Opinion: Defund police. Shatter model minority myth

Asian American tired of being used as racial wedge and a model minority. Call for change in criminal justice system

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Asian Americans reject model minority myth
Asians for Black Lives Matter in Minneapolis by Adam Chau

By The Berkeley Law Asian American Law Journal, Berkeley Law Asian Pacific American Law Students Association, and Berkeley Law South Asian Law Students Association

Since the conclusion of World War II, Asian Americans have been used as a racial wedge between White Americans and other minority groups. One of the most prolific tactics used to drive this wedge is the so-called model minority myth.

According to this myth, Asian Americans embody the “American Dream ”as a non-White group that has achieved economic and professional success because of a cultural emphasis on education and achievement. Asians have found success in America, this line of reasoning argues. So why can’t other groups of color? This false equation between Asian Americans and other groups of color, particularly Black Americans, has harmful and far-reaching consequences.

By placing Asian Americans on a pedestal and chastising other minority groups for not finding similar success, the model minority myth minimizes the role that anti-Black racism and historical oppression play in the struggles of Black Americans. It erases any nuance within the Asian diaspora and treats Asian Americans as an undifferentiated mass while ignoring the highly selective immigration processes that are responsible, in part, for perceived Asian American achievement.

Critically, it encourages lines of division between people of color. As Asian American law students, we reject this deeply flawed conflation of non-White communities. Since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak there has been a rise in blatant acts of racism and hate crimes directed at Asian Americans.

While our experience is different from that of Black Americans, we still experience an othering effect. In rejecting this conflation, we also acknowledge the debt Asian American leaders owe to Black civil rights leaders.

In 1968, Berkeley graduate students, inspired by Black activists, created an “Asian American Political Alliance” to help realize the political potential of uniting diverse communities. This local history speaks to the impact alliances among minority groups can have. The AAPA, Black Student Union, and other San Francisco State groups created the Third World Liberation Front and led the longest strike in US history, while Berkeley groups started a second strike.

The schools formed Ethnic Studies Departments in response. Today, Asian Americans should stand in solidarity with Black Americans to actively combat the rampant police brutality and racism in society. Police brutality does not only impact Black Americans. Kuanchang Kao, Cau Bich Tran, and Fong Lee were all unarmed Asian Americans senselessly killed by the police.

Our challenge, as Asian Americans, is to unite with other minority communities against White supremacy, while centering Black voices and acknowledging the disparate impact police brutality and COVID-19 has had on Black communities.

For more on this history, see Anna Purna Kambhampaty, “In 1968, These Activists Coined the Term ‘Asian American’—And Helped Shape Decades of Advocacy,” ​according to Time.com​(May 22, 2020).

It is crucial for us to be in solidarity with movements to bring systemic change to the American criminal justice system and to declaw the model minority myth. One such movement is the call to defund the police. We support initiatives calling for the defunding of Berkeley PD and UCPD.

The police receive the largest percentage of the Berkeley, California City Budget. One systemic solution to police violence is to divert funding from police to programs which directly address the socio economic conditions which drive crime in the first place.

Better public services in the areas of education, mental health services, and employment will naturally foster the type of “safe” communities that we currently overfund militarized police to protect. The current structure of policing in America has only served to take, rather than protect, Black lives.

Even after the implementation of reform methods such as body cameras and sensitivity training after Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson in 2014, we keep witnessing horrific incidents of police brutality. Perhaps the failure of reform methods should not be a surprise, as modern police departments originated as Slave Patrols. Let the untimely, unjust police shooting of Jacob Blake and the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others be a wake-up call for America to stop perpetuating the injustices it was built on.

This is our call for one city, and any others that may follow it, to take the first step.

–The Berkeley Law Asian American Law Journal, Berkeley Law Asian Pacific American Law Students Association, and Berkeley Law South Asian Law Students Association

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