On a form I once filled out, the demographic choices were White, Black, Hispanic, and Other. Over the decades, that disheartening message of invisibility remained true. That is still the list I often hear.
Asians in America occupy territory that is both quietly unseen and perpetually foreign. As “others,” Asian Americans are not always considered minorities, but we are not white. (Does the shorthand term “Black and brown” include me? I honestly don’t know.) People ask, “No, where are you really from?” We’re complimented on our ability to speak English, even if it’s the only language we know.
During the pandemic, Asian Americans are once again the scapegoats the country seems to require. In 1871, Chinese were massacred in Los Angeles, in one of the largest mass lynchings in America. In 1942, Japanese Americans were forced into internment camps. Now we have COVID-19. For 150 years, Asian Americans have been told to go back home.
This past year, Asian Americans have been verbally assaulted, spit on, kicked, punched, stabbed, and killed. Then came the mass shooting in Atlanta.
The term Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) feels complicated to me: I’m grateful to have a category. But it’s a bit like a garment that someone else chose. As a child who was commonly asked, “Are you Japanese or Chinese?” I didn’t grow up thinking I was just like people from India, Pakistan, Cambodia, or Guam. But somewhere along the way, I became Asian/Pacific American, which came to mean anyone from East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands. Now Asian/Pacific Americans realize we’re all in this together: To those who spit, we look the same.
We’re not the only ones who are in it together. After the death of George Floyd, the Asian American Christian Collective marched with Black Americans and, after the shooting in Atlanta, Black and Asian American Christians increased their efforts to fight racism together. Suffering communities are holding each other up.
“Anti-Black racism and anti-Asian racism are different fruits of the same poisonous tree of white supremacy,” writes Esau McCaulley, a Black assistant professor at Wheaton College. “Both are rooted in a hierarchy of persons based on the color of their skin. This hierarchy was designed to keep one group in power at the expense of everyone else.”
This poisonous tree does not have to be the tree that feeds us. Don’t believe that life is a zero-sum game. America’s caste system harms everyone, but God’s abundance is a system that heals.
Wendy McFadden is publisher of Brethren Press and Communications for the Church of the Brethren.