Perhaps a windy night wasn’t the best time for a candlelight vigil. But the precariousness of the situation made our sense of loss all the more visceral. We stood together, cupping our hands around the flickering candles as if it were our sole responsibility to keep them lit. As if every flame that went out was another Asian American life lost.
Yesterday, I stepped foot onto Maloney Lawn with the intention of writing a news piece about our campus’s solidarity and remembrance. But as I stood in the socially distant crowd and listened to others share how they had long downplayed their experiences with racism, I came to realize something about myself. In trying to show up for my community, I had cast aside my own sadness, anxiety, and anger. And throughout my whole life, I had minimized the importance of race in my own life.
I was not alone in this: It felt as though everyone around me was occupying a space they hadn’t been entitled to before. A space in which we, as Asian Americans, finally stood together to acknowledge our marginalization.
Growing up half-Chinese, I always felt as though I occupied a liminal space, standing at the threshold of the dominant, white culture but held distinctly apart by my Asianness. After 18 years of living in an almost exclusively white community, I expected to immerse myself in the Chinese, if not the entire Asian community, at BC. And while I made Chinese friends for the first time, I felt that in many ways it was too late for me to reclaim my cultural identity. I didn’t speak Mandarin, I’ve never been to China, my family has been here for too long, I’m too white; I was never Chinese enough for myself, let alone the people who would call me a "halfie" and whitewashed behind my back.
Granted, there are so many privileges that come with having Caucasian heritage, as well. Regardless of the incessant fetishization, tokenism, and microaggressions that others perpetuate toward me, I don’t present as explicitly Chinese. My cultural and physical proximity to whiteness allowed me a modicum of inclusion compared to many of my fully Asian peers. Beyond this, the Chinese American side of my family is fairly wealthy, and though I’m sure they’ve received their fair share of racism, we have some semblance of physical security because of our zip codes.
But despite not having to immediately fear for my own life walking through the streets of Boston, I’m still able to empathize with my friends and peers who are facing that immediacy and have been for quite some time. For that reason, it’s all the more frustrating to see mainstream culture failing to understand the complexities of situations like the Atlanta shooting, which may have not been motivated by COVID-related Sinophobia but is nonetheless undergirded by a classist, racist, misogynistic fetishization of working-class Asian women. Even if white gunmen don’t directly attribute their crimes to hate, we can’t ignore how their biases contribute to death and violence in conversation with racist stereotyping.
Asians have been oppressed by the United States since before our ancestors even stepped foot on the North American continent. We have always been reduced to our economic contributions to this country, whether it be brutal physical labor on the Central Pacific Railroad or intensive intellectual labor in Silicon Valley; this is a key determinant in whether or not we are welcomed or safe in this country. For years, our government restricted Chinese women’s immigration through the Page Act and legislated against Asian workers’ immigration via the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 because of white supremacist pushback. During WWII, Asians of many ethnicities were forced into concentration camps, homogenized under an unfounded fear of Japanese insurgency. Even Asian women abroad, as in Korea and Vietnam, were sexually abused by white American soldiers, dehumanized, and reduced to fetishized objects of their pleasure.
Yet, the national narrative has always glossed over this history and hidden it beneath stories of Asian success. Our generation calls it the model minority myth. We are seen as being able to overcome the barriers of class and race, beat out our white competitors in college admissions, and rise up the economic ladder. But this past week and past year have revealed to the world that this simply isn’t true. It never was. We still are on the receiving end of stereotyping and prejudices, and it’s taken violence for many, including ourselves, to straightforwardly acknowledge our traumas.
Our present racist and classist social order has conditioned us to depend on the survival of the model minority myth to maintain what little status we do hold in society. We uphold this by adhering to stereotypes of high achievement, which in turn justifies the erasure of those who don’t fit this narrative—like Asians with disabilities, LGBTQ+ Asians, and Asian Muslims. But the survival of this myth also requires that we don’t challenge the status quo. We are encouraged by others’ silence to remain silent ourselves because fighting back against oppression draws attention away from our own abilities to succeed. We see other Asians keep their heads down, and we keep our heads down too. But it isn’t our fault that our issues haven’t been in the limelight: Most fail to acknowledge that anti-Asian racism still exists today, let alone recognize that we’ve experienced it for centuries. Even radical Asian movements have been lost within a whitened history of activism.
It’s true that while some Asians benefit from the model minority myth, other minorities are relegated to a secondary, degraded status. It’s also true that we don’t experience the same extreme forms of institutionalized racism, mass incarceration, and police abuse as do our Black, Indigenous, and Latinx brothers and sisters. But this isn’t a reductive conversation of who is the oppressor and who is oppressed. We all carry unique forms of injustice. If we want to #StopAAPIHate, we must join together and acknowledge the ways colonialism, imperialism, and white supremacy have deliberately constructed our variant oppressions.
Everyone—regardless of race, gender, class, sexuality, religion, and ability—has a stake in a system that is equitable for all. As journalists, we must be truly intersectional in all of our coverage, seeking out the stories that aren’t told. As students, we must take classes that expose us to the uglier truths of our world and force us to confront them head-on. As community members, we must stand against all injustices and offer tangible support to those around us who are suffering. As members of a globalized society, we must look at our role in the world and transform it into a place where future generations can live harmoniously, without the extreme levels of hate we’re seeing today. And ultimately, we all must reexamine how our silence, our complacency, and our failures to act have contributed to injustice.
This issue is particularly personal for me, but as editor-in-chief, I have a responsibility to acknowledge our organization's shortcomings as well. We are Boston College's progressive publication and each student involved has made a commitment to seeking out stories and perspectives that are overlooked, but we cannot move forward unless we acknowledge that we sometimes neglect issues that don't affect us directly. Our coverage of the most recent on-campus hate crimes was limited, but I truly believe that we can redouble our efforts and fight for justice here at BC and in our broader community. We have reassessed and addressed our internal diversity issues on several occasions, but I would like to publicly acknowledge that we want The Gavel to be a safe place for BC students of all backgrounds. I invite you to share your perspective either by joining our team or by submitting a Letter to the Editor on our website.
Carmen Chu, Editor-in-Chief