Ending Racism Toward Asians

I am seeing more clearly the racism directed at Asians in the United States, and how Asians internalize it.


White USers may be aware of the Japanese internment,1 the Chinese Exclusion Act,2 the portrayal of Asians as the “yellow peril,”3 and the oppression of the Chinese railroad workers,4 but they seem to know little about most of the history of Asian people. The day-to-day dynamics of how racism plays out5 at Asians also seem to be invisible to them. They appear to have few memories of interacting with Asians, to know little about Asian people’s experiences and realities, and to be unaware that for Asians, racism is an everyday reality.

Because they don’t see our oppression as Asians, white people don’t seem to feel that they have to be careful around us. Even when they are trying not to be racist, they often run6 their racism at us full throttle.7 Here are a few of the forms it takes:

•Treating us as invisible or as an afterthought

•Not seeing that we are different

•Seeing us as so different that we become perpetual foreigners or some exotic “other”

•Assuming that we are all born outside the United States

•Assuming that Asians are all alike; not seeing our diversity

•Not remembering us

•Not remembering our names, especially our Asian names

•Not being able to tell us apart8 from each other

•Not believing our reality or valuing our perspectives; not knowing we can think; not seeking our input. White people often communicate that they can think better and know more than we do, even about our own history and lived realities. In Co-Counseling, when we disagree with white people, they often tell us we are acting on the basis of distress, not following leadership, and need to discharge.


The sad part is that this racism is such an everyday part of our reality as Asians that we get used to it and cannot easily see it. We have completely internalized it as a part of what life is like so that when we face racism, we second-guess our own thinking. We may notice for a second that something is wrong, but then we back off and assume that white people must know better, must be right. When people ask us how racism has affected our lives as Asians, we can barely name it. This is as much the result of assimilation as it is internalized racism. (Assimilation is the process by which people are forced to contort themselves to fit a certain mold and give up many aspects of who they are in order to fit in. For people of the global majority, this is racism.) For Asians, especially those who grew up in the United States, assimilation (trying to fit in and be accepted by white society) is both the oppression and a survival strategy. It totally confuses us, so that we have a hard time recognizing racism. This is the nature of oppression: it makes those who are targeted so confused that they accept it as “reality.”

When we do see the racism, our Asian survival patterns of abhorring confrontation and not making waves collude with it. We “suck it up” and move on. (Some of the traditional Chinese virtues are “eating bitterness” and “bearing suffering.”)


In RC, we seem to assume that if white Co-Counselors work on the racism they run at black people, they will somehow be less racist toward Asians, Latinos/as, and other people of the global majority. In reality, we cannot eliminate racism with a one-size-fits-all mentality or strategy.

Since many Asians and Latinos/as are recent immigrants, people also need to work on the confluence of racism and anti-immigrant oppression. This is important not only for recent immigrants but for everyone, since many people are descendants of immigrants, and the assimilation forced on each immigrant group continues to perpetuate the oppression. 

Goal I of the RC Community states that “the elimination of racism, in particular the racism aimed at people of African heritage, [is to] be actively made an ongoing, central piece of the work of the Re-evaluation Counseling Community.” This does not mandate ignoring the racism aimed at other people of the global majority. Cleaning up the racism directed at African-heritage people does need to be front and center. (It keeps in place the racist mistreatment of all other people of the global majority, pits them against each other, and dehumanizes everyone.) However, working only on that will not automatically clean up the racism directed at other global-majority groups. If our goal is to have more, and a diversity of, people of the global majority in and leading in our Communities, white people need to intentionally and systematically discharge the racism aimed at each group of people of the global majority.

They also need to discharge the specific kinds of racism that affect the various groups of people of Asian descent. As Asians we are not a monolithic bloc. We come from different countries—with different histories, languages, and realities. (We constitute the largest population in the world.) Counseling on these specific kinds of racism will not be easy for most white people, because, as I mentioned earlier, they generally have few or no memories of being with Asians. The invisibility of Asians in the lives and eyes of white people is at the very core of the racism directed at us.


As Asians, to fully reclaim ourselves and each other, we need to discharge on the ways that we (and our parents and grandparents) were forced to assimilate. We need to discharge on

•how, in seeking to survive or prevent ourselves from being targeted or ostracized, we began to hide our differences and take on9 the dominant white culture’s language, culture, food, appearance, and way of operating in the world—as well as its racism toward other people of the global majority

•how we gave up parts of ourselves so successfully that we don’t even notice the loss of them anymore

•how assimilation has separated us from our culture, language, and people; where we have become uncomfortable among our own people; where we dislike, criticize, or compete with others in our group

•any ways we’re afraid to get close to or stand with other people of the global majority, especially our African-heritage brothers and sisters, for fear of being targeted like they are

•where we have a hard time standing up period,10 for fear of the oppressors attacking us

•how racism has confused us into seeing other people of the global majority (especially people of African heritage) as less smart, less capable, and to be feared.

We also need to address racism with our white allies. Our white allies in the RC Communities are important to us. We have close relationships with them, and many of them have made a significant difference in our lives. We love and treasure them, but racism gets in the way of our having them fully and their having us.

Confronting their racism is not easy. We are often afraid that we will lose them, that they will withdraw and go away.


As Asians we are smart, powerful, beautiful, and good. We get to reclaim our cultures, histories, and realities as central. We get to reclaim our minds and our significance. Our full participation is crucial to a liberated society. We don’t have to settle for patterns of assimilation; we are bigger and stronger than that. We can discharge the effects of racism and assimilation and reach for and have each other. Let’s continue to create the space we need in RC to move toward having each other fully.

Cheng Imm Tan
Boston, Massachusetts, USA

1 The Japanese internment was the internment in “War Relocation Camps” during World War II of nearly 120,000 U.S. citizens of Japanese and Okinawan heritage.
2 The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 blocked, for ten years, the entry of Chinese laborers into the United States.
3 “Yellow peril” was a term used by oppressive forces in the United States, beginning in the late 1800s, to scare the U.S. white population into believing that Asian immigrants were threatening white wages and standards of living and that East Asian countries would invade Western societies and destroy “Western civilization.”
4 The Chinese workers, heavily exploited and discriminated against, who in the 1800s built most of the U.S. transcontinental railroad
5 “Plays out” means is acted out.
6 “Run” means act out.
7 “Full throttle” means at full speed.
8 “Tell us apart” means differentiate us.
9 “Take on” means adopt.
10 “Period” means in any way.

Last modified: 2015-08-26 22:24:45+00