As the consequences of racial inequality take center stage in US politics, America again uncovers its divisions across racial identities. From the abolitionist movement to the Civil Rights Movement, the fight for black liberation has been passed to the modern #BlackLivesMatter movement. Like many afrocentric racial justice movements, Black Lives Matter has been politically charged and has received much attention from both white and black Americans.
However, the role of Asian-Americans in the Black Lives Matter movement has remained unexplored. Perhaps it is because we occupy a confusing space between white privilege and minority disadvantage. Our “model minority” status has left us mistakenly complacent to racism and prejudice, and our community’s limited political efficacy has made us silent spectators in a nation divided between black and white.
In an attempt to investigate the paradox to our social location, I pose two questions: how are Asian-Americans affected by antiblackness, and what can we do to support Black Lives Matter?
First: How are Asian-Americans affected by antiblackness?
After speaking with my family and Asian-American peers, I gained a rough idea that #BlackLivesMatter’s afrocentrism portrays the movement as unrelatable or alien to Asian-American experiences. However, while BLM’s main goal is black liberation, it would be irresponsible for Asian-Americans to turn a blind eye to the racialized politics and prejudices of fellow people of color. Instead, we should embrace BLM as a rally-call for all racial minorities to reject institutions of racialized privilege and disadvantage. Likewise, we should support BLM by building solidarity across all racial groups. For example, we should empathize with BLM’s effort to reject whiteness as the norm and build pride in our darker skin and unique appearances. A London-based research study found that four in ten women in major Asian countries use a skin whitening cream. However, colorism is an issue shared across many racial groups. The movie “Straight Outta Compton’s” casting calls for female background actors mark a disparate difference between “A, B, C, and D girls”. Roles that required better-looking girls had descriptions of having lighter skin and “long natural hair” while roles that required less attractive actors were described strictly as “African American girls… medium to dark skin tone.” Empathizing with overlapping issues between Asian-Americans and African-Americans and sympathizing with issues distinct to one racial group helps build respect and solidarity.
Second: What can Asian-Americans do to support Black Lives Matter?
Asian-Americans may strengthen the movement by helping to dismantle institutions of white supremacy and speaking against our racial privileges. For example, we can use our “model minority” status (both a blessing and a curse) as a medium to support the voices of fellow people of color. This allows our status’ backhanded respectability and our dynamic social location to stand in solidarity with black Americans, Latinx, Native Americans, etc. Likewise, we should be aware and vigilant of instances of prejudice and racism beyond the Asian-American community. We should not only keep up with the news, but also be active and present in BLM demonstrations to support other people of color and to amplify the voices for racial equality and against antiblackness.
Black Lives Matter is an extremely important and relevant movement that shakes a nation awake and re-emphasizes the need for racial justice. In order for BLM’s message to successfully change the conversation about race in America, we Asian-Americans need to show our support for Black Lives Matter.