This Letter Explains How #BlackLivesMatter Extends Beyond the Black Community

July 10th 2016

Lucy Tiven

On Thursday, activist and ethnographer Christina Xu tweeted an open letter to her older Asian American relatives about the significance of the Black Lives Matter movement, and invited others to contribute via a Google Doc.

Over 40 individuals worked on the document, which has since been widely circulated online and translated into over 12 languages including Chinese, Bengali, Indonesian, Punjabi, Japanese, Urdu, Hindi, and Korean, according to reports on Mic and Buzzfeed News.

Xu and her co-authors addressed the problem of supporting the violence of Asian police officers. 

Xu urged the community not offer blind support simply because of race, as it was speculated that the officer who shot Philando Castile was Asian. Xu was making a reference to rallies for New York Police Officer Peter Liang, who was convicted of manslaughter for killing an unarmed black man in a February trial. Many Chinese-Americans protested the decision

"When someone is walking home and gets shot by a sworn protector of the peace — even if that officer's last name is Liang — that is an assault on all of us, and on all of our hopes for equality and fairness under the law," the letter reads.

Addressed to "Mom, Dad, Uncle, Auntie, Grandfather, Grandmother," the letter urged relatives to look past their own experiences.

"It’s true that we face discrimination for being Asian in this country. Sometimes people are rude to us about our accents, or withhold promotions because they don’t think of us as “leadership material.” Some of us are told we’re terrorists. But for the most part, nobody thinks “dangerous criminal” when we are walking down the street. The police do not gun down our children and parents for simply existing," they wrote.

"This is not the case for our Black friends. Many Black people were brought to America as slaves against their will. For centuries, their communities, families, and bodies were ripped apart for profit. Even after slavery, they had to build back their lives by themselves, with no institutional support—not allowed to vote or own homes, and constantly under threat of violence that continues to this day."

The letter points out how the Asian American community has benefited from the work of Black activists, as the two groups often face similar equality struggles.

The letter reads: “In fighting for their own rights, Black activists have led the movement for opportunities not just for themselves, but for us as well. Many of our friends and relatives are only able to be in this country because Black activists fought to open up immigration for Asians in the 1960s. Black people have been beaten, jailed, even killed fighting for many of the rights that Asian Americans enjoy today. We owe them so much in return. We are all fighting against the same unfair system that prefers we compete against each other."

On Race Files, activist and community organizer Scot Nakagawa described how the Civil Rights Movement paved the way for the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, which ended bans that prohibited Asians, Latin Americans, and Africans from immigrating to the United States. Black activists' efforts also helped extend voting rights to non English speakers, and eradicated bands on interracial marriage.

As early as 1915, W.E.B. DuBois drew parallels between anti-Black and anti-Asian racism.

"The resultant jealousies and bitter hatreds tend continually to fester along the color line. We must fight the Chinese, the laborer argues, or the Chinese will take our bread and butter. We must keep Negroes in their places, or Negroes will take our jobs. All over the world there leaps to articulate speech and ready action that singular assumption that if white men do not throttle colored men, then China, India, and Africa will do to Europe what Europe has done and seeks to do to them," he wrote.

Many Asian American activists are working in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement to debunk the racial stereotypes that can divide Black and Asian American communities.

In an in-depth 2015 piece on the Aerogram, numerous South Asian organizers spoke to their parents, primarily first-generation immigrants, about police brutality and racism in Black and South Asian communities. The authors found that many of the parents had internalized anti-Black racism and the model minority myth, "explaining police violence against Black people by appeals to stereotypes about the two groups."

"We need to do more work to connect Black and brown experiences of race, profiling, and state violence as systemic issues, instead of understanding our experiences of policing and profiling as individual and isolated events," they wrote.

You can read Xu and her co-authors full letter here.

[h/t Mic]