“I want to see how passionately people (incl. other POC) will stand up for Asians. Those of you who were so vocal w BLM, where are you on the 1900% increase in Asian-directed hate crimes?” tweeted Associate Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School Laura Huang, in response to a recent surge in violence against Asian Americans. Huang’s words were among several comments rising up on social media in recent months pointing out supposed differences between support for Asian American victims of violence and support for Black victims of police brutality.
Though some may make these remarks with the intention to rally more support for Asian Americans, they actually end up invalidating the existence of one movement over another by pushing the point that attention towards Asian American issues can only exist when people take their attention away from Black issues. Rather than make competitive comparisons between Asian Americans and Black people, minority groups should fight in tandem to make a positive, lasting impact on the community and set a precedent for uniting against racism.
When COVID-19 hit last March, Asian Americans were scapegoated for the devastating impacts of the virus, facing nearly 3,000 acts of hate crime from March to December 2020 as a result. The racism has only been compounded as Former President Donald Trump has been continually referring to the virus as the “Chinese virus,” shifting the blame for the pandemic onto Chinese people and indirectly inciting more attacks against the group.
According to a study from the Center of Hate and Extremism at California State University, in 16 of America’s largest cities, hate crimes against Asian Americans have increased by nearly 150% from 2019 to 2020, with New York City and Los Angeles reporting the most number of incidents. Asian American women and seniors are more commonly targeted in numerous ways including street violence, robberies, racial slurs, etc. In recent months, the disturbing violence has resurfaced to the extent that President Joe Biden has been forced to direct federal agencies to combat this resurgence of xenophobia against Asian Americans by asking the Department of Justice to strengthen its partnership with the AAPI community.
Yet, these hate crimes continued, and on March 16, a Caucasian man opened fire at three spas in Atlanta, Georgia, murdering eight people, six of whom were Asian American women. In response, Biden said, “I’m calling on Congress to pass the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act. And the House just passed the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.” The violence has additionally resulted in an economic fallout for Asian Americans; in the final three months of 2020, 46% of Asian Americans had an unemployment rate of 27+ weeks, compared to the 35% of other racial groups, according to Bloomberg LP.
Both Asian American people and Black people have endured increasing amounts of racist harassment over the past year — due to COVID-19 fears and police brutality, respectively. According to the Pew Research Center, “About four-in-ten Black and Asian adults say people have acted as if they were uncomfortable around them because of their race or ethnicity since the beginning of the outbreak.”
Though these two minority groups have both faced violence, some have taken comparisons between the two minority groups too far, turning activism into a competition for who has suffered the most over the past year and deserves the most support.
Bianca Mabute-Louie, an Asian American graduate student at Rice University, explained the lack of education around the history of Asian Americans compared to other races when she said, “There are a lot of resources out there on how to be anti-racist and a lot of books about white fragility. But a lot of the things I’m seeing are catered and made for white people to engage and we as Asian Americans have a very different journey.” Such statements highlight how it is sometimes falsely implied that educating oneself about Asian American heritage can only exist when people divert their attention away from Black culture. However, this flawed logic couldn’t be further from the truth: it’s more than possible to amplify an Asian American cause without discrediting or turning away from another equally valid cause by learning to work together. Although the two movements do have their own distinct battles and don’t have completely identical issues, fighting in tandem could benefit both groups by giving them a more holistic understanding of the patterns of racism in history and the methods employed by racist institutions to minority groups in general. Similarly, when individuals such as Huang call out those who aren’t standing up for the Asian American community, their criticisms need not involve the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.
With the unnecessary name drop of BLM, people are effectively using traumatic events that Black people have faced to uplift their own movement. These actions only incite more violence and drive more hateful assumptions, such as the implication that one race is more deserving of support over the other. Rather than dividing both causes by invalidating one group, the two groups should combine their causes to fight for justice by learning from each other and past movements. They should celebrate times of unity to spread awareness of all minority groups, rather than using the movements to compare themselves. Those who make such hurtful comments should instead leverage the similar struggles they face, in a system rooted in white supremacy, towards creating a stronger, united front. This is an opportunity for Asian Americans to use the recent increase in violent racism they faced to be more empathetic towards Black people living in America who have experienced the fear of physical safety for decades.
It’s evident that racism has never been simply a Black issue. When Asian Americans complain about the lack of attention around their own movement compared to others, it pushes the misconception that only Black people’s oppression receives attention, creating a division between the minority groups. Rather than pitting the two movements against each other, we must understand that they can coexist, be fought for, and thrive simultaneously.
History shows that powerful, systemic change is born out of allyship between minorities. Martin Luther King Jr.’s sought to end racial discrimination and segregation through boycotts, non-violent protests, and speeches. King drew heavily on Mahatma Gandhi’s principle of non-violence even though the two never got the chance to meet. In the 1950s, Apartheid was a former policy in South Africa that enforced systemic racism and segregation against the 28,660,000 people of color in the country. Inspired by the efforts of Black people who fought to defeat fascism, different minorities across South Africa stood together to protest white supremacy in its various forms in the post-war decades. We must harness the potential of our united front to ensure that every minority in our country is treated with respect and fairness. Many are already following in the footsteps of Gandhi and Dr. King. On October 11, hundreds of Black and Asian American people rallied together at Cadman Plaza Park in Brooklyn, NY in order to bridge between both minority groups and understand each other’s suffering and the racially motivated violence both groups have experienced. In early February, rally participants gathered in Oakland’s Chinatown to speak about solidarity among different communities and discuss cross-cultural unity and education. Julia Liou of the Oakland Chinatown Coalition said, “This is a time to come to unity in this moment, because we do need to work together to address what needs to be the long term, community-centered solutions.”
Now, our community must avoid comments such as Huang’s and work together to dismantle racist systems, stereotypes, and schools of thought by educating ourselves and others and pushing lawmakers to make tangible change. Furthermore, we should follow in the footsteps of organizations such as Asians 4 Black Lives, Stop AAPI Hate, and Asian Pacific Environmental Network. Ultimately, avoiding dumping on other minority movements like BLM will help continued engagement in protests and other actionables advocating for racial justice not only for ourselves, but for others too.
Cover image by Opinion Editor Aria Lakhmani