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BLM protests spark Asian American soul-searching

As anti-racism protests broke out across the United States, Viet Hoai Tran knew exactly what he wanted to write on his poster – “Yellow Peril Supports Black Power.”

“If we are talking about fighting for justice, for liberation, for change… all of us have to be part of this,” said the 27-year-old, who was born in Vietnam, but grew up in the US. 

The death of George Floyd, a black man, in Minneapolis police custody sparked nationwide “Black Lives Matter” protests – and a sense of reckoning in the Asian American community, which has historically fraught, even violent, ties with African Americans.

In particular, the revelation that one of the officers charged over Floyd’s death, Tou Thao, is Hmong has caused many Asian Americans to grapple with their community’s complicity.

“Yellow peril” is a racial slur articulating the centuries-old Western fear of an East Asian takeover that has been repurposed by Asian Americans in a show of solidarity with the black community. 

“There’s a lot of anti-blackness in the AAPI community,’ said Tran, referring to the Asian Americans and the US diaspora of Pacific Islanders.

One of the worst examples was during the 1992 protests in Los Angeles over the police killing of Rodney King, a black man. Massive rioting broke out during the demonstrations, most of which occurred in the Koreatown neighborhood.

Ethnic Korean store owners, feeling abandoned by the Los Angeles police, shot at black protesters from the rooftops to protect their businesses.

“We, Asian Americans, have remained complicit in perpetuating anti-blackness and benefiting from white supremacy,” Kevin Quach, who works on policy at the Asian American advocacy group OCA National, told AFP.

‘Wedge community’

Quach noted the internalization of the model minority myth – the stereotype that Asians are the “best” minority, thus implying that other minority groups are somehow lesser – and colorism, or prejudice against darker skin tones, within the Asian community, among other examples.

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