Shortly after the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile by the hands of overly insecure, highly under qualified white cops, I saw a posting on social media that was an open letter to Black people written by a white man. In this open letter, the white man apologizes to Black people for, essentially, having to live under the systemically racist society in which we Americans live.
The letter was shared on Facebook by a friend who is Black. My friend was sharing the letter because he thought it was a good thing. And, in a way, I guess it was a good thing. Here’s a white man who seems to understand his privilege and wants to apologize to all Black people because of it. Putting aside white guilt for another column, the entire time I read this white man’s open letter, I couldn’t help but wonder why the white man was not addressing his letter to white people. To the people who need to do better in understanding, accepting and acknowledging the fact that merely by the color of their skin, they are privileged and that the burden for change lies squarely on their shoulders.
A couple of days later, many Asian folks started posting a collectively written letter by younger Asian folks for their moms, dads, aunts, uncles and grandparents called “Black Lives Matter to Us, Too.” Aside from the beauty of this being an example of when the internets come together in a powerfully positive way, this letter is what the white man referred to above should have done.
The most recent showing of mass Asian activism was on behalf of a Chinese cop who many felt was being scapegoated by the NYPD. Officer Peter Liang, after being convicted of manslaughter of Akai Gurley, had Asian folks across the country marching for him. Many of the marchers were older Asian Americans. When I saw photos from those marches, I couldn’t help but wonder when, if ever, these elderly Asian folks had ever marched before. And then there were those of us Asians who vociferously were on the side of Akai Gurley’s family and loved ones. To me, we were on the Black Lives Matter side. Yet, many of the Asian folks marching for Liang had probably never even heard of the Black Lives Matter movement. And, if they had, probably didn’t care much at all.
This is why it is our responsibility as Asian Americans to talk with and educate our own people. In the case of breaking down the systemically racist society in which we live, the burden is constantly being placed on the oppressed instead of the oppressors. This must change. Christina Xu, the young woman who started the Black Lives Matter Letter for older generations of Asians understood this. And, wow, what a result. The letter became a collective effort via google docs with many contributing.
After finally reading the letter many days after it was originally published, I was so moved. What I love most about the letter beyond its all important message, beyond the collective effort made to create it, beyond the fact that the message seems to be having an impact – what I love the most about the letter is that the basis of its power is that the letter is written with kindness and respect and out of sheer love.
See the Korean version of “Letters for Black Lives” here.