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Why Asian Americans Should Stand with Black Lives Matter

August 11, 2016

 

Trayvon Martin. Eric Garner. Michael Brown. Tamir Rice. Freddie Gray. I’ve heard the names of these African American men paraded across the endless stream of news media in the past couple of years. The tragic frequency of the same stories, of unarmed black men killed by police officers, is striking. It’s often horrifying to think about the all too many more people who share the exact same story that don’t become household names. 

The widespread racial profiling, police brutality, and unjustified killing of unarmed African Americans has sparked protests and demonstrations in cities across America, from Chicago to New York. Certainly, the rally cries of the Black Lives Matter movement speak to the collective frustration of the African American community, “Hands up, don’t shoot”, “I can’t breathe”, “Is my son next?”, among others. And more disappointingly, in their aftermath, the police officers responsible for the killings are not charged. 

The traction gained by the Black Lives Matter movement in response to these incidents is inspiring, but also reflective of a great divide among Americans towards race relations in America. The younger generation, in a bold expression of solidarity with the African American community, has come out and supported Black Lives Matter in droves, whether that be on a field work level or through digital platforms. In the discussion of such a heavy subject, the mere fact that youth of all races, genders and backgrounds are coming together to work for a more inclusive and just society gives me hope for the future, but there is still silence from several large groups, including the Asian American community.

Seemingly, the Asian American community has missed the call to action, seeing racially targeted violence as an issue that is tangential from its own community. Conveniently, they believe themselves to be insulated from these issues by a difference in skin color. Many, I believe, mean no malice from their non-support. They simply prefer to obey the law, work hard, send their children to school, all in hopes of achieving the great “American Dream” for the next generation of Asian Americans. And in many ways they have. Asian Americans have long been touted as the “model minority”. Their children go on to receive higher education at a high rate. Asian Americans have seen great success in the STEM career fields. Their neighborhoods have low crime rates. Over the years, they have become more integrated into American society, with trendy Asian fusion restaurants popping up all over the West Coast. They have reached this place in society by doing so quietly. But in doing so, many of the injustices they have faced historically have been swept under the rug. I hope that shedding light on this history will compel the Asian American community to be allies to other minority groups facing racial discrimination. 

Today’s Asian Americans stand on the successes of Asian American activists from the past, something that is often forgotten about. Perhaps recognizing these struggles and their modern day parallels will illuminate the imperative of Asian Americans to participate in conversations about police brutality. 

Vincent Chin. Kuanchang Kao. Cau Bich Tran. Fong Lee. These are the names of Asian American men who have been subject to race-based killings. They are most definitely more foreign than the names of the African American men listed at the beginning of this article, but their revival tells the story of similar injustices against the Asian American community. Kao, Tran and Lee were all unarmed Asian American men shot dead by police officers, who were not charged. All three victims went largely unheard of, even in the Asian American community, and failed to spur public outrage. 

For the sake of these men, I want to remind readers about Vincent Chin. He was an Asian American man killed by two white men who worked with him in the same Chrysler car plant. In the aftermath, the two white men both went uncharged for the racially motivated murder of Chin. Chin did move the Asian American community to fight for equal protection in the criminal justice system through mass protests and demonstrations, but even still; his name is not widely recognized.

The spirit of Chin’s movement is a vital part of Asian American history that should no longer be ignored or pushed aside. It was the defining moment of Asian American success in another arena, political activism and civic engagement in the name of racial justice. Nationwide, the Asian American community fought for a cause that would be significant long after Chin’s case was largely forgotten. Now, with the repeated cases of police brutality faced by the African American community, I strongly urge Asian Americans not to turn a blind eye, and most importantly, not to forget the past. To deny the similarities between the Asian American experience and the African American experience is to de-legitimize the fight against the institutionalized oppression of people of color within the American criminal justice system. 

Black Lives Matter has a natural and powerful ally in the Asian American community. It’s time to reach beyond what is unfamiliar to find what is familiar.

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