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Open Letter to Asians Like Me: It's Time to Let Go of the Myth of Attainable Whiteness

By Rebecca Wang, RJ – HIV Fellow, Positive Women’s Network – USA

I am incredibly proud of the many Asian-Americans that engage, or have engaged, in the important and necessary work of anti-racist activism – specifically combatting anti-blackness within our communities, including work we do within our own families and with ourselves. That said, it can, and often does, lead to a lot of isolation and alienation from people we love. It’s taxing to constantly try to educate people who often don’t want to listen or change. For my part, I have had to cut some people out of my life completely.

Meanwhile, we live in a society that uses Asian-Americans as a wedge to prevent solidarity among people of color. And worse, our own struggles as an oppressed people in this country have been buried beneath the “model minority” stereotype to fit the narrative that white supremacy has forced upon us.

Instead of trying to buck this narrative, however, some among us have bought wholeheartedly into it. Particularly the part that tells Asian-Americans that we can prosper under white supremacy if we help maintain it (light skinned East Asian folks – I’m talking to y’all specifically). Some of us have taken it to the extreme: I have seen you marching with Nazis and emulating their salutes. I have seen you use slurs and violence against other people of color, including other Asians. Some of us have instead tried to ignore the race problem in America altogether or believe it just doesn’t concern us.  I have seen you acting as if we are better somehow, simply because there has been a place left for us at the table of privilege, albeit at the feet of whiteness.

Asian-Americans have been made to feel as if the only way to matter in this country is to be white, or as close to it as possible. White supremacy has sold us the notion that white privilege may actually be attainable for us, and only us, if we play along, don’t make waves, and turn away from the systematic abuse of other people of color. And while I recognize that in the current political climate it feels particularly pressing to stand with white supremacy just to survive, I want you to know attainable whiteness is a diversionary tactic. It isn’t real. Whiteness will never protect us and being taught that whiteness is the standard we have to live up to is a heavy burden to carry. I want my fellow Asian-Americans to know it’s ok to put it down. We must let it go because holding on to it always requires denying your own agency and worth.

Asian-Americans have long worked alongside other communities of color on human rights and civil rights movements that have moved this country forward. We can’t abide any backsliding. There is no sitting this fight out now amidst this flood of anti-black, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant violence and abuse. Asian-Americans have a moral responsibility to stand with other marginalized communities. We all must take a hard look at ourselves and the racism we’ve internalized and let go of the myth of attainable whiteness. Only then can we heal and reclaim our power. Then we must show up to protect other communities of color as well as our own. Make no mistake, if we do nothing, white supremacy will come for us all, and no exceptions will be made.