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Navigating My Privilege as a Person of Colour

Author: Amanda Wong

Let me introduce myself and give you a bit of my backstory. I’m Amanda, I was born in An Hui China, and was adopted by my lovely parents who are from Hong Kong but moved to Canada in the 1980s. I’ve grown up in Canada my whole life, attended private schools located right on the cusp of Toronto and North York. I learnt French, English, and Cantonese from the early ages of 4, but actively didn’t speak my parents’ native tongue. I lived in a quiet, predominantly white residential neighborhood near Bayview in a 1960s bungalow. My parents were tough on me, I took piano classes, extra math classes, extra French and English classes, and art classes. While I definitely didn’t enjoy all the extra tutoring, I know they were simply pushing me so I could succeed in my future. Now reflecting on my upbringing, 100% I was privileged and still am. Since starting my master’s degree I’ve learnt about the disproportionate amounts of injustices that the black, Indigenous, and other minority groups have experienced and face every day. This is where I started to question, why are some Asian communities more privileged than other minority groups?

I did some research where I learnt about the Model Minority Myth, the prejudices, racism, and experiences that East Asian Americans encountered before and after its creation. What’s the Model Minority Myth? Well let’s break it down using Wikipedia’s definition, “Model minority is a model demographic whose members are perceived to achieve a higher degree of socioeconomic success than the population average, thus serving as a reference group to outgroups” [1]. The pillars of success in this context is educational attainment, representation in professional occupation, household income, low criminality, and high family stability [1]. So, where did the term originate from? It seems that after World War 2 and right before the Cold War, the United States was worried that their exclusion of Asian immigrants would hurt their allyship with China and Japan [2]. This is where the Magnuson Act in 1943 came into play, allowing select Asian immigrants into America that fit the new narrative being painted of this ethnic group [2].

Racism against Asian immigrants was very prevalent before this ‘perception’ shift in the States and Canada. Most notably, both countries created exclusionary policies that were implemented to bar the entry of Chinese immigrants. These include, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 (US), and the Chinese Immigration Act of 1885 (Canada) [2][3]. Before the reform of the Asian image, Asian immigrants were referred to as “the yellow peril”, “coolies”, and “heathens” by many North American labourers who feared losing their jobs to these foreigners [2]. Despite their pivotal role in making the Canadian Pacific Railway and Transcontinental Railroad, the Asian community was not welcomed in North America [2][3]. In the US, Asian Americans didn’t have the same job prospects, were segregated, and not even allowed to apply to professional levels of employment until after the 1940s [4]. It’s pretty clear that the model minority image was created as a political tool to strengthen economic relationships between China, Japan, and America. The Chinese community was well aware of the necessity to abide to the image, and further promoted these narratives to finally be accepted into North American society. I found this quote spoken by Ellen Wu, a historian who focused on the origin story of the model minority, which resonated with me “Americans had recast Asians into these citizens capable of assimilating […]. what becomes important is that these socially mobile, assimilating, politically nonthreatening people were also decidedly not black.” [4].

I feel uneasy when I think about how this narrative has implicitly led to the success of certain members of the Asian community in North America. In the process in achieving acceptance and success, the Asian community ended up turning their backs on the black and Indigenous communities. We blinded our eyes to the needs and voices of these groups, and started to partake in the exploitative system that they were entrenched in. So here I am accepting that I am a product of this narrative, and my privilege is deeply intertwined with it. At times I feel as if the Asian community has forgotten the systemic racism that our ancestors faced, but continue to reap the benefits from the sacrifices that they made.

With all that being said, we are not fully accepted by western society, and COVID-19 has shown me that. As quickly as we were affiliated with being model citizens, our reputation regressed to being a group of unhygienic people that consumed bizarre foods. In early March 2020, I started to experience shame, embarrassment, and fear of who I was after reading comments on Facebook from strangers and people I knew. I can honestly say I had never felt that way before in Canada. This country’s notoriety is based on its multicultural mosaic that accepts different races, but here I was nervous to go outside and make eye contact with other people. I grew up surrounded by white people and have been called “Golden Oreo” because of how westernized I am, but this was the first time I was ashamed that I wasn’t. Since doing this research, I’ve realized this sentiment is not unique to me and that many young Asian Americans also feel this way, we may be westernized, but not westernized enough. I think this quote by Hsu says it best, “Within a racial paradigm that positions black and white as opposing poles, those who, like Asian-Americans, don’t fit on either side occupy a state of flux—they can be recast as “good” or “bad” depending on the political mood, becoming an alien threat one moment and a model minority the next” [5].

Sitting here mid-way through 2020 and watching the BLM and BIPOC movement unfold I have been trying to navigate where my place is in all of it. Sometimes I feel like I’m not BIPOC enough because I haven’t experienced the same types of struggles other marginalized groups have. On the other hand, I don’t fit perfectly into western society’s image either. After doing this much needed reflection and reading, all I know is that we need to stop following a political narrative that pushes us to pit our communities against one another. Instead, we need to listen to each other and acknowledge how the white supremacist system has impacted us all. Without doing so we will never be able to advance our society to a more sustainable and equitable place.

So here I leave it off with, You plus Me against White Supremacy!


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