For today’s #Culturalinertia entry, I’d like to tell you not about systemic governmental racism, nor about individual racism, but about a pervasive form of societal racism.
This morning, I came across an article about a couple in California that the headline said “called the police on an Asian-American Doctor for visiting his parent,” because he didn’t look like he belonged in their neighborhood.
For the purposes of this discussion we’re going to acknowledge but not focus on the individual racism of the couple attempting to weaponize the police to terrorize and persecute a person of color for merely daring to exist within their line of sight. We’re also going to acknowledge but not focus on the amount of systemic governmental racism that must be in place for them to believe that would work and also actually be right.
What we are going to focus on is the description of the victim as Asian-American instead of just American, or just a doctor, while not using any color or racial terminology to similarly classify the couple as White; which they were.
As a related aspect of this discussion I have often been asked why I use “Black” instead of “African-American” when talking about Black people of color who are also Americans.
We’ll address the simplest piece first.
When using a color, such as white or black, to specify an entire grouping of people, always capitalize the first letter to indicate it is a people you are referring to and not a simple inanimate object. There are White, Black, and Brown people when discussing them categorically.
A few decades back there was a push by supposedly well meaning White people to end the overt individual racism displayed by using openly insulting racial terminology which led to identifying American people of color with a qualifier that specified their ethnicity while also using it to explain why they couldn’t be considered just actual full Americans without a qualifier. African-American (for all Black people), Native American (for the collective tribal nations), Asian-Americans (for all people of Asian descent), Hispanic-Americans (for all Americans of Hispanic heritage), and so on. There was never a need though, according to those White people to identify as White Americans. They had already established themselves as the base model of Americans that all others must be compared against and distinguished from.
Not only was this just a more subtle form of racism, but it was lazy. White Americans when they do identify themselves for family heritage purposes do it by nationality, not by generalized country or overall genetic ethnicity.
They don’t call themselves European Americans or White Americans, or Anglo Americans. They call themselves French-American, Irish-American, German-American. Because they see their individual nationality of family origin as worthy of distinction and anyone else as not worth the effort.
They didn’t want to bother learning the difference between someone of Korean, Japanese, or Taiwanese heritage because they just didn’t care, it was easier to lump them all together as Asians who weren’t quite worthy of being full Americans entitled to all rights and equality of opportunity, so “Asian-American.”
To make matters worse those Americans today descended from Black people brought here from Africa by the Transatlantic Slave Traders are not likely to know their original family name or nationality of family origin within Africa due to the destruction of records and separation of families as they were sold off individually to break any family support bonds that may have bolstered their resistance to being enslaved.
Add to this that not all Black Americans today are directly descended from that slave trade, some are from families that immigrated here from Europe, Asia, and South or Central America separate from the slave trade. By referring to them as African-American we lump them all together and deny them every aspect of their own heritage and ethnic upbringing. For the same purpose of denying them rights and opportunity through classifying them as not quite full Americans.
Whether their families were originally Asian, Hispanic, Latinx, Native, African, European or some other or combination, many of them were born here on American soil and regardless of heritage or color are constitutionally entitled to all the rights of citizenship afforded those of us who are White.
So, treat them all equally with the White base model American when referring to them. Just call them Americans and treat them as such. Just refer to them by profession when appropriate without the qualifier. if you must, for some specific reason pertinent to the content of your discussion, use a qualifier, be as accurate as you would demand others be for you to not belittle, demean, or dismiss your own heritage.
An example of when it is appropriate and how to do it right when it is necessary would be this recent headline about Madeline Swegle:
“US Navy welcomes its first Black female tactical jet pilot.”