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.”