The second annual Springfield College SEAT at the Table event continued on Friday morning, as Dr. Donna Wang presented “Asian Americans: In a Unique Position to Fight for Racial Equality,” in what was a proactive, productive event. Wang, a professor in the social work department on Alden Street, consistently addressed one notion and wanted the 40-plus members of the audience to leave with it stuck in their head; “We are all in this together,” she said.
Out of all minority groups across the globe, Asian Americans are in perhaps the most distinctive and peculiar place when vouching for social justice.
Often stereotyped as the “model minority,” they can be reserved and quiet instead of speaking out against acts of racism. They are deemed the model minority because they are not considered troublemakers and they are not known, historically speaking, to interrupt or call out anything inadequate that the white culture stands for.
People who identify as Asian have been rather neutral, and experienced both ends of the spectrum of racism, hence the peculiar place they are in.
“We have been on both sides of the coin,” started Wang. “We have been persecuted and ridiculed, but we have also been mistaken as doctors and have been told we’re so smart. This puts us in a unique position because we understand both perspectives. The challenge is that we’re in this position, and we’re not using it for the better good of society.”
A call to action to the white people was given on a few different occasions, with Wang and other Zoom participants mentioning the exhaustion that people of color face from constantly fighting for justice. It takes solidarity, and it takes people across all races to candidly make a difference – it can not be just one or two races speaking out.
“When we talk about political activism it can be very complex and people wonder what they can do. One easy thing is if you see a person of color being stopped by the police, just turn around and park yourself there. That’s all you need to do,” Wang suggested.
Wang then showed a brief Youtube video of an Asian man speaking about his views on the Black Lives Matter movement following the murder of George Floyd. The man in the video brought forth the importance of fighting for one another’s equality with a powerful example.
“They came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t Jewish. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time, nobody was left to speak,” he said.
The aforementioned term “model minority” is hurtful and simply unacceptable, and Wang emphasized why. It brings a striking separation within people of color that stemmed from white people trying to dismiss the importance of diverse groups coming together.
“First off, model minority is a measure of whiteness,” she began. “It creates division between people of color, and also degrades other groups of people of color. [It makes them think], ‘Oh so you’re the model minority, well I’m the people who society doesn’t want here.’ That automatically creates a division within people of color. We don’t want that.”
Dr. Wang also shared personal experiences she has had in the past year, noting she had to unfortunately take the precautions of being extra friendly to strangers in scenarios where she was alone.
“After some of the attacks on Asian Americans, I felt fairly safe in western Massachusetts, but I was a little nervous to walk on my own. Even moreso, when I do run into somebody, I feel the need to say hello so they know that I’m English speaking. I want them to know that I was born and raised here, and that’s awful.”
That was a survival mechanism for Wang, she said, one that only people of color can truthfully understand.
Continuing with her theme of togetherness, Wang mentioned the thought process people should endure when one group is targeted.
“We’re all in this together,” Wang repeated. “For the good and the bad. When one group is making progress, it benefits all. When something is threatened towards one group, we’re all threatened. When one person is disrespected, we’re all disrespected; the human race as a whole is disrespected.”
Educating the non-Asian students, faculty and staff was the main goal of Friday’s SEAT event, and Wang did just that. She pressed the issue of Asians often not having the confidence to use their voice, and drove home the point of yearning those non-Asians to aid them with that confidence and desire.
“For those of you who aren’t Asian, something that you can do is help empower us to find our voice so that we are no longer scared to speak up. We can break out of our stereotypes as silent, passive and the model minority but we need other people’s help in order to do that. You folks can help that cause by giving us voice and recognition by sharing and appreciating our culture,” articulated Wang.
In closing, Wang finished her slew of strong topics with a beautiful final statement that emulated her entire presentation. Show up, care for each other, and be in the fight for equality together; as one undefeatable human race.
“The more we can support one another, however it is, the more powerful it is. If only Asians care about Asians, it’s like okay well they’re either going to sink or swim. But when we all care and have people showing up for us as Asians, we will start to show up for them as well. We all need to show up for each other, and all of you [in attendance] have done that today, so thank you for that,” concluded Wang.
Photo Courtesy Springfield College