Being an ally means spreading awareness, signing petitions, donating if you have the means to do so, and calling out racist behavior. Being an ally as an Asian American means doing all of the above, while also looking at the specific ways in which we have either perpetuated or been compliant in allowing racial injustices towards the Black community to continue. Now more than ever, it is important for us to step up in support. It can feel as though Asian Americans are exempt from the problem because if we ourselves experience racism, we cannot be racist. However, this mentality is a big part of the problem. As an ally, we must tap into the discomfort of undergoing honest self-reflecting, unlearning, and relearning. We must use our voices and privilege to lift up the voices of others, especially those who are so often ignored in society.
As a 17-year-old teenager about to enter college, my perspective on racial inequality and injustices towards the Black community has evolved and changed in the past few months. Previously, I didn’t think that the Asian American role in the Black Lives Matter movement was that much different than any other. But our position is one that is unique and crucial to the change that needs to happen. After hearing about the murder of George Floyd and how one of the officers, Tao Thao, was an Asian officer complicit in the event, it made me think about the role of Asian Americans in events such as these. It deeply upsets me that Asian Americans are depicted just as Tao Thao was – a bystander – but even worse, there is some truth to the depiction.
I reflected on my own life and instances in which I have been a bystander, particularly one event a few years ago. A former friend of mine used a racial slur, and then justified it by saying it was “part of a song.” At the time, I was in a friend group that consisted of white girls, Black girls, and I was the only Asian girl. One of the Black girls was extremely hurt by the event, and the other Black girls immediately jumped to defend her. However, the white girls were silent – some trying to justify the actions of the girl who said the slur. Me? I was confused. I didn’t know where I stood on this matter. I knew it was entirely wrong for the girl to have said the word, but I didn’t know whether it was my place to get involved. I stayed silent and let my close Black friends think I didn’t care about them or the event that had occurred.
In a world where the Black community needs more support than ever before, I had not done what I could to stand up for them. Today, this event still often plays through my head, reminding me that I do not want to be that bystander anymore. I now know the importance of being an ACTIVE ally, and why Asian Americans and other people of color need to support one another and not be silent. We need to strip the notion that we are a group of Tao Thao’s, cowardly and shameful, but rather, a group that stands up for injustices in the world.
I think the Asian American role, specifically in the Black Lives Matter movement, is important and unique because we have a different position than many other ethnic groups. We can be targets of racist behavior and oppression, but we are often perpetrators of the same system. Asian Americans can find it challenging to speak up about the movement because we, as an ethnic group, are neither the leading oppressor nor victim of systematic racism. I think that it is crucial for us to be eager to participate in this movement because we can sympathize (to a much lesser degree) what systematic racism looks and feels like. That is not to say we understand what the Black community goes through, yet we most likely have more insight than a white person. Moreover, I think that Asian Americans don’t always remember that we owe much of the privilege we have in this country to the Black leaders of the Civil Rights Movement and the decades in which they fought for reform. We cannot ignore the Black Lives Matter movement because their struggle is intertwined with ours and has been throughout history.
I also reflected on how Asian families and communities often perpetuate anti-Blackness, especially those of older generations. I wanted to gain some perspectives from fellow Asian Americans on this topic specifically, and the ways in which they have personally struggled with receiving backlash for supporting the movement. Here are some of their replies:
“As a Korean American adoptee, I am constantly harassed about supporting not only Black Lives Matter but other non-Asian oriented movements because they ‘don’t apply to me’ and I should ‘stay out of it and mind my own business.’ But it’s important to remember that not only are we all one people, but we also cannot thrive without each other. Black culture is American culture. We need to remember that.”
“I am half-Asian. I don’t feel that my Japanese father feels any special involvement in the movement. My white mother does not understand the movement nor its motivations as a non-white person would. I have not been able to effectively engage my father or contextualize the movement for my mother.”
“I’ve been hearing the ‘All Lives Matter’ rhetoric. It’s hard to change the mind of older generations, especially with expectations of filial piety.”
“I’d say that the biggest roadblock has been unfamiliarity with the movement. I think the media likes to portray the movement by its most radical figures, which can lead to the public holding a distorted and negative opinion of the movement itself. So, I think when talking to peers and families alike, it can be a challenge getting them to distance themselves from that media narrative… I don’t exactly like telling people what to think. Rather, in conversations, I try to bring up a variety of perspectives coupled with statistics so they can come to their own informed conclusion. I think it is important that people reach an opinion on their own. Mob thinking is dangerous and results in people disregarding facts instead of engaging in critical thinking — a phenomenon we see on both sides of the political spectrum.”
As a 17-year-old who has somewhat recently started really caring about this issue and actively seeking out ways in which I can contribute to change, I am nowhere near where I want to be as an ally, activist, or actively anti-racist individual. However, I am learning to go forth with an open mind and continuously work to improve my allyship. I hope to do more research, have more conversations, and further seek out ways I can help positively impact the world we live in. I think now more than ever, the youth really needs to step up and fight, as we are the next generation and the ones who the decisions being made now are ultimately affecting. In closing, change starts with the actions of one individual or one group of people, and I hope that in the coming months and years, the Black Lives Matter movement can really gain traction in the Asian American community.