HomeAsian AmericansOpinion: Is the Term 'Asian American' Really a Lie?

Opinion: Is the Term ‘Asian American’ Really a Lie?

Photo of 2014 protest in New York by Marcela McGreal via Flickr Creative Commons

By Shree Baphna, AsAmNews Contributor

The label ‘Asian American’ has recently come under fire these past few months, starting with the horrific murder of George Floyd. This is because one of the officers complicit in the murder- Tou Thau- was Hmong American, making him fall under this so-called umbrella term “Asian American”. A recent article I read was quick to use this example as a way to acknowledge the fallacy behind ‘Asian American’. It went on to cite how lumping all those of Asian origin under this one vague term was disingenuous to the diversity and inequality that resides within the Asian immigrant diaspora. 

However, the article’s title, “The Asian American Lie”, stirred my questioning. To what extent could we call the identity ‘Asian American’ a lie? 

The author of the article goes on to recount how South Asian comedian Hasan Minhaj mentions Tou Thau by name as a way to appeal to the larger ‘Asian American’ community to call out racist behavior. The article seems to imply that it was not fair on Minhaj’s part to make an example out of the Hmong American officer as way to call others to action. According to the author, the usage of the term ‘Asian American’ by Minhaj was too broad and did not acknowledge the different privileges that exist within the ‘Asian American’ community. 

My perception of it was quite different. The author’s use of this specific example got me to question- what if it becomes easy to shed this ‘Asian American’ title only when it’s convenient? Using the murder of a Black man and the subsequent wake-up call broadcasted by other communities is not the opportunity to separate ourselves from the ‘Asian American’ grouping. In fact, it is dangerous because it sends the wrong message and makes it seem like we are scapegoating other ethnic groups. 

This leads back to my initial question of the extent to which we can think of the ‘Asian American’ title as a lie. To purport ‘Asian American’ as a lie connotes the idea that it is simply a statement that can be called false and then brushed off, like it never existed. It can be dangerous because it gives people the opportunity to easily separate themselves from the identity when convenient. Simply debunking the racial category of ‘Asian Americans’ as a lie does not make us ‘Asians’ any less complicit in the murder of George Floyd or in any of the racial injustice that is happening. That view exists whether or not we group ourselves under the category of ‘Asian American’, because it is a view that is possibly shared across all ethnic groups belonging to the Asian continent. 

What I have come to conclude, is that the ‘Asian American’ title is not a lie so much as a misconception. A lie implies that it is flat out untruthful and does little to aid in discrediting the effects of the lie- namely, stereotypes and discrimination. I like to think of the label as more of a gross misconception which implies it is a product of ignorance and lack of credible information. Calling the title a lie pushes back only on the surface and perhaps, can invoke a stronger retaliation in those who assume “Asian American” is politically correct. 

Think about it- if someone were to be called a “liar” for claiming that “Asian American” is a legitimate description for a group of ethnic persons, they are most likely to react in a highly defensive manner. However, if the claim were to be rebutted as more of a ‘misunderstanding’ and explained to the unknowing party as such, I would assume the willingness to learn and amend their mistake is greater. 

Responses aside, I think we are a little too far away ideologically to simply abandon the label ‘Asian American’ as a “lie”. It must first be treated as a misconception in order to accommodate for a reprograming of our knowledge and understand where it might come from. I am not saying that as ‘Asian Americans’, it is our duty to make it easier for ‘non-Asian Americans’ to understand their mistake. Not at all. I am simply saying that if we are to completely shed the label of ‘Asian American’, we must facilitate a removal from its roots. This begins with open and honest conversation and a full understanding of its implications. 

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