Asian American Women Must Stand with the Black Lives Matter Movement
To be an Asian American woman in the United States is to have a complicated relationship with whiteness. We are upheld as a "model minority" one moment and spat on in the street for supposedly carrying COVID-19 the next. We are never considered American enough, while also supposedly having all the same access and privilege whiteness grants.
But there is no one that has been hurt more by White America than Black people (specifically Black women). Following the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, every individual in America must choose a role to play in the fight against anti-Blackness. To be silent is to be complicit; this extends far beyond white people. For my fellow Asian American women, this includes us, too.
We cannot ignore the fact that an Asian man, Tou Thao, was involved in the murder of George Floyd. To admit that we are capable of great evil against Black people is to also recognize we can be part of the solution.
Anti-Blackness is not a problem that rests solely with white people, nor is it solely their responsibility to fix. Asian Americans are also accountable for anti-Blackness in our communities. We do not get to absolve ourselves of anti-Blackness because we are minorities in America.
Given the diversity of the Asian American community, instances of anti-Blackness range far and wide. It was just 29 years ago that Latasha Harlins, a 15-year-old Black girl, was murdered by a Korean store owner in Los Angeles, an incident which is believed to have led to the destruction of Koreatown during the 1992 L.A. riots. Smaller anti-Black microaggressions run deeply in our community, from the appropriation of Black culture to racist stereotypes we perpetuate.
Prabal Gurung, a Nepalese-American fashion designer, touches on this in his own op-ed: “It’s the off-color comment our auntie makes at the dinner table, but would never dare say in public. It’s the fearful mistrust with which we sometimes treat our Black neighbors. Let us name those things, not only when we witness them, but when we do them, because we all have a lot of unlearning to do. Let us have those uncomfortable conversations with our families who may not yet see clearly the role they play.”
It’s up to us, as individuals, to hold our own Asian American community accountable — to remember that our history also includes a strong alliance with the Black community during the civil rights era, when Asian Americans declared “Yellow Peril Supports Black Power."
As Asian American women, we also need to acknowledge the racism that exists between Asian American communities. Within the AAPI community itself exists a massive disparity in representation (whose voices are the loudest, the most prioritized) and access (i.e., to generational wealth and knowledge) between East Asians and their generally less privileged Southeast Asian counterparts.
Fact: America has never protected Asian Americans. My own upbringing as a first generation Chinese female was fraught and filled with racial gaslighting. I grew up in the suburbs of Kansas, where anti-Blackness ran rampant and assimilation was accessory to my adolescence. I didn’t have the language or learnings then to see how whiteness hurts all of us, but especially Black people. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and America turned its back on Asian Americans such as myself, it proved how disposable we were. This is only a fraction of the mistreatment Black people have faced for the entirety of American history. The moniker of “Chinese virus” was damaging, but it is not the same as systemic anti-Blackness that results in the cold-blooded murder of Black people without consequence.
Part of allyship means decentralizing ourselves; it is not “Asian American women for Black Lives Matter” because we benefit from the dismantlement of white supremacy (though we do). It is “Asian American women for Black Lives Matter” because we see and value Black people as they are.
Being a culture reporter, it is abundantly clear there is no culture for me to report on without Black people. Black people set the trend, though they are rarely credited for their contributions. Major fashion retailers frequently steal from independent Black designers and are praised for innovation. Entertainment studios profit constantly from works about Black pain, yet neglect to pay Black actors equal salary (or give them the same opportunity to create art around Black joy). Even seemingly inclusive companies prop up Black bodies and voices, only to throw them away without a second thought.
There is not a single industry that does not benefit from Black voices and talent and yet, there is not a single industry that has not hurt their Black employees.
If you are a consumer in America — which Asian American women are — you are a consumer of Black culture. We all face a moral responsibility to work toward a society where Black people feel safe and seen.
But no matter where we stand in our own relationship with whiteness and White America, our goal should be the same: to stand alongside the Black community during this extremely pivotal time in American history. I personally look to Grace Lee Boggs, a Chinese-American activist, who worked alongside unions and the Black Power movement to fight for civil liberties.
Black people do not need to earn our allyship through interpersonal relationships or notable individual achievement. Their right to existence and equality does not need to be affirmed, debated, or proved; as author Sonya Renee Taylor said in an Instagram video, just the conversation around whether Black lives matter is an issue in itself. Black Lives Matter isn’t a moment, an opinion, or a political issue. It is both a movement and a statement of fact. Black lives have always mattered. It’s the system, and the people who have upheld it, that has failed them. It is up to us — non-Black folk, or in this case: Asian American women — to help dismantle that system.
Chinese culture tells us action speaks louder than words (in fact, we are famously known for not speaking our love). Protesting is an act of love. Education is an act of love. Showing up for our Black community — in whatever capacity we can — is an act of love. Holding ourselves, our families, and our communities accountable is also an act of love. We take these actions so they may bring long overdue change.
These past few years have been filled with justified rage and grief as we mourn the lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Aubrey, Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin, and countless others. My grandfather once told me, as his father told him during the Mao regime, that love does not dissipate when there is loss of life. We keep that love alive through what we do in their name. It is the ultimate act of love to move toward a society that values Black people.