What role can/should Asian Americans play in the Black Lives Matter movement?
Tragic events lead us to this question. There is a clear pattern of societal racial discrimination and outright violence from time to time. Since the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, outright discrimination seemed to have lessen and the improving trend appeared to have culminated with the election of the first African American president in 2008. In reality, much has simmered just under the surface and would periodically erupt much like what we’re seeing now.
It’s hardly surprising that a reaction is the Black Lives Matter movement. There’s been so many incidents of suppression and violence against African Americans that we’re in danger of being jaded to them. Just off the top of my head, several high profile cases (and there were many) came to mind …
In present day Minneapolis, police killed George Floyd while being arrested for passing a fake $20 bill. Case pending
In 2014, Michael Brown, a teenager, was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson (Mo). No convictions.
In 1991, Rodney King was severely beaten by LA Police after a car chase. No police convictions.
Asian-Americans, too, have been subject to discrimination though not nearly to the extent against African Americans. Currently, many Asian-Americans are targeted in hate incidents associated with the Covid-19 epidemic. Off the top of my head, here are some high profile incidents involving Asian-Americans.
In 1982, two men murdered Vincent Chen in Detroit in a hate crime. The two got off leniently. They agreed to manslaughter, pay $3,000 and serve three years’ probation, with no jail time.
In 1942, Japanese-American “were interned” at the outset of US entry into WWII. About 120,000 were rounded up, denied due process, and settled in remote “camps.” About 80,000 were US citizens. Decades later, the US Government apologized.
In 1871, a Los Angeles mob lynched 20 Chinese immigrants. Eight of the mob were convicted but their convictions were overturned. This was the largest number of lynching in US history.
So what role should Asian-Americans play in the Black Lives Matter movement? Note that how one minority group is treated will have implications for another minority group. If we don’t stand together, we’ll stand alone. The central issue is social justice. As Asian-Americans have benefited from the Civil Rights movement and its sacrifices in the early 1960’s, the Black Lives Matter movement should get support from Asian-Americans. What you can or should do is up to you. There are many ways to do so.
One place to start is by seeking understanding and educating the others around you. Why has this tragedy galvanized so many people both within the U.S. and internationally? How does it compare to the incidents faced by African Americans and Asian Americans as mentioned above, and others? One of the officers who stood by as George Floyd died was an Asian American. How do we unpack that for ourselves and addresses the biases that exist within our diverse community? (A great article on this was recently published by NBC: https://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/officer-who-stood-george-floyd-died-asian-american-we-need-n1221311)
You can also write editorial comments to the media in support. You can contact your political representatives. You can join active organizations. You can join the peaceful protest. You can contribute money. You can run for local public office(s). The turnouts for local elections are generally very low. Few voters pay attention, but in fact the local politics may have more impact on your community than that from Washington. Let your voice be heard and vote!
Wee and Rose
Following is Pastor Martin Niemöller’s 1946 poem about how the Germans let Nazi’s run the country “First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.”