An Asian American influencer just posted a series of “all lives matter” Instagram stories, as anger and frustration at George Floyd’s murder erupted across the US and globally. Her take? She was upset about what she calls #BlackLivesMatter “selfish focus" – even in the wake of an almost nine minute video of Floyd’s brutal suffocation; the unprovoked home invasion and killing of Breonna Taylor; and the ruthless lynching of Ahmaud Arbery. And the list goes on.
As an Asian, you may have felt unfairly targeted by coronavirus racism and Trump’s xenophobic “China virus” comments. Fair enough that there is racism all over the world.
But this moment is a straw that broke the back of generations of systemic, institutionalized lethal racist violence against – very specifically – the Black community. As one Twitter user so eloquently put it:
"How many Asians cant get it through their head that bat soup jokes are NOT on the same level as a man's life???? And I'm Asian tf"
Facing microaggressions, or even assault, by individual racists is not the same as systemic racism. On paper, the Civil Rights Act abolished racial discrimination. However, what's on paper and reality often contradicts. Even as Thomas Jefferson drafted the words “all men are created equal” with one hand, the other held a slave whip.
This disparity between legal word-soup and the real actions of the State cannot now be clearer. It is not just that a White serial killer or school shooter can be safely apprehended by police, or Black Americans have been murdered while shopping, playing in the park, and using their cellphone. It is that the tax-funded police can do the latter with virtual absolute impunity. Even on camera, in broad daylight. Even against very clearly defenseless, overpowered victims. Even with clear intent to kill (or cause grievous bodily harm). Countless deaths and countless acquittals - if the prosecutor has even bothered to charge.
If you don’t feel scared for your life when you’ve just been pulled over driving. Or when going to the shop, or birdwatching in your neighborhood park. If you feel like to you can trust law enforcement to help you or save you. That’s the privilege we have, and the privilege Black Americans have never enjoyed. And that’s why the #BlackLivesMatter movement is so important.
All lives will not matter until Black lives do.
If you do anything today, watch this. Share this.
But why should I care - it's not my fight?
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” - Desmond Tutu
Imagine three houses: but only House 1 is on fire. The fire department is only needed for House 1. There’s no need to call 911 for a house that’s not on fire. Likewise, there's no need for a “White Lives Matter” movement. Their house is not on fire.
But what if House 2, the house right next door to House 1, also catches fire as the flames spread? Now, there are two houses which have to be saved. Our house, as Asians, is on fire too. But there can be no doubt that the best solution for all is to save House 1 first: its damage has surely run longer and deeper.
It’s plain to see if we look back: we - as people of color - directly benefit from the civil rights earned by Black liberation movements. The Civil Rights Act 1964 prohibited “discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin” - that is, of all races. And it was doubtless earned through the painful struggle of Black Americans: Martin Luther King Jr's campaign was met with police attack dogs and his arrest. Asian American activist groups in the 1960s and ‘70s were influenced heavily by the Black Panther Party.
Equality and justice for all means just that: equality and justice for all. Black people have fought so hard for the rights we enjoy. Joining their fight is long overdue.
Nor, either, is the Asian community guilt-free. The current K-Pop and C-Pop industries are built off the backs of African American culture: The Rap of China and many currently popular K-Pop groups are rooted in Hip-Hop. Some idols wear braids to imitate dreadlocks. The NBA is China’s favorite sports league. Asian kids drip in streetwear, collect Jordans, and use words lifted from AAVE. Yet, the African community continues to face deplorable racism within China.
One of George Floyd’s killers was Hmong. In 2016, Asian Americans mass protested against the conviction of Officer Liang, who had killed Akai Gurley, an unarmed Black civilian. But as a young Asian American New Yorker said to NPR that year, “To me, clearly justice is about getting justice for these Black families. Not about making sure that Asian people have the same privilege as White people.”
Okay, so what can we do to help?
Sign petitions demanding justice; write to your elected officials demanding change; donate to the protesters who are being brutalized without cause by the police and need resources; march in solidarity; vote at all levels of Government - including DAs, sheriffs and mayors.
And after that, know that the hardest fight will likely be at home. We’re all born and raised with innate prejudices, which will be difficult actively to un-learn, so educate yourself using the above resources. Educate within your community and family. Neither should you burden your Black friends, who will be emotionally exhausted right now.
In 2016, young Asian Americans came together to write a letter to their older parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents collectively, explaining why they supported #BlackLivesMatter. As the letter writes, “part of that support means speaking up when I see people in my community - or even my own family - say or do things that diminish the humanity of Black Americans”.
As the letter-writers put it, to be responsible allies means “to educate, organize, and spread awareness in our own communities without further burdening Black activists, who are already doing so much.” Tackling that discrimination at home, especially when family members will defensively claim they’re “not racist”, is a difficult, long and uncomfortable process - which doesn’t come with the easy gratification of posting on Instagram - but it’s some of the most crucial work.