"Person of color" = someone discriminated against for their race/ethnicity on a systematic level by the white majority
(Inspired by the commentary on this post)
For the purposes of anti-racism struggles, that’s all you need to go by.
Yes, the term, “colored” is not normally associated with Asian people these days, but it was definitely used to label people of Asian descent in this country in the past. We have been and still are the targets of White racism:
Believing the fallacy that people of Asian descent are not authentically or legitimately ‘Colored’ or ‘People of Color’ is wrong because:
1) It ignores the long history of racial discrimination and persecution of Asians in the U.S. (e.g. the Chinese Exclusion Acts, the Japanese-American internment during WWII, explicit campaigns to drive Asians out of the American West, the lynching of Asian Americans. (Which is something that is not commonly known due to the fact that many Asian and Mexican victims of mob violence in the 19th c. were classified as ‘White’ in official records*)
2) It ignores the history of White European imperialism in Asian countries, which intersects with White racism against Asian immigrants in White-majority countries. I assure you that White imperialists certainly did not view Indians, Chinese, or Vietnamese as being anything other than ‘Colored’
Imperial map of Asia, source of map
White European man receiving a pedicure from South Asian servants
3) It plays into the White racist divide-and-conquer strategy.
Even a brief look at the history of race/ethnicity in U.S. law alone makes it apparent that a key aspect of White racism has been the classification of non-Whites according to (white-defined) categories.
Those hailing from Asia (as well as the Middle East, the Caribbean, and Latin America) have been legally categorized in a myriad of ways—very occasionally as White, but more often as non-White (e.g. Ozawa v. United States, United States v. Thind). In general, Asians have occupied a strange ethno-racial limbo as ‘Other’ (e.g. the Census prior to 1870). As far as Whites were concerned, Asians might not have been ‘Negros’, but we certainly weren’t White either. Our otherness made us targets for discrimination and violence, and—because our right to citizenship has constantly come under attack—we’ve historically had as little recourse to the protection of the law as African Americans have.
Massacre of the Chinese at White Springs, Wyoming (source)
Yes, Asian people have (somewhat more recently than you think) enjoyed certain perks due to our ethnicity/race compared to Black and AmerIndian people (e.g. ‘the model minority’). But that’s just a more recent aspect of the divide-and-conquer strategy, which the White hegemony has used to pit minorities against each other so as to distract us from the real problems facing our communities.
And yes, some Asian people are complete racist dicks to those who aren’t Asian or White, but that’s internalized White racism. If you’ve been kicked and beaten by your master for years, then suddenly given a few scraps from his table, would you throw them in his face? Or is it more likely that—as beaten down as you are—you’d give in to Stockholm Syndrome and play along? (To be clear: that’s an explanation for Asian racism, not an excuse.)
Even so, incidents of Anti-Asian bias (e.g. Vincent Chin, Wen Ho Lee) and straight-up racist violence occur frequently enough these days that Asians are hyper-aware of the fact that many—including non-whites—don’t view us as Americans, let alone ‘Colored’. We’re simply foreign ‘others’.
So if White is grudgingly treating you OK, while Black and Brown seem to hate and distrust you, then whom do you ally yourself with? More importantly, who benefits from this apparent alliance?
In the American black-white paradigm of race relations, ‘others’ like Asians get shit on no matter which side we’re on. So the Asian internalization of White racism makes a twisted kind of sense as a survival strategy, particularly if your natural allies (other victims of White racism) are treating you like foreigners and even equating you with the oppressor himself.
My point: Asians’ conflicted, sometimes tense, relations with African Americans and those who have been historically, categorically considered ‘Colored’ is an artifact of White racism. This means that if you exclude Asians from ‘Colored’ solidarity against White racism, you are reproducing a highly successful strategy of White racism.
Let that sink in for a minute.
To conclude: Anti-Asian exclusion from POC solidarity movements is ignorant, wrong, and just plain stupid. Asians’s current role as a prop of White racial supremacy is not our doing, just as our historic role as the foreign ‘Other’ is not our doing. The peculiar place of Asians in race relations today has been the result of the intersection of White racism, xenophobia, and imperialism. It is a mistake to think otherwise.
TL;DR: Questioning the identity of Asians as “people of color” reinforces White racial supremacy.
Model Minority Myth: Sticky Floor and Bamboo Ceiling Truth?
The ‘model minority’ myth owes its inception in no small part to the gaming of the University of Chicago’s 1924 Survey of Race Relations, engineered by influential members of the Chinese and Japanese immigrant communities.
While Wesley Yang brought our attention to the Bamboo Ceiling, here’s an excerpt from Sylvie Kim’s response in Hyphen:
Yes, the Bamboo ceiling sucks for an engineer who will never make it to management level. But it probably sucks more for the Asian immigrant who has to dust that Bamboo ceiling after emptying out the wastebaskets and mopping the floors. While earning no more than $12,000 a year may be a badge of Model Minority defiance for some Asian Americans, it’s a stark economic reality for others.
If it wasn’t for the following true tale that just happened to a friend, I would have drowned out the chatter and let it go.
One of the main reasons I’ve been so frustrated about job hunting is because I got rejected even though I thought I did really well on the interview. On the other hand, a classmate who also went for an interview thought she had bombed it but ended up getting the position. The thing I can’t get over is that when I found out she was also going for the position, I already felt like I wasn’t going to have a good chance at the position, mostly because she was white. The irony is that she just recently came to America from Europe while I’ve lived in America ever since I could remember. I know it’s a bit too simplistic to say that and really I have nothing that shows race may have been involved in the decision making process. I just can’t help but get so angry and frustrated at a situation that does seem to have race involved.
Never mind the Bamboo Ceiling, he got stuck on the Sticky Floor.
Companies that don’t embrace diverse markets now will miss out, while companies that ignore them tomorrow will become obsolete.
I am truly touched and humbled by the response from you, the tumblr community, on the “…from Seattle” post. Kudos to Stephanie Santiano who published the original article in Glimpse.
To borrow a phrase: Power to the People.
But where are you really from?
Here’s one of my favourite “Where are you really from?” stories. The gal is of Korean ethnicity, third-generation “born in Russia” (that’s fourth-generation Russian). She came to North America as a teenager, speaks fluent Russian and American English but no Korean. She wrote about the “But where are you really from?” scene at a bus stop where she was questioned by a stranger because she was talking with a friend in Russian.
"Excuse me, what language are you speaking?" He would look at my (white) Russian friend.
"Russian" Nadya would reply.
"Russian," he’d repeat as if clarifying it for his own sake, "So … You speak Russian too?" he’d nod in my direction.
"I presume I do."
"Wow, so where are you from?" he’d linger
"No, no, but where are you really from?”
"… Russia" my tone never changing…
"But … You’re Asian."