Underneath my yellow skin

Embracing the Model Minority Mentality

My mom called the other night and wanted to ‘discuss’ an email she received from a (Taiwanese in Minnesota) friend of hers. Or at least I assume it was a Taiwanese in Minnesota person for reasons I will reveal later. It was about the George Floyd murder, and…let me give you some  background. My parents, especially my mother, were appalled at what happened to him and couldn’t believe it happened in Minnesota. I will get to that in a minute as well because it also came up in this conversation.

I will say, my back was up at the start of this conversation because of the way she phrased her initial comment. Telling me she got an email from her friend and that she wanted to fact-check it with me didn’t set well. Not just because she could have Googled if she really wanted to learn more about it (yes, I know not everyone can Google efficiently, but you have to start somewhere. I wasn’t born knowing how to Google. I know I allow her to rely on me too much, but it’s not worth the argument), but because while she may have really been looking for a discussion, the way she phrased it was teeth-setting. I’ll give you examples.

She started by asking if George Floyd was Somali. That already put my dander up because why would that matter? She went onto ask if Somalis were terrorists, and I lost my damn shit. She began reading from the email without allowing me to talk (another of her tactics. She asks questions, but won’t listen to the answers. It’s fucking annoying, and I’ve learned to cut her off and talk over her. It feels rude, but it’s the only way to get a word in edgewise), and it was about how Somalis came here en masse when there was a war in their country. Yes, the history is true, and, yes, Minnesota took in a large amount of Somali refugees (same with Hmong), but the leap from that to terrorist is a big one. When I told her she was full of shit (not in those words), she said she was just trying to get the facts.

Uh huh. She’s a psychologist. She should know about confirmation bias. Anyway, I first tried to correct or repudiate her points one by one. No, George Floyd was not Somali. Yes, there are a lot of Somalis in Minnesota, but that did not make them terrorists. I did not want to get into the complicated relationship of the Somalis and Minnesota because she didn’t even understand Racism 101, let alone this issue.  Finally, I completely snapped when she asked if it was true George Floyd had been in jail. I didn’t even bother Googling it (until later. I have an incurable need to know shit). I said for maybe the third or fourth time, “He was killed over a counterfeit $20 bill. Even if everything you said was true, did he deserve that?”

She said that he didn’t and she thanked me for my perspective. She tried to play it off that she was just trying to understand the context, and I repeated, “He was killed for passing a $20 bill that he might not have even known was fake. Did he deserve that?” I said it out of frustration, but it really is at the crux of the matter. Do you believe that George Floyd deserved to die for a counterfeit $20 bill? All the rest is just noise and distraction. I did explain as succinctly as I could to my mother the militarization of the police and the fact that many of them don’t live in the areas they’re policing in, which means they don’t actually view the area as a community.

The other thing my mother said that set me off–love those buttons she had installed four decades ago–was that Minnesota wasn’t like this. She and my dad were so shocked. I managed to keep my voice level when I said that this very thing happened two years ago. Looking it up, it was actually four years ago, but the point stands. Philando Castile. I went to a protest with my bestie…and I want to say her daughter, but I don’t quite remember. Minnesota is definitely like this, but it’s easy to ignore if you’re not black.

I lost my temper and I raised my voice. I don’t feel good about it, but, I don’t feel bad about it, either. I don’t buy all this ‘just asking’ bullshit and the veneer of civility. The way we frame the conversation is a tell as to what the actual intent is. In the case of my mom, her questions were pointed towards there being something wrong with George Floyd and he somehow invited what happened. I don’t think it was a conscious decision, but that was the framing.

I saw a clip from the video i posted above and had to immediately find the whole thing. Hasan Minhaj is unflinchingly honest about how some Asian Americans embrace the model minority stereotype and act like we’re better than black people. I’ve seen it in my own community, and it’s really tiring. When I was in prime marrying age (according to my family, not me), I knew that there was an unspoken hierarchy of acceptable partners. A woman would be right out. I’ll just state that up front. At the very top of the list was a Taiwanese man. Then, a white dude would be understandable because I was born and raised in Minnesota. A Chinese guy would be at the very bottom of the list for historical reasons, but down there with the Chinese guy would be a black man. Maybe a step above but could possibly be a step below. This was never said out loud, but I knew it deep in my bones.

Colorism is alive and well in the Taiwanese community, too. It also has historical reasons as the darker your skin, the more likely you were a peasant. In the old country, I mean. But, it’s not a stretch to think that immigrants from other countries would absorb the racist messages prevalent in America as much as people born here. In addition, it’s in the interest of Asian Americans to have black people be the ‘bad’ minority so they (we) can be the good one. I’m not even going to go into the fact that there are several different kinds of Asian Americans, the different waves of Asian  immigration, etc.

I’ve had my own issues with the erasure of Asian people in this country, but I cannot deny that I have not had it nearly as rough as black people. I’ve had my run-ins with racist cops, but I’ve never feared I’m going to be killed because of it. I don’t want my status as a ‘good’ minority to be predicated on black people being viewed as ‘bad’. I don’t want to be part of the problem when it comes to racial disparity, so I need to work on being part of the solution.

Sorry. I’m still dealing with some sinus issues, and I’m not at the top of my game. Will address this more later.

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