Vietnamese Americans Must Be (Better) Allies

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” ― James Baldwin

He stood there.

He did nothing.

He did worse than doing nothing.

He kept people away, he stood guard.

He shielded pleading bystanders from intervening.

He ignored a man pleading for his life.

He heard “I can’t breathe” and stood firm.

He sided with murderers.

Tou Thao's face reminded me of an uncle, of one of my Buddhist monks - his face looked like mine. It was a shame and an anger that was unlike the other types of pain and anger I felt before. I broke down in tears. In my mind, selfishly, I couldn't help but think, "How could someone who looked like me be a part of this?" When I mustered up the strength to watch the video of George Floyd being murdered, the added layer of seeing an Asian American man contributing to his murder made me ashamed. My heart dropped to my stomach.

When I sat down to try to write this, I was honestly overwhelmed with all the topics that I could speak to. The recent brutal, tragic, and senseless murders of many, including Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, shook me to my core. Their deaths were the boiling point, sending me into intense sadness and grief. At times I've felt helpless, useless, and defeated.

The idea that all of us minority groups have practiced solidarity against the evils of racism is not the reality. The truth is that Tou Thao is not the first Asian American police officer to perpetrate racist violence. He is one of countless Asian Americans to hold anti-Black beliefs.

The more I thought about it and the more I reflected and had conversations with other Asian Americans, I began to parse through my thoughts on how Tou Thao could have acted the way he did. It was indicative of a pattern I've watched throughout my life: many Asian Americans actively ingratiating themselves with and preferring a close proximity with whiteness, expressing anti-black rhetoric, and feeding into the "model minority" role - which allows us to be pitted against other people of color to diminish the realities of the system that is built to keep them down. I played back memories of hearing some of those in my Vietnamese American community promote the disgusting mindset that we are not like the "others," we're the good ones that do everything “the right way.” The way that white Americans and people in power approve of.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard different iterations that promote the idea of the model minority. How, "if Vietnamese people could make it in America after arriving with nothing - why can’t African Americans do it." If my partner is not Vietnamese “at least she’s white,” relatives joking about how I have too many Black friends and their silent approval of my white friends. Associating black skin with danger, "why can’t they protest peacefully," “what did they do?… (to deserve being treated that way),” "we're not like them," etc. In so many different ways I’ve heard and seen other people in the Vietnamese community align themselves with whiteness and racist ideas, making efforts to ingratiate themselves and get approval from the white community while viewing blacks and other minorities as “others.” This is a racist and anti-Black mindset, that too often we do not call out our Vietnamese friends and family for having.