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  • Writer's pictureLauren

Black and Asian: Standing in solidarity

Updated: Feb 10, 2022

My Family: featuring baby me on the far left with my mom and dad with my grandparents, aunt, uncle and cousin

Growing up I was having Pak-il celebrations and cookouts, eating soul food and food from Seoul, and listening to Korean accents and Baltimore accents. My grandmother is Korean and my grandfather is from Baltimore and Black, making my mother "Blasian," half Black and half Korean. My mom married my dad, a fully Black man, making me, and my siblings, 1/4th Korean. 25% doesn't seem like an overwhelming amount, but you bring your full culture with you, even if biologically you're not fully of that culture. My mom gave us full doses of both cultures and both of her sides of her family. I loved growing up around different cultures. It was beautiful being surrounded by different languages and food and being able to learn so much about the world through the lens of my cultures. Unfortunately, with all the good things about each culture their not without their struggles. I had to learn about the harder sides of being Black and Asian as well and had to learn that society does not always see my cultures the way that I do.

Being Black and Asian during this time has been emotionally exhausting. Over the summer people flocked to the streets to protest police brutality against Black people. I watched Black people be killed on the streets and in their homes simply for existing as Black people. There are so many instances of brutality, but this summer it was especially pronounced because of the pandemic.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been at least a 150% increase in hate crimes against Asian communities. False rhetoric about Asian immigrants and people being the reason why the pandemic came to America being one of the main reasons why the amount of hate has spread. Of course, there has always been prejudice, oppression, and hate against Asian communities because we live in a society where being Asian is still considered "other" but, the onset of the pandemic has increased the amount of hostility as well as the amount of visibility these issues are getting. The rise of anti-Asian hate movements has also spurred conversation about what other races can do to be better allies to Asian people, especially Black people.

To many there seems to be a tension between Black and Asian people, especially now we've seen that some of the attacks against Asian people have been by Black people (and historically vice-versa as well). Everything going on has caused me to examine my identity as someone who grew up around both cultures and how I have felt those tensions in my own life. It has also lead to me reading more about the historical relationship between Black and Asian communities. There have been tensions between the two communities, everyone has their prejudices and biases that can rear themselves in many ways. But these tensions and problems that people are examining are not the results of fundamental differences within the communities, they are the result of white supremacy. As allies, we need to come together to dismantle white supremacy for the benefit of our communities.

Thinking about my internal "tensions"

Me and my siblings with our Grandmother (halmeoni Korean)

Elementary school was around the first time I recognized what it meant to be both Black and Korean. We were asked to do a story about the day in the life of us as our cultural backgrounds. I was in a "gifted and talented program" and one of maybe 4 Black kids in the class. Due to slavery, the Black side of my family has little idea where we are from ancestrally. So instead of picking a random place or doing America, I decided that I would set my story in South Korea. I did the research, drew the pictures, and wrote the book of a little Black girls day in the life of South Korea but in some ways, it did seem like something was left out when I was researching because no one there looked like me. Years later my sister was in a similar program at a different, but adjacent school, that had the same assignment. My sister decided to do Korea as well. But her teacher told her that she couldn't because I had done it years before and didn't want her to copy off of my book. Instead, she suggested that my sister pick somewhere like Ghana or Kenya, just throwing out African countries where we maybe, possibly, potentially could be from.

Projects like this don't stop and have always been interesting for me, just last year I was asked to do a similar assignment in a college course where I had to examine my ancestral history, and while I did focus on Korea some I also used it as an opportunity to talk about how projects like this are not feasible for many because of the lack of available information for people who are descended from slaves. This is one huge difference between the cultures, the Black part of me makes up 75% of me and obviously, Black people make t have a very strong culture but I don't know exactly where my ancestral roots are from. With Korea, I can learn more about the cultural roots of the country and the people.

I was always proud to say that I was Black and Korean whenever the question came up and while I still am, the ways that I have viewed my identity has changed. As I grew, I learned that being both, while making sense to me, confused others and caused them to make assumptions about me. In middle school, I was in a gifted program as well, and it wasn't very diverse and full of mostly white and Asian kids. From them, I learned that if people thought I was Asian, they respected me more, they thought I was smarter and deserved to be there. If I was "just" a Black girl then it was affirmative action that got me into the program and not my merit.

When I told people that I was Korean they would say things like "oh, so that's the reason you got into the program!" or "that's where the intelligence comes from." The intention in those words is clear: Black people aren't as smart, you couldn't get here if you were just Black and you don't deserve to be here. For other people, my Asianness seemed to take away from my Blackness. I didn't want that, I am Black and very proud of it. But, anything else that I said about being another culture took away the Blackness that I was still forming an identity around. Because It felt as if being one would take away from the other I started to tell people less that I was Asian. I didn't want that to take away from me being Black and what I accomplished as a Black woman. This is how I learned about the danger of the model minority stereotype. Not only does it create more pressure on Asian Americans and is not representative it can also take away from other groups and make others assume that they are lesser.

Since then I've usually identified as Black, when people ask me specifically if I'm mixed with something or something more specific comes up I often tell them about my Korean heritage. When I even get to that point of saying that I'm Asian there are still stereotypes that come up. Usually, I'll get comments like "oh I can see it in your eyes" or other things that point to physical characteristics that Asian people stereotypically have. Other times it goes back to what Asian women are supposed to act and talk like vs. what Black women are supposed to talk and act like. People have often told me that I don't talk or act like a Black person and that I was "different" than other Black as if these things are compliments or as if all Black people have to act and talk the same way.

Being a woman adds an extra layer to this conversation. Asian women are stereotypically portrayed as quiet and docile while Black women are loud and contrary. Many Asian women and Black women are fetishized for different reasons. The role of fetishization is also something that I have had to question during relationships and interactions in the past. The most glaring example of this I've experienced was during college. A boy who claimed he liked me, specifically told a group of us that he did not like Black women. When he was further interrogated by my friends he told us that of all women he liked Black women the least and Asian women the most. Like he actually ranked them… and Black women were the bottom. Coming from a Black man. It really made me think about what made him like me, a Black woman. I felt like my Asianness was being fetishized. And for a person who is less than half Asian, it's amazing how often that will happen with men saying that they want "Blasian" babies or other things like that. Examples like this, while they aren't blatant discrimination, just go to show how white supremacy and different stereotypes can cause us to see people. These are the instances that have made me think about my identity differently and underscore how important it is to work together as communities to educate one and to work against these harmful stereotypes. It's also important to recognize why these stereotypes exist, white supremacy has created a type of "racial hierarchy" that has made Asian people somewhat higher and they have placed stereotypes like being more docile, agreeable, or smart on them.

The tension that people talk about between Blackness and Asianness is not inherently about the people. It's not about good or bad, smart or dumb, docile or aggressive. It is about discrimination, oppression, and fighting for the scraps that white supremacy leaves us with. Both communities have a long history of discrimination against them that has sometimes caused us to view each other in a negative light or as competitors to get to the top of the racial hierarchy. Even for all that, I see so many instances of solidarity between the two groups. I see people in both communities advocating for each other and standing up to white supremacy together as well. I think it's important to acknowledge that although people of color have been discriminated against in different ways we need to work together to overcome it.

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