Why I Joined the NAACP as an Asian-American

By Sangeun Shawn Kim

“The NAACP is an interest group primarily comprised of Blacks and Latinos… Asians don’t really join the NAACP because they’re the model minority.” When my teacher had said that, I knew nothing about the NAACP and that the “model minority” label was a myth. What he had said meant nothing to me, and I just added the interest group to my notes as we learned about the other interest groups. Now, as part of the UPenn NAACP—as one of its board members—I advocate for the issues that people of color face. Though the NAACP, or the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, is primarily comprised of Blacks and Latinos, that should not restrict Asians from joining the NAACP. After all, the NAACP is an organization that is meant for all colored people.

The NAACP was founded in 1909 by W.E.B. Dubois, Ida B. Wells, Mary White Ovington and a few others, and the organization’s mission is “to ensure the political, educational, social and economic equality of minority group citizens of United States and eliminate race prejudice.” The NAACP was initially created as a biracial effort to help achieve justice for African-Americans, and now the organization is aimed at helping all people of color. However, not many Asians join the NAACP, and although the NAACP does not release data regarding the racial demographics of its members, it is generally well-known that Asian membership in the organization is scarce. Even depictions of Asians on their website or flyers are rare. The lack of involvement in the NAACP of Asians is troubling because of what it reflects: the lack of mutual support between Asians and other minority groups.

The most compelling explanation for the lack of mutual advocacy is the Model Minority myth. The Model Minority Myth was originally introduced in the mid-1900s, and it depicted Asian-Americans as the “Model Minority”, the exemplar minority group because of their “diligence” and economic mobility. However, this stereotype, perpetuated by the media, was not only racist, but it pitted the different minority groups against each other. The Model Minority Myth was used to compare the different minority groups to one another and show certain groups, such as Blacks and Latinos, how they should act and function in society. However, the myth was incredibly destructive, not only for other minorities, but for Asians themselves. Asians are now perceived as “too much of a minority to be White, and too White to be like the other minorities”. This left Asians in a perpetual suspension between both groups, and prevented them from embracing their own identity rooted in rich history and shared experiences. This myth still exists today and can be used to explain the disconnect between Asians and other minority groups within the US.

Initially, I was reluctant to join the UPenn NAACP because I was intimidated that I would be the only Asian on board. I felt that I would not be able to contribute appropriately to a traditionally Black organization, but I now realize the immense importance of breaking the barriers that limit advocacy and mutual endeavors. Those barriers were set up by the Model Minority Myth, and division is something that would only honor the legacy of the racist myth.

I joined the UPenn chapter of the NAACP to give Asian-Americans a voice, but I also joined to unite with other minorities in order to advocate for their issues, which should be our issues. Mutual advocacy and support is incredibly important; different minority groups face different struggles, but that should not discourage us from coming together and advocating for one another. We must acknowledge our differences, but without hindering us from also recognizing our shared struggles.

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