Why elderly Asian women see me, my locs, my brown skin and move away on the train…why some Black youth lurk in Oakland's Chinatown to ambush elderly Asians. It's really uncomfortable. Not to conflate or compare but to hold both Buffalo and AAPI hate crimes in my mind and in my heart simultaneously, I want to reflect on white supremacy, Black-Asian solidarity and Black-Asian conflicts. I want to acknowledge the different pain and pressure points within and between communities in order to show up and show out for all of those in the margins, especially in the face of interracial tensions.
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I understand why you run. The news. The music. The experiences. Hurt people hurt people. Yes, it is dire- the tribes, the diatribes, and the tribalism. Are we a tribe because we are seeking similar enemies or are we a tribe because we are seeking empathy?
We must build affinity within our groups and hopefully across groups, right? Without self-love and solidarity, we are liable to hurt ourselves and others.
Naw, D, f*ck you and your self-righteous sympathizing. You can't hide behind your big words and academic rhetoric. We all saw you. You did it, too. Guess you need to re-watch Do the Right Thing!
Remember in prep school? Everyone wanted to be their lab partner, yet you, the few black kids, and majority of the white kids didn't speak much to them. You were first to call their names when you needed help on your homework, yet you didn't even bother to pronounce their last names let alone the word "Punjabi."
You played basketball; they played piano. You tried to hide the fact that you were on reduced lunch; they tried to hide the "ethnic" food in their lunch bags. Every other word among you and the other Black kids, was "nigga this, nigga that." They just made fun of how they talked so the other kids didn't. You laughed. You pointed. You participated in the harm.
I was like them, you thought. Yes, you were all tokens in that damn predominantly white private school--there to be used, traded, and bargained with by the white kids. You, D, were like them because you wanted to be liked by the rich pale faces, too. Admit it! You conflated white acceptance and white tolerance and ultimately prioritized whiteness over racial solidarity. What exactly were you investing in to become such a sell-out? I get it. You were young and stupid, and positioning yourself between pride and prejudice, and can't forget, privilege, right?
As a teacher and as a person, I work daily to gain a better understanding of the worlds, the wars, and the witnesses before me, around me, and within me. My eyes see it; my ears hear it; my heart feels it; my mind struggles with it. Black folx have make-believe wars over social media, real wars in the streets, and unimaginably deep intergenerational wounds because of the warfare. I just hate that our Black pain and suffering can be packaged, (re)produced, profited from, and promoted as propaganda or a dope Spotify playlist. The commonalities, the crimes, the causes of death, the calls to action, and the cures can be found in the arts, from the music to the movies. Somebody's listening. Somebody's watching.
I strongly disagree with the narrative that Black folx are inherently self-destructive and violent. It is incredibly difficult to build (a life, a family, a community) when all you have seen and been taught is destruction--destruction of your history, your soul, your community. Excuse me, maybe the only thing harder than building a life, a family, and a community is keeping a life, a family, and a community (alive). America is the number one master-class teacher and seller of (mass) destruction.
Moreover, I can't speak for Asian folx, but I am sure they have their own communal issues to reconcile...issues that go way beyond what the masses see in movies such as Crazy Rich Asians, Turning Red, and Everything Everywhere All at Once. One of my students put it best: "There's gay movies for gay people, and then there's gay movies for straight people." The sentiment is shared when I think about racial identity politics. There's race politics for people of color, meaning POC have to constantly name, negotiate, and negate individual, interpersonal, and institutional racism; and then there's race politics for white people, meaning white people have a choice in naming, negotiating, and negating white privilege, white silence, white liberal woke-policing, and white supremacy.
Side-note: would all the woke white people please learn to shut the hell up in POC spaces. Please speak up and speak out to other white people, especially to the white youth who mistakenly think their enemies are people of color and not white supremacy, capitalism, and corporate interests. That boy in Buffalo committed a hate crime, NO DEBATING!!!
Easy for you to say, you hypocrite. Anyway, so what's your point? I want to take accountability and acknowledge the pain everywhere all at once. Healing and hate are what seemingly (dis)connect us. I hate. You hate. We hate. America hates. No, D, speak for yourself. Normalized behavior does not mean healthy, moral behavior. D, what a trauma response! What an insensitive thing to say! Can I simultaneously have affinity for and aversion to healing and hate? Can I want to heal myself and others while simultaneously consuming, carrying, committing, and condoning hate? Well, D, you tell me.
Remember in college? That night, the first person who spoke to you when you arrived to campus for the first time after that long flight from Texas? That friendly Asian girl who greeted you with a smile and a quick introduction? You stupidly responded: "You're from where? Korea? What is that?!!" She spared you with awkward laughter and still befriended you. You insulted the first person who took the time to welcome you. That night you further pledged your allegiance to white America. What a waste of a private school education.
When I hear these stories of elderly Asian women being hit with bricks and robbed at gunpoint, I think of my students. Those people are my student's Popo, Lola, Nǎinai--their family's matriarchs. I get the same fear and frustration when I hear about gun bullets grazing grandmas in the hood all because of "gang, gang" and misunderstandings between young thugs and young gunnas. Who really wants to live in terror? Who really wants to see terror? Who really wants to be a terror? My heart goes out to folks in Chicago, Los Angeles, East Oakland…the underworld is swallowing innocent folks…I respect street codes and stay out of places where I don’t belong, especially if I'm the outsider, the stranger, the foreigner in that community. Begs the question in white America: where do Black and Asian folx belong then?
It may be poverty tourism for some but real life for many of us. Folx living in the hood, folx living in trailer parks, and folx sleeping in their cars are not animals for anyone's viewing pleasure. I will say this generation uses the words “savage,” "beast," and "snake" too loosely and too leisurely. They say snakes can't be trusted; beasts must be hunted; savages kill civilizations. All that to say, I just want to be a human and treated like a whole one. Takes one to know one.
As a teacher, I wonder if my students understand one another as potential threats given the last few years of police brutality, hate crimes, and the pandemic, quite frankly …it gets uncomfortable when we put names and faces to the victims and to the assailants. I hate labels but we have them for a reason. Did I need an Asian homie or Asian students to care? Given my bubble living in Texas, I would unfortunately say yes. I was too caught up in my own character arc (or my own ego) as a Black man in America to even show a bit of curiosity about the histories and lives of other folx experiencing similar struggles. I hope my compassion, consciousness, and capacity for coalition-building does not continue to come at the expense of others.
You say that but don't you remember Petunia? You should have seen your eyes when her father came into the door sideways to confront you, her tutor at the time. "Don't you ever refer to my daughter as Mexican!" the 6'7 mountain of a man shouted as he covered your entire torso with his meaty right hand. "We are Samoan!" Sure, you were still a little freshman in college, and you had never heard of the term "Pacific Islander" and you thought Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson was a mixed-race Black dude best known for dropping the People's Elbow on any and all jabronis. Your ignorance is one thing; the fact that you made the assumption and didn't bother to ask or invite her to self-identify is troubling.
F*ck a microaggression! Back then was the first time you realized the harm in misracializing a person, thus rendering an individual and their community invisible. Oh wait, maybe you liked being called "white boy" back in high school.
I know our bodies are soaked and filled with pain; with each microaggression, transgression, and public viewing of death, literal or imagined, broadcasted on those little glowing screens accompanied by a banging bloody soundtrack to give feet and ears something to mourn to, the more the pain sticks to our skin and so the more the pain seeps into our pores, our minds, our bodies, and our spirits. I love Hip-Hop, from drill to chill; from boombap to get the strap; from the Golden Era to the Soundcloud Era; I hold Hip-Hop partially responsible for my upbringing, my conditioning, my desensitization, and my occasional numbness to death and destruction. That said, Hip-Hop, the music, is not the devil; Hip-Hop is not your savior (Kendrick Lamar voice). The music industry is one of the devil's favorite dwellings.
In Oakland, I see increased police presence in Chinatown while black folks are still yelling defund the police…see the difference? the potential conflict? Who needs police? Who doesn't? Different people. Different experiences. Different needs, right? Based on my limited (biased) observations and conversations with my Asian students over the last decade, I understand that respect for authority is highly valued and ingrained in many Asian households; I have rarely had an Asian student talk back (disrespectfully) to me in my classroom. Not to say Black folx do not respect authority, but we respect authority that respects us. Let's be honest, from Jim Crow to COINTELPRO, Black folx have all the reason to be suspicious, distrustful, and defensive against authority figures like teachers, police, and governments. I see terror. They see terror. We all see terror. Or is it terrorism? I refuse to be baited into playing the Oppression Olympics; however, what if I am my own handicap? Someone else's hurdle? Someone else's perceived oppressor?
Well, you can't forget the way those elderly Asian ladies look at you on the bus! They see your locs, your brown skin, and your reluctance or unwillingness to look them in their eyes. Yes, you may be nervous as you try your hardest not to scare anyone, but you come off as uneasy or shady. Of course, you are not crazy but based on the news, they must assume you are capable of crazy. After seeing the news, you can't blame Asian folx for thinking in terms of possibilities and probabilities. Check the numbers, you say? Don't be so stereotypical! Not everyone is good at math!
Proximity, representation, self-love, and self-care matter when it comes to solidarity. I can’t love someone else if I don’t love myself. I can’t care for you (that well) if my health is compromised and undervalued. No apology, spoken or written, will bring that woman out of her coma, undo that brain damage, or heal that trauma. I saw my Asian students show up to BLM protests, but I didn’t hear many Black voices speaking out against AAPI hate crimes, me included. I whisked at the sight of the videos showing the brutal attacks against Asian folx. Is it my place to speak out of turn to discuss this issue? I don’t know; I am just wondering about the state and re-imagining of Black Asian unity given our political climate.
You do remember Black folx warning you to be careful around your Chinese homies because of COVID, right? And the way your Black homies casually made assumptions and recited Trump rhetoric while also denouncing Trump as a racist? Did you say anything? Did you set off their cognitive dissonance? Okay, you said "chill with all that." Did you really press them on their anti-Asian comments and sentiments? You shrank. You once again faded to the white. Let that have been some non-Black folk talking that shit about Black people, you would have called Mr. Morale and the Steppers out to protest and chant "We gone be aight!"
I don’t know what the real virus is…hate or a lack of self-love…two sides of the same coin. If I love myself, I wouldn't hurt my neighbor, I don't think. However, I could watch silently as a bystander because I selfishly or insecurely love myself and not others. My ego can be my blinders, my prison, my cause of death. Sticks and stones may break my bones and words CAN motivate folx to lash out, blast out, and crash out, especially when people feel wronged, unseen, or uncared for. Consider the events on Capitol Hill, in Buffalo, in San Francisco…don’t call it a race war. Wars never end. Just because fighting subsides or stops doesn’t mean peace is present. It just means people are recruiting, re-tooling, remembering the losses, and then resurrecting insurrection.
My heart speaks. My words here may not be rational, right, or research-based. These are just my feelings in Black...about mixed racial messages and experiences. I hear you, D, but you have a choice to be ignorant, silent, or harmful. What have you learned? Don't let ego, envy, and or evil erase you and others. If you don't see us, if you don't want to see us, then you will never see the harm and your role in it. You can't pretend to see no evil, hear no evil, or speak no evil, especially when you have been bathed and sullied in the mud of evil. Get it out the mud, rappers say. Get what out the mud? We all see the bodies covered in mud (and blood). Can you get your soul out the mud? Can you reach out and pull another out? You have to care to care. You have to care to connect. Just as much as you are capable of crazy, you are just as capable of caring. Will you show up for us? Will you fight not necessarily for us but alongside us? Will you respect our respective affinity spaces and then be willing to step out and share space with us? I don't just mean physical space; I'm talking social, emotional, spiritual. I want to not only share space but also work together to deepen a healing space to find new depths and ways into vulnerability, grieving, understanding, life-giving, and liberation.
D, make sure you thank the little Asian women who ride the bus with you and wake you up for your stop; to your students who smile, laugh, and openly dialogue with you when you both know the world has our racial groups at war once we leave that school building; to your Asian homies who share space with you even when you make ignorant comments or commit cultural faux-pas; and to your black homies who tell you to shut up, listen, and speak only when in the mirror.
I got love for you, D. Hopefully, the feeling is mutual. For everyone reading, will you do the right thing? Will you fellowship with us? Will you care to care?
This piece was inspired by YouTuber Sneako, rapper Kendrick Lamar, and my students (past and present). Happy Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month!