Asian American Anti-Blackness Is Real—And So Is Our Responsibility to End It

We’re holding a lot of grief and anger over the Black lives stolen by white supremacy in recent weeks. For George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Nina Pop, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others whose names never made national headlines, we demand justice and mourn their loss. But we also recognize that this is not enough. In this moment—especially with the knowledge that it was an Asian American cop who stood by and did nothing as his partner literally crushed the life out of George Floyd—it is urgent that we as Nikkei and Asian Americans recommit to the hard and messy work of uprooting the anti-Blackness from within our communities.

The anti-Asian violence being directed at our communities during this pandemic is inextricably linked to the anti-Black violence that allows the police to murder unarmed civilians like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, that teaches the Amy Coopers of the world to weaponize their white tears to summon those same police, that teaches us to stay silent while those same police commit those same murders as if that will somehow protect us. If we hope to end this violence—all of it—we must reckon with our complicity in this tangled web of white supremacy, and our responsibility to dismantle it. 

Our historical inheritance is Yuri Kochiyama and Grace Lee Boggs building Asian solidarity for Black liberation, but it is also Mike Masaoka and S.I. Hayakawa peddling a model minority myth that encourages us to step on others to ascend into whiteness. It is Vincent Chin beaten to death by angry white men and James Hatsuaki Wakasa shot by a camp guard, but it is also Peter Liang and Thou Thau.

We are both victims and accomplices of state violence, and we must engage with that complexity and leverage the privileges we have even as we name the systems that harm us.

We must learn from our history—not simply because our elders also faced incarceration and state violence, but because there are hard-won lessons that we urgently and desperately need to carry forward today: Crises can quickly become cover for the increased criminalization, surveillance, and policing of communities of color. Our acceptance in this country is conditional and revocable. We cannot rely on racist systems designed to plunder our labor and our culture for protection.

What kind of ancestors do we want to be? That’s a question we return to again and again, especially over the past few days, and it’s a question we pose to our community from a place of love and accountability. We don’t have all the answers, and we, like everyone else, are constantly learning and striving to do and be better. But what we do know is this: Silence is compliance, and we want to be the kind of ancestors who were loud and disobedient and stood on the side of justice.

Black Lives Matter.

[Header photo: Asian Americans at a rally to support Black Panther co-founder Huey P. Newton in Oakland, 1969.]

Additional resources:

Minnesota Freedom Fund

Black Visions Collective

Black and Asian American Feminist Solidarities: A Reading List

Letters for Black Lives

20+ Allyship Actions for Asians to Show Up for the Black Community Right Now

    • 30/05/2020 at 8:25

    Thank you, your piece of writing allowed me to understand why and how model minority existed.

    • 30/05/2020 at 15:21

    I find it interesting how all these articles can barely hide their gendered racism. It’s clearly written by an Asian woman who is catering to white (liberal, but still white) men’s stereotypes of “Asian women assimilate-able, Asian men bad”. She conveniently mentions only Asian women as civil rights leaders but ignores ppl like Franklin chin. She conveniently mentions all the bad Asian men acting as house slaves to the white patriarch structure but leaves out Maxime Hong Kinston, Amy Tan, and the plethora of Asian female authors and prominent figures at the time that spurred the wedge of gendered racism, uplifting Asian women as acceptable women of color in white society while throwing their make counterparts under the bus as “backwards idiots who just don’t get progressive values” – these ideologies are the foundation of white saviorism tropes that everyone sees in movies that involve any Asian people. If this article truly wished to discuss these issues, perhaps an insightful reflection on gendered racism and how Asian women are actually uplifted in white society and granted more proximity to whiteness compared to Asian males is in order (the fact that they overwhelming dictate the narrative of the API experience in online media while shooting down dissenting opinion is very telling).

  1. Densho
    • 30/05/2020 at 18:03

    Hi Joe,
    Yes, this statement was written by an Asian woman, and we stand behind it as an organization. If you don’t like reading articles written by Asian women, then our blog may not be for you. This is not meant to be a discussion about “gendered racism” — which, by the way, does not mean what you think it means — but about the horrifying escalation of violence against Black people in recent weeks, and our responsibility as Asian Americans of all genders to do everything we can to end that violence. You are absolutely free to opt out of this discussion if your concern for Asian masculinity is deeper than your desire for Black and Asian solidarity, but please know that your misogyny is showing and we won’t be joining you.

    • 30/05/2020 at 22:38

    Best response ever.

    • 31/05/2020 at 6:18

    Nice reply to ol Joe Densho….love all your articles.

    • 31/05/2020 at 14:52

    My family hails from the Hawaiian islands. My grandmother, who was of Okinawan descent, was an accountant fro Pearl Harbor Naval Base. She was working on December 7, 1941. My great uncle was removed from his job as a merchant marine and incarcerated under Order 9066, My family was subjected to the hate crime perpetuated by the racist federal governement. Growing up mixed on the mainland meant I’ve always had to stand up for myself. I’ve been mistaken for Hispanic, and even, Black. I’ve been spit on, physically attacked, detained by police, and followed around grocery stores because of the color of my skin. I for one, am tired of it. I’m very happy to see the Asian community standing up for some much needed change.

    • 31/05/2020 at 16:40

    Thank you Densho for making this beautiful statement. Thank you Densho for that response to Joe.

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