#StopAsianHate Is Our Fight Too

Photo by Brett Sayles from Pexels

#StopAsianHate is our fight too because the fight is against White supremacy.

We gathered in the living room of our Airbnb, eyes fixed on the screen. It’s a 2021 graduation and while his school is in Florida, we were in Kentucky, with the rest of his peers scattered around the country. The speakers all donned masks with varied levels of outward disdain or pride. It’s Florida. You never know with them. One White face after another graced the stage, and made some generic remarks about success, the future, and how honored they were to usher in another class of leaders. It’s college. They all have the pitch of school pride and lifelong family. We get it. What wasn’t routine was what came next.

They welcomed the class speaker, an Asian-American woman, who took her time coming to the mic. She paused, mask covering her face and stared into the crowd. Most of the previous speakers donned plain black or white face coverings, with a few others attempting to match their regalia. However, this speaker wore a black mask with white lettering; the words were familiar, yet unexpected.

“Black Lives Matter.”

She waited for the audience, both in person and at home to get the message, before speaking. Her speech was inspiring, even for a grumpy and distrusting Black man in his thirties. I found myself nodding in agreement and fighting the urge to clap before the end. However, it wasn’t just the words that she spoke. That night, I found myself replaying moments from the day. Family photos. Moving the tassel from right to left. Group dinner. Black Lives Matter.

Black. Lives. Matter.

“Congress introduces a hate crimes act to combat the attacks on Asian-Americans due to COVID-19.”

I knew what was coming next because I had the thought bouncing around in my mind, as well.

Where’s our act? What do Black people get?”

My thoughts shifted to allyship. And Stephen. He was the most progressive person that I knew. We met through a mutual social circle during our senior year of college. In all other circumstances, we probably wouldn’t have met. Stephen was a lifelong social justice warrior and I made a name for myself around campus, and throughout the city, in the mental health space. Our paths crossed through a service group and I appreciated his perspective. As the president of the Asian American Pacific Islander group, he was often speaking out regarding issues of equality, equity, and justice. He opened my eyes to the differences in the three and while we had just a few conversations on race, I couldn’t help but think “this dude gets it.” On a campus where the students of color were often seen as Black or Latinx, Stephen spoke of similar experiences and true allyship. He was well aware of what the Black Student Union was trying to achieve, had conversations with the historically Black fraternities and sororities, including my own, and listened to all. Never once did he claim to know what Black people were going through, but he did offer his own experience and understood that both stories could occupy a space; that both stories were, at times, interwoven enough for us to see each other’s plight as part of the larger struggle.

The last time that I remember seeing Stephen was just about ten years ago. I was walking through the Arts Quad with a friend and spotted one of my roommates about 30 feet away. Who initiated what happened next is up for debate, but that doesn’t change the fact that someone got a snowball to the face and someone was the perpetrator. Before we knew it, the war had begun. Snow was hurling and we were all running in circles; ducking behind statues and crawl spaces next to the buildings. Stephen popped up out of nowhere and joined my roommate. We greeted him.

“Y’all know Stephen? Oh shit, small world,” my roommate said.

We smiled and continued the snowball fight. By the end of it, over an hour had passed, a few others had joined and we all came to a ceasefire amidst our laughs. I wish that I could describe some kumbaya moment that happened on the quad that day, that Black and Asian students joined hands in our collective struggle and came to terms with our plight against the White man. But that wasn’t the case. It was just an innocent snowball fight. I was 22, about to graduate, and just wanted to hit my friends in their faces with snowballs. So, that’s exactly what I did.

The graduation didn’t end as much as it segued into the rest of the festivities. We were in Kentucky for five days and the ceremony kicked things off. We sat, scattered throughout the living room discussing each story that flashed on the morning news.

“Congress introduces a hate crimes act to combat the attacks on Asian-Americans due to COVID-19.”

I knew what was coming next because I had the thought bouncing around in my mind, as well.

“Where’s our act? What do Black people get?”

I thought back to the student speaker and her gesture. I thought about what courage it must have taken to make that decision. In a world where the oppressors politicize our bodies, they deride the notion that the oppressed would be political — that we would speak out against the systems and institutions that bond us. It wasn’t lost on me that a student of Asian descent used her platform to be an ally for Black people and that she did it during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month made it even more significant.

Like Stephen, she gets it.

In the past decade, I’ve become more of an advocate and I’ve grown when it comes to social justice issues. As a social worker, mental health is my base, but issues of race, equality, equity and justice are my calling. I read, write, speak, and more often than not, listen to others talk about their experiences with racism. I’ve spoken out at work and led initiatives that bring voice to communities of color. Still, I have blindspots. I’ve taught a number of courses on these very issues and the one bit of feedback that I’ve received was “talk more about the Asian and Asian-American experience.” Blindspot.

My perspective and my lens of the world is shaped by my experience as a Black, Grenadian-American, Timbaland boots and Air Force Ones wearing New Yorker with an open and outward prejudice against New Jersey and Staten Island. I don’t know the perspective of Asians or Asian Americans, but that should be a point of analysis, rather than an excuse. I can’t speak for the unique experiences of those communities, but that doesn’t stop me from being an ally. I can learn more and not in the annoying entitled way that often presents itself as the ignorant, performative bulldozing of the oppressed with questions about how they can be better humans. No. I can listen to the voices of those who have and continue to speak up. I can challenge those in my communities to see the acts of discrimination and instances of racial trauma that Asians and Asian Americans experience, are no different than our own. I’m not naive enough to compare the Black and Asian experiences. Nor do I refuse to see the nuance in each.

I’m saying that because of how I am treated within this space, within this nation, I can empathize with individuals being attacked, murdered, or targeted in any way, simply because of how they appear. We can all feel that. I can see and challenge others to see that support for one community isn’t the same as turning our backs on our own. I can and will continue to fight for justice for Black people, while shouting at the top of my lungs that others are being mistreated too.

The fact is that even after the hashtags and media campaigns, after Medium’s #StopAsianHate blog becomes a memory, as most things do, the fight continues. #StopAsianHate is our fight too because the fight is against White supremacy. It’s not an item to cross off the checklist. I’m committed to racial justice and equity for all that are oppressed and if you’re really about this, then you know that it takes many and there’s no stopping. Not now. Not ever.

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