It’s been three weeks since the targeted shooting in Atlanta that killed Xiaojie Tan, Delaina Ashley Yaun, Paul Andre Michels, Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, and Yong Ae Yue, and wounded Daoyou Feng. Since then, Stop AAPI Hate—an initiative initially founded last March to provide resources and information on how to support the Asian community as anti-Asian hate crimes have spiked—has morphed into a viral hashtag that brings awareness to a horrifying reality. It has spawned urgent discourse around race and gender-based violence targeting the Asian-American community, and the need for support from its allies. And in response, Asian-American leaders and activists are demanding specific policy initiatives that address the most insidious forms of anti-Asian racism, including greater political representation, an expansion of Asian-American history in schools, and policies that make it easier for non-English speaking Asians to vote.
None of these concerns are new. As George Floyd’s murder by police reignited global consciousness of the Black Lives Matter movement last summer, conversations about racist violence dominated mainstream news. That reckoning against anti-Black racism has led to comparisons between the mainstream and corporate responses to the movement for Black lives and the #StopAsianHate movement. While there has been solidarity between these movements, demands for corporations to make statements like they did after George Floyd’s killing have led some Black people to question whether some in the Asian community were paying attention last summer when Black activists decried empty corporate statements and lack of material change in anti-Black violence.
The vast majority of hate crimes against Asians in America during the pandemic have been committed by white people. However, there has been a concerted effort on mainstream and social media to highlight Black violence against Asians, further exacerbating a history of tension between Black people and Asian people. These recent conversations echo the events of 1992, following the death of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins, a Black girl, who was shot by Korean store owner Soon Ja Du in a horrific crime (and slap-on-the-wrist punishment) that contributed to the 1992 L.A. riots in which over 2,000 Korean-owned stores were vandalized and destroyed in protests following Rodney King’s murder.
“That was such a painful moment in the sordid history between poor Black people and poor Asian people who were forced into a community with one another,” says Gennette Cordova, a Black and Filipino social justice writer whose grandparents are the founders of the Filipino American National Historical Society. “While Asian people have every right to feel threatened and outraged by an increase in hostility and violence towards them, there is also a responsibility to make sure that they're not perpetuating language that exacerbates the deep-seated issues between our communities.” The history of anti-Blackness and cultural appropriation in the Asian community, orientalism in hip-hop, and the intentional wielding of the model minority myth by other communities attempt to fortify the divide. But there is also a long history of solidarity between these communities, bonded by our common fight against white supremacy.
In the 1960s, prominent Japanese activist Kochiyama’s support of political Asian-American and Black liberation movements led to an alliance with Malcolm X. Also, Chinese community leader Grace Lee Boggs and her husband, political activist James Boggs, founded Detroit Summer, a program for youth of all races to help redevelop the city.
As the fight to abolish white supremacy rages on, we’re honouring some of the Black and Asian women living and fighting for social justice at the intersection of these communities and struggles.
“Before #Asians4BlackLives, there was Yuri Kochiyama cradling Malcolm's head as he bled. There was Grace Lee and James Boggs unified in love and in activism. There was Tupac, sharing his family's history in Yuri's living room,” says Aerica Shimizu Banks, a Black and Japanese inclusion innovator who advocates for justice and educates on the interconnectedness between Black and Asian communities. “And there are people, like me, living their Asian and Black lives simultaneously and inextricably. As Yuri said, ‘We are all part of one another.’ So whether you’re Black, white, Asian, Latino, we have to continue to carry that mantle [to fight for justice].”
Scholar and activist Akemi Kochiyama continues her grandmother Yuri Kochiyama’s legacy through education and multicultural community building. She is a Black Asian scholar and activist and the Director of Advancement at Manhattan Country School, a progressive school committed to educating an inclusive student body on social justice, diversity, and equality. “As we bear witness to continued Black-Asian violence and conflict, persistent government-sanctioned violence against people of color, and an outright assault on American democracy, we can draw lessons from past experiences,” she wrote in an essay.” We can also draw inspiration from the new generation of activists, artists, educators, and civil and human rights advocates who are purposeful in practicing a broader, more multicultural, internationalist vision for solidarity and coalition building in their work.”
A Black and Cambodian community organizer, Moni Tep is the Education Director of Creative Justice, a Seattle-based program that uses an art-centred approach to provide a healing space for youth affected by the court system and abolish juvenile incarceration. Under Tep’s leadership, mentors emphasize the importance of skill-building, anti-racism, social justice, and collaborative work. In addition, as a singer known as JusMoni, she fuses her art and activism. “Intersections mean figuring out where things connect. Figuring out how one thing affects another,” she told The Seattle Globalist, referring to her background as an influence for her work. “My identity helps me reach audiences and communities of vast demographics. There are no rules at the intersections, so why make them.”
Naomi Osaka became the first Japanese player to win a Grand Slam title after winning the 2018 U.S. Open. Since, she has consistently spoken out in support of racial justice for both the Black and Asian communities. “I have received racist comments online and even on TV,” she wrote in an op-ed for Esquire. “But that’s the minority. In reality, biracial people—especially biracial athletes—are the future of Japan. We (myself, Rui Hatchimura, and others) have been embraced by the majority of the public, fans, sponsors, and media. We can’t let the ignorance of a few hold back the progressiveness of the masses.”
Osaka was one of the most highly visible figures to support BLM, wearing masks bearing the names of Black Americans killed by police during the 2020 U.S. Open. She also protested George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis and, later that year, withdrew from the WTA Western & Southern Open in support of the Jacob Blake protests. “In the last year, she made her stance on the BLM movement very clear,” said Cordova. “That was just a beautiful moment seeing where Naomi stood on the issues last year. A lot of athletes don't feel compelled to put themselves out there in that way. Yeah, she plays in a white sport, but if all she can accomplish with her actions is getting discourse started among a majority white audience, then she knows that she’s doing something right, and I appreciate that.”
Black and Japanese community leader Emily Akapan works alongside Tsuru for Solidarity, a Japanese American social justice organization that advocates for humane immigration policies and solidarity with other communities suffering from racist and state violence. “During a pandemic, in which Black and Brown people are dying at twice the rate of any other community, we are risking our lives to demand that we are worth more than black squares and quick solution,” Akapan wrote for Tsuru. “We are fighting for worth that meets our deepest imagination. Beyond body cams and indictments, we deserve justice and we deserve to be healed.”