“Replicate what whites do and all these Asians, Arabs and Hispanics do.” –Dr. Claud Anderson
by Yvette Carnell
That African-Americans would be better off if only we were more like “Asians” is stubbornly ignorant, homespun wisdom that gets continuously recycled in the African-American community. The idea that African-Americans, an underclass descended from chattel slaves, can model the wealth creation of other immigrant groups is ignorant as a standalone premise. Even more ignorant, however, is the view of Asians as a homogeneous group whose culture holds answers to African-American poverty.
Most people who we classify as Asian don’t view themselves as Asian. According to a Pew study, 62% of Asians refer to themselves by country of origin, such as “Chinese” or “Chinese American,” “Vietnamese” or “Vietnamese American,” and so on.
Grouping them all as ‘Asian’ has posed a problem since these communities have vastly different socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds, as well as experiences. From VOA News:
The observers say Americans typically “lump” Chinese Americans who have a “successful” public image in the same group as other ethnic Asian citizens whose livelihood struggles are little understood. They say such “lumping” has made U.S. society ignorant to hardships suffered by all of its Asian minorities. It also has prompted some ethnic Asian communities to join forces to help their members overcome such struggles.
Gallagher says that in reality, many Chinese and other Asian Americans are struggling financially, live in poor neighborhoods and lack sufficient health care.
“Those Asian Americans do not have the means to achieve the American dream. They are in jobs that they cannot advance from, and their children are going to face the same situation,” he says.
“People in Asia don’t identify with pan-Asian sensibilities,” Wu says. “The notion of a ‘united Asia’ is associated with imperialism or idealism. People identify much more specifically as Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino or Indian and so on. They don’t say, ‘I’m an Asian’.”
When African-Americans compare themselves to ‘Asians’, they are usually comparing themselves to the most successful Chinese-Americans, a group with whom African-Americans have almost nothing in common.
Take Chinese immigrants to the United States, for example: In 2010, 51% were college graduates, compared with only 4% of adults in China and only 28% of adults in the United States. The educational backgrounds of immigrant groups such as the Chinese in America — and other highly educated immigrant groups such as Korean and Indian — is where the concept of “Asian privilege” comes in.
It is ignorant to compare African-Americans, a community descended from chattel slaves, to an immigrant group with a homeland, with people who are producers of goods, and who, at 51%, have a higher college graduation rate than Americans in general, not just African-Americans.
What African-Americans seem to miss is the glaring truth that while other communities were amassing wealth, here and elsewhere, we were in chains. That matters. As a matter of fact, it’s all that matters in terms of understanding generational wealth and poverty.