What Does Model Minority Mutiny Demand?


A new generation of young Black leaders have ignited a movement. They have awakened the nation and the world to the longstanding, daily brutality of state violence against Black lives. There have been daily protests against police brutality in U.S. cities for over four months now, disrupting business as usual, shutting down intersections, bridges, tunnels, transit stations, and highways with clear demands for justice and accountability. And they won’t stop soon.

Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Cullors are experienced organizers who created Black Lives Matter as an ideological and political container not only for the demands to end the routine extrajudicial killings of Black people, but to end the devaluation of Black life in all its forms. As stated simply in this must-read essay, Black Lives Matter is “a tactic to (re)build the Black liberation movement.”

That tactic is realigning the national conversation about race to focus on America’s centuries-long, perpetual practice of anti-Blackness, from chattel slavery to Black Codes to redlining; from slave patrols to Broken Windows policing to Stand Your Ground laws; from convict leasing to today’s mass incarceration, gentrification, gender violence, voter disenfranchisement, and school-to-prison pipeline.

It demands that we address the underlying historical and structural forces that lead to the loss of so many Black lives, in a nation that has allegedly left racism behind: Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, Rekia Boyd, James Byrd Jr., Aiyana Jones, Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride, Yazmin Shancez, Tiffany Edwards, Jordan Davis, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, John Crawford, Akai Gurley… The list is excruciating. Every 28 hours. 21 times more likely.

We can’t breathe.

Like so many others who have taken to the streets, shown up and spoken out in solidarity, we at ChangeLab are grateful for the fertile political space that Black Lives Matter has created. As Vijay Prashad reminds us, Black Lives Matter “is more than a hashtag. It is a first principle. It contradicts the Crime Bills, the Welfare Reforms, the Wars on Drugs and Terror. It suggests that Life is more important than the confidence of capital markets.”

Black Lives Matter, as a tactic and a first principle, is fueling a movement for all of us to get free.

This summer we offered Model Minority Mutiny as a meme to inspire Asian Americans to stand up, speak out, and take action against the anti-Black logic of model minority politics. We hoped it would spark more conversations about anti-Black racism in Asian American communities. We hoped it would help lead to concrete political commitments and strategies, to transform U.S. political, economic, and cultural systems to value humanity over capital accumulation and war. We hoped it inspire more Asian Americans to dig deep and ask, “What must we do now?”

We are inspired by and indebted to the grassroots organizations and networks courageously organizing on the ground in Asian American communities, without which the work required by this moment would not be possible: in particular, Chinese Progressive Association/Seeding Change, Southeast Freedom Network, CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities, DRUM – Desis Rising Up and Moving, and many others.

Just as Black Lives Matter is a call to center all Black lives, Model Minority Mutiny is a call not only to those of us with class, skin-color, or gender privilege to examine our complicity in the system. It is an opening to acknowledge the marginalization of those Asian Americans who are most vulnerable to state violence – refugees of war; those targeted by state surveillance and profiling; those trapped in low-wage jobs and the informal economy; those who are incarcerated and formerly incarcerated; those who are undocumented; those who are trans, disabled, queer, cis-women, dark-skinned, Sikh, or Muslim. It is an invitation for Asian Americans to unite across difference for the long-term work to dismantle the apparatuses of state violence.

We live in a time when rightwing ideas of race and nation have gained such popularity that a majority of whites believe that they are the primary targets of racism. Many Americans think we’re “past race” or “post-racial”. The color line has divided how the nation views reality. And many of the racial justice radicals of past movements who could have helped us navigate the pitfalls of post-racialism have been locked in cages, assassinated, or forced into exile. Ethnic studies has been decimated, or largely de-politicized and distanced from its intent to serve the people. All of this, along with the model minority myth and demographic change, pulled the Asian American movement off its course. Too many of us became unfamiliar with the original principles of Asian American politics. We need new space to arm ourselves with the knowledge and tools to build authentic relationships as we also strategically shift power.

Black Lives Matter has opened up that space.

This is an exciting time. This is an insurgent time. A growing legion of Asian American voices are demanding change, not to lift ourselves up at the expense of others, but to link arms with others to take up the long and unfinished project of Black liberation. Our own freedom and humanity depend on this. More of us are screaming, “Black lives matter!” “This Stops Today!” and “Shut it down!” as we also regroup to plot the long, difficult and necessary work of growing this movement in our communities.

What does Model Minority Mutiny mean in concrete terms? What political commitments does it require of us? Asian American organizers and young people in every region of the country are hungry to answer these questions, to organize their communities to stand on the insurgent side of the color line.

Tomorrow there is a national call on Black & Asian solidarity, where hundreds of Asian Americans will start to answer these questions. The response has been overwhelming, to the point that the call is full, but you can listen to the recorded version afterward. And you can hold these conversations in your own organizations and communities. We are grateful to DRUM in New York for offering several questions to consider. Below is a revised version of them. We invite you to share your thoughts and insights, and what comes out of the conversations you’re having, in the comments section below.

  1. What are we learning in this moment?
  2. As we struggle against our own oppression as Asian Americans, in what ways are we perpetuating white supremacy and anti-Black racism? How can we fight for our people, while also fighting anti-Black racism within our own communities?
  3. Many Asian Americans are engaged in the immigrant rights movement. But what does it mean to push for citizenship or legalization when it doesn’t guarantee any value to Black lives? How does work on immigration policy reinforce ideas of criminality, of deserving v. undeserving communities? How can we reframe that work to also support demands for Black liberation?
  4. How are our demands, messages, and efforts for justice excluding people in our own communities, by seeing some as deserving and others as undeserving? How can we hold those in our own communities who do harm accountable without supporting systems of mass incarceration?
  5. We know that Black communities as a whole bear the brunt of state violence. In our own communities, are there those whose struggles we marginalize because of patriarchy, classism, heterosexism, transphobia, Islamophobia, and colorism? How can we change that?
  6. Are there connections between the legacy of chattel slavery in America and the super-exploitation of certain workers today? What goals do they both serve? What are the differences?
  7. How do we hold elected officials accountable when they promote the deeply racist policies of Broken Windows policing and gentrification? How do we build real political power to transform the system?
  8. To what extent can abuses and injustices of policing and courts be reformed, and to what extent do we need to build towards deeper systemic changes? What would those deeper changes demand of us?
  9. Are our expressions of solidarity reflected deep in our communities, or just at the grasstops leadership?
  10. How much time and effort are we spending building power with community members who are not yet organized, especially those who bear the brunt of state violence in our communities?
  11. The current momentum and energy is historic, but this kind of mobilizing is not sustainable long-term. How can we shift, recruit and train the people on the streets from mobilizing into sustained organizing?
  12. What specific contributions can Asian Americans make to the project of Black liberation? Why is Black-Asian solidarity a strategic necessity? What can we accomplish together?
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By Soya Jung

Soya has been active in the progressive movement for over 30 years. During the 1990s she worked as a reporter at the International Examiner, communications and policy staff for the WA State House Democratic Caucus, and executive director of the Washington Alliance for Immigrant and Refugee Justice. She was the founding chair of the Asian and Pacific Islander Coalition, which formed in 1996 to restore food and cash assistance for low-income immigrants and refugees in Washington State. During the 2000s she worked at the Social Justice Fund, a public foundation supporting progressive organizations in the Northwest, and consulted for various institutions like the Western States Center, the Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity, the Nonprofit Assistance Center, the City of Seattle, and the Washington State Budget & Policy Center.

At ChangeLab Soya has authored two research reports: "Left or Right of the Color Line: Asian Americans and the Racial Justice Movement" and "The Importance of Asian Americans? It’s Not What You Think", and co-authored the Asian American Racial Justice Toolkit. She has convened numerous public events uniting scholars with social movement activists to explore race, gender, war/empire, and Asian American identity. Her writing has been published in Othering & Belonging: Expanding the Circle of Human Concern, and cited in places like the Routledge Companion to Asian American Media, ColorLines, and The Guardian.

10 replies on “What Does Model Minority Mutiny Demand?”

The Internet hordes are starting to call it “All Lives Matter.” It is selfish to put one group over all others.

This solution has already been found long ago by those in the college of education and social sciences and recently actualized into a government-sponsored program: Teach for America. But how many capable and qualified teachers, especially much needed Confucian-esque Asian Americans, will be willing to move, live, and work in those areas? Khan Academy is also out there, but how many unionized teachers in those communities promote the website for their students to use?

In the end, it’s all a matter of self-interests for oneself rather than the greater good. I think the extraordinarily high concentration of Asian Americans in Southern California is evidential enough. But that’s just my jealousy talking.

I’m just going to leave these tweets by Arthur Chu here:

“WTF is the impulse behind changing #BlackLivesMatter to #AllLivesMatter. Do you crash strangers’ funerals shouting I TOO HAVE FELT LOSS”
“Do people who change #BlackLivesMatter to #AllLivesMatter run thru a cancer fundraiser going “THERE ARE OTHER DISEASES TOO””

The #Blacklivesmatter hashtag isn’t selfishly putting one group in front of all others, it’s a response to the fact that Black lives are constantly treated as disposable and worthless by our government. Calling it “#Alllivesmatter” ignores the fact that some lives are not treated equally as others and that police brutality is a huge problem for the Black community in particular, a Black person murdered extramartially every 28 hours and young Black males having 21 times the risk of being shot at by the police than White males.

1) Most people who do TFA are not qualified teachers, and that program itself does not seem sustainable or beneficial to our communities. A personal opinion of mine as someone who’s worked in education, Americorps, nonprofit, etc., that echoes many others it seems. Definitely not a solution.
2) Khan Academy is being used in some classes, but not all students have computers/internet at home to utilize it.
3) Nathan addressed the most important thing, I personally am passionate about education so I wanted to address those other things.

The invisibility of Asian Americans should be in the conversation about the “model minority”. When as a people, you are invisible, than the power structure can define you however it wishes. Asian Americans being such a small group, have very little power. Whatever privilege we have is simply being a token to the power structure. As individuals we can speak out on these issues, but how can we come together as an Asian American community? The first step is being able to organize ourselves as a group of people with common interests. Once we are a community and no longer a few individuals with a voice, as a community, we can start to make things happen in this society.

Robert Lee Black Lives Matter has opened up a space where Asian Americans can find their stance, aligning themselves with the goal of elevating Black Lives above the racism and victimization that makes the Model Minority a tool to perpetuate it. The recent response to keep White Privilege in place are the cops who seek to undermine DeBlasio and his effort to make changes to the police system. The next step for the Model Minority Mutiny is for Asian/Asian Americans to see is that its possible to spark a counter action to cops turning their backs. Asian voices can recognize Wen Jian Liu as a victim too and support changes in the police structure, doing this specifically as a public Asian stance/demonstration. The goal for this visible Asian position would be to spark the majority who elected De Blasio to recognize the need for them to demonstrate a powerful counter action to show support for NYC as a progressive city. In this way Asians can have a visible role and still be aligned with Black Lives Matter.

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