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Denouncing the Olympics of Oppression

Disclaimer: Posts are solely the views of the authors and do not represent the views of Brandeis University or the Institute for Economic and Racial Equity.

Can we coalesce resistance to anti-Black racism and resistance to anti-Asian racism? Can we call out the hypocrisy of stereotyping Asians as synonymous with the pandemic and of Black and Brown folks as criminals? Can we simultaneously eradicate hostilities between othered groups in society?

One year ago, the NAACP released Coronavirus Equity Considerations: The Imperative for Civil Rights Advocacy, Monitoring, and Enforcement. The first key consideration, they wrote, was to recognize that “racism and stigmatization have increased, particularly towards the Asian and Asian American population” (p. 1).  The NAACP cited the following articles as evidence: “Coronavirus: The Latest Disease to Fuel Mistrust, Fear, and Racism”—The Conversation, “Feds Sound Alarm Over Claims of Asian Discrimination in Schools”—The Wall Street Journal, “FBI Warns of Potential Surge in Hate Crimes Against Asian Americans Amid Coronavirus”—ABC News, and “Coronavirus Anxiety Is Devastating Chinese Businesses in New York City”—CNN.  

We all must fight the zero-sum narrative that equity is impossible.

In their March 2021 VOX article, “The History of Tensions—and Solidarity—Between Black and Asian American Communities Explained,” Jerusalem Demsas and Rachel Ramirez write that “the narrative of Black-Asian hostility is rooted in immigration and economic policies that have historically pitted these communities against one another” (para. 7). The negative stereotypes of Black, Brown, Asian and othered populations have functioned most successfully when leveraged by groups in power to fuel hatred between and disdain for the othered populations. Demsas and Ramirez note that this same divisiveness has fueled “segregation, policing, and scarcity of resources in low-income neighborhoods, as well as the creation of the “model minority” myth” (para. 9). We all must fight inclinations to feel economic competition with new immigrant communities. We all must fight the zero-sum narrative that equity is impossible. The most empowered must relent, in a nonviolent way, and recognize the return on investment of a fully engaged multicultural population.   

We are continuously building the counter narrative to the “middleman minority” theory, “derived from the historical experiences of Jews in Europe and Chinese in Southeast Asia and Asian Indians in Africa,” to quote Professor Edward T. Chang (paras. 21-22). The narrative describes the existence of intra-othered group disdain due to the proximity of confronting cultural and linguistic barriers within segregated neighborhoods. We know that these confrontations impact our economic and social viability. Religious and community organizers help to build our coalitions through teaching how our histories and futures are intertwined.

We build coalitions and disaggregate our identities to fulfill our movement.

We build coalitions and disaggregate our identities to fulfill our movement. Similar to Black Americans, Asian Americans encompass numerous identities, including approximately 40 ethnicities with various lived experiences and economic statuses. Asian Americans have the widest income gap of any group. The recent shootings in Atlanta, Georgia, showed that to America once again. Similar to Black American women locked out of more mainstream work opportunities, the murdered women in Atlanta were supporting families through the work that was available/accessible to them. In at least one case, the understanding is that these women were saving money to send their children to college.

We denounce the Olympics of Oppression because we have seen that we are stronger together.

As Pastor Raymond Chang describes in the Demsas and Ramirez article, to survive in America, minority groups are given the choice of “erasure or exclusion or assimilation” (para. 31). For those choosing to survive through assimilation, the social epidemiologist Michael Marmot has demonstrated the often-negative impacts. Not only can assimilation pit one culture against another within segregated neighborhoods, assimilation has serious health outcomes. Marmot and his co-researcher, Leonard Syme, documented the deleterious results of assimilation, including severe morbidity and premature mortality, leading to profound impacts on families’ financial viability. Comparing Japanese populations in Japan, Hawai’i, and California, the more assimilated Japanese populations in California had the worst health outcomes. When assimilation includes not just dietary changes but increased contact, such as in the contact hypothesis (see Gordon Allport’s or Patricia Devine’s work), how much or what type of contact can we nurture to foster healthier communities and economies? Equally, who needs to change for contact to be nurturing? 

In her May 2020 article,“An Asian American Guide to Dismantling Anti-Blackness,” Jane Kim writes that we must:

  • “Acknowledge and repent of the deeply embedded anti-Blackness in ourselves and our communities. Then dismantle it.” 
  • “Be mindful if and when sharing trauma.”
  • “Engage even when there is no performative component.”
  • “Listen to diverse Black voices (when and if they choose to share).”
  • “Actively learn and unlearn.”
  • “Don’t just passively listen. Act. Vote.”
  • “Be in community.”
  • “Actively and visibly stand in solidarity with the Black community.” 

We see the images of who is portrayed as violent and inferior in the media. We denounce these portrayals of ignorance and our own divisiveness. We denounce the Olympics of Oppression because we have seen that we are stronger together. Kim’s list of eight items is a great place to start on our journey toward economic and racial equity.

To be clear, “individuals have dozens of identities,” to quote Demsas and Ramirez (para. 13). We are not single-minded monoliths or binaries, and hatred is not what we do, nor what we aspire to be.

By Maria Madison, ScD[i] & Sam Hyun, MBA/MPP candidate[ii]

[i] Associate Dean for Equity, Inclusion and Diversity at the Heller School and Director of the Institute for Economic and Racial Equity

[ii] Chairperson/Commissioner of the Asian-American Commission, Social Media Host/Communications Manager at HateIsAVirus, and Host of the #IAm Podcast