A message to the Southeast Asian community regarding the Black Lives Matter movement

A policeman from the Montgomery County Police Department takes a knee in solidarity during peaceful protest in Germantown, MD, Sunday evening. Photo courtesy: Montgomery Community Media
A policeman from the Montgomery County Police Department takes a knee in solidarity during peaceful protest in Germantown, MD, Sunday evening. Photo courtesy: Montgomery Community Media

We cannot be bystanders and treat the Black Lives Matter movement as “someone else’s problem.”

Before proceeding into this read, note that it is purposefully curt to highlight that non-black words about the Black Lives Matter movement are very not important right now. This is not a resource to learn about the BLM movement, it is one to explain why every Asian American should be involved in educating themselves and eventually becoming a part of the movement.

If you are choosing to turn a blind eye, to not read, to not listen, to delete social media (consider researching “feed fatigue” for more on this), then you are being neutral in a situation of injustice. Do not ignore this because it is uncomfortable and complex. We, as the newest wave of immigrants and first-gens, have the easiest time being bystanders because as non-black people of color, we are neither the oppressor nor the oppressed. We have the perfect conditions for bystanderism.

But I encourage you to resist the complacency and let this be someone else’s problem. Ask yourself: what if this was my community under attack? My brothers being killed? Would you still stay home? Still call for more passive methods?

If empathy is not enough of a convincer, consider legislatively what the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s (whose primary focus was black rights) has done for the Asian American community. Immigration to America has always been selective and difficult. The Civil Rights Movement helped dismantle heavily restricted immigration policies coming from the National Origins Formula, which had the sole purpose of preserving Anglo-Saxon homogeneity.

In the backdrop of Civil Rights laws being passed, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 (the Hart-Celler Act) was passed. It opened immigration from all Asian countries.

As the South Asian American Digital Archive notes, “Asian Americans, especially Indian Americans, have been particularly affected by this landmark act … Inspired by the Civil Rights revolution in American society, the 1965 Immigration Act explicitly abolished the discriminatory national origins quotas that had regulated entrance into the country since the 1920s.”

The Civil Rights Movement brought attention to all racial injustice. The fight for Black rights has and will help equality for all immigrants. Before you differentiate the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s from what is happening right now (because is often branded as non-violent and peaceful), note that it did include looting and riots, a controversial issue regarding the current protests.

Many of our families are small businesses owners, or know someone who is. If the looting of small businesses during the riots makes you uncomfortable, consider an alternate perspective. The looting is not ideal. It is a last resort tactic to get the attention of a government that has chronically ignored BLM issues. It is simply that the BLM movement and the tragic lives lost (and the lives that continue to be lost, tear gassed, and shot with rubber bullets) are more important than the businesses and stores that are destroyed in the process. Yes, even small businesses.

When small businesses are destroyed, the owner’s livelihood is stolen, their life’s work is gone. When a black mother’s child is shot, her livelihood is stolen, the thing she loved most is gone. Why is one instance of loss (the loss of the small business) suddenly being valued over the loss of a life as an argument against the protests? Both victims (the store, and the child) are innocent, and both create immense loss and grief.

Looting is and always has been a legitimate form of protest, specifically in capitalist systems that place high value on material goods. To learn more on looting in American democracy, I encourage you to research The Trenton Riots (the 6 days after MLK was assassinated despite his fully peaceful sentiments), the Boston Tea Party, and Nat Turner’s Slave Revolt. At the time of occurrence, they were deemed too violent, a reason to stop, and justification for resistance from the government, today (less than 50 years after) they are considered the work of heroes in  in American history books.

Instead of saying “It’s horrible that an innocent black man was shot, but destroying property should stop” try “it’s horrible that property is being destroyed, but the killing of innocent black men should stop.”

In the spirit of google searches, the first step for our community is to educate ourselves and reject bystanderism. Now is not the time to rely on your friends, family, or community to educate you. Now is not the time to play devil’s advocate and elicit a fiery political debate. In the age of the internet, no one owes you information. It is your own responsibility to read books, listen to podcasts, watch documentaries/films, and learn about the BLM movment holistically. You cannot support or oppose a movement or its methods if you have not researched it thoroughly. A simple google search of “BLM books” or opening instagram/twitter/facebook to see the viral lists of learning resources will take you minutes.

In the spirit of listening to black voices, I will leave you with the words of one of my best friends. I hope you can remember the racial injustices you have faced as an Asian American and let those memories help you find a place in your heart for the BLM movement:

“Every minority group should be a part of the Black Lives Matter Movement because our main goal is to fix the system. Right now, black people are at the forefront of the injustice… it won’t be long until other minority groups are feeling the same pain. Now is the time to stand up and fight to fix the injustice system, because if we don’t stand up now there won’t be anyone to stand up later.”

Read more from Avani Venkatesh

 

24 Comments

  1. While I do absolutely agree with you about how we, as Asians, should stand with the Black community in this movement, I shall ask, why did you address this message specifically to the Southeast Asian community? Do you feel like Southeast Asians haven’t done much? Or that they don’t “care enough”? Please do get back to me on this, if you have the time. Also, although I do enjoy the way this message was written, I just can’t shake off how easily you dismissed the looting incidents. A lot of the real-time protesters in the BLM movement had talked on the issue of lootings. However, they seemed to have different responses than you did. When you tried to justify the acts of looting, they, the protesters, didn’t claim the looters, saying that they’re not standing with this movement, but AGAINST it, as the protesters deemed that the looters were only opportunists, and hence hold no political affluence. So, when you wrote about how easy it should be not to care about the looted businesses (even SMALL businesses, you mentioned), were you aware of what the other protesters were saying about the looters? And on another note, what you wrote was only about the properties destroyed. That seems to be leaning more to a riot, than a looting. Whilst acts of riots are destroying buildings, and public places, I do agree that sometimes, riots are necessary, since to quote MLK, “riots are the language of the unheard”. But when you insinuated that lootings should not be cared about, and the ruins of small businesses are not that important, they still don’t sit well with me. Would be great if we had the time to be able to talk about this. Oh, and also, Southeast Asians DO care about this movement, and very much stand with the Black community. In fact, Philippines, too, held a protest for the BLM movement, whilst highlighting their own issues too, and Indonesians have also been raising awareness on this matter, in ways through social media, or even communicating one-on-one to those who might have been apathetic to this issue before, per say parents, or friends. And so, I have to ask, have you looked into the involvement of the Southeast Asian community in this movement before you wrote this article? Would be swell if we can talk about these concerns one-on-one. :)

  2. B. Jenkins

    While racism is totally wrong and many have been wrongfully treated I disagree with the looting and violence in any form as being justified. Furthermore, BLM is MARXIST and antiAmerican. Why else are they targeting the WWII monument and Lincoln memorial? We need to be respectful of each other; however, BLM is nothing more than a political anarchist movement that is attempting to destroy America under the guise of being a champion of civil rights. Other anarchist groups are also involved in this current time trying to break America apart and I would not be surprised if Russia or another foreign entity were funding this. While I marched in the women’s march, a peaceful and wonderful protest I will be voting for Trump in November. The reason is to protect America against any form of tyranny. Writers such as yourself are trying to show how wonderful BLM is and why the looting and destruction of America is justified. They are no sweet kitten and behind the mask of civil rights is a hidden agenda to bring a MARXIST and ANTI-GOD agenda to this great nation; therefore, they should be seen as a deadly and threatening lion. Anyone who is American needs to take a stand against this Marxist agenda that actually wants to take freedom and remember freedom of speech is already gone. If you say all lives matter you are a racist. Since my former democratic party is not standing against this Marxist movement I have no choice, but to vote for Trump.

  3. Don’t tell Asians how to feel when their businesses they worked so hard for is looted, vandalized, and or burned down. Seems like theres an issue of dismissing Asian peoples pains and struggles coming from everyone including Asians themselves. Also, many of the small businsses destroyed were also black american and African immigrant owned. Are you going to tell them how to feel also? Do their black lives not matter? Why would they care more about some man they don’t know getting murdered by the police maybe states away than their own livelihoods and family? Are you BLM people going to tell me you care about an innocent Uighur getting killed in China more than your own family and the things that directly affect you? You guys are hypocrites who love to virtue signal. Stop looking down on people for “not caring” as much as you do. At the end of the day it’s not like the majority of you guys are actually vocal and actively fighting against other issues in America and the rest of the world. That doesn’t mean you guys don’t care about other issues such as modern day slavery, human trafficking, and genocide. So stop acting like the people are are sad about their communities and businesses destroyed are horrible people who support police murdering black men. It is natural for humans to care more about things directly affecting them or close to them. Just like BLM people care more about black American issues more than Uighurs in China. It is because issues in America directly affect them and I will not blame them for that.

    What kind of logic is it to destroy innocent small businsses and communities to get back at police? BLM people love to say that buildings/businesses can be rebuilt but lives can’t. Are you guys so dense that you guys believe that the people upset about their businesses being destroyed, actually care about the merchandise or the physical building itself? They care about their income, they care about the place the put so much hardwork into. You know, the place that pays for their housing, their food, their childrens college, their whole LIVELIHOODS? Not only that, seeing the place they might have had for 10, 20+ years being destroyed has to also has to take an emotional toll on them. And another thing, did you guys all of a sudden forget that theres a pandemic happening? So many small businesses have been already struggling because of it. Some have already closed permanently because of it. And now some of the ones on the brink of closing have gotten destroyed. Who is going to help them? Who is going to give them money to rebuild their lives? All the celebrities who seem to be “champions” for racial justice seem to not give a shit about all those black and other minority owned businesses being destroyed in the middle of a pandemic.

    Also, you BLM people can’t even get your story straight. Some of you guys say the looting and arson isn’t committed by the true BLM people and that they are committed by people that are just taking advantage of the situation. I actually believed that but then I kept hearing a different thing from people like you who say the destruction of businesses is justified because that’s part of the BLM movement to get attention. So what is it? It’s hard for me to believe the looting was done for racial justice and for George Floyd when people are stealing TV’s from Target, chips from gas stations, and nail polish from salons. Are you really going to tell me that those people stole chips from a gas station for George Floyd? That is sad and laughable at the same time that people actually believe that. Not to mention, George Floyd’s family were not even okay with the destruction.

    Until the BLM movement gets its act straight, its going to be hard for me to support it. They are constantly contradicting themselves. I have also seen some nasty violent and even racist sentiments coming from the movement. And from what I have observed, BLM people seem to often justify these sentiments. It is funny when BLM people act like they are such “champions” for racial equality and then spew some disgusting racist sentiments against non-blacks. Sometimes even against other blacks if they dare to have a different opinion on the issues. You can be against racism and injustice without supporting this organization/movement. Im not going to support a movement that justifies violence, looting, and arson. A movement that likes to silence people with different beliefs rather than have honest conversations. A movement that shames people for feeling pain from losing their businesses to criminals. A movement that often dismisses racism experienced by non-blacks and racism coming from blacks. Im not going to deny that previous movements were not violent… but why are we not better than that now? Are you saying that we have to use the same techniques as the people from the Boston Tea Party? Have we not become more civil people since then? It appears not.

    All of this is not meant to dismiss the legitimate issues that black and other minorities face. The police do need to be held accountable for the unjustified murders and other injustices they commit. The police union is the thing keeping these people in the police force with no repercussions. Dismantle the police union, not the police. We need to ALL come together. None of this “colored people” vs white people bullshit. At the end of the day, there are many white people supporting the racial justice movement and this “colored people” vs white people mentality is just dividing us. We will never move forward when we can’t have honest conversations and keep the us vs them mentality.

  4. While I was a grad student, my “dark” skinned Indian friend was stalked and harassed by police who often searched my friend’s backpack just because he stayed late night in lab(University) . You can be harassed by police if you are “dark Indian” student who don’t have car and walking back from school in night minding your business. I can give several other example when my friends/Indians were harassed by police. Most encounters don’t end up becoming violent or homicide because most Indians come to this country with “certain” education level. If you are not educated or live in poor neighborhood, your plight will not be any different as with Sureshbhai Patel, an elderly Indian man who was assaulted, paralyzed and hospitalized by police for just strolling in his neighborhood. Police have aversion for all dark skin tones. #Black Life Matter.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sureshbhai_Patel
    Anyway, can we say we are neutral when our tax $ is used to militarize and create genocide ? Can we consider our self civil when we pay 10 times more salary of educators to fat lazy blobs with half as much qualification that too kill another human ? All it takes is a high school diploma and lot of free donuts to become police vs lot of teachers in public school spend their own money to buy materials. We need to direct $$$,$$$,$$$ from police department to schools. We have to be more active in local politics and remove the mayors who support police unions and huge police force. We need to support people with PEN and not gun. #Defund.

  5. While I admire your passion for supporting African Americans, who absolutely need support against discrimination, your tone is unhelpful and judgmental. For those who have come to this country and have lived in cities or states with African American neighbors, we know from experience that they are compassionate and caring to all neighbors. One of the best examples I give, is of a Jeffrey Dahmer victim (a young South East Asian) who managed to escape and was rescued by two African American mothers. They approached policemen to get him help because he had part of his head drilled by the serial killer. Unfortunately, the police men handed him back to Dahmer and he got killed. African Americans deserve support whole heartedly and without any reservation. But your posture seems to be more about showing off your compassion as a stark contrast to the uncaring nasty group that you are stereotyping all Asian Americans to be. You have no clue what other people are doing or in what ways they help. Every African-American mom wants her child to grow up and have opportunities to live a full life, have a good job, get married and have children. Your comments about looting is unhelpful. Creating stereotypes and throwing convenience store workers who already are the bottom of the pile, under the bus is uncool. They work long hours and in many cases, family members work without pay. A few years ago, I was talking to a lady at a store who had worked for 30 years without getting a dime. She did not get rich off that store either nor is she going to be eligible for social security. Who do you think is going to help them when their stores are broken and looted? Let me know when SBA or other organizations come to help poor people. Remember, it is not just property but then there will be no local convenience store for the neighborhood. How many times in the last few years have convenience store employees been murdered? Do you think it is fine for their children to grow up without fathers? Violence is like molten lava, it scorches, burns and destroys communities. African Americans don’t need that when they have already struggled hard enough though generations to get their families to a better place. Come up with constructive ideas and get the community to help. If people don’t help, guilt them into helping but don’t burn the community. It is not going to help the next generation of African-American children. They need to be loved and cherished not feared and hated.

  6. TruthTeller

    You sound like an angry and jealous black. Remember you’re a born African and not ADOS (African Descendants of Slavery). You’re riding on the coattail of ADOS like obama did–his dad was an east afrikkkan and no east afrikkkan were slaves to the europeans. If they have any gripes then complain it to the Arabs but you won’t get any sympathy from them for sure because they don’t have white guilt.

    There are dark skin Indians and do you see the police subjugate them? No. You know why? They don’t break the law–simple!

    • “Hello FalseTeller”: you sound like lazy and arrogant person who never venture outside the safety of your computer into real world. How do you know “dark skin” Indians are not harassed by police for doing their normal activities ? STOP hiding behind your pink colored screen and typing non-sense.

      An elderly Indian man(Sureshbhai Patel) was assaulted and paralyzed by police for just walking in his neighborhood, he was not breaking any law. Also, many Sikhs experience racism everyday after 9/11 and now especially under tRump.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sureshbhai_Patel

  7. Jordan Johnson

    Avani your comment: Brown people are succeeding is due to their own resilience and identity as “model minorities”.

    That is a racist comment. You are saying Black people are failing because they are not resilient.
    The truth is the plight of modern black is based off of systemic racism… The racism of low expectations. Patronizing individuals by claiming they can’t succeed on their own is disgusting and frankly way more racist than expecting grown adults to take personal responsibility. By and large the greatest hurdle the black community needs to overcome is fatherlesness. 65% of black homes have a single parent, mostly moms. Statistics show that children raised in single family homes have a much higher chance of being involved in crime and dropping out of high school. I think the movement should be changed to Black Fathers Matter.

  8. Avani, appreciate your point of view. As an American born South Asian, I believe the BLM movement is something that requires considerable involvement from 3 parties — the abusers, the bystanders and the victims themselves. While it’s understood that we need significant police reforms and non-whites to support the cause through their economic and political means, we must also look at ways for African Americans to break this vicious cycle of being the victim. It’s very much analogous to being in an abusive relationship.

    I do have a few thoughts in more detail if you care hear them. Feel free to ping me.

  9. While I appreciate the effort you put into writing this article and it’s well written in style as well as substantive in the support of the points you conveyed, I think your perspective is, well, a perspective. I see many of the points you made and even the facts you presented can be interpreted in different ways which can contradict your opinions. There are some logical flaws to some of your points as well. It’s really difficult for me to substantiate and offer any real arguments without writing an article similar to the one you wrote here. And I’m certainly not interested in soliciting positive or negative feedback from your audience at large on social media. But I do want to let you know while I don’t disagree fundamentally with you on the horror of racism against black people and that it needs to stop, I respectfully disagree with you on various levels on how you think Asians or anyone else for the matter should feel, react and act on this very serious matter. I would be delighted if we can converse about this in more details on an one on one basis but I surmise that it won’t be possible. But again well written article nevertheless.

  10. Avani, thank you for taking the time to talk about your Asian perspective during BLM. One of my closest friends is North Indian, and this particular wave of BLM has hit her hard emotionally. She’s been communicating with me in a healthy dialogue, but is concerned about offending us in her passionate tone. I’ve told her the conversation is open, and I’m here to listen, but I’m certainly a human who is capable of misunderstanding any uncomfortable message. You’ve re-iterated many points she’s made, and it’s extremely helpful to hear it in this article. I plan on sharing this with her to see if it’s what she’s trying to communicate. Please continue to write, overcome the ignorance with love, and we can all build a better understanding. Again, thank you.

  11. As an Afro-Canadian, born in south central Africa and raised in Canada. I can say from my life experience alone; most South Asians and Asians like to overlook the civil rights movement and that black and indigenous people paved they way and continue to pave the way for South Asians and Asian, but want to conclude their acceptance and success in the western world is attributed to themselves alone. This far fetched and clearly have not done their research. At the same time, most Asians and South Asians are subservient to Caucasians; to the point they bleach themselves, anglo-size their names or marry a white person to dilute or erase their linage [marry for love not prejudice, self-hate, or racial upward mobility]. At the same time, you are the same people who complain they are misrepresented or overlooked in media, social life, and sometimes professionally. Yet some of you, more so South Asians than Asians make so-called progressive tv shows or movies but the premise is chasing a white love interest or the plot is carried by a white protagonist-love yourself, not what you think will sell. In movies, art and TV shows you are either emasculated or demonized as the creep or passive or the side-kick or fetishized. Yet you are quick to throw other ethnicities who are not subservient to white supremacy under the bus at every aspect of life for crumbles of white privilege and futile white acceptance. Also, you get upset when some genuine Caucasian people acknowledge or look for solidarity with Black, Hispanics, and Native Americans but you are not included in the dialogue. Once again, a door has been opened which came at an expensive price of innocent black lives being taken; the way George Floyd was killed, was so disgusting that Caucasians and the rest of world cannot ignore or deny the systemic and ingrained discrimination towards people of colour. Use this platform to stand against white supremacy, stop reinforcing it and fight for equality for all. This starts with Asians and South Asians speaking up and standing along with their continental African and indigenous brothers and sisters whom they share a long history of oppression through mental and physical colonialism; they’ve profited from our flesh, sweat and blood. When a Caucasian lone gun kills innocent people at a school or mosque or temple or church or mall or any other public domain it’s society’s problem. If ever we ‘the others’ were to commit such an atrocity. it is a problem within our community or we are terrorists. When is it enough? There are good and bad people from everywhere in the world and yes accountability within groups has to be addressed first, but we cannot collectively ignore the effects and truth of White Supremacy anymore.

  12. Chris Terrell

    Avani, I enjoyed reading this but do not share your pessimism about race relations overall. Quite the opposite in fact. Yes, there are still major problems and significant hurdles. Racism is real, but Richmond is so very much different from when my family moved here in 1973. While I agree with your sentiments regarding bystanderism, I do not agree for a moment that to be a bystander means the racists among us will start with the blacks and then eventually come for the browns too. Again, quite the opposite. Every year, like a pond slowly freezing over the water racists ducks swim in gets smaller and smaller. The ducks are just quacking really loudly right now. Don’t get distracted, racism is in retreat in the grand scheme.

  13. King Bumi

    I’ll care when black people stop targeting asian for robbery and violent crimes. Until then, cry me a river.

  14. Anthony Murray

    Proverbs 10:18 King James Version (KJV)

    18 He that hideth hatred with lying lips, and he that uttereth a slander, is a fool.

    King James Version (KJV)

    Proverbs 18:2 ESV

    A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.

    Proverbs 17:15 King James Version (KJV)

    15 He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are abomination to the Lord.

    Proverbs 6:16-19 King James Version (KJV)

    16 These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him:

    17 A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood,

    18 An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief,

    19 A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.

    King James Version (KJV)

  15. Spectacular article. Eloquently worded and beautifully delivered.

  16. ALL innocent lives–black, brown and white–matter!
    Honestly, do you think if George Floyd were a white man, there would have been so much violence?
    And, honestly, brown people are dominating all the fields in the USA because of mainly the generosity of white people! Brown people were capable no doubt, but they were given the opportunities to prove that! Unfortunately, very few black people took that chance…….and one of them did become the president!
    So, think before you leap!

    • Saying all lives matter in a discussion about the BLM movement is like saying a fire department should spray down every house in a neighborhood when only 1 is on fire. If George Floyd was a white man his neck would not have been stepped on by a cop and he would still be alive, so you are correct, there would be no violence. Brown people are succeeding is due to their own resilience and identity as “model minorities” (lots of research done on this concept), not because of the generosity of white people. Brown people being able to immigrate in the first place is attributed to the civil rights movement. Using Obama as a token black person to prove that “black people really can succeed!” is like saying someone can’t be racist if they have black friends . America’s systematic oppression against black people is not an opinion, it’s a fact proven by countless statistics and studies, if you disagree with it then you should consider doing more research! I have thought, read, researched, and listened very much before leaping. Thank you for sharing your opinion.

      • King Bumi

        Bullshit. Minneapolis police released data about neck constraints and guess what. Many were white suspects.

    • What a sad and awful perspective. Maybe first take a look at how the US underserves black people, African Americans and African immigrants alike. This isn’t just about violence, it’s about housing, education, etc. Pretending black suffering has been self inflicted is ignoring a 400 year long history!

      • What a sad and awful lack of basic math skills. Go look at the percentage of those kinds if programs and what demographic they go to. Now look at demographics in the population. Notice how the population demographic percentages are LESS than the percentages of the former? Yeah. That shows that despite an Overabundance of programs for decades, there is dramatic Underachieving. Mayhaps people should stop being intellectually dishonest and start addressing core issues.

  17. Arzina Alani

    Thank you for your article.

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