I am confused, hurt, exasperated, angry. I read articles about police brutality, see pictures of black victims and hashtags of their names on social media. But not just now — for years and years, these stories of dehumanization and racism have faded in and out of American consciousness. When will something change?
The most important question, though, is what will I do about it? I sit behind a screen, enraged about what I see or hear, but what have I actually done to demonstrate this rage and show my solidarity? I’ve lived my life with the privilege of being an Asian female, nonthreatening in the eyes of law enforcement. I was taught that in any emergency, you call 911 or ask a police officer for help.
I am privileged.
Which brings me to the conversation around the model minority myth. I was raised with the idea that America is a meritocracy and that success in America is a reflection of how hard you work.
My family told me that my Issei grandparents lived the American Dream because of their gaman attitude and work ethic. But what my family didn’t tell me was that the American Dream is selective.
On the surface, the narrative seems universal and attainable, but deeper down, there are institutionalized forces at work pushing groups of people down and pitting groups of people against one another.
My family has responded to this point by reflecting on Japanese American internment and America’s hatred of the Japanese at one point in history. But institutionalized racism against black Americans and Native Americans precedes internment, the Chinese Exclusion Act and Yellow Fever, keeping these communities marginalized and oppressed for centuries.
Minorities’ struggles and experiences with prejudice and stereotypes should not be compared. Rather, our collective experiences as minorities in America should be recognized and held in solidarity.
I am learning, I am trying.
I challenge myself to do better and to be better, to have difficult conversations and, most importantly, to listen.
I am in no place to tell others what to do, but I challenge all of us — members of the Japanese American community, Asian American community and broader American community — to listen to voices that have been suppressed for so long. Only then will we understand how to be allies and only then, I think, will we start to heal.
Marisa Kanemitsu, South Bay JACL