NOT ENOUGH OR DOUBLE THE PREJUDICE: ON BEING BLACK AND ASIAN AMERICAN IN 2020. 12 multiracial people discuss the messy, complicated conversations they’re having about identity in this political moment.
Oct. 18, 2020
By Sakshi Venkatraman and P.R. Lockhart
With nationwide protests against police brutality, rising incidents of anti-Asian racism and the selection of Sen. Kamala Harris as the Democratic vice presidential nominee, race relations within and between the Asian American and Black communities have quickly shifted into focus.
Conversations surrounding these groups, their subgroups and how they relate to one another have been messy and complicated. As the Black Lives Matter movement gained traction this summer, communities challenged the model minority myth, colonialism and colorism to explain how the histories of both Black and Asian communities have shaped how they interact today. Young Asian Americans encouraged one another to confront the anti-Blackness in their own families and communities. And Harris’ nomination and the subsequent attempts to categorize her raised a question that multiracial people across the U.S. have lived the answer to: What does it mean to be both?
NBC BLK and NBC Asian America talked to 12 people who identify as both Black and Asian American Pacific Islander about their identities, their communities and what 2020 has meant for them.
“The experiences of so-called Blasians aren’t “anomalies,” said Myra Washington, assistant vice president for faculty equity and diversity at the University of Utah. “All they are is a very specific example of a thing that we all do, which is navigate and negotiate our particular identities at a given moment in time.” …
Home: Los Angeles
Laya DeLeon Hayes, a 16-year-old actress and the voice of Doc McStuffins on the Disney series of the same name said her parents never sat her down for “the talk” about being biracial. Growing up, she had the chance to explore both her mom’s Filipino culture and her dad’s Black culture through food, family and shared history.
“Getting the chance to experience and embrace two different cultures is super cool,” she said. “Growing up, it’s been kind of confusing trying to navigate where I fit. I think a lot of mixed people kind of go through that same thing with feeling like they have to identify with one race instead of all of the races that make up who they are.”
When the Black Lives Matter movement grew this summer, Hayes said her family encouraged her to engage with both Black and Filipino history. When researching the Philippines with her mom, Hayes learned for the first time about the idealization of white features and pale skin that is prevalent across Asia.
“It was incredibly sad for me to hear,” she said. “I’ve been Black my entire life, so it’s never something that I had to really think about. So I’ve always felt that’s who I was, and that there was nothing wrong with it, that everybody was just as accepting. I think this year I’ve learned that that’s not always the case.”
As an actress, she said this political moment has made her realize the internalized racism that exists in her industry. When she goes to auditions, she’s sometimes the only person of color in the room.
“I think there’s definitely more that must be done in this industry,” she said. “And as I continue to build my career and my platform, even on social media, I want to create more space and more black stories and Filipino stories to make sure that we are all represented on television ”
Home: New Haven, Connecticut
For Mariko Fujimoto Rooks, being good at school was sometimes a double-edged sword. Growing up, Rooks went to liberal middle and high schools where “everyone pretended that racism didn’t exist.”
Her academic performance in high school placed her in higher-level classes and eventually got her into Yale, but, often, she was the only Black person in the room.
Rooks, who is Yonsei, or fourth-generation Japanese American, found that students and faculty were quick to pick and choose which aspect of her identity to categorize her by. And the Black students who were unapologetic about their identities were demonized, too.
“Whenever I was successful, it was never on my own merit. It was sort of always like, ‘Oh, but like, Asian kids are smart,’” she said. “But whenever I was actively challenging something, or making a case, or advocating on behalf of other students and communities, that was when I was treated like a Black person.”
As a college senior, Rooks now has more access to both Black and Asian communities, but said that operating in Asian spaces has also made her more aware of anti-Blackness.
The anti-Asian racism spurred by the pandemic means operating at the intersection of both identities sometimes leads to “double discrimination,” Rooks said.
One of the most distinct memories Shanell Dozier has of high school is when a white boy approached her in the cafeteria and accused her of lying about her identity.
“He was just like, ‘You’re not Indian,’” Dozier said. “And I was just really stunned … and then he starts screaming at me telling me I’m not Indian and that I’m lying about who I am and where I come from.”
The incident compounded the feeling of isolation she experienced as a child trying to navigate her Black and Indo-Fijian identity. Her mom, a Fijian of Indian descent, raised her around her South Asian family and tried to educate her about their collective history. Still, finding a place in those circles wasn’t always easy.
“With my Indian side, I sometimes feel like I’m not Indian enough,” she said. “They’re a lot lighter than me in my family. And I don’t speak Hindi as well as they do.”
Skin and hair shaped how Dozier saw herself growing up. She was often teased for the texture of her hair, being told it was “fake” when she wore it straight. The colorism prevalent in South Asian culture and media made her question if she fit in with her lighter-skinned peers.
She said she grew up seeing skin bleaching agents on TV, “and it would actually make me want to do that because I felt like I was too dark or that my color wasn’t good enough.”
She’s thankful she never ended up trying those products, but that otherizing influence still follows her.
“I kind of feel a little lost,” she said.
Home: Montgomery County, Maryland
Growing up, Alani Fuji says that her experience as a multiracial child set her apart from her peers. Her mother passed away when she was young, and she and her twin sister were raised by their father, who immigrated from Japan. In school, she mostly hung out with other Asian American students, partly because of their similar upbringing by Asian parents, but also because she was often racialized as just Asian.
“How I look doesn’t reflect my Blackness. Most people look at me and think that I am just Filipino or Pacific Islander,” Fuji said, noting that her sister is more often perceived as Black.
It’s something she’s been especially aware of as racial justice protests swept the country, galvanized largely by Black activists and communities outraged over racism and police violence.
“All of these traumas that Black folks are dealing with, those are issues that affect me and my family,” she said. “People think that because of how I look, I’m not as sad and enraged and frustrated as I am.”
Fuji said it’s necessary to push against the idea that “if Asian Americans side with whiteness we’re going to be safe.” It’s also important for non-Black communities to organize in support of Black lives and one another, she said.
“It would be really amazing if people had an understanding of how our liberations really are tied,” she said. …