The Spectrum: Why Asian Americans should be politically conscious

Johan Qin, Columnist

This essay is part of The Spectrum, a weekly forum in our Opinion section for marginalized voices to share their perspectives. To submit a piece for The Spectrum or discuss story ideas, please email [email protected].

Peter Liang, a former New York police officer, was sentenced to five years probation and 800 hours of community service last week in the shooting death of Akai Gurley. Controversy surrounding the incident has been fierce, with some protesting Liang’s conviction and others motioning for justice to be served.

Although this case was covered by numerous media outlets, I was disappointed to find that a good number of my Asian American peers were not aware this even happened. This did not come as much of a surprise to me, unfortunately. When I asked them a few weeks ago whether they would vote in the ASG election, the response I received most often was: “Politics doesn’t affect me and has never mattered to me, so why should I care about it?”

It seems to me that politics is not at the forefront of many Asian Americans’ minds.
Especially here at Northwestern, where many of us are privileged to attend college and often don’t experience overt discrimination, politics — especially at the national level — don’t seem like a very relevant or personal issue.

Although I cannot speak for all Asian Americans, I feel like many of us are unaware of the political issues embroiling America and lack a deep understanding of how Asian Americans have shaped American history. Although we, as a racial group, are relatively privileged compared to other minorities in America, this belief blinds us to the struggles that we face in America.

For one, the widely-perpetuated model minority myth hurts every single racial group in America except whites. By pitting minorities against each other and leveraging arguments such as genetics, culture and other myths such as “living in a post-racial society,” the misconception perpetuates the belief that America does not have racial issues and that everyone can succeed if they try hard enough.

Last month, a Hmong couple and a Puerto Rican man were shot and killed in Milwaukee by Dan Popp, a white man. Popp identified these victims, his neighbors, by their inability to speak English. Although he was charged with first-degree intentional homicide, he was deemed “incompetent” by judges and ruled mentally ill despite the fact that his actions were clearly fueled by xenophobia and hate.

Cases like this show me how little progress we’ve made as a nation in achieving equality and justice for all people. They also make me empathize with the black community every time they learn that yet another black person has been shot and killed by a cop.

When it comes to Peter Liang, an Asian man, and Akai Gurley, a black man, interracial politics becomes an issue. Should Asian Americans be fighting for the freedom of Peter Liang, who many thought was held up as a scapegoat for the wrongdoings of many white police officers before him, or should they be calling for justice in support of the black community?

I think we should be thinking seriously about these questions. The fact that some of us are privileged does not mean we are immune to the inequities of American society. Ignorance and an inability to see the reality of race relations in America allows for the continued perpetuation of white privilege and institutional racism. It also prevents our ability to see how we are continually erased on the big screen, reduced to stereotypes and inhibited from reaching the top echelons of American society. These are all issues that need to be addressed, but it will be impossible to do so if we are unable to wake up from the mental colonization that we have been subjected to by virtue of growing up and living in America.

These words are unsettling — I know. But what does this mean for us Asian Americans? Even if these words are true, why should we care about politics?

The answer is straightforward: Whether you feel it or not, politics shapes the lives of all people in this country. Politics is the reason we are in America, the reason we have even been able to gain citizenship in America and the reason you are here at NU today.

Politics is why platforms that center the lives and experiences of marginalized students are so important. Politics is not just an issue that affects certain groups of people in America — it affects everyone. To be silent in this system is to accept it. To be indifferent is to be complicit in the status quo that perpetuates the oppression of all minorities in America.

Don’t settle. What we need in America are people who perceive the status quo and are willing to combat its flaws. To know one’s history is to know one’s self. No history, no self.

Johan Qin is a Weinberg senior. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.