Recently, a video of George Floyd's violent arrest, which resulted in his death, has surfaced and drawn widespread outrage, especially following multiple recent reports of hate crimes and police brutality. The video, which was taken in Minneapolis, shows a police officer kneeling on Floyd's neck while Floyd repeatedly states, "I can't breathe." Floyd lost consciousness during this incident and later died. The video and the later protests, which occurred after the police officers present were fired but not charged, have sparked further conversation around police brutality and the treatment of African Americans.
However, the video also began to draw further attention from the Asian American community due to the involvement of Hmong American police officer Tou Thao, who is clearly seen in the video.
Tou Thao, who was fired after the incident, can be seen standing guard in front of his colleague, who is pinning Floyd to the ground. Thao was presumably keeping bystanders from approaching the scene or intervening as witnesses shouted at both him and the other officers present.
The involvement of an Asian American officer has alarmed and disappointed many other Asian Americans, with many beginning to open discussion surrounding the relationship between anti-Blackness and the Asian American community. To some, Thao's presence and failure to stop his colleague illustrates how Asian Americans as a whole have been not only complacent but complicit in the upholding of anti-Blackness in the United States.
The video has also served as an example of internalized anti-Blackness among Asian Americans.
Asian Americans have been viewed as generally apolitical. Historically, the Asian-American community has shown a low voter turnout and has been viewed as less vocal on racial and political issues, possibly as a result of Asian immigrants' attempts to assimilate in the United States. Asian Americans have also been viewed as the "model minority," being placed on a sort of pedestal above other racial minorities. The recent increase in anti-Asian racism due to the COVID-19 pandemic has shown how fragile this position truly is and how quickly the view of Asian Americans can shift from model minority to xenophobia reminiscent of the "Yellow Peril."
Asian Americans have now become more vocal about issues of racism that directly affect them, especially during this pandemic. While it's good to see more Asian Americans speaking up for themselves, how often will we, as a community, actually speak up for other people of color?
As Asian Americans, we have to ask ourselves a vital question: are we fighting racism, or are we only fighting anti-Asian racism?
The model minority myth has granted Asian Americans some level of privilege, and this privilege has allowed Asian Americans to be more apolitical than other racial minorities. Of course, the model minority myth also has many negative impacts on Asian Americans, but we need to acknowledge that the way many Asian Americans have internalized the model minority myth has also caused the Asian American community to become more complacent. The internalization of the model minority myth is, in many cases, accompanied by internalized anti-Blackness. We can see this internalization in the many anti-Black comments left under some reports of racism against Asians, in the all-too-common use of the N-word by Asians and Asian Americans, and, in this case, in Tou Thao's participation in George Floyd's arrest and death.
The combination of anti-Asian racism due to COVID-19 and Tou Thao's involvement in Floyd's death needs to be a wake-up call for Asian Americans.
No matter how uncomfortable it may be, we need to confront our own prejudices and internalized anti-Blackness. It's definitely a bitter pill to swallow, but this anti-Blackness is deeply rooted within the Asian-American community. We need to break down the model minority myth, and we need to start speaking up, not just for ourselves, but for other minorities as well. We can't just be vocal about our own issues. We can't afford to be apolitical, nor can we allow ourselves to be complacent around the issues of any minority. Tou Thao's role in the death of George Floyd teaches us one vital lesson: being complacent means being complicit.