a rising tide
A guide for non-Black people on anti-racism and supporting the Black community right now
“What choice will we make? What world will we create? What will we be?”
— Ibram X. Kendi
Originally, this piece was going to be called “The Trap of “Authenticity” and the Rewards of Cultural Colonization,” inspired by the Alison Roman and Chrissy Teigen drama and unpacking the political and socioeconomic nuances of “selling out” and “authenticity,” and the complex history of cultural ownership and invisible domestic labor of people of color as it pertains to the marginalization of Asian-Americans.
But after two very different incidents of racism — the attempted swatting of Christian Cooper and the tragic murder of George Floyd by police — it is impossible to discuss the oppression of Asian-Americans without acknowledging systemic racism and the importance of intersectionality.
As “white adjacent,” Asian-Americans are simultaneously exploited by and excluded from white privilege; the “model minority” myth is both damaging to Asians and used as a tool of anti-Blackness. This is not to compare degrees of oppression, but to show that all minorities are equally worthless in the eyes of white supremacy, and that solidarity is the only solution. The real strength of minorities — racial minorities, the LGBTQ community, religious minorities — is the communities that we build, and for a long time, those communities have been insulated from one another without much effort. Under white supremacy, everyone else loses and we need to stop playing egalitarianism as a zero-sum game. A rising tide lifts all boats.
For the Asian-American community, our obligation to help is both moral and practical. Standing up for the Black community is the right thing to do, but it is also the first step in dismantling a racist system that keeps minority communities marginalized. If you are outraged by Asian-Americans being associated with the coronavirus and the increase of anti-Asian incidents, then you should be angry about this too. We need to stop thinking about our relationship with the Black community in terms of reciprocity. There is no comfortable metaphor for their experience that will make sense to you.
The Alison Roman incident is merely an expression of white supremacy and capitalism, two systems that govern our society and are equally oppressive. Comparing a food writer’s rant to the institutional murder of Black citizens can feel melodramatic, but these systems are inextricably tied. It is both the reason that a white woman believed she could weaponize the police against a peaceful birdwatcher and the reason that George Floyd’s was murdered with the camera rolling. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once wrote that he feared the white moderate more than the KKK, people that demand order and civility (or “authenticity”) while upholding the racist systems that kill Black people by the thousands every year. Sure, we could focus on the glaring racism that’s easy to call out, like people that wear Blackface or make the slanty-eyed gesture in photos, but it’s much more interesting (and arguably more important) to examine the subtler and perhaps far more nefarious ways in which white supremacy is maintained and enforced by non-Black liberals.
Today is the last day of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. It’s also the 99th anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre in Oklahoma, the “single worst incident of racial violence in American History,” in which a white mob descended on the affluent Black community known as “Black Wall Street,” slaughtered hundreds of Black Americans, and burned and looted their businesses. The whole world is watching to see how we will respond. And it’s important that we stand as allies with the Black community at this literal life-or-death moment in history.
Originally published at https://www.jayemsey.com on May 31, 2020.