Asian Americans are People of Color

By: Sue Kim
At the end of my senior year of high school, I looked for external scholarships from organizations that would help fund my college education. In my search, I came across a need-based scholarship for students of color. As an Asian student, I was eligible for the scholarship; however, in a brief moment of self-doubt, I failed to realize this. Disappointed with the prospect of not being able to apply, I exited out of the page before I realized – as an Asian American, I was a student of color.
It seems ridiculous to have not realized this – I even had a moment of genuine and profound surprise after I realized that I could identify as a student of color. It was a peculiar feeling, having to establish my identity in relation to race. I’d always been aware of the influence of culture and heritage on my identity, but race? Race was always a social construct to begin with, so it felt particularly strange to put a label on myself as a “person of color.” However, once I realized this, the way I began to view the world changed. I realized that it wasn’t enough to fight for my advancement as an Asian American woman, but that I was part of a larger system of inequality that plagues the country.  
The effect of this realization wasn’t significant in the aftershock of my revelation, but it grows increasingly powerful every day. The more I surround myself in a diverse crowd of people, the more I realize the importance of a phrase such as this. Despite reservations some may have about the phrase “people of color,” I feel that it is extremely vital for Asian Americans to realize their place as a person of color.
Asian Americans suffer from the effects of being the model minority – it may seem like a desirable title to hold; yet, in reality, this really means that we are stuck in a perpetual limbo. This limbo is what pins the Asian American identity to select successes but blankets discrimination and ignorance towards the community. And it’s this limbo that tricks some of my fellow Asian Americans into believing that somehow, we are outside of the fight against systemic racism.
However, the very notion that Asian Americans are the model minority is ingrained with power relations, as the term deflects attention away from systemic racism to blame other communities of color for faults outside their control. While it may seem like Asian Americans enjoy certain privileges that the model minority status provides, the reality is that Asian Americans also face racial discrimination and are targets of hate crimes. Asian Americans are still pawns in the game of power that racism plays.
To clarify, I am not comparing the struggle of one community to another. It is wrong to compare the struggles of one community to another because inequality is, unfortunately, multifaceted. Every community struggles with different stakes, and some are higher than others. Nonetheless, each struggle is rooted in the same power dynamic that promotes white Americans over people of color. This is why it is extremely important for communities of color to come together in solidarity, especially the Asian American community. We are not exempt from the fight – the community must take an active stance in building strong relations with other communities of color as well.
There may have been rifts in the past between the Asian American community and other communities of color – we see this in events such as the 1992 Los Angeles Riots or the recent Peter Liang trial. However, it is imperative that we realize that the fight is not between the minorities, but rather against the system.
Although there are Asian Americans who are fighting against inequality (the next Senate will have the most Asian American women Senators ever), Asian Americans generally detach themselves from politics and political activism. However, the Asian American community cannot sit tight and watch as injustice happens because we are complacent with the short-term comfort of ignorance. If we fight in solidarity with other people of color, we are fighting for ourselves as well. Only when we acknowledge this will change occur, both for the Asian American community, and for America.



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