It’s been several decades since the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964, and seven years since the election of the first African-American president of the United States. You’d expect that by now issues with race relations would be relics of the past — that riots such as those that occurred in Ferguson would be distant memories. Of course, they’re not. This week’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day reminded us — in case we had forgotten about Staten Island and Ferguson — that issues of racial discrimination are still rampant across the country.
However, this dialogue about race relations is largely black and white — literally. Asian Americans, a significant minority in this country, are too often forgotten in the important conversation surrounding race in America.
As an Asian American, I have also been a victim of discrimination and stereotypes, albeit to varying degrees. It’s kept my peers and me out of public office, upper-level management positions and even out of colleges. African Americans and Hispanics aren’t the only ones who should be upset about the current state of this country.
Of course, this isn’t anything new. We’ve all read about this by now — heck, almost a fifth of Yale has lived it. We know what our struggles are as a so-called “model minority.”
Growing up, I think many of us were indeed expected to ace our math and science tests, but not to be actors, writers or athletes. Then, college applications came, and many of us went into the process knowing that our race made it all the more difficult to get into a school. At a time when colleges are emphasizing students with unique narratives, it is unsettling for Asian Americans, contrary to what any admissions office might say, to apply with an interest in science, technology, engineering or mathematics.
I always wondered whether I would be seen as Applicant #83 from Southern California with strong scores and a lack of varsity letters.
But now that we’re at Yale, it’s easy to assume that our issues with being a model minority are over. After all, we don’t need to worry about college admissions anymore. Besides, if the list of Yale alumni on Wikipedia is any indication, Yalies tend to achieve great things, right? It’s so easy to sweep these types of issues under the rug now that we’re close to having a coveted Ivy League degree under our belts.
But no piece of paper would have saved Sandeep Singh from being mowed down in Queens a few months ago. No amount of education can bring back to life the six Sikhs killed by white supremacist gunmen in Oak Creek, Wisconsin back in 2012. No A grade will erase the injustices of World War II internment camps.
Asian Americans have always straddled a strange position in the discussion about race. As writer Soya Jung notes, unless our lives “prop up ideals of American exceptionalism and meritocracy,” they “don’t register much.” We’re treated as a predictable set of number-crunchers — not leaders or public officials.
Without the shadow of slavery haunting us in the way it continues to color the African-American experience, it’s harder for most Americans to take our problems seriously. This is only compounded by our higher levels of education and household income, two important metrics but certainly not enough to accurately depict the Asian-American experience.
We can’t even agree on who should be considered “Asian.” I can’t count the number of times that I’ve been told that Asian refers solely to East Asian. Indians, according to many people, don’t count for some strange reason (there’s even a Wikipedia page about this very controversy).
It’s both counterproductive and flat-out wrong to suggest that the discrimination that Asians face is worse than that of African Americans — that’s not my point. What’s important is that Asian issues matter, too.
Why do Asian Americans make up only about 1 percent of Congress despite boasting, by far, the highest proportion of college graduates? Why are there only nine Asian CEOs of Fortune 500 companies? Despite being an all-California award winner in high school, Jeremy Lin, who now starts for the L.A. Lakers, wasn’t offered an athletic scholarship, a snub he attributes to the stereotypes held against Asian-American athletes. How many American TV shows and movies can you name with Asian leads — and not just a token Asian character?
I’ve been incredibly inspired by the protests and demonstrations that have taken place around campus decrying racial injustice. But Asians need to be part of the conversation, too. We’ve made great strides toward equality in this country, but we’ve certainly got a long way to go before there is truly liberty and justice for all.
Shreyas Tirumala is a freshman in Trumbull College. His column runs on alternate Thursdays. Contact him at email@example.com.