The Proud Boys, a neofascist and white supremacist militia group, heavily involved in the January 6 Capitol Hill riot, received funding and support from an unlikely quarter – Chinese Americans. This is not the first instance of Asian Americans supporting ultranationalist causes – in the 2020 elections, Vietnamese Americans among other nonwhite minorities, voted for the Republican Party.
How is it possible that former US President Trump – a superspreader of anti-Asian racism, would score votes from the Asian American community? Why did some Chinese Americans go so far as to donate thousands of dollars to a racist, far right militia group? Let’s examine this subject.
We can begin to understand this topic by first recognising that Asian Americans, are largely an anticommunist community – working their way into buying the mythical ‘American dream.’ Hostile to the Black Lives Matter and other leftist groups, Asian Americans have long desired to become the ‘model minority’. In a predominantly Anglo society, emulating whiteness is the standard of success. Anti-black racism is a useful device for distancing yourself from African American and other nonwhite minorities.
When success is defined as social mobility, and individualistic entrepreneur worship is virtually a secular religion, the refugees from China and Vietnam – especially the Saigon loyalists who fled at the end of the Vietnam war – form a socially conservative bloc which views the United States as their guarantor of freedom and economic liberalism. The indigenous and nonwhite minorities, excluded from the vaunted American dream, are identified not as another group worthy of multiethnic solidarity, but as marginal elements to be hated.
Jezzika Chung, writing in the Huffington Post, states that:
As Asian immigrants work toward building successes in a foreign environment, they begin taking cues from the people they see as most successful. Because America’s historical oppression of people of color, these people are usually white. To many Asian Americans, whiteness often becomes equated to success, and all the elements that have been conditioned to come with the paradigms of whiteness.
Driving a wedge between African and Asian Americans, conservative commentators have historically dismissed black Americans as the ‘deficient’, unable or unwilling to accept supposedly unique American values of individual initiative and hard work. Asian Americans are thus integrated into the racial pyramid of American capitalism as industrious and entrepreneurially talented.
In fact, in the 1960s, with the rise of the civil rights and antiwar movements, the US ruling circles began a process of downplaying traditional anti-Asian racism, and upholding Japanese and Chinese Americans as model minorities. Rather than emphasise the role of Asian Americans as super-exploited labourers (and frequent targets of white supremacist violence), they were now to be seen as historically integrated into the American business class. Asians were thus ‘likened’ to the white majority.
Opposition to the policies of the Communist party of China is one thing; circulating lurid right wing conspiracy theories about BLM being part of a Marxist plots is quite another. While the US government has been ratcheting up tension with Beijing in a display of great-power politics, such foreign policies have domestic consequences. Racialised outsiders become the targets not only of white nationalist groups, but of socially conservative migrant communities who are adjacent to Trumpist right wing populism.
Democrat state representative from Massachusetts, Tram Nguyen, posted a video on Facebook supportive of the BLM group and its anti racist message. She received denunciations and condemnations from her fellow Vietnamese Americans, accusing her of have Marxist sympathies, and siding with ‘domestic terrorists’. In Houston, Texas, local businessman Lê Hoàng Nguyên self-funded a BLM billboard stating ‘Stop Racism’, in English and Vietnamese. A seemingly innocuous but important statement of solidarity with African Americans, you would think….
Nguyen received death threats, calls to boycott his business, and denunciations of his liberal views from the local Vietnamese American community. Houston’s pro-Trump community, deeply religious and conservative, have helped to platform the white supremacist views that abound in American society.
It would be a mistake however, to portray the Asian American community as politically monolithic.
Caroline Cao, writing in Salon magazine, details how she is challenging the conservative and anti-Black views of her Trump-supporting grandparents. She is risking the heated debates, and fractious family ties, that inevitably accompany speaking out against socially conservative family members. Jezzika Chung, quoted earlier, writes how the new generation of Asian Americans are confronting negative stereotypes of African Americans in their own communities.
Asian Americans have a long standing practice of fighting for the rights of ethnic minorities.
Chinese Americans bravely fought against the slave-owning Confederacy during the American Civil War. Black Americans, in their struggle for civil and political rights, have found staunch anti racism allies in the Asian American community. The pathway to a just and equitable society starts with the construction of a multiethnic alliance against white nationalism. It is high time that Asian Americans stopped being the footsoldiers of the US imperial project.