As the United States progresses forward with a developing dialogue about the racism that lives within the borders, Asian-Americans are too often excluded from the discussion.
A massive reason to blame for this is a general lack of conversation — and therefore understanding — about the history of perpetual oppression white Americans have inflicted on Asian-Americans. It’s that very few white — and even non-white Americans — can speak intelligently about the Chinese Exclusion Act, for example. This lack of knowledge has led to a nation oblivious to the deep-rooted racism that Asians face in this country.
For Asian-Americans, like any other racial minority group, racism historically stems from the sole characteristic of being non-white. The long history of Asian racism began heavily in the mid 1800’s when Southern Chinese men were recruited as miners, factory workers and more as cheap labor in America. In fact, they made up 20% of California’s labor population while accounting for less than .05% of the entire U.S. population.
Because non-whites had become a driving force in the American workplace, white people did what white people have historically done and began heavily oppressing Asians while advocating for their “excommunication” from America. A movement was born, called “Chinese Must Go.” Soon, the only legislation in U.S. history to prevent immigration on the basis of race — The Chinese Exclusion Act — was passed restricting Asians from immigrating to America for over fifty years.
In response to the attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II, an executive order was issued to “relocate” Japanese-Americans to internment camps. Lieutenant General John Dewitt conglomerated a report falsified with dangerous lies about Japanese-Americans and why they needed to be imprisoned or detained to prevent another incident like Pearl Harbor. Children under ten, the elderly, the handicapped and even those who were as little as 1/16th Japanese were hauled off to internment camps. While forced to live in camps, there are accountsof people who tried to escape and were killed for doing so.
Recently, a brief survey of 150 people conducted by freelance writer Louise Hung showed that most adults claim to have only learned about Japanese internment camps in extracurricular reading or even outside of schooling, like through television. 10% of those surveyed claimed to have had no knowledge of internment camps until after required schooling had ended. The cycle is clear — a lack of knowledge leads to a lack of understanding of America’s complex and shameful history of oppression that Asian-Americans continue to face the aftershocks of.
For just one example of modern-day racism Asians face, a recent report on leadership diversity found that Asian-Americans are the group least likely to be promoted to managerial and executive positions. Also, college-educated Asian men earn almost 10% less than white men. These statistics exist based off the stereotype that Asians are quiet and lack interpersonal skills, therefore making them less qualified for leadership positions. This unfair stereotype no doubt stems from America’s long history of silencing and oppressing Asians.
Persecuting Asian-Americans has long been part of United States’ history. A dialogue about racism in this nation that includes Asian-Americans needs to be pursued so it won’t be a part of this country’s future.
Josie Haneklau is a sophomore political science and psychology double major. Contact Josie at firstname.lastname@example.org.