Since my last post, more and more disturbing violence has indeed erupted — in ways both predictable and still, somehow, shocking.
I’ve been struggling pretty openly with how to best fit myself into the work of anti-racism, feeling both alienated from the work of white allies and as though I am an interloper in black spaces. What I have yearned for is a space that feels appropriate, i.e. a space in which I am able to do more of the heavy lifting to alleviate the struggles of the black community as they fight back against the daily injustices and dehumanization of genocide. And don’t kid yourself into thinking it’s anything but — our police force has our black citizenship held hostage, fearful to leave their homes, drive down their streets, to let their children outside to play.
We need to remember their names. We need to remember their lives. They are survived by families who loved them deeply and communities who will never be the same without them.
My time for inaction is over. My time to wonder where my place is as a non-black person of color is over. And though I still struggle with it, my place is certainly never to downplay what is happening to black people in my community, or to claim that my own struggles are more important. To do so only reinforces white supremacy and anti-blackness. My place is definitely to call out anti-blackness when I see it not just white folks, but my fellow POC who are not black, and who will use their places of relative privilege to suppress the dignity and vitality of black lives.
Case in point number one:
What has been happening in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Bangladesh is unquestionably horrible. The Arab world and East Asia have undoubtedly been experiencing more than their fair share of bloodshed, and it is worth recognizing. Muslim people the world over do fear for their lives and safety, perhaps in much the same way as non-Muslim black folks, but here are two key points to ponder:
- Many Muslim people are black, and are impacted just as deeply when either of their communities face tragedy.
- Honoring the lives of one group of people does not mean you ignore the plight of others. Movements like #BlackLivesMatter do not insist we only care about black lives, but asks that we highlight and acknowledge the very real problem of anti-black prejudice and violence. It does not diminish one group’s struggle to discuss the other’s.
Additionally, it’s not okay to flatten the struggles of “people of color” into a singularity without recognizing that each of us is impacted differently as we move through the world. I am often mistaken for Latinx and have faced anti-Latinx hostility as a result. However, I am not Latinx, and I did not grow up with those traditions. What I have experienced insofar as racial prejudice is not the same as what black folks have experienced, nor is it the same as, say, what a Korean person has experienced, or First Nation/Indian folks have experienced. Class can’t be ignored here, either, or any of the other dimensions of identity, but no matter your culture or country of origin, the darker your skin, the worse you are likely to fare in your society.
So, sorry, Love Live of an Asian Guy, “people of color” is hardly a discrete or exhaustive category. There are nuances within and between these groups that are important to highlight. There are times when, for tactical reasons, it’s absolutely important for us to unite — but it’s in poor taste to do so during a time when black people are being disproportionately murdered by police. We share common history in many ways that is quite fruitful to understand, but our current sociopolitical systems of crime, punishment, and achievement do not unilaterally treat all people of color the same way.
This also completely lets us non-black POC off the hook on examining our own prejudices. Both my Southeast Asian and white family members taught me anti-black racism and shadeism. My mom bought me skin lightening creams as a teenager, and my white family members encouraged me to lock the van doors as we drove through black neighborhoods in Washington, DC on family vacation. The people who loved me the most also taught me to hate my skin, and to hate the very notion of blackness, and that is an inescapable fact. (If you are a member of my family and are reading this and you wish to take me to task, have at it, but I know what my truth is and how hard I’ve worked to overcome the racism I grew up with in my home and my school. I continue to dismantle and challenge it within myself to this day.)
Instead of playing Oppression Olympics, we need to acknowledge that sometimes our boat simply isn’t leaking as much as someone else’s. As this letter penned by Asian Americans in support of #BlackLivesMatter delineates, “It’s true that we face discrimination for being Asian in this country. Sometimes people are rude to us about our accents, or withhold promotions because they don’t think of us as ‘leadership material.’ Some of us are told we’re terrorists. But for the most part, nobody thinks ‘dangerous criminal’ when we are walking down the street. The police do not gun down our children and parents for simply existing.” The letter goes on to say that we as non-black POC benefit from much of the work that has been done by black activists; we need to acknowledge black contributions to all of our lives.
It’s also quite possible to validate the hurt we experience without stepping on the toes of those who are hurting more. As this article points out, four Latinx people have been killed by police in the last week, including Pedro Villanueva, who was shot by plain clothes cops as they chased him in an unmarked car. The article states, “While statistics clearly show that Black people are disproportionately killed by police, few numbers exist for Latinos, who can occupy several demographic categories… To explain the discrepancy between Latino and Black victims, some point to the more explicit history of law enforcement and Black slaves or to the high representation of Latinos in police departments.” In other words, we understand that both groups face discrimination, yet we also respect that our black siblings are disproportionately targeted. It does not erase the memories of Melissa Ventura, Anthony Nuñez, Raul Saavedra-Vargas, or Villanueva — and yes, we should say their names, too.
If you are a non-black POC like me and you want to know how to support your black neighbors, there are a ton of great resources going around on social media. Here are a couple of them I’ve liked especially:
Some other things black friends and activists have said:
- Show up in the streets. Use your physical presence and don’t just hang out on the internet.
- When you do attend that rally or march, move to the periphery and act as a buffer between the cops and black protesters. (This definitely is primarily for light skinned and white cisgender folks; if you do not feel safe around police because you are trans, Latinx, or part of another group likely to be targeted by police, then do keep yourself safe.)
- Don’t make it about you. Center black people and their experiences. If the media asks you for a quote, defer to black movement leaders.
And my personal addenda, for all non-black POC who enter into these spaces:
- When you do show up, it’s not your job to hold white people’s hands or to put up with their racism. Keep yourself safe and leave if you absolutely need to
- Get together with other non-black people of color and work on your internalized anti-black/shadeist views together without white people around. Find orgs and people in your communities doing this work together.
And please be sure to take care of yourself. This work is hard and you will likely feel like many parts of yourself are fighting with themselves at once. I hope to see you in the streets alongside me. We have nothing to lose but our chains.
photo credit: ABC News