Black Lives Matter is a demand for equal human rights that rings true every day, regardless of whether or not it is trending online. While it may not be as prominent online now as it was a few weeks ago, that makes it even more important, as non-black people of color, to take these words to heart: Black lives always have and always will matter.
In the context of my own life, finding better ways and avenues to become a greater ally as a Chinese American is an ongoing learning process. Asian American and Black communities have had intertwining histories spanning multiple decades, manifesting in both inspiring moments of solidarity as well as fracturing moments of conflict.
In 1992, for example, many Korean-owned businesses suffered collateral damage from riots in Los Angeles, after four officers of the LAPD were acquitted despite brutally beating Rodney King, later sparking tensions between Asian and Black communities. Drawing parallels to today, in 2014 an Asian American officer Peter Liang shot and killed Akai Gurley, contributing to an ongoing cycle of police violence against Black Americans. And recently, officer Tou Thao was captured on video standing by and doing absolutely nothing while his colleague murdered George Floyd, seemingly symbolizing Asian silence in the face of violence and dehumanization.
Perhaps more pervasive is also the anti-blackness that is still rampant within our communities. Asians borrow from Black culture constantly: appropriating hairstyles, fusing musical genres, fashion, and aesthetics, adopting “blaccents.” Yet, darker skin tones are discouraged and even demonized in Asian cultures. We may instinctively racially profile and feel more unsafe around Black people. We write out Black people from our romantic lives. Some of us even say the n-word. These actions all come at the expense of the Black community, and we cannot cherry-pick our way through solidarity.
The relationship between the Asian and Black community, however, also goes the other way, sharing roots in activism together. That is equally as important to understand and see.
The very term “Asian American” was inspired by the Black Power Movement as a way to unite an incredibly diverse ethnic group. The fight for equality that characterized the Black Power Movement also heavily influenced the Asian American fight for identity. When Black students were calling for Black, and also more broadly ethnic, studies programs at UC Berkeley, Asian Americans were among the many student groups that stood in solidarity through the Third World Liberation Front. In the 1970s, when many Southeast Asians were fleeing from war and chaos in their motherlands, Black people called for the United States to take them in.
Moreover, Immigration Act of 1965 that abolished racist quotas for immigrants was passed in the height of the Civil Rights Movement, in the hopes of further affording equality and civil rights for American citizens. Vice President Hubert Humphrey himself observed, “We have removed all elements of second-class citizenship from our laws by the Civil Rights Act. We must in 1965 remove all elements in our immigration law which suggest there are second-class people.”
Black American leaders signed and paid for this @RESCUEorg NY Times ad in March 1978 when I was a kid in a refugee camp. May we honor this debt and repay it w our actions. #BlackLivesMatter #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd #Asians4BlackLives pic.twitter.com/QnaHGSk59g
— Thi Bui (@MsThiBui) May 31, 2020
Our place that we have found in this country now is greatly due to the efforts of the Black community. So, given this history and context, regardless of whatever tensions may stand between our two communities, one thing is clear. Asian Americans, as fellow people of color: your support and solidarity for the Black community is not conditional.
It is not contingent on whether or not there is a viral hashtag circulating for you to post about. It is not contingent on whether or not there will be other people to see and validate you. It is not contingent on whether or not you will receive attention for it. It is not contingent on whether or not other people will back you up. It is not contingent on whether or not you will benefit in return.
Solidarity is unconditional, always. It is not something we can pick or choose for when it feels good; it’s something we must show as much as we can all the time, regardless of whether or not we gain something personal out of it.
As Asian Americans, we do experience discrimination. Many of us and our families grew up swallowing microaggressions and unbelonging, we experienced the xenophobia that the COVID-19 pandemic brought, and anti-Asian sentiments have their roots in American history. Our lives, however, are not endangered on a daily basis merely by the color of our skin. The systemic oppression and violation of Black people continues on today.
This moment and climate is not about us. It may be uncomfortable to acknowledge and recognize our privilege, but right now is not the time to say, “Black lives matter, but what about us?”
Racial stereotypes like those of the model minority myth, for example, pit Asian and African Americans against one another, stripping racism of its systemic roots by falsely claiming that discrimination can be overcome by working hard and shutting up. Asian Americans who subscribe to this myth may not believe in the Black Lives Matter movement and its importance. They may stay silent in the face of anti-blackness.
However, it is not the job of the oppressed to work hard and overcome their own adversity. The burden and responsibility of racism falls upon the oppressors, and we must hold them accountable for it.
Like comedian and Patriot Act host Hasan Minhaj said, “When you became an American citizen, you don’t just get to own the country’s excellence. You have to own its failures.” It is time to break this silence, to break the practice of turning a blind eye to anti-blackness and discrimination that is not centered around ourselves.
As people of color we can empathize with what it means and how crushing it feels to be defined just by looks. We can empathize with what it feels like to be silenced, ignored, or even attacked. But we must take this time to focus on uplifting Black voices and and defending Black lives – there is another time and place for our own struggles.
Activism and solidarity have many different looks and avenues. Support and donate to Black-owned businesses and organizations. Learn about their history, especially the hairstyles. Check to see what the organizations you do interact with and give money to choose to do and support with their profits. Consume art, words, and works by Black creators. Attend protests and signal boost resources. Educate yourself on your own history. Talk to your families, point out any anti-black prejudices they may hold, and educate them to do better. Encourage your peers to vote, pay attention to election cycles, and especially keep track of corrupt officials at the local level. Platforms like the Asian American Advocacy Fund offer multiple resources and action items in one place.
What matters is that we cannot let this movement slow down now that it is no longer the number one trending topic online. What matters is that we do not only stand in solidarity when people are watching and evaluating, that we do this when no one is looking too.
Asians must stand for Black lives. We cannot fear what we may gain or lose in return, because what other choice is there?
Featured image by Shane Aldendorff via Pexels