A few months ago, I wrote the first part of a reflection piece, On Ferguson, Part I: 99 Questions. After several weeks of reflection, here we go:
There’s this great article detailing the 12 stages that occur when injustice against the black community takes place. One of the stages immediately following such an event is exhaustion: Tragedy after tragedy, injustice after injustice –how long can outrage be sustained? It becomes so easy to say, “I’m not surprised” or “What did you expect?” when the violence or the events aren’t so up close and personal.
As 2014 ended and 2015 began, we have borne witness to grand juries that have decided against indictment in two cases: Michael Brown’s death at the hands of Darren Wilson in Ferguson and Eric Garner’s death at the hands of Daniel Pantaleo in New York City. In between, we’ve seen the deaths of a witness at Michael Brown’s case and a 12-year old boy holding a toy gun. We have seen the deaths of two police officers –both men of color –and the mounting criticism of the peaceful demonstrations against police brutality. Most recently, we have witnessed the deaths of three young, bright, brilliant Muslim Americans (a topic that will be tackled in a future post in greater detail).
Even our comedians have no more words. It’s incredibly tragic, made even more tragic because this all isn’t just a single isolated incident stacked upon another single isolated incident. The victim-blaming, the smear campaigns, the baseless justifications—and on and on and on: it’s all part of a pattern. When at every turn the events that transpired are denied vigorously, how do we even begin to process what has happened?
For me, answering these questions meant asking myself questions that led me to revisit what it means to be an ally. How can I, as an Asian American woman, best support the black community? What does it mean to be in allyship with my peers? As one friend put it, how do I support, rather than take over, the narrative?
These questions are ones that prevent me from just throwing my hands up in the air and giving up; these questions force me to recognize the privilege I have in being able to be exhausted. Most importantly, these questions force me to do all I can to understand and converse and stand in solidarity with those around me.
I cheered when Arthur Chu wrote, “WTF is the impulse behind changing #BlackLivesMatter to #AllLivesMatter. Do you crash strangers' funerals shouting I TOO HAVE FELT LOSS.” Many of my peers held mixed opinions when the #CrimingWhileWhite hashtag grew in popularity. Even the musicians who dominated every summer party soundtrack found themselves embroiled in the growing conversation about race and what it means to be black in America.
But back to the original question: Why should we care?
The AAPI community has historically maintained at times tense, at times supportive relationships with the black community: In the wake the Rodney King shooting, the Korean American community was split over how to respond in the midst of the LA riots. Race relations were tense: Koreans were often disliked and blamed for pushing out black businesses. With the death of Latasha Harlins at the hands of a Korean shopkeeper the previous year still in mind, many rioters took to Koreatown during the spring of 1992.
And yet, LAPD largely ignored Koreatown; shopkeepers were forced into a situation where they could either defend their shops and livelihoods or watch and allow the lootings to occur. Our justice and law enforcement system essentially pitted the Korean and black communities against each other and prevented both groups from gaining any sort of resolution, progress, or reconciliation. It was classic misdirection.
Ten years earlier, in 1982, Vincent Chin became a victim of a hate crime when two white men beat him to death. Frustrated at the declining jobs in the auto industry due to the rise of Japanese car manufacturers, Ronald Ebens and his stepson, Michael Nitz, took a baseball bat and brutally assaulted Vincent. Vincent spent four days in a coma before he died, whereas Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz only served three years of probation for manslaughter. The reaction of the AAPI community has been seen as a turning point in Asian American activism.
I point to these two events as examples of how the AAPI community has been embroiled in race issues in contemporary American history. We should care about what is occurring now not only out of the if-not-us-than-who mentality but more importantly because we have the power to create change and to break the status quo.
With groups like Asian Americans Advancing Justice, 18 Million Rising, and the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, the AAPI community can no longer be ignored or be held up as some sort of standard to which other minority groups should emulate. To do so establishes a false racial dichotomy among communities of color that prevents us from working towards an actual solution for the police brutality, imprisonment of black bodies, and systemic racism and oppression that exists within the current American justice and law enforcement systems.
Both policymakers in the “system” and grassroots organizers against the “system” are needed for substantial progress. And that progress, as Chris Rock so brilliantly pointed out, is the responsibility of society as a whole –all of us. The past few decades of progress are not black progress but rather white progress. We as communities of color must continue to work together to ensure that this progress will not be built upon the bodies of our black brothers and sisters.