Not Your Model Minority

Dear Readers: As I was writing this blog post, it started to sound more like a poem than an article – so I turned it into one. The above audio contains an introductory note to the piece as well as a voice reading of the poem so that you can listen along as you read.

“Sometimes I wonder if the Asian American experience is what it’s like when you’re thinking about everyone else, but no one is thinking about you.”

-Steven Yeun

Let’s talk about this past week and the hate crimes perpetrated
against Asian Americans the last few days in Oakland
Let’s talk about this past year and our past period in American history 
This neglected narrative
This invisible experience

While the country does its annual round of capitalizing 
off of Lunar New Year this weekend, I think about the Asian Americans who will spend 
what is supposed to be one of the most festive and important holidays in their culture 
cowering instead of celebrating
Let me tell you about the attacks that have been happening
because you won’t find them headlining on national news
A conversation that is long overdue

An 84 year old Thai man was attacked in bright daylight and died from his injuries 
Vicha Ratanapakdee
Say his name
and pronounce all. of. it. 

Numerous robberies and assaults in Oakland’s Chinatown 
A 91 year old man was pushed down
It was like watching my own grandfather get slammed into the pavement
Look up the video on your own if you want to see it
but I refuse to circulate Trauma Porn – my trauma, your porn
Non-POC: You cannot fathom how personally traumatizing it is to watch these videos

Faces slashed, grandmothers set on fire 
The sheer volume of violence is staggering 
I’m having a hard time grappling with this inhumanity against our elderly
Our elders 
Who are revered and respected in our culture in a way unlike the culture of this country
Who rose from the ruins of a broken nation seeking solace 
Searching for a better life in the Land of Opportunity that only knew them by the word 
Foreigner 

In the wake of these assaults there is one word that comes to mind 
A word that has been grinded and conditioned into the Asian American experience:
Invisible 
Anti-Asian sentiment since the beginning of this pandemic 
Targeted hate crimes have surged by almost two thousand percent

Where are you, CNN? 
Where are you, my fellow activists and leaders of social justice?
Deafening silence from the news media and our so-called allies
Feigned outrage only when it’s trendy  
I am traumatized by your apathy

You cannot be anti-racist without acknowledging the Asian American experience. 

Enough with the narrative of the Model Minority
What is the Model Minority Myth? 
I guess I’ll save you the self-education
And tell you about a nation that only respects you when
you keep your head down and talk nice 
Get good grades and that’s the price 
of being tolerated in White America 
But despite staying out of trouble and being quiet 
equality never comes with being compliant 

Because you see, 
the Model Minority Myth was weaponized 
by our government back during the Civil Rights movement 
to say that there is a “correct” way to be a minority  
The audacity of White Supremacy 
To give us a pat on the head for being silent
To take a diverse race of people and reduce them to a monolith 
The audacity of White Supremacy
To use us as their tools to undermine the Black fight for civil rights 
To pit minority groups against each other and further the divide

A nation built on the backs of
Black people and immigrants 
Born with this burden that we were doomed to carry 
as soon as our lungs drew in the first breath
The breath that got heavier and heavier with each year of life 
A life of N*****, Ch*nk, Oriental, “blacks” as a noun with a lower-case B,
Dred Scott, Korematsu, Plessy
Yellow Peril, Chinese Excluded, For Colored Only
A life of imperialism and colonization and cultural appropriation 
A life of “I think you may have confused me with the other [insert indistinguishable face of color] in this room” and 
“I’ve never dated a [insert fetishizable object of color] person before” and 
“But what’s your real name” and
“Can I touch your braids” and
“Your English is good” and 
“You don’t sound Black” and
“Your lunch smells funny” and 
“Go back to your country” 

No amount of the Model Minority Myth embedded in deep interracial conflict
will change the fact that we have always been seen and treated as secondary citizens
If citizens at all

From a young age I didn’t know how to take up space
It’s having to laugh off microaggressions because 
we are made to feel that the racism against us isn’t real – is miniscule, is just a joke 
Gaslit over and over 
We are told to embrace our “good stereotypes”
I mean what exactly is our plight when 
we’re all just so good at math
Right? 
But this Myth invalidates the reality of the Asian American experience
Our internalized racism, our intergenerational traumas
Our women the subject of hyper-sexualization
Our men the epitome of emasculation
It paints us as submissive and void of personality 
Strips us of our individuality 
It erases the millions of low income Asian Americans that exist in poverty
It ignores the historic underfunding of Chinatowns as people huddle
around what little reminders they have of their homeland 
It silences our struggles and shoves them to the sidelines 
This repulsive notion of white proximity 

I’m tired of being told that we are not Oppressed Enough. 
Enough.

We are not your model minority.

I’ve said this a hundred times and I’ll say it again:
The burden should not fall on people of color to be educators 
I’m going to be honest and I hope you will be modest enough to listen
Because writing this piece was so exhausting 
So emotionally draining
I wanted to swallow my words, swallow my pain
To shut off my brain and just mourn in bed
I wished I was privileged enough to write about Snow Day instead
But instead I opened a Google Doc and my curtains and my wounds

This toxic rhetoric of 
“Your oppression isn’t as bad as mine” and 
“Now is not the time”
Sorry but 
I didn’t know that racism had a sign-up sheet 
A hate crime against one community is a hate crime against all of our communities
We all suffer under the puppetting hand of this systemic oppression 
The problem is not us and each other and this underlying tension 
The problem is White Supremacy so pay attention 

If your anti-racism isn’t intersectional, are you really anti-racist?
Don’t ask us to shrink our space when we have already gone 
our whole lives feeling small
I promise that there is enough space to go around this arena of 
Oppression Olympics that was designed to be the modern day Hunger Games
Designed to point fingers and call names but we are all pawns of the same system
So shouldn’t we be asking instead: who designed it? 
And how do we get out?
Unity is not possible with White Supremacy 
But unity against it is necessary to defeat it 
The only way out is together 
Diversify your narratives so we can do and be better 
So that we can uplift all of our communities and stand in solidarity 
This struggle for safety
This struggle for scraps 
of space at each other’s expense 

But now that I’m here, let me make this clear:
Asian Americans cannot find safety in the same institutions 
that terrorize Black Americans
Although we are wounded, the police must still be defunded
Increased policing is not the answer 
Black Lives Matter
So we must make good on our promise from last summer 
To use our privilege and protect the Black community 
So instead of calling for increased policing that will harm Black bodies
Let’s get to the root and provide adequate services and resources 
for all of our communities 
Let’s rid this false notion that there is mutual exclusivity in this fight for equality
The solution lies in addressing this violence that is rooted in White Supremacy
A violence that is not the violence that we see but the violence that is
Unemployment, Homelessness, Wealth Hoarding, Redlining, and Poverty 

So let’s turn this mentality into a new story 
One where Asian Americans can take up space unapologetically
and speak their truths and shed their invisibility 
One where our white and POC allies support us openly 
by condemning anti-Asian violence in their own communities
I challenge you to check your own biases 
and follow through on your commitment to diversity 
See us, show up for us, and take on responsibility 
Hold accountability

Marginalized freedoms have always been and will always be intertwined 
My pain is your pain is our collective pain 
It is our collective grief and our collective loss
And so your fight is my fight and my fight
Should be yours, too


Rosa Kim is a second-year student at BC Law. You can reach her at kimeot@bc.edu.

Featured image: Vicha Ratanapakdee

From “A City on a Hill” to “The Hill We Climb”

the hill we climb.
If only we dare.
It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit,
it’s the past we step into
and how we repair it.

–Amanda Gorman, “The Hill We Climb”

 

“We are where we are, with the huge bloody problem delicately referred to as ‘race relations,’ because of a history.”

–Charles R Lawrence III and Mari J. Matsuda, “We Won’t Go Back: Making the Case for Affirmative Action”

If you need some light in these dark and unsheltered times, go watch or re-watch Amanda Gorman’s performance of “The Hill We Climb” at the recent Presidential Inauguration. If the poem itself does not inspire, maybe the poet will. Watching that virtuosity and vision in a 22-year old gives me hope that we may be able to find a path forward.

But as we begin Black History Month, I am reflecting on how we understand the path forward in light of the past. That was a central theme of Gorman’s verse. It is also a perpetual site of conflict in our politics and culture. This tension is apparent even in Gorman’s words. Her poem is yet another entry in a long rhetorical tradition of American jeremiads.

The jeremiad is named for the Prophet Jeremiah, who warned the people of Israel of the consequences of failure to fulfill their covenant with God. From that scriptural origin, “jeremiad” has come to refer to a rhetorical denunciation of sin and the related call to reform.

The first American jeremiads originated in the Puritan sermons of early New England colonies. John Winthrop—in language that echoes in the title of Gorman’s poem—exhorted his Puritan congregants to consider, “that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world.”

Within a generation, the Puritans were confronting the failure of their divine experiment. The jeremiad became a ritual means of purification, a coping mechanism for a religious community faced with its own moral failure and depravity. It consisted of three parts: 1) a scriptural precedent that established communal norms; 2) a condemnation of the current state of the community; and 3) a prophetic vision of salvation from moral failure that reconciles the discrepancy between ideal and reality. The jeremiad instantiated the American capacity for delusion and self-deception. It became an exhortation of low expectations:

“Even as the preacher exhorted, they knew enough about their listeners not to expect much from them…Theirs was a peculiar mission, they explained, for they were a ‘peculiar people,’ a company of Christianity not only called but chosen, and chosen not only for heaven but as instruments of a sacred historical design…In their case, they believed, God’s punishments were corrective, not destructive…In short, their punishments confirmed their promise.”[i]

The mutuality of sin and salvation purged the community of its guilt and implicitly encouraged its misconduct. The American jeremiad became a kind of rhetorical group therapy.  It required nothing more from its audience than faith in its narrative. Belief, not action, was the prerequisite for salvation.

An example? Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. Consider this passage in which he absolves Americans of their moral responsibility by abdicating their agency to God:

The Almighty has His own purposes. If we shall suppose that American Slavery is one of those offences which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South, this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offence came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a Living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope — fervently do we pray — that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.”

Lincoln’s address satisfied a deep national yearning for a conciliatory moral narrative. His formulation followed the classic jeremiadic tradition by sublimating the country’s vice into virtue. God’s very engagement with American history was proof of its unique status. The horrors of both slavery and war proved the national march towards salvation. 

But this is just one kind of American jeremiad. Another, the African-American or Black jeremiad, grew out of enslaved Black peoples’ fiery denunciations of white oppression. This jeremiad was not blind to American injustice and depravity. It bore prophetic witness to it.

For Black people in America, obvious parallels with the biblical story of Exodus countered white supremacist arguments that Black suffering proved their inferiority before God. Slavery was instead proof that the African-American community was God’s chosen people. Their suffering and hardship heralded God’s greater plan for the future.[ii] Reformulating the Exodus narrative, the African-American jeremiad provided assurance of the Lord’s salvation and nurtured a communal identity as a divinely favored people.

The early form of this African-American tradition was similar to that of its Anglo-American counterpart. But the tone and content were entirely different. The White Protestant jeremiad was a ritual of purification, an unfailingly optimistic prophecy of redemption. The (white) orator always addressed a “we,” his partners in a failing community. By contrast, the African-American jeremiad was a warning to the white, oppressive other. It served ritual purposes for the Black community, but its intended effect on white audiences was to persuade and admonish, not to comfort. An example? Think of Dr. King’s adaptation of the negro spiritual, “Go Down Moses,” in which he exhorted President Kennedy to “Go down Kennedy, way down to Georgia land. Tell old [Sheriff] Pritchett to let my people go!”[iii]

For much of our country’s history, these two rhetorical traditions existed in opposition to each other. They offered mutually exclusive views of America. But if you watch or read Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb,” you will see elements of both. It is not wrong to find comfort and hope in the midst of suffering and failure. But we cannot ignore history or evade its call to action. Belief in a brighter day to come is no substitute for acting to bring it about. As Gorman said,

the new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.

–Amanda Gorman, “The Hill We Climb”


[i] See Sacvan Bercovitch. The American Jeremiad. Madison: University of Wisconsin (1978).

[ii] See Albert J. Raboteau. A Fire in the Bones: Reflections on African-American Religious History. Boston: Beacon Press (1995).

[iii] See Keith D. Miller “Alabama as Egypt: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Religion of Slaves” in Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Sermonic Power of Public Discourse.

Act Like You Belong. Because You Do.

I’ve always been surrounded by a host of resilient people who modeled confidence. My grandmother ensured that my identity was a core value of my life. She often shared memories of her grandmother, born into slavery, or her father, a sharecropper, or her own challenges climbing out of southern poverty to self-determination. That deep, rich personal history propels me forward every day. My mother is the hardest-working woman I know, who overcame immense obstacles growing from a struggling young mother to a businesswoman with multiple degrees.

I have no shortage of personal examples of perseverance.  In spite of those examples, like many people, I struggle with a lingering self-doubt that questions my abilities. The feelings aren’t debilitating, nor do they outweigh my confidence. But, they are there.

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Are Public Video Hearings Inherently Prejudicial and Unfair?

Today I am hosting a guest blog by Phil Privitera ‘95. You can reach him through the bclawimpact@bc.edu email.


At a recent Somerville Redevelopment Hearing —  with only selected information in front of them and public input filtered through administrators promoting the public project — an all-white Somerville Redevelopment Board voted in favor of a plan to take and relocate minority immigrant businesses, as well as residential tenants, in order to make a vacant parcel behind them more attractive for a yet-to-be-named, possible developer in the future.

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Black Art Matters

About five years ago, I stumbled onto some Afrofuturist art in a market in northern Uganda. I was moving through a maze of kitenge stalls when I came to a makeshift gallery that a young artist had set up in a forgotten corner of the market. One of his pieces was of a dramatic skyline, with arched spires climbing into the sky, draped in tropical vegetation. In the foreground, people in stylized, angular kitenge clothes were walking through a bustling public square. I asked him what it was and he said, “It’s the Kampala of the future.”

In contrast to a lot of antiseptic and tech-centric futurism, his mix of sci-fi architecture, verdant ecology, traditional culture, and civic harmony suggested that the ideal future would incorporate a healthy dose of the past. It reminded me of an aphorism from the other side of the African continent, embodied in the adinkra symbol, Sankofa, which depicts a bird with its head turned backward, retrieving an egg. The Sankofa symbol and word convey the idea that in moving forward, it is important to bring along what is essential from the past.

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Examining White Privilege

Today I am hosting a guest blog from alumnus Michael B. Goldenkranz ‘78.


Part of what drew this Jewish boy from Brooklyn to BC Law in the mid 70’s was prior Dean Robert Drinan S.J., who left to become a U.S. Congressman shortly before I began law school. Both his and the School’s continuing and unwavering commitment to human rights and social justice, and the mission to “prepare students to not only be good lawyers but lead good lives,” still resonates with me today.

I have tried to instill those values in my now grown children, and to remind them to always question assumptions, as I remember doing during my time at BC Law.  My son David, a former primary/secondary school teacher who has also worked on documentary filmmaking, is taking the opportunity to use today’s calls for racial justice and equality to examine his status as a privileged white male in ways that may be sometimes viscerally painful, but certainly necessary. His recent essays include “Pajamas are a Privilege,” “White American PTSD,” “A Black and White Matter,” “What Kind of a Dog are You?” and “Colorblindness: The Façade of Equality.”

Like the cases we studied at BC Law and the discussions we had in our classes, I find David’s writings thoughtful and provocative. They make me think about uncomfortable but really important issues in ways that I think would please Fr. Drinan. My hope is that we may continue to strive to lead good lives and fight for social justice and equality for all.

David’s website can be found at https://davidgoldenkranz.com.

-Michael B. Goldenkranz, BC Law ‘78

It’s been 146 Days Since Breonna Taylor Was Killed

It’s been 146 days since Breonna Taylor was killed. Kentucky’s Attorney General, Daniel Cameron, still has not filed any charges against the Louisville Police Department officers who killed her. Here are some statutes that deserve attention:

Murder (Ky. Rev. Stat. § 507.020):

A person is guilty of murder when: (a) With intent to cause the death of another person, he causes the death of such person or of a third person.

Reckless Homicide (Ky. Rev. Stat. § 507.050):

A person is guilty of reckless homicide when, with recklessness he causes the death of another person.

First Degree Manslaughter (Ky. Rev. Stat. § 507.030):

A person is guilty of manslaughter in the first degree when: (a) With intent to cause serious physical injury to another person, he causes the death of such person or of a third person; (b) With intent to cause the death of another person, he causes the death of such person or of a third person under circumstances which do not constitute murder because he acts under the influence of extreme emotional disturbance, as defined in subsection (1)(a) of KRS 507.020; or

In Criminal Law, we were taught to break down and work through each element of a criminal statute. Essentially every class was devoted to identifying the elements of a crime, gathering the facts of the case, and analyzing the case by connecting elements to facts. Our professor was a practicing defense attorney so she kept us on our toes and we learned to take nothing for granted. For the sake of brevity, and at the risk of incurring her wrath, I am just going to say that the uncontested facts of this case easily satisfy the actus reus (guilty act) element of these statutes.[1] No one is denying that these police officers caused Breonna Taylor’s death.

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Remembering Bobby Joe Leaster: Saving Boston’s Youth

Guest blogger Rita Muse ’15 comes from a line of BC Law graduates. Her grandmother, Judge Mary Beatty Muse, graduated in 1950, her aunt, Patricia Muse, in 1990, and her cousin, Julie Muse-Fisher, in 2005. Her uncle, Christopher Muse, though not a BC Law grad, has been a longtime adjunct professor at the Law School. He and Rita’s grandfather, Robert Muse  were instrumental in the release of the wrongly convicted Bobby Joe Leaster. Their engagement with Leaster in the 1980s had a lasting impact on the Muse family, including on Rita, who, as a law student, helped to free another innocent man.  


Bobby Joe Leaster: A Remembrance
By Rita Miuse ’15

When Bobby Joe Leaster spoke to BC Law students and faculties, his story was the same but his message never got old; he was wrongfully convicted of murder and unjustly imprisoned for almost 16 years, but he dealt with injustice in his own profoundly special way. This past April 26, one of BC Law’s favorite guests and a beloved citizen of Boston, passed away from the severe burns he suffered in a home fire three weeks earlier.

Bobby Joe Leaster, with his lawyers, Robert and Christopher Muse

Bobby Joe Leaster, with his lawyers, Robert and Christopher Muse, teaching Judicial Youth Corps students in the courthouse where he was convicted.

This is my remembrance of the person who motivated me as a student, inspired me as a lawyer, and became a friend of my family, two of whom, my grandfather Robert Muse and my uncle Christopher Muse, a longtime adjunct professor at BC Law, helped to free Bobby Joe.

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SCOTUS: Employers Can’t Discriminate on Basis of Sexual Orientation

On June 15, the Supreme Court ruled that Title VII, the federal anti-discrimination statute, explicitly protects against discrimination on the basis of one’s sexual orientation. To reach its answer, the Court consolidated three cases that all touch on this issue, including Bostock v. Clayton County Board of Commissioners. The plaintiff in Bostock was a gay man who worked for the County as the Child Welfare Services Coordinator for over a decade. In January 2013, Bostock joined a gay recreational softball league, and in June 2013 he was fired from this position.

As a member of Boston College’s Law Review, I spent the Fall semester drafting a comment on the Bostock case, which was published by the journal’s online supplement. My comment ultimately argued that the Supreme Court should follow the guidance of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency that enforces Title VII, and definitively hold that sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace is prohibited by Title VII.

Although our reasonings were not identical, both the Supreme Court and I agreed that LGBTQ individuals cannot be discriminated against in the workplace. There are still many changes that must be made before sexual orientation discrimination is completely eliminated, but this decision is definitely a historic milestone worthy of celebration.

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All Hands On Deck: Silence is Violence

A couple of weeks ago, Dean Rougeau quoted Martin Luther King in his powerful letter to the BC Law community: “We may all have come on different ships, but we are in the same boat now.”

What does this mean? 

It means that not a single person in America can remain silent or apathetic in this fight for racial equality. Racism is pervasive and comes in many forms. Racism is police brutality. Racism is microaggressions. Racism is “color-blindness.” Racism is silence. 

And silence is violence. 

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