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Asian and Black Americans Taking a United Front

Updated: Jul 28, 2020

As I protested in New York weeks prior in the name of Black Lives Matter, I thought nothing of the direction we were going. But after a few weeks of reflection, it became obvious that we were being guided by the police behind us deeper into Chinatown. We were then stopped on Chinatown street corner, where many civilians live and were likely disturbed by the yelling and crying by Black voices outside. We decided to write this piece to determine whether or not the police strategically guided us and other protesters around the country into other minority neighborhoods to further vilify Black protesters and widen the chasm that has been created by a pervasive narrative between Black and Asian folk in the United States. I now yield my time my long time friend Grace, who is Asian American:

On Friday, May 29 at 7 pm, a group of approximately 150 people congregated in Hing Hay Park (located within Seattle’s Chinatown-International District, CID). This gathering was unrelated to the organized protests in Downtown Seattle. Assunta Ng, the author of this blog post, asked one of the organizers why they chose to protest in Chinatown. He simply responded “We know that Chinatown is targeted with racism,” and assured Ng that they were there to protect the district. That response was supported by a police officer nearby, who said the protest wouldn’t get out of hand. However, Ng did encounter a protester with a stick in his backpack, who claimed he was using it to load things.

By 8 pm, Hing Hay Park was deserted with no protesters nor police cars to be found. Though by 11 pm, Downtown protesters were pushed into the CID by police, which left businesses vulnerable to destruction. It is hard to say whether or not those from the earlier congregation were involved with the looting and vandalism that took place later that night. We should refer back to Ng’s encounter with the protester with the stick and question if ill-intentioned protesters were originally planted in Hing Hay Park to cause chaos.

The next day, 200 storefronts were boarded up, leaving business owners and CID frequenters devastated. A passerby pointed out the BLM protests are “much worse than the World Trade Organization (WTO) riots in 1999.” Coined “Battle of Seattle,” the WTO protests were held in opposition to new trade agreements and the repercussions of expanding globalization. In 1991, the US advocated for China’s induction into the WTO, as China was and still is the US’s largest export market. Though there were approximately 50,000 protesters, who were unfortunately met with police brutality, the CID was surprisingly untouched. So why was the CID heavily impacted by protester behavior this time around?

Despite receiving help from Seattle Public Utilities to clean up, business owners feel the CID has been abandoned by the police and local government officials. Alex Chun and Eric Chan are two business owners that have been affected by looting and vandalism. Chan recalls trying to reach the police but getting redirected to another line. They both ask, “Where are the police?” and exclaim, “If it is not life-threatening, the police will not come.”

Ng’s blog post can be viewed factually in terms of timestamps in which such events occurred. Yet we must question if these events are being interpreted objectively. After all, the piece was posted on Northwest Asian Weekly, which proudly states it has “one simple goal: To empower the Asian community.” Towards the end of the blog post Ng says:

“We condemn the senseless killing of Black men and women, and we don’t endorse the violence and criminal activities of the opportunists. We also support the thousands of good cops whose good deeds often get overlooked.”

This statement was a bit troubling to read, as it appears as an attempt to empathize with the Black community but ultimately deciding to side with their oppressor. As we know, the police force was created as enslaved African catchers and not much has changed.

So again, we must ask ourselves why were protesters pushed into Chinatown?

It is clear there is a rift between Asian (Chinese) and Black communities in this country. Perhaps pushing protests into Chinatown was a police tactic used to exploit such animosity and vilify protest efforts. Both minorities are essentially being played in order to leverage the agenda of our whitewashed system and relieve the police of blame.

Hostilities between the two minorities have flared in urban environments. The challenge moving forward is to first find common ground and then move towards a unity of purpose. Josiah Ng (Chinese American) will take it from here to discuss the deliberate right between our minority groups:

Before understanding the division between the two groups, one must first understand the context and narratives that are common between minorities. Both groups are subject to generalizations despite being richly diverse and have historically been the subject of discrimination. The recognition that both Asian and Black people are distinctive in appearance has undoubtedly enabled this oversight of the different ethnicities within each group. While the existence of these non-white narratives is a common thread, the narratives themselves are extremely different.

Prior to the conclusion of World War II, Asians were subject to many hurdles such as being denied citizenship, entering the country, and general vilification as a result of the direct conflict with Japan. At this time, it was virtually impossible for individuals to live up to the “model minority” myth that we currently see. This narrative took hold after the war as the media sought to push the nation’s success in the war into the public eye, while distracting from the internal divides worsened by the treatment of Asians during the war. To accomplish this goal, the media held Asian people in a positive light, with the common thread being that the success of this group of people was due to their cultural makeup. Asian-Americans were and are contrasted to their African-American counterparts in this right.

This is an inherently flawed discussion, but the result is the constant inquiry of what is wrong with the culture of Black people. Furthermore, there are many examples of this very narrative playing out, and the media is happy to harp on these cases without examining the basis for success. Scholars point to the issues of the United States’ alliance with China against imperial Japan as a rationale for a reduction in discrimination and ultimately the success of many Asian-Americans. In order to maintain an alliance with China, the US had to first sign the Magnuson Act in 1943. This document, in two ways, superseded the late 1800s laws that specifically excluded Chinese people from the US. The first was the permission for a set number of Chinese immigrants to enter the country. The second was the reintroduction of Asian-Americans as the universally courteous, submissive, and lawful minority. The effort to appease Chinese foreign leaders yielded success stories, while a lack of similar recontextualization for African-Americans resulted in little apparent progress being made on the Black front.

As alluded to earlier, this is an inherently flawed comparison. The flaw lies in the entanglement of each group’s plights. The assumption required for properly comparing the success (or lack thereof) in two groups, is that all other factors are the same. This is very clearly not the case here. Black people have experienced discrimination in the form of segregation, systematic dehumanization as a result of slavery, and police brutality to name just a few. This dehumanization is something that was never ingrained in the perception of Asians. Through the generalization of the behaviors of each group, Black Americans are done a disservice as their “success” is being measured against others on unequal footing.

Despite the recognition of its flawed nature, there is a very clear answer to the question: What is wrong with the culture of African-Americans? Nothing. Or, at least, nothing that is specifically a “Black” quality that makes the group objectively inferior to their Asian counterparts. Instead, the existence of this question directly points to the minimization of the effect of racism in the struggle of Black Americans. What is wrong with the culture of African-Americans? The only thing specifically wrong with the culture of African-Americans is the way the group is systemically treated.

In light of current events, as an Asian American myself, I am posed with the dilemma of parsing my own role in the movement focused on the Black community. In writing this piece, I have struggled to rationalize why an unqualified individual as I should even have a say. It hit me that I was falling into the same, compliant trope and it’s causing me to only worsen the stereotype of Asian-Americans. Should I choose to not voice my potential controversial opinions when given the platform and opportunity, I am valuing my comfort over the lives of my friends. No thank you. I won’t be doing that this time around. My voice is better than silence, whether it’s in ramblings here, joining others in protests, or being used to inform others, I will be loud and I encourage other Asian Americans to speak out as well.

At this point, I extend my thanks and let Quinn, our Editor-in-Chief, conclude:

Despite the damning evidence of division as narrated by our mutual oppressor, ultimately that narrative is fictitious and can change. One gorgeous example was that KPOP fans have taken over white supremacist hashtags (reminiscent of how #BlackOutTuesday incidentally blocked communication channels for #BlackLivesMatter) by inundating those tags (i.e. #whitelivesmatter) with their beloved idols. As ARMY myself (Quinn speaking), I was overjoyed to see that BTS had made a $1 million contribution that was matched by the fanbase — this small step represents a forthcoming unification between Black and Asian peoples who ultimately share a similar oppressor — the white supremacist hegemony.

Our small victories and displays of solidarity do not repair the damage that many Asian countries have conflicted on a variety of African countries. It does not repair the hate crimes committed upon African citizens in China. Still, this is another conversation to discuss at a more appropriate time when Black citizens are not constantly being vilified by those who are supposed to be their allies. Instead, we must continue following whatever path that will lead us to solidarity between Black, Brown, and Asian peoples to create a united front against our mutual oppressors — the white cishet, patriarchal, hegemony. It is time for Asians and Blacks to unite and revolutionize what being American really means, especially this fourth of July.

#btsarmy #asiansandblacksunite

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