By Sophia Stephens
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Black Americans Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson recently settled for $1 each from the city of Philadelphia to avoid taxpayer repercussions, and $200,000 for their charity of choice after their arrests at a Starbucks on April 12.
The conclusion of their case, however, happened to coincide with the ending of another case of racial discrimination against Black people, but further north in Canada. Emile Wickham and three friends, who are all Black, were ordered to pay upfront shortly after ordering their meals at Hong Shing, a popular Chinese restaurant in Toronto. Upon discovering that they were the only patrons ordered to pay up front, and that they were the only Black patrons in the restaurant, they pursued legal action.
On May 1, a judge ordered a payment of $10,000 to Wickham and his friends for racial discrimination.
In the wake of these high-profile incidents in North America, Black American and Asian American communities in Seattle are experiencing continued tensions on anti-Blackness and pan-African/Asian solidarity.
People from both communities in Seattle came forward to contribute their voices to an uneasy, but necessary conversation.
Shamay Thomas, a nurse practitioner, described an incident where anti-Black attitudes emerged in her professional life.
“What happened was anti-Blackness in the form of microaggression, prejudice, and stereotyping. At a pediatric physician conference in Tacoma, I was the only Black person at [the] event and mentioned this to my colleague and friend who is a second generation Korean American. She said, ‘It’s probably because Asian parents push their kids very hard because they want them to succeed.’”
At a conference where most of the other people of color attendees were light-skinned Asians, the implication of her friend’s comment was immediately obvious to Thomas. She replied, “So you’re going to blame the underrepresented here at this conference… [and blame] Black parents [for] not pushing their kids hard enough to succeed. You’re blaming the victims,” Thomas said.
The friend immediately and profusely apologized, however, Thomas decided to not educate her further.
“I did not waste my time explaining the many, many ways that anti-Blackness is used to oppress and marginalize Blacks in every single aspect of American and Western culture,” said Thomas.
“For example, the school-prison pipeline or the Machiavellian blueprint that power structures use to ‘divide and conquer’ [people of color and] poor whites so we do not band together… I figure she can Google that sh*t,” she continued.
The consequences of this interaction left Thomas betrayed and hurt, which she addressed in an email to her friend later that same evening.
“She lost my trust that day,” said Thomas.
However, Thomas’ experience is not uncommon, nor are the attitudes behind them.
“It seems that the majority of anti-Black prejudice stems from white and Asian people,” said Yolanda Yang, who identifies as Taiwanese American. “It is being justified because of background. My family was raised with a distinct intolerance for Black people. They grew up learning slurs and stereotypes about Black people.”
She continued, “I am the first generation to be born in America. The rest of my family comes from China and Taiwan. My dad, who is Taiwanese, constantly degrades Black people whenever he sees one. Our old neighborhood had a few families of Black people. Whenever the power went out or a minor inconvenience occurred, he would blame ‘the Blacks’ for it. I have tried to call him out multiple times, but he simply ignores me and continues on.”
Yang’s struggles are not unique, but the responsibility of Asian and Asian American people to educate themselves and combat anti-Blackness is lacking in our communities.
“I would like them (Asian and Asian American people) to educate themselves on how the model minority myth is used to build wedges between Asians and Blacks and ‘prove’ that racism isn’t really a thing,” said Thomas. She also noted how the U.S. government had already paid reparations, although poorly distributed, to Japanese Americans, but has yet to do so for the African American and Black American diaspora.
However, there is a collective hesitation in Asian American communities that is preventing such sweeping solidarity.
“To me, I do feel like Asian Americans, [especially] Filipino Americans, are one of the most selfish marginalized groups I’ve ever experienced,” said Jay San, who identifies as “Filipino first, American second.” He continued, “We’ve eaten up the idea [that] when our families migrated from Asia to the U.S., [we think] ‘if we can do it, then why can’t Black or brown people do it, too?’ We’ve eaten up the idea that we are the model minority and that we are the standards to how every other minority should act. [We have taken our oppression] and use it as an excuse to put away our allyship.”
The intersections of oppression and privilege in Asian American communities and experiences are tenfold, and efforts towards solidarity are complicated by prior generations of Asian and Asian American people and their prejudices of Black people and the Black community at large.
“The comments and microaggressions that continue throughout the Asian community seem to hinder any progress,” said Yang. “To me, it seems that the older generation is mainly prohibiting any allyship since they were raised with the opposite mindset.”
For Asian and Asian American people looking for an example of Black-Asian solidarity, Thomas cited The People’s Assembly, an organization headed by Thy Nguyen, Tacoma’s former 2015-2017 poet laureate.
“[This organization] is committed to fighting anti-Blackness and oppressive systems,” said Thomas.
The footsteps of those activists leave large responsibilities to fill for modern-day Asian and Asian American communities. “[They should be] fighting for us to have reparations when the very wealth of this country was built on the enslavement, torture, and rape of Blacks,” said Thomas.
For examples of such solidarity and allyship, all it takes is a look to our past: historical Asian figures who fought for Black liberation and civil rights, including activists Yuri Kochiyama, Grace Lee Boggs, and Richard Masato Aoki, who was an early member of the Black Panther Party.
“In solidarity, let’s work together. Use your proximity to power to help others stop these unfair systems,” said Thomas. “Speak up! Organize!”
Nate Miles, vice president of government relations at the Eli Lilly pharmaceutical corporation, also said he often experiences discrimination as a Black man, and has also witnessed the consequences of anti-Blackness in Asian communities: an Asian friend of his was ostracized from the community when she married a Black man.
“It was frowned upon in the Asian community when you marry outside your race,” said Miles, and observed that the prejudice of older generations in the community carried harsher consequences than today’s generation and culture.
In his travels, Miles experienced linguistic microaggressions as Hawaii-based Asians switched from speaking English to Chinese and Japanese when they saw him.
“Everyone is entitled to equal opportunity, we [Black people] are just as talented,” said Miles. “Racism is alive and it impacts you economically. But [if you are Black], you don’t get the same opportunity. Other people get loans to buy a house even with little credit, but [Black people] can’t borrow with bad or little credit.”
Sophia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.