The Silent Minority

We’re not speaking up when we should

22 West Magazine
22 West Magazine
4 min readMar 14, 2017


By Soun Oeng Staff Writer

In the United States, where color blindness is prominent and there is dismal effort in confronting ethnic problems, a certain minority group falls into the in-between of the racial debate — Asian Americans.

Rightfully so, there’s an emphasis on #brownpride and #blacklivesmatter surfacing social media, but the lack of an Asian presence is disconcerting and a complex subject matter. This begs the question — where do Asian Americans stand in this racial protest?

This isn’t asking if Asian Americans are pro-white or anti-black, but acknowledging that there is an underlying “silent privilege.” Being Asian American myself, I have wondered why no one has addressed the history of Asians in the U.S. Sometimes I feel intimidated to openly express myself because I have little knowledge on the topic. Nonetheless, it’s important to talk about it.

John Mueller/Union Weekly

This “silent privilege” is interpreted as Asian American individuals choosing to dissociate themselves from other races. By doing so, it creates a division among them. They become an inactive bystander, disconnected from political issues while still maintaining a neutrality. Some may argue that Asians excluding themselves in the fight for racial equality is a privilege and contributes further to racism in the country. They’re not entirely wrong.

To fully grasp this concept, we must consider the history of Asian Americans in the United States. The Chinese were first to migrate here during the 1800s as free labor for gold mining and on railroads. However, tensions rose because white workers felt threatened by Asian competitors. Therefore, in 1852, California passed a “foreigner tax” that prohibited the Chinese from gold mining and other services, severely restricting citizenship and growth within the Asian immigrant community.

In the book, “Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture and Society” by Jeffrey Ogbar, the chapter, “Yellow Power: The Formation of Asian-American Nationalism in the Age of Black Power, 1966–1975” states that “Asian Americans avoided militant agitation for rights. Some groups even petitioned the court for legal status as ‘whites’ to avoid the systematic oppression experienced by people of color.”

This example reveals that Asians chose to dissociate themselves from other races because of a discriminatory system, which they tried to work around. Asians desired the U.S. to be their home even if it meant oppression. Their cultural traditions follow a code that preached the notion of “do what’s best for the family.”

This catered the Asian model minority, a term coined by sociologist William Petersen, that described the success of Asian Americans despite marginalization. It stresses a stereotype that Asians are the better minority compared to blacks and latinos. The justification for this ill-informed logic is the statistic that Asians have more racial success and advantage over their colored peers. Therefore, the comparisons of people of darker color to lighter skinned Asians categorize Asians to be associated closer to white men than any other race.

This idea is crippling and insulting; it is Japanese internment camps all over again. This model forces Asians to choose a side, losing their collective voice. These social demands encourage Asians to be a “color of success” as historian Ellen Wu puts it in her book “The Color of Success.” The pressure to be a “model minority” teaches Asians to be submissive and perpetuates the notion that success is associated only with whites.

Ironically, however, Asians aren’t accepted as the “ideal minority” and are therefore an in-between, hated or neglected, compared to their racial peers. This is damaging because it places Asians in a bubble of ignorance that caters to a racial hierarchy.

Claire Jean Kim’s chart “Racial Triangulation” records the position of Asian Americans between two theoretical superior and inferior races: whites and blacks. In a NextShark article about the film “Get Out,” writer Ranier Maningding responded to the theory. He writes, “Asians are in racial limbo, trying desperately to achieve whiteness and status as ‘real Americans’ by stepping on the heads of Black folks.”

This isn’t entirely false.

Asians are guilty of participating in this anti-blackness ideology, because we do not want the demonized perception of blacks and latinos. Therefore, we are subconsciously supporting the racism towards communities with other people of color.

This is a much needed conversation because it’s taboo at Asian dinner tables. No one wants to confront sensitive topics like race; it’s within our culture to not meddle with such affairs. This experience caused me to take a hard look at myself. Honestly, I didn’t even know Asians were seen as a “model minority.” It was disorienting, since I wasn’t aware of the discriminating labels tailored to my ethnic identity. It’s clearly something people don’t know about since Asians exercise their “silent privilege.” That needs to change.

We as Asian Americans need to recognize that we contribute to this racism when we turn the other cheek. We need to realize the self-harm we cause by excluding ourselves from racial issues and the privilege we have to do so. Most importantly, we need to remind each other about the negative aspects of Asian American history, the same way we recognize that organizations like the Asian American Political Alliance aligned with the Black Panther Party to share in the historical fight for civil rights.

We need to eliminate labels that place us into groups that don’t advocate racial unity. This is important because Asians are still seen as competition and outsiders. By making a change that starts within ourselves, we can better understand how we fit into the complex sphere of race. This fight is also our fight, so we need to break our silence and make our voices heard.