Talking about racism is hard. Talking about racism with older generations? Even harder. As police violence against Black Americans is once again in the news headlines, MEDIAGIRLS Editorial Intern Melody Tuan, explains how she was able to talk to her father—a Taiwanese-American immigrant now living back in Taiwan—about Black Lives Matter and anti-Black racism in the United States.
Everyone knows it’s probably best to stay away from politics at the family dinner table. It can lead to disagreements since everyone has an opinion, and generational differences can cause friction. However, I think we’re at a point in time where we can’t hide from politics anymore. With the state of current political affairs in the United States, it feels counterproductive to stay silent.
In the past, I’ve had difficulty speaking to my parents about racism. My parents are Asian-American immigrants now living in Taiwan. As a family, we spent roughly 10 years in the United States before moving back to Taiwan. As a result, they aren’t too informed with the current events other than what’s broadcasted on the news and international perspectives on American news doesn’t always include context to what’s happening. Viewers like my parents will see footage of protests on the news as an indicator of violence and disorder.
To my surprise, one day, my dad approached me with genuine curiosity about the Black Lives Matter movement. In explaining the cause to him, I realize that he already understood the fundamental parts of systemic racism:
- Poverty is a cycle.
- Education is a privilege.
- Whiteness is favored in the United States.
But, there was still a disconnect between my dad’s understanding of systemic racism and my own. This disconnect could be exemplified through a single question: if Asian Americans can succeed in the US, why can’t African Americans?
My dad’s question rings with echoes of the “model minority” myth. This myth says that culturally, Asian Americans value education and respect and it’s because of these values that Asian Americans are able to be so successful in the US. The model minority myth is used to create tension between Asian Americans and African Americans. The model minority myth is used to paint African Americans as “lazy” or “criminal” who are where they are because they don’t “work hard enough” or “value education enough.” But, these claims are not true.
Historically, Asian Americans do not face the same level discrimination that African Americans face. The disenfranchisement of African Americans runs the entirety of US history: back to when the first slaves were stripped of their culture and humanity and brought to the Americas from Africa. The timeline of Asian American discrimination is shorter and, as a result, the comparison isn’t fair to make. Cycles of poverty, access to quality education, these aspects look different across these groups, too. By making a comparison between African Americans and Asian Americans, my dad was unknowingly making an unjust comparison.
But, by comparing African Americans and Asian Americans, we miss the point. We shouldn’t be trying to determine which group is more oppressed, or which group is more “successful.” Instead, we should be recognizing the large, systemic flaws in the US that cause us all to suffer.
Connecting the dots helped my dad understand the movement as a whole. Mentally building the bridge between historical racism, systemic oppression, and police brutality cleared up the misunderstandings in his mind. Who better understands the hardships and oppressions in the US than an immigrant? It took time and patience, but I’m glad we were able to have an open discussion about race and clear the air of our misunderstandings. It can be a difficult conversation to have, but building mutual trust and empathy is always a step in the right direction.
Here is a list of social media accounts to follow and informational resources that assist with conversations about race and BLM:
An Instagram account that features information and resources regarding issues around immigration: “We have immigrant roots 🇺🇸.”
The official Instagram account for the Black Lives Matter Movement: “All lives don’t matter until Black Lives Matter. ✊🏾”
A link to a workbook that uncovers the various racism ways racism operates on a structural level. This workbook includes key terms, a list of relevant historical events, and activities/exercises to help build understanding.
An open-letter project on anti-blackness with the goal of starting cross-cultural conversations about anti-Black racism. The letter has been translated into over 30 different languages.
Melody Tuan is an undergraduate student at Simmons University majoring in English writing and minoring in Asian studies and Art. She’s an international student from Taiwan who loves rummaging night markets and devouring street food. Deeply inspired by cultural studies and creative expression, she writes with curiosity about identity and media influence.
Featured Image by @bp_miller on Unsplash.