In 2013, the Black Lives Matter movement was created to protest police brutality toward the Black community. The movement forced the white public to recognize a pattern: the police’s use of excessive force on unarmed Black people. The current resurgence of the protests was sparked by the death of George Floyd. Floyd was arrested for allegedly using a counterfeit bill. During the arrest Floyd was killed by Derek Chauvin, a police officer who knelt on his neck for 8 minutes. Since then, protests all over the world have been demanding justice for victims of police brutality.
Protests have been crucial for pressing for change from local governments. The activism within our own homes and communities is just as necessary.
Black Lives Matter is becoming a household topic. This has led many Asian families to discuss issues of institutional racism for the first time. As a result, debate over the role of Asian-Americans in the Black Lives Matter movement has caused a divide within the community.
It’s not an easy talk. As the granddaughter of a Hong Kong police officer, I know having discussions about police brutality can cause a lot of fighting and maybe some yelling. It exposes deep misconceptions that need to be overturned. But it’s a discussion worth having.
So from my personal experience, here is how to talk about Black Lives Matter with your Asian family.
Step 1: Get your facts in order.
Try to educate yourself as much as possible before entering this discussion. During these discussions I have noticed rebuttals often start with “What if…”
“What if the officer was scared and overworked?”
“What if the man was resisting?”
Know specific names, incidents and oppressive laws to reference during your discussion. This will prevent the conversation from becoming an unproductive battle of hypotheticals. There are a multitude of documentaries on YouTube and Netflix, and various articles that are accessible.
Learning as much as you can is not only beneficial for your discussions but also for yourself.
Step 2: Stay Calm.
Talking with your family about sensitive issues can be difficult. Especially if you are younger than your family members, you may be dismissed as “inexperienced.” It is easy to get increasingly frustrated and angry. The conversation can quickly become derailed. Topics become personal and the discussion strays further from the main issue.
I urge you to take a deep breath and remember not everyone has had the same perspective as you. If an insensitive comment is made, try not to get angry and defensive. Understand the root of their reasoning, then rebut. Take breaks if the discussion is getting too heated. This will probably be an ongoing talk and it may need to be brought up multiple times.
Remember why this discussion is important to you. You are trying to actively overturn biased mentalities in your family and get a better understanding of the situation. You want your community to leave the conversation with a better understanding than before.
Step 3: Acknowledge that the racism Black people experience does not minimize racism against Asians.
When Black Lives Matter is discussed, a common rebuttal I’ve seen within the Asian-American community is “Asians also experience racism.”
That is absolutely true. Hateful actions stemming from the coronavirus pandemic have reminded us of that. The Asian-American community has suffered through the Chinese Massacre of 1871, the Chinese Exclusion Act, the “Yellow Peril,” Japanese internment camps and many more acts of oppression.
No one is denying the pain our community has endured. But our pain doesn’t justify denying the pain the Black community has undergone. The Black community has endured slavery, Jim Crow Laws, the War on Drugs, redlining, mass incarceration, police brutality and countless other horrors.
Both issues of oppression are interconnected. Although each minority doesn’t experience the same type of oppression, they are both oppressed by the same system.
Step 4: Asians’ personal positive experiences do not represent the whole of systemic racism.
My immigrant parents will make the argument, “Asians are also minorities and we’ve managed to work hard to succeed. Why can’t Black people do the same?”
The answer is exceedingly complicated, yet quite simple. Asians do not experience the same type of oppression as Black people.
The entire wealth of America was built on slavery. Slavery relied on the dehumanization of Black people and the idea that they were property.
Asians were also seen as disposable cheap labor for mining and railroad construction. But from the 1940s to the 1970s, exclusionary acts were phased out. This led to an increase of immigration to the States. Many of the new Asian immigrants were educated and skilled individuals coveted by the American workforce. Furthermore the Asian community was promoted as a “model minority.” The trope is less of a compliment and more of a back-handed way to encourage the Asian community to assimilate and remain complacent in our own oppression.
This type of oppression has deeply damaged our community. But it is not the same type of oppression Black people face. Many ancestors of the Black community didn’t even have a choice to come to America. Even after slavery ended Black people weren’t allowed the same opportunities in the workforce, in education and in voting. The dehumanization of Black people runs deep. Some medical students are still taught that Black people have a higher pain tolerance, leading to poorer health care for Black people. Additionally the perception of Black people as being inherently less intelligent and more violent is something deeply ingrained in our society.
Black people cannot simply “work hard and succeed” like Asian-Americans because they are not perceived the same way. Nor are they given the same opportunities as Asian-Americans.
Step 5. Directly address internalized racism and colorism in Asian culture.
People don’t usually admit it, but minorities can be racist towards other minorities. Chinese, Japanese and Korean culture has a history of promoting fair skin as the beauty standard. In ancient China, pale skin signi fied wealth, showing that you were rich enough to stay indoors. Asian makeup companies have made skin whitening products. Many photo filters automatically make your skin lighter. All of this promotes the idea that dark skin is not acceptable, dark skin is dirty, dark skin is not valuable. This centuries-old beauty standard is extremely damaging to dark-skinned Asians. It is also highly likely that this mentality has carried over to how Asians judge other dark-skinned people, like the Black community.
Understand how years of inaccurate beauty standards and negative media representation of Black people have influenced you. It is crucial in overturning internalized racism within yourself and those around you.
This topic is certainly overwhelming. Discussing it with the people who are closest to you can be challenging. But the Black Lives Matter movement deserves the support and understanding of the Asian-American community. It is up to those who are willing to start difficult conversations to bridge our two communities.