The police officer suspected of murdering Philando Castile looks like he could be my father, my uncle, my brother. Asians and Asian Americans do not deserve to be silent.
I’m spending the summer in Taiwan, learning and unlearning what it means to occupy a Taiwanese body in an American space; an American body in a Taiwanese space.
My thirteen-year-old cousin asks me about my two best friends in college. They are handsome, black, and male. A computer programmer and a gifted medical student.
She stares at me. “好可怕喔.” So scary.
I ask her what she finds scary about having male friends; we both know it’s really because they are black.
She struggles to find an explanation, defaults to a vague “我媽媽說 (my mother told me)” about blackness as threat, blackness as violence, blackness as a counterattack to everything we believe is good.
I ask her if she’s ever met a black person. She laughs and changes the subject.
The same cousin invites me to dinner with her friends. She asks me to take a picture of them. “Wait,” she says, “I wanna do this new pose.”
Of course it had to be dabbing.
I take the picture. Their mothers roll their eyes and chuckle about how silly, how adorable their daughters are. I ask my cousin if she knows what she’s imitating.
“I saw some K-pop stars doing it. I think it’s a K-pop thing.”
I show her videos of black dancers dabbing. Her mother peeks over my shoulder and shakes her head.
“I don’t want you doing that anymore. It isn’t good to copy black people.”
I am not much better. Every day, I eagerly retweet proclamations against white supremacy, against the white cisheteropatriarchy, against white feminism, often written by brilliant black activists. I claim to despise whiteness. Never once acknowledging that all my life, I have tried to emulate it. Never once acknowledging that my own have absorbed these institutions, and now we carry them in our silence, in our condemnation, in our refusal to believe that #blacklivesmatter matters to us. Never once acknowledging that scholarship of Asian American sociopolitical issues relies heavily on the established scholarship of Black sociopolitical issues, that celebrated Asian American activists often appropriate and repackage hashtags and platforms created explicitly to uplift Black communities. That Black communities have always included us in their movements for civil rights. Never once acknowledging that my own people betray them by being, too, violent, oppressive, and deeply racist.
Three years ago, my classmate joked that if he’d been born black, poor, and in a single-parent home — rather than Indian American, wealthy, and abundantly privileged — he would’ve been guaranteed admission into an Ivy League university. Which is to presume his life would have been “easier.”
Two years ago, in the aftermath of Ferguson, my elders refused to acknowledge the explicit and unparalleled suffering of the black community. “You know, it hasn’t been easy for us, either. We just don’t complain about it like they do.”
Last year, my mother frowned at the destruction of Korean-owned businesses during the protests/riots in Baltimore. “Asian Americans never did anything to [African Americans]. This isn’t fair. This has nothing to do with us.”
Peter Liang is Asian American. Lavish Reynolds described Philando Castile’s murderer as Asian (Chinese) American. Barry Prak is Asian American. So when people who look like us — when we — are both murderer and victim, we no longer deserve the excuse of exclusion.
Every community of color has fought for space, for agency, for a voice. But we surrender to a perceived black-and-white spectrum and throw ourselves towards one direction, hoping it is enough to earn our own survival; someone once told me that the Asian American community endangers itself with its own obedience. “When an Asian American gets shot by police offers,” he demanded, “where are the protesters, where is the media coverage?”
We expect the world to be outraged by the injustices we too have suffered, yet when other marginalized communities of color cry out, we reimagine the American dream as whiteness and walk away.
We believe that our obedience will protect us, even when it failed Castile. Even when it failed Bland. Grant. Gray. Brown. Garner. Gurley. Rice.
We believe that obedience is exclusive to us, that Asian Americans are uniquely positioned for mobility and success when everything — everything — we have was chosen for us. Was premeditated and predetermined when white men of power decided which of our ancestors would be granted passage and which wouldn’t.
We abandon those who fall behind.
We mistake privilege for merit, and are clumsy to voice that we, too, are hurting. Some of us want to be allies, and take up unwarranted space instead. Most of us just don’t know what to do. We ask for guidance to do the right thing — then realize that right and wrong have been defined for us by the wrong people. We try to find solidarity as people of color, but find that even the shared identity of a minority group does not guarantee compassion, empathy, or even humanity.
As I write this in Taiwan’s National Central Library, everybody surrounding me is focused on the impending super typhoon Nepartak. Rain batters the glass ceiling, and I remember my grandmother mourning the victims of past typhoons Morakot, Saola, and Soudelar. I remember my mother dismissing thunderstorms in California because “[she is] from Taiwan. [She has] known rain and destruction all her life.”
A typhoon is not a gun, is not a police offer who thinks himself a god, is not racism masquerading as traditional American values. A typhoon is cataclysm, ties its own prowess to how much it can destroy. A typhoon does not know better.
Across from the library stands the grandiose memorial of Chiang Kai Shek, whose KMT regime oversaw the secret execution of over 30,000 Taiwanese activists. Taiwanese and Taiwanese Americans: we, too, watch the government pardon and honor glorified murderers. We, too, walk over the graveyards of our own people. We, too, have known rain and destruction all our lives.
We, then, should know better.
We, then, should do better.
Black lives matter.
Black lives matter.
Black lives matter.
Update: This piece was written with Reynolds’ description of the shooter as Asian American; he has since been identified as Jeronimo Yanez. However, this does not mean Asian Americans are no longer heavily implicated in systemic violence. We still count murderers and victims among us. We still carry antiblackness in our communities. What we believe is just as important as what we do.
thank you for writing this. i felt this very strongly as i spent a summer in taiwan and mainland china two summers ago and somehow anti-blackness felt even more present than being back home in canada.