Black Lives Matter. East Asians: Step the Fuck Up.

@nat.akinyi

Black Lives Matter – information, petitions, donations

cw: mentions of anti-Black violence, mentions of anti-Black racism

I’m mad.

Of course, that’s nothing new. I honestly can’t remember the last time I wasn’t mad at White people but for now, I’m not going to talk about them. I’m going to talk about us. I’m going to talk about East Asians and why I’m so unbelievably angry and disappointed in our response to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Of course, anti-Black rhetoric isn’t anything new in our community and maybe one day, when I have the energy, I’ll explain how imperialism and colonialism led to the insidious anti-Black sentiments that have poisoned our community for centuries. But for now, let’s not talk about how this started, let’s talk about why this needs to end.

Evidently, the Black Lives Matter movement isn’t about us and yet our silence has played a huge role. Our lack of support has contributed to the horrific injustices. How many of us have stood aside up til now because these struggles weren’t personal? because it felt like the emotional labour wasn’t ours to bear? Because simply, we didn’t care? How many of us were getting the perfect grades; competing for the highest salaries; ignoring protests and petitions simply because social gatherings and work emails were more important? I’m not going to talk in hypotheticals anymore – we all know what we’ve done personally to undermine or hinder Black existence. Whether it was active or passive, it doesn’t matter. It happened and we need to be held accountable.

The thing that makes me shake with unfathomable rage is that even right now, right in the midst of the biggest civil rights movement in history, East Asians are still being shitty. 

Earlier this week, when I spoke about Black Lives Matter over dinner (which escalated into a screaming match when my mother told me I shouldn’t be angry because it means I “have low EQ” (what!! the!! actual!! fuck!!), my dad told me: “the reason Officer Thao didn’t say anything was because the other officer was his superior”. I’ve scoured the Internet and honestly cannot find any information confirming or denying Chauvin’s seniority but whether it’s true or not doesn’t matter. The fact is that this highlights the horrifying thought process (and the horrifyingly East Asian thought process) that respecting the hierarchy is what should be done.

That staying silent and doing your job is the paradigm of existence. 

That White authority deserves more respect than Black life. 

That East Asian livelihoods are more valuable than Black lives. 

I’ve been getting insomnia again and my body is falling apart from stress (as it is wont to do but that’s not the point) – I told my parents and my dad’s first response was: “why are you even stressed? you’ve finished exams and you’ve worked out your grade.” Not like an entire civil rights movement is worth my time and effort, right? Education above all else, right?

Even this morning, my mum noticed my swollen jaw and she said: “you need to learn to let things go, take it easier”. When I indignantly responded that I can’t, I won’t, and how am I supposed to “let things go” when people’s lives are literally at stake?!, she said: “look at the gweilo, they know how to let things go when necessary”. 

You’ve got to be joking. 

Without the gweilo we wouldn’t even need the movement in the first place?!!???? Can you even hear yourself???????? 

This week #blackouttuesday happened and although I could rant for hours about my anger at the performative nature of some of the posts I saw, there was one in particular that sent me into a rage.

(I won’t share the picture because it’s jarring and may be upsetting for some people reading this.) It was the image of a Black man’s face set against a black background – the only visible facial features were his eyes and teeth. The thing that upset me was that it was posted by a boy who is half Japanese. The thing that upset me more was that my godsister, who is half Korean, had liked it. East Asians not speaking up about Black Lives Matter has kept my anger steadily simmering lately and yet this was the first time I’d seen something so blatantly racist on social media perpetuated by our own community.

I called them both out. Whilst my godsister immediately apologised and admitted she didn’t realise the implications behind the image, my conversation with the boy was less productive.

I shouldn’t need to explain why the image is racist because it’s plainly evident but for those of you who don’t understand (perhaps because you cannot see the picture), although it ultimately is not blackface, the image is “funny” because the man is black, ergo, it’s racist. Also, reducing Black suffering to a caricature (which is what’s being done here by hijacking a hashtag meant to promote solidarity for BLM and instead using it to post a “funny” picture of a Black man!!) is the very foundation of minstrelsy.

This is not “satire”, it is simply inappropriate at best and racist at worst.

Truth is, the thought of a Black person seeing this picture and being upset or angered, the thought of them seeing it under a hashtag where they should be receiving support – it’s sickening. It is not our place as non-Black people to make light of the situation. We should be donating, signing petitions, showing up and showing out, opening our wallets and opening!! our!! fucking!! eyes!! to the fact that our community has historically done shit all for Black rights and it’s nigh time that we take some tangible anti-racist action!!

-> In addition, having spoken to Nat, she says that it reminds her of the racist cartoon Plane Dumb (1932) in which the two main characters journey to Africa; put on blackface; and hide in a cave – their only visible facial features are their eyes and mouth. She also pointed out that the racial slur “spook” directly came from the idea that black skin blends into the night (thereby making black people “seem like ghosts”) and therefore this image directly plays into racist tropes. <-

Ok, so I’m not here for internet arguments with patronising bigots (my energy can be better spent elsewhere like endlessly streaming this video by Zoe Amira) so I left him on read but in an ensuing conversation with my godsister, she noted something “confusing”. She said that he had messaged her the day prior about an excerpt she posted from Jex Wang‘s blog post (which I highly highly recommend reading in full!!).

(what she posted)
(his response)

Perhaps at first glance, this may be “confusing” but truthfully, (c)overt anti-Black sentiments are laced throughout his message. His comment here is more indicting, not less so. He is choosing to platform our struggles as East Asians, choosing to prioritise them when right now, the conversation is about Black lives. Our struggles are valid, that’s true, but there is a time and a place to have that conversation. Right now, in the midst of Black Lives Matter, this is neither the time nor the place. 

How can we focus on the occasional word designed to hurt us when there are batons, tear gas, BULLETS hurting Black people?

My godsister and her friends are young but that’s not an excuse anymore. Information is widespread and completely accessible. (For starters, here is an entire google drive with Black revolutionary texts.)

Right now, in the midst of the pandemic, we spend almost all of our time online. If we can use a social media hashtag, we can damn well follow through and look up the information attached to the hashtag. She made the point that most people her age and most people at her school “haven’t seen a lot of racism” because her school is “multicultural”. Honestly, that’s bullshit.

We live in Norfolk. Multiculturalism in our schools extends to East Asian and South Asian. We haven’t acknowledged anti-Black sentiments in our community because we haven’t needed to. Because we live in a bubble where the most overt form of racism we’ll ever see or experience is an idiot heckling you with “ni hao” or getting your property egged on Halloween. 

Truth is, educating people on racism is exhausting and I understand the need to take breaks. But in this fight, it is not our existence being challenged. It is not our lives being threatened. In this fight, we cannot afford to check out. 

We’re allowed to stay silent for matters concerning us (lord knows I had to take breaks during the HK protests and during the barrage of ‘rona-related racism) but right now, the Black community is suffering. For decades, centuries, millennia, the Black community has suffered. We need to do our utmost because if we can even slightly lessen their emotional labour, if we can even slightly shoulder the burden, we should. 

We need to erase anti-Black sentiments from the inside out. It’s no longer good enough to point our fingers at White people. How many of us sit silently at dinner whilst our relatives say racist things? How many of us choose to swallow down our rice along with our words, inwardly seething but outwardly blank, itching to leave the table but nevertheless resigning ourselves to our relatives just “being like that”? 

Trying to explain away or “understand” anti-Black racism in our community is not good enough. Scrolling past problematic posts is not good enough. Our age, our upbringing, our surroundings – these are all unacceptable excuses for ignorance. They are reasons, yes, but they are not excuses. We have no more time to let people learn at their own pace. Learn now. Learn right the fuck now. 

How many more Black lives have to be lost whilst we wait for human rights to be palatable?

Who are we making it palatable for? 

Why are we allying ourselves more with White than with other POC? 

There is no excuse for this behaviour and there is no justification for not challenging this behaviour. We should not only be educating ourselves, donating, signing petitions (because that’s truly the bare minimum) but we should be challenging our family, our friends, our colleagues, our whole community. We should be having those difficult conversations. Fuck respectability politics, fuck respecting your elders when they’re clearly in the wrong.

And honestly, fuck every East Asian who takes the easy way out.

You’re just as bad as the colonisers. 

Soph x

say how u feel lmao

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