to make a decision – but it seems to me that so far, there has been nothing showing that the police officer reacted because Michael Brown was black. I don’t know the facts about the circumstances leading up to the event (you don’t either), and the eyewitnesses all have accounts contrary to some of the forensic evidence, so in this case I simply put my hands up and step back. I am choosing inaction because I want to make an intelligent choice – not a hot-blooded instantaneous decision based on a fight that IS NOT MINE. Imagine if Officer Wilson had been a black officer – you wouldn’t have written this article, even if all other circumstances were identical. No riots would have happened, and that is absolutely sad in my mind.

You’re saying that this fight is an Asian American fight? I disagree, because even if we were to join (highly unlikely), this would not improve racial matters at all. Riots, looting, clashing with police and screaming for vigilante justice over a case in which the truth is not known…is this what we want to be memorialized for? Even peaceful protests…what exactly are we protesting? As Asians, we have been viewed by African Americans and Hispanics as “outsiders” just as white people view us as “model minorities”. Especially Asian Americans of this generation, many raised in privilege: we have no connection to this struggle, and to pretend to feel indignant for this cause is actually extremely disrespectful to the people who are fighting for equality.

Things like this…make racial tensions worse in America. It cements the various stereotypes that civil rights leaders have been fighting for decades to curtail. This issue is between a policeman and an unarmed teenager who was gunned down for reasons not yet known. I might take a stance on either side once enough evidence comes out to convince me, but I will never take a stance based on race (my common “minority-ness” with a black person, or my common “light-skinned-ness” with a white person). Asking me to do so is practically racist in itself. I absolutely refuse to be a part of it.

I think it is a bit unfair to purposefully omit a source to back up a statement that specifically Japanese and Chinese American leaders and organizations were the only notable Asian Americans to be complicit in this narrative of “model minorities.” You did not mention very many other Asian groups specifically in this article, notably and in the order mentioned in your blog post and response to Sister H: Korean, Sikh, Japanese, Chinese and then it digresses to more mentions of Japanese and Chinese resistance and complicity with the Caucasian narratives to oppress other labeled groups of people.

I think your focus on the Japanese and Chinese labels really weakens your blog post. You fail to explain the finer details of the labeled (I refuse to say ethnic / cultural) people of the years you’re mentioning which shaped this “model minorities” narrative to oppress Americans with African or heavily dark skin phenotypes and make US Democracy not hypocritical. I can’t safely presume what you’re saying is unbiased either since you’re proudly Korean and identify with the political / socioeconomic harsh realities your parents dealt with. I can only attempt to sympathize since my father’s family emigrated here from Hong Kong since they were not a part of the Communist party and thus all of their “things” were seized and they became pariahs, forced to move to Hong Kong with nothing, working for a potentially better life here in the United States when my dad was just eight, again, having to start again with nothing. Most of my dad’s sisters married non-Chinese partners. I have cousins whom are Chinese / Thai, Chinese / Caucasian, and Chinese / Samoan, and Chinese / Spanish! Some of their kids are gay or lesbian. Some of us are Christian, and others like myself are Gnostic Atheists (since we have to label why specifically we don’t believe in a religion, like it’s some sort of normal expectation from “normal people). All of my cousins deal with being just simply “Asian American” or they’re labeled as one of our two specific racial identities, marginalized as if one matters more than the other because it’s expressed dominantly through phenotype. My family rests somewhere in the middle of your middle.

With that said, I do appreciate your post and bringing forth the dialogue of (at least for me) how Asian Americans will be affected by this injustice in Ferguson, Missouri. I’m mixed Caucasian and Chinese – so my phenotype places me in the Chinese label / Asian American label from the perspective of everyone who doesn’t intimately know me and my immediate family. I’m tired of these ethnic / cultural / religious / regional / national / racial / lifestyle choice / etc. LABELS being thrown around so lightly.

Could we just stop the name calling for once? I’m human and I grew up in Tennesee. Not a Chinese. Not a Whitey. Not Mixed. My lifestyle is not white either. And I have never been and won’t ever be someone who was complicit with anyone infringing on any other human being, so reserve that for the people before my generation.

In summary, I agree with your points when you don’t single out certain label groups. I’m sure you understand I take offense when anyone generalizes without even prefacing the statement with some sort of citation (expecting everyone to take your words at face value).

I request you remember me as a human being that resists the labels your post perpetuates. We mustn’t forget them, but only realize the power we give them.

Soya, from a “Hapa” Korean American, kindly thank you for filling us in. I was raised in the US completely sheltered from the knowledge of “Model Minority” stereotyping. If you notice, I have a Korean name. It’s perfectly fine unless your Caucasian parent military dad beat you if you tried to change it (when you were born a US Citizen and raised here) to escape the nasty racism that unfortunately comes in this country and the military lifestyle.

Yes I’m a “Twinkie” but like the others, I’ve experienced some HORRIBLE disappointments when it comes to race relations. TERRIBLE.

I was the “model” kid. Not straight A’s in high school- I was stuck in the junky gutter of American peers. I was NEVER treated badly by quality people (people who kept their marraiges together, trustworthy, responsible, etc. Whites, Blacks, Latinos, Asians…QUALITY IS A CHOICE, NOT A RACE.)

Will I use the word “model minority” in context of Asians? YES. But only in the right context.

First of all, I was recently robbed and physically attacked by a very racist dishonest shady landlady who robbed me of almost $400 on prorated rent. She was no better than the *public’s opinion* of Michael Brown, she had HUGE drug issues and it was really illegal for her to rent the room out with the drugs there. But the probation officers and authorities (who were white, maybe part latino) allowed her to do so.

They favored her side, they didn’t ask me if i wanted to press charges.

Now I became the ignored “collateral damage”.

This lady provoked me to fight her. I did not.

She attacked me, she robbed me, I did not shot anybody. Nobody shot her on my behalf.

I’m not going to lower myself to her thugginess? Nobody should, especially if there are drugs in the mix.

It’s not because I’m “weak” as I’m stereotyped. I’m 5’1, 105- I ran 14 miles this morning. I’m NOT weak.

Nor would I bother, blood and guts are so gross and I’m not going to stoop to the level of the Santa Barbara Police even.

Not just this landlady. The cops in my opinion were horrible and they needed a role model in the worst way.

The cops were not just horrible to me, but to other non-whites who were attending UCSB. I already have a degree from the Ohio State University, go ask the cops how they profile non-whites there. It doesn’t matter if you’re a “model” anything.

From what I’ve experienced, the horrible truth about the U.S. is that white supremacists are so desperate to cling on to their complex that they carry on as a cult, like hatred is their religion. It’s Obsessive Compulsion aided with methamphetamine. They are pathelogical liars who will go to the ends of the Earth and completely LIE-FABRICATE to justify their hatred.

If Mother Theresa wasn’t white, American White Supremacists would find something “wrong” with her too.

Here is why I believe that Asians are a “model” minority. How about a ROLE MODEL? Not to the black community, but to Caucasians everywhere.

Back in 1992, it was reported that $400 MILLION in damages occured to the Korean Americans because the authorities wanted to protect Beverly Hills from the Rodney King Riots.

The very hot tempered Koreans didn’t riot. The Koreans didn’t loot.

Look at how the whites treated the Katrina rioters. Katrina rioters and looters got FEMA. Koreans got NOTHING. No FEMA, no bailouts, etc.

So what is the incentive motive for people to not loot?

Backstabbings from the exact same people who cheat on their spouses and robs their children’s generation instead of cleaning up a horrible fiscal mess they made for themselves.

Here is why I believe that Asians are a ROLE MODEL.

In Japan- their cultural emphasis on PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY (healthy eating REAL FOOD, exercise) became this “invisible hand” that caused their healthcare sector to not be a money maker. Therefore their healthcare companies don’t have excess retained earnings to lobby with to get out of trouble for anything. The US is completely the opposite, which is why we are so sick and unhealthy.

One lady I know used contraceptives for over a decade to treat a CURABLE endocrine issue that I have. (being part Asian didn’t prevent my endometriosis). I CURED it with carnitine, calcium and olive leaf supplements. I was forced to figure this out as my body rejected the drugs. I’m a finance major, this molecular bio/organicchem/biochem business is intriguing and way out of my league.
The lady with the condition this year alone- she had FOUR strokes. FOUR!!! It’s only August! From the pills. She’s not that old either. But she didn’t have other ideas, the white people are often at the mercy of big pharma for collective reasons. Looting damages might be easier to suffer than this ill fate.

Doing the right thing does help!!! Not just me, but hopefully more as I’m willing to share my experiences hoping that others will learn from it.

In Japan, they reject these drugs and prefer natural treatments. They dodged HUGE problems and don’t even know it!. It’s not genetics. We are different with our tendencies to develop or not develop type 2 diabetes and heart diseases but we’re not that different. I did reach out to her btw- hopefully what I know can help.


It’s very important.

In Asia, it’s completely safe to be poor. There are no lootings, very few robberies, no inner city gun shot wounds from drug dealers. No no noooo…. Asians get to face this overrepresented minority junk but win at Caltech anyways. 🙂 But they don’t need HOAs, etc. A Chinese USC honors student was recently murdered by 4 hispanic teenagers. If you look at their economic performance, it’s completely like night and day. Yes I live in Socal.

One time I was in SF- a caucasian drunk was passed out in the Fidi, I had to make a building attendant call the medics because I didn’t have a phone or the time. He called the cops. At the Koreatown Galleria Los Angeles 2 years ago- a caucasian guy passed out from the heat- there were at least 10 Koreans on their cell phones watching over this man until the medics arrived. The Asians made me proud.

There are so many benefits to doing the right thing which mattered to them more than the dangers.

Back to the riots.

Michael Brown was not a saint, but he was shot for doing less than what my racist landlady did to me.

If you didn’t hear, Tokyo is one of the most densely populated countries on Earth. Their cops don’t carry guns. They wear white gloves. If you leave the keys to a Mercedes on top of that car and walk away for hours, that car and the keys will still be there.


The reason why we even have role models is because it’s not easy to do the right thing.
And it does help when others are doing the hard stuff with you.

I would be proud to be considered a role model-to anyone.

The trouble I have with this situation is that the white Americans rewarded the looters.

It’s like the U.S. to thrive on negativity. Its’ very difficult, emotionally. Especially if you’re putting up with a Tiger Mom at home then the horror of racism in this country. And yes the U.S. is (unfortunately) so racist and not willing to change when 169 dialects are spoken in their country and the market is global. IF these people got past their xenophobia and understood the big picture, just think of how prosperous they can be despite the recession! It’s that huge. Americans should be proud to say that they host 169 dialects on their own soil- no other country in the world can brag that. But they’re too focused on the negative stuff to see it.

But look at where the victims went. South Central is becoming more populated with black PROFESSIONALS. Koreans made a few notable multinational corporations very successful (Forever 21 and Samsung)- while others made CalTech a success story all in it’s own. Where are the white racists? Public Relations firms? Jobs gained through nepotism? Receiving welfare/social security from the minorities that they put down.

This “Model” minority might have been the best gift the racist white man gave us.

It’s the white majority I the U.S. who needed a role model. I’m half white. I needed role models too.

So very well written and on point. I believe the freedom and equality we do have is largely due to the black community fighting the fight for all. If it weren’t for their efforts we would have a rainbow of drinking, bathroom. .etc, colors we are restricted to use.

It’s more than a little misleading to assert that you “come from war.” You didn’t– your parents did.

I’m sorry a Child Died and all you care about is looting of Black business. It is a Black City you know. Were you conflicted by the Rioters in Rhode island? Or Seattle Riots when they won the SB. Rioting is better if your happy but if you are hurting and scared and fighting for your life it’s wrong? Stop it already and dont “really undermine” what these people are trying to do. Live and Let live and stop killing us! We are Afraid and we WILL fight for our lives believe that!

I suggest we only have black police officers and see if police brutality is eliminated. Those who prejudge Officer Wilson without the benefit of a trial is inflicting more damage to our justice system. Trial by media seems to be the way to go. A fraternity in UVA is condemned for alleged gang rape as told by Rolling Stone. Today, the same magazine apologized and said it no longer trusts the accuser. Meanwhile, Bill Cosby has been pilloried, maligned, convicted and punished because of pure allegations alone. This nightmare of justice dispensation will affect each American regardless of race and each will end the loser. Unless our institutions are stronger than the whims and prejudices of the people (and each of us has), we all lose and fail.

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