‘In recent weeks, I’ve become more acutely aware of the gulf that can exist between true empathy and surface understanding – and the importance of bridging the two.’ P
Since the police shooting deaths last week of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, black Americans have protested at the danger they find themselves in simply because of their skin color. There have been vast and ongoing protests, including one in Dallas, Texas, that a lone actor used as an excuse to kill five officers.
Everyone must work together to end the systemic racism that has plagued black people here since slavery. But other minority groups, including Asian Americans, have largely watched from the sidelines rather than screamed in the streets.
The reasons why are complicated, but partly because many Asian immigrants may not see their own struggles to succeed in America reflected in the racism of our system. My parents left China because they believed in the American Dream. When they arrived, both my mom and dad subscribed to the general idea that this country was built on meritocracy, that anyone could make a life for themselves if they just worked hard enough. They faced hardships I will never know in my life as a privileged, first-generation Chinese American.
They are well-informed American citizens who care about the injustice and oppression that’s plaguing our society and are deeply disturbed by it. They recognize the inequality of experience in this country based on skin color. But something I’ve grown acutely more aware of in recent years is the dissonance between the typical immigrant mentality and the deeply rooted racism in America – and how these divisions keep us all down when we should be helping lift one another up.
My parents are not consciously biased. But when it comes to the micro level, things are not as clearcut: expecting the black guy to be a drug dealer on TV; slight surprise when a black friend goes off to medical school, followed by a “good for them”.
But in recent weeks, I’ve become more acutely aware of the gulf that can exist between true empathy and surface understanding – and the importance of bridging the two. That’s why I – and thousands of other first- and second-generation Asian Americans around the world – are banding together to plan how to help our elders understand that all people of color must be allies.
We need a discussion of how the rhetoric of Asians as the model race only serves to further divide minorities and pit us against each other; a dialogue about the US criminal justice system and how the war on drugs has been a vehicle for perpetuating systemic discrimination and repression of black men.
We are combining efforts through Letters for Black Lives, a new open, decentralized, crowdsourced collaboration of resources on anti-blackness meant to be a starting point for Asian children to discuss these issues with older relatives.
What started as Christina Xu’s initial call for contributions has now grown into a thriving global community over 300 strong. Contributors to the project all have a hand in building upon each other’s ideas, and creating multiple versions of the initiative – like an Open Letter, various translations and readings – to help as many people as possible facilitate discussion.
The project is not meant to be an exclusionary in-group we point to and say, look at us, come to our mansion, but rather is an attempt to build better highways to facilitate the flow of ideas and conversation across the different pockets of America.
The work I believe in for this project is to listen, support, and amplify voices from#BlackLivesMatter, then channel that dialogue back for my own family. Starting with the Letter, I want to discuss these issues with my parents, reflect on our own position, and do what it takes to move society forward.
Silence is not an option.