The Clarke Forum talk, The Model Minority Myth, Anti-Asian Racism, Anti-Black Racism, and COVID-19, presented by Dr. Jennifer Ho was very inspiring and incredibly informative. She was a very strong and impactful speaker and her insight, ideas, and personal stories illustrated the Asian American experience in a very skilled way.
Ho began the presentation with the definition of racism and, in short, her definition of race entailed the combination of power plus prejudice; she stressed that it is institutional, which I thought was a great way to preface the rest of the talk. In a topic like race, it seems integral to make sure that everyone is on the same page about the basic definition of racism. Ho speaks about her childhood and education and mentions that there were huge gaps in her understanding of Asian American history and experience because of the incomplete scope of K-12 education on this subject. I was able to connect with her on this point as a Latina because I also felt that until college I did not know enough about the Latinx community and its history. This seems to be a disturbing pattern that early schooling does not sufficiently cover BIPOC history and literature.
There were examples of Anti-Asian legislation that Ho described to demonstrate that Anti-Asian racism has been around long before the recent spotlight on Anti-Asian sentiment as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Understanding the history that has led up to the events occurring in the present added another layer of complexity to this issue. One fact that stood out to me while listening was that, historically, there was a stereotype in the 19th century that Chinese women were thought to be diseased and that this was believed to be true because of the intersection of their race and gender. The reality of this statement was tough to digest because the truth was that Chinese women often had venereal diseases because they had been forced into sexual servitude and their rights were restricted. This information was unsettling to me and seemed to illustrate the horrific events that have led to the current climate.
Another important aspect of racist discourse that Ho discussed was Yellow Peril. This term encompasses the idea that Asians will forever be reduced to being categorized as foreign. This also plays into the Model Minority Myth which, Ho explains, is connected to the level of assimilation of Asian Americans. She explains that the myth can be compared to the sides of a coin in which one is positive and one is negative. The positive side is incorrectly constructed to be a compliment to Asian Americans in the eyes of society because they are well assimilated. This construction of the model minority consists of assumed passivity when compared to other BIPOC people of color and also includes harmful stereotypes in which all Asians are thought to be smart and excel at math. Ho explains the harm in the Model Minority Myth as having a facade of being positive and complimentary when it is actually rooted in oppression and the ideals of white supremacy. It is harmful in the sense that it constructs the Asian American population as a monolith and does not illustrate the diversity within the community. It also implies that there are “good” and “bad” minorities, which perpetuates the ideal of a racial hierarchy and shows how other minorities are seen in a negative light.
The next area that Ho focused on was how referring to COVID-19 as the “Wuhan flu” or the “Chinese virus” was racist. She mentions how the CDC no longer distinguishes diseases by region because it scapegoats the particular region that was labeled to be its origin ,and this method of categorization perpetuates racist discourse, xenophobia, and increases Yellow Peril rhetoric. It is important to note again that pre-COVID-19, instances of targeting Asian Americans and their subsequent harassment were still prominent. Anti-Asian sentiment has been around for centuries and it is not a new occurrence, but the recent global events have put them into the forefront of racist events even more so.
The connection between Anti-Asian and Anti-Black racism was brought up in the presentation and Ho explained how the two are not the same, but that they share some integral aspects. The first thing that they share is that they are both the result of white supremacy. One thing she said that struck me profoundly was this: “White supremacy does not require membership. White supremacy is in the air that we breathe and the water that we drink.” She goes on to explain how white supremacy impacts everyone and that everyone can influence whether or not it is perpetuated.
So what can we do to be allies and to make an individual impact? In the current climate we must be vigilant and aware of how our actions, words, and biases can impact other people. Ho emphasizes that being an anti-racist is not the same thing as being not racist and requires conscious action. She outlines three things that everyone can do to combat racism which includes educating yourself, sharing that knowledge with others, and correcting people who say the wrong thing. She compares the action of correctional confrontation to exercise in that sometimes it may be uncomfortable and that it will take practice to get better but, after making the effort to be aware of your own actions and how they can create a positive impact, it will get easier and completely worth the effort.
Here are some links provided by Jennifer Ho to further your education about Anti-Asian hate and ways to share this information with others:
Written by Ellen McInnes ’22, WGRC student worker