As a long-time racial justice worker – a grey head in a movement mainly made up of young people – earnest young Asian Americans, anxious to acknowledge the pivotal role anti-Black racism plays in the perpetuation of white supremacy, often ask me how to “center anti-Blackness” in Asian American racial justice activism. I am as often asked that question by white progressives who aspire to become allies in the Movement for Black Lives.
My answer is simple. Acknowledge the leadership of Black Lives Matter and use the political space and opportunity the movement has created – including the 24/7 media coverage that has finally changed the dominant news narratives about Black crime to one of crimes against Black bodies – to ask ourselves, how does this movement serve me and those like me, whether we be Asian or Latino, Native or white? And then make those connections and tell your story.
Some tell me doing so “de-centers anti-Blackness.” But “centering anti-Blackness” requires us to tell the stories of the many oppressions that hold it in that central role, as the fulcrum of white supremacy, and of the many levers without which elites, who are the ultimate beneficiaries of white supremacy, cannot continue to use that fulcrum to continue to propel us toward racial dystopia.
White supremacy, after all, originated as a labor exploitation system. Racism wasn’t it’s primary product. No. Cotton, sugar, tobacco, produce for our markets, and chattel slaves, these were the commodities around which it was built, and these commodities were created for the sake of profit. Racism and white supremacy were the means, not the end.
In today’s more complex economy, the hand that picks the strawberry isn’t the same as the one that packages it for market, but both are exploited for the sake of profit.
Still others tell me that telling such complex stories – stories about connections and intersections, and common cause being rooted in multiple self-interests is too much for most people. Only those already ready to hear it will listen. That it’s preaching to the choir.
To them, I say this –
Those who say activists for racial justice ought not preach to the choir are too personally invested in the people doing the singing to hear what they sound like to those for whom they are strangers or even the “other.” To them, the lack of harmony among our voices makes us sound confusing at best, and like nothing more than noise, even an angry din, at worst. And this has been true for a very long time.
Now, finally, a clear, compelling voice – an Aretha in the form of the Movement for Black Lives – has risen in our midst, cutting through the noise and turning heads everywhere. Our job is not to stop singing in order to hear her, nor to try to copy her and sing along.
To silence ourselves diminishes the potential power and reach of our combined voices. To simply sing along threatens to drown her voice out.
Instead, we need to find our way to harmony, weaving our various voices together while retaining the integrity of each voice. We are, after all, there to sing, to have our voices heard, too. If not, why show up? And our singing is of stories that are clearly deeply intertwined, if only we can sing in harmony.
To help people understand relationship, the social nature of what we have been, are now, and will be in the future we create together, not singly but together, whether we do so with conscious intent or not is the most important message of our music.
Harmony is our goal. Not amalgamation or appropriation or imitation. We need to use the political space and cultural opportunity that the Movement for Black Lives has created for us and use it for this purpose, picking up the diverse threads of our lives and weaving them into a powerful, prophetic cry for justice.
This after all, is the true self-interest we all share in the cause of Black liberation. Black liberation has always has been the teacher, the prophet, the true hope for the liberation of us all.
5 replies on “On Solidarity, “Centering Anti-Blackness,” and Asian Americans”
[…] Scot Nakagawa RaceFiles […]
Wow; this post is so beautifully written. As a black woman, I truly appreciate your acknowledgement of how the Black liberation movement has powerfully impacted people of other races–and also your call for us to weave together our collective stories to construct a larger narrative. This narrative–when powerfully told–can shape our understanding of who we are, who others are and consequently, our shared experiences. Indeed, it’s only in understanding others’ stories that we can develop empathy and a deeper understanding of how white supremacy for the sake of profit has caused immense psychological, economic and physical damage on non-white bodies in general. For example, in listening to the complaints of a Chinese-American male friend concerning stereotypes of Asians in the media, I am especially sensitive to how these stereotypes can be as damaging to an Asian man’s psyche as stereotypes about the aggressiveness of Black men can damage the well being (and sometimes the life) of a Black man. We need to learn each others stories and once we listened, help to sing our collective songs so that all can hear. Anyway, thank you very much for this message!
Thank you for this powerful, thoughtful analysis that weaves the complexity of our multi-racial, multi-variable lives around the centerpiece of BLM.
We need to use the political space and cultural opportunity that the Movement for Black Lives has created for us and use it for this purpose, picking up the diverse threads of our lives and weaving them into a powerful, prophetic cry for justice.
This point is well taken but one may well ask:
(a) Will the Movement For Black Lives really effect the fundamental changes that are needed? Racist policing is not the PRIMARY problem in black communities. The criminal activities of a small minority who create mayhem and damage all out of proportion to their numbers loom much more important. This key matter is not at the top of the list of the Black Lives movement. And no, just pointing this out does not make one “insensitive” – which seems to be a common response by some anti-racists when such things are mentioned (roll eyes..) Compare the number of black people killed by police to the number of black people killed by other blacks, particularly young males.. Anti-racists too often, consistently shy away from this, rather than confronting it directly. Deflection tactics- such as talking abut historical racism, are more common. There seems to be a fear about talking bluntly about the INTERNAL problems of minority communities that are creating negative outcomes.
(b) Which brings up a second point- what are anti-racists doing to PRACTICALLY reduce the level of violence in black communities? It is all well and good to hold workshops and discussions among middle-class white people about racism, but how does this translate into credible practical action on the street that substantially cuts that violence? Many Anti-racists have few answers except more deflection talk.
(c) Weaving personal experiences into the broader narrative for justice is a time-honored path, but would that weaving translate into something practical? In some cites for example 40% of the black kids fail to graduate from high school. A white guy reflecting on his privilege in being able to get a cab in NYC is a part of the conversation, but again, more importantly, how does this help those black kids? Antiracism needs to develop many more practical projects and programs on the ground to overcome its sometimes “talking shop” image.
(d) Finally antiracism has a valuable part to play in debunking and confronting much the race propaganda of right wing grist mills. But there are some weaknesses that have too often conceded valuable ground to right wing opponents to control and re-frame “race” narratives. As one writer puts it:
“We are left with the irony where the first black president cannot risk appearing to favor blacks, whereas Lyndon Johnson, who as a congressman voted against anti-lynching laws, targeted funds and programs for beleaguered black communities.”
–Mark Major 2010. Where Do We Go From here, pg 178
Cardova, you say: “Compare the number of black people killed by police to the number of black people killed by other blacks, particularly young males.”
This is the most self-serving, expedient argument white folk have been making for decades (even in South Africa during apartheid, but I digress): straight out of the WASP bible = the “log-in-the-eye”, of so-called “black-on-black” crime! It’s such a disingenuous line of reasoning but to minds already prejudiced it always takes them off the hook for any responsibility! Basically whites are telling us, take the log out of your own eye, black people, before you complain about the “speck” in the policing/criminal justice system! Really!!?
It’s amazing that throughout the 20th and 19th or earlier centuries, no one ever used the phrase “white-on-white” violence or crime; yet we all know the thousands upon thousands, if not millions dead as a result of it, let alone the millions rendered wounded or disabled because of it! Why is this?
Listen, the criminal justice system is an arm of GOVERNMENT! It ought to abide by certain laws! The lawless among us already subscribe to no laws! To claim the problem is “blacks” having lawless among them (as though “blacks” are the only people with lawbreakers and criminals who visit devastation upon the lives of others!), and then blaming the entire “race”/community; yet being defensive (as a “white” person) when the entire “white race”/ community is blamed for the supposedly just system it administers, or capitalizes on (e.g. schools-to-prison system), seems like a rather mind-bending, contorted belief.
People living in deprived economic conditions, persistently and intentionally deprived for decades – if not generations – tend to adopt behaviors of survival, not quite the norm in well provisioned communities!