News & Update

Model Minority No More: Towards a Model of Mutual Struggle

Living Cities joins the more than 500 philanthropic leaders who have committed to building multi-racial solidarity and shifting funding to communities of color, including Asian-American Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities, to help dismantle white supremacy and all forms of oppression.

We mourn the deaths of Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Yong Yue, Delaina Ashley Yaun, Paul Andre Michels, Xiaojie Tan, and Daoyou Feng. And we acknowledge the ongoing pain, grief, anger and fear that is being felt within AAPI communities over the last year and beyond, due to the ongoing manifestations of racist hate and violence across the country.

In honor of those lost last week and to our ongoing belief that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, we are republishing this blog from two Living Cities staff members, Hafizah Omar and Crystal Li. The blog explores the practice of solidarity in the mutual struggle against anti-Black racism and white supremacy. And, we have included updated list of resources at the end for making sense of and responding to the recent shootings in Atlanta.

This piece was originally published on August 6, 2020.

We’re at a turning point in American history. More people are waking up and understanding that we have never had a fair and just system that served everyone. People of color, especially Black people, have always been left out. Now more than ever, we need to all have frank discussions on how we can continue supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.

At Living Cities, one way we do this is through our Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), where staff can come together across self-identified categories to reflect on their collective history and support each other to be anti-racist. Our Asian ERG has had multiple gut-wrenching discussions on how we’ve internalized white supremacy in our culture and how we have to actively fight against anti-Blackness within our communities. We believe that in these extraordinary times, a racist system that has tricked a large percentage of the Asian community into complacency, has finally been exposed. Now is the time to come together with other historically disenfranchised groups to combat white supremacist culture.

The complacency began around the 80’s when it seemed like racism against Asians disappeared and the group became the “model minority.” The community as a whole was being praised for keeping their head down, working hard and studying hard– it was the “Asian success story.” However, this sudden change in the system was for a nefarious purpose. That term was coined in 1966, at the height of the civil rights movement, to drive a wedge between Asians and Blacks who were fighting for equal rights. Specifically, the term suggested that Asians were succeeding because of their strong cultural and education values without the help of the system, even though they experienced discrimination as well such as the Japanese internment camps. In actuality, Brown University economist Nathaniel Hilger said in his 2016 research paper that “Asians used to be paid like Blacks but between 1940 and 1970, they started to get paid like whites.” Because white people were a little less racist against Asians, they gave Asians more opportunity in the workplace.

While some touted the pandemic as a “great equalizer,” it is readily apparent that all is not equal, and that uprooting an inequitable system must be our mutual struggle.

Fast forward to today. From the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Asian community has been reliving the past when they were considered the “yellow peril”. The community became a target for our President, who incited discrimination and xenophobia by calling COVID-19 the “Chinese virus” and “Kung-flu”. The “model minority” was no more, and a rapid rise in hate crimes targeted the entire Asian community. However, as the COVID-19 death toll rose, we saw even more the entrenched impact of systematic racism, as non-white communities were shown to be especially hard hit. As of June 24, APM Research Lab found that the COVID-19 mortality rate for Black Americans is 2.3 times as high as the rate for Whites, and 2.2 times as high as the Latinx rate. When we disaggregate the data for Asians, we see that the Filipino community, as a result of American imperialism during the 1900s, has a high percentage of healthcare workers and in some states medical personnel account for as many as 20% of known coronavirus cases. So while some touted the pandemic as a “great equalizer,” it is readily apparent that all is not equal, and that uprooting an inequitable system must be our mutual struggle.

Being in true solidarity is an ongoing practice, not just during moments of crisis.

Solidarity is a verb. It means taking action and being in daily practice. Building solidarity must first begin with building relationships. Being in true solidarity is an ongoing practice, not just during moments of crisis. However, when you are in a relationship with each other, during moments of crisis, you can mobilize quicker because there is already the trust. We both live in Queens and have seen mutual aid networks established quickly in response to the pandemic, in part because communities have been building relationships prior to this crisis. When the uprising happened in response to George Floyd’s brutal murder, the same networks and community organizations were able to come together and do ongoing political education, jail support and mobilizing people to be out in the streets. For Asian communities, witnessing the Hmong officer standing silently as George Floyd was murdered by a fellow officer, we are reminded of the very real violence of aligning with whiteness instead of our mutual struggle for liberation.

Our ERG hosted a space for our non-Black POC colleagues to continue talking about how we might stand in solidarity with Black people in this moment. We discussed the questions laid out in this post and reflected on how an allyship model takes away from being in solidarity towards our mutual struggle. What came out of the conversation underscored the importance of building transformative and trusted relationships.

We want to share two models of solidarity that resonated with us:

This is the time to come together, understanding that the struggles we all face is rooted in white supremacy and a racist system that targets us all. Rather than giving in to the hateful rhetoric that is meant to divide us and pit us against each other, let us lift up each other and continue on this journey together. There are many ways to be involved:

  • Organize, organize, organize! Talk to your family and friends about how white supremacy and anti-Blackness shows up in your community.
  • Interrogate the networks and circles you are part of and build transformative relationships with your co-strugglers
  • Learn more about the history of indigenous people and Black people in this country
  • Support Black owned businesses
  • Share stories uplifting Black and Asian solidarity.
  • Challenge hateful rhetoric between our communities.

We all need to do our part. Just like anti-racism is a daily practice, solidarity is a practice too.


Additional Resources, Updated March 2021:

Title art by Landon Sheely, from Just Seeds

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