Asian Americans: we need to do better.

The opening message in a private chat between members at NYU’s Lambda Phi Epsilon, an Asian fraternity.

“is it fucked up that i think asians shouldn’t stand up for black people? serious question.”

“I agree that police brutality needs to end, but black people kill each other more often than any other demographic or cops do. I don’t see them looting stores or rioting when gang members kill one each other”

“When those communities are statistically more violent, it’s only logical that police brutality is more common within those communities.

“black people never did shit for us when we were down, they made it exceptionally worse for us, it’s not hard to understand why asians don’t feel inclined to help when they’ve stepped on us due to jealous of a model minority label white people have slapped on us.”

“I disagree a little, being an indentured servant and being a slave are different. But the principle is the same, we grinded significantly harder while black people were lazy.”

This past week, NYU’s Lambda Phi Epsilon, an Asian fraternity, was suspended when these and many similar comments from a private chat were published.

I went to NYU and hung out with Lambda Phi at parties. These guys felt so familiar — well educated, “liberal” young men that looked like they could be my family. Their words were disturbing but not surprising. There is deep-seated racism and self-loathing in Asian culture that we often don’t acknowledge.

For as long as I can remember, I have been told that my pale skin was beautiful. “You’re so white!” is the literal translation. Once when I got a tan, I made my grandmother cry. “You’ve ruined your skin,” she exclaimed, “how did you get so black?”

We were told that black neighborhoods were dangerous. Never go to Oakland. Stay in the Chinatown part of Queens.

When college admissions season rolled around, myself and many of my Asian friends were disappointed. Most of us didn’t get into our dream schools, despite high GPAs, months of SAT prep, and boatloads of AP classes. We blamed *other* minorities. If only we were black squash players, we’d joke, Harvard would be a cinch.

Through our “liberal, left-wing” college educations at top universities, we still carried that chip. How did she get in here with us? And that internship? Oh of course, she’s black. It was easy for her.

I’m ashamed to say that some of my private conversations in high school and college wouldn’t sound too far off from the Lambda Phi guys. I’m also ashamed to say that at no point did I ever identify these thoughts as racist — they seemed collected and logical — “My SAT scores and GPA are higher, so I deserve that spot.” It wasn’t unlike the way these same men who claim that black communities are “statistically more violent”, also put out an official statement just hours before that they don’t “condone racism of any kind”.

It took me too long to unlearn this bullshit. That when pundits on TV praise Asian families’ two parent structures and hard work ethics, it’s not a compliment, but marketing tactic used by white supremacists since WWII to bolster America’s work in post-war Japan and justify systemic racism at home. That it’s a privilege in and of itself that my “hard work” was grinding through a $400 SAT prep course in a school that offered AP courses. That I could not possibly compare my parents’ immigrant experience — two impoverished, but highly specialized medical professionals coming from China — with the experience of black families who have been enslaved, segregated, and brutalized in America.

NYU and the national chapter of Lambda Psi took decisive action, but there was no resolution to this story. We didn’t “get the bad guys”. We should be reeling with outrage not just at this incident and the men involved, but at the cancerous cultural environment that created it. An environment where well-educated young men attending one of the most expensive schools in the world and living in the most diverse city in the world respond to the torture and murder of a black man with apathy and ignorance.

Racism is in the very air we breathe— we were all born into it and inhaling it is inevitable. You need to fight actively to identify it, acknowledge it, cut out what’s there, and try not to breathe more in. All while you try furiously to clear the air wherever you can. More often than not, you fail. When that happens, all you can do is apologize and try, try, try harder.

I’m still learning. I’m still trying to get better. It’s not enough and will never be enough. To my friends, colleagues, and coworkers who are black — I am in this fight with you and will keep trying. To my Asian friends and family, please learn with me and support BLM. Yes, we face challenges of our own. No, the stories of George Floyd and the far too many others like him do not belong to us. Even still, white people are not the only ones who need to do more; we are not exempt from this fight.

Thoughts on tech, design, and life as a Chinese American cat mom.

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