by Ally Ang
On November 20th, 2014, a 28-year-old unarmed Black man named Akai Gurley was shot and killed by NYPD officer Peter Liang. The officer, who was later indicted on charges of assault and manslaughter, was said to have discharged his gun accidentally because he panicked upon hearing a noise in the darkened stairwell.
This was one of countless instances of police brutality against black Americans, but this incident in particular caused a stir within the Asian American community because Officer Liang was Chinese. Many Chinese Americans in the community rallied in support of Liang, arguing that he would not have been indicted if he had been white.
To me, this was an example of a long history of Asian Americans derailing necessary conversations around anti-blackness. Of course, Asian Americans are also victims of racial violence. Just look at the murder of Vincent Chin and the countless attacks on South Asian Americans in the post-9/11 racist frenzy. And there is also a large diaspora of black Asians in the United States and across the globe who face anti-blackness from both within and outside of the Asian community at large. But non-black Asians are not subjected to the systematic and government-sanctioned murder of our people in the way that black people are. A few months ago in my tiny hometown of East Lyme, Connecticut, my father (an immigrant from Indonesia) was verbally assaulted and told to “go back to his country” by an off-duty police officer. Rightfully outraged, my father recounted the incident to me, saying, “The police are all racist against minorities!”
“That’s true,” I responded, “but if you were black, there’s a good chance you would be dead right now.”
If everyone who reads BGD gave as little as $10, we’d be fully funded for the next 10 years. GIVE today and help amplify marginalized voices.
Not all oppression is created equal. The harsh truth is that even though we experience racism in deeply painful and traumatic ways, we are settlers on stolen land just like white people. This nation would not exist without the enslavement and subjugation of black people, and we as Asian Americans have often been complicit in the continuation of their oppression.
In two of the earliest Supreme Court cases regarding the citizenship of people of color, the plaintiffs argued that as Japanese and Indian Americans respectively, they were both closer to whiteness than Black or Indigenous people, and they were therefore more suited to be American citizens than other racial minorities. For many years, Asian Americans have attempted to claim whiteness and “model minority” status, often throwing black people under the bus along the way.
Even though we face problems such as underrepresentation, racial stereotypes, and discrimination, the racism that we face is inextricably linked to anti-blackness. You know the stereotype of Asian Americans being emotionless math geniuses who get perfect SAT scores and become valedictorians at Ivy League universities? It formed as a counterpart to the stereotypes of black and brown people as lazy and underachieving. Anti-blackness is at the very core of the model minority myth, and there are countless examples of Asian Americans perpetuating anti-blackness: from Vijay Chokalingam to the murder of Latasha Harlins to when an Asian American fraternity at UC Irvine posted a video featuring its members in blackface.
However, there is also a very strong legacy of Black and Asian solidarity. Two of the most famous Asian American activists, Yuri Kochiyama and Grace Lee Boggs, are known for their involvement in the Black Power Movement. In one of the most moving moments in history, Kochiyama cradled Malcolm X’s head as he lay dying after being shot. But since then, there have been very few Asian American activists who have been so prominently invested in solidarity with black people. It’s time to change that.
This is my call to action, my plea for us as a community to follow in the footsteps of our activist foremothers and to start practicing true solidarity. As a light-skinned, mixed race Asian American woman, I am very privileged in a lot of ways. One example of my privilege is that when I read about the deaths of Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, or any of the other horrifying instances of police brutality against black people, I am outraged instead of terrified. I am able to voice my anger, to show up to protests, to loudly condemn the racist criminal justice system because I will not be its next victim. That’s why when I see non-black Asian Americans preaching solidarity for people of color, I am immediately skeptical. More often than not, the term “people of color” is used to silence black voices and to mask the specific issues that they face. We have gained so much from the struggles of black people; now, it is our turn to help shoulder that burden.
Ally Ang is a Pisces with a Gemini moon. Her hobbies include being a confused bisexual, petting dogs, and swiping left on Tinder.
BGD accepts writing and video from queer and trans people of color! SUBMIT your work.
Do not republish anything from this site without express written permission from BGD. For more info, go here.