Asians Must Stop Comparing Our Issues to Black Lives Matter
Last week, Laura Huang, an author and associate professor at Harvard Business School, addressed in a tweet the exponential rise in anti-Asian hate crimes over the past year. “I want to see how passionately people (incl other POC) will stand up for Asians,” she wrote. “Those of you who were so vocal w BLM, where are you on the 1900% increase in Asian-directed hate crimes?”
These hate crimes, such as the assault of a 64-year-old grandmother in San Jose, California, earlier this month and the murder of 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee shortly before, are part of a wave of violence toward older Asian Americans that has made the past year ever more frightening and cast a dark shadow over the Lunar New Year at the end of last week. Huang’s remarks are just the latest from a growing number of prominent Asian voices to express frustration on social media over the crisis level of anti-Asian violence and how seldom it breaks through into mainstream discourse. But in Huang’s case, the tweet sparked more issues than it addressed.
Her tweet, according to her critics, exemplifies a tendency to contrast public responses to anti-Asian racism with public responses to anti-Blackness, as if to suggest people care only about anti-Blackness. And this, Huang’s critics contend, is a form of anti-Blackness in its own right.
“You have GOT to stop bringing in BLM and Black people whenever these horrific things happen,” replied writer Katherine D. Morgan. “Stop it. Stop comparing us to this situation. You sound anti-Black.”
“Talking about how both Asian and Black communities experience violence can be helpful in showing how much our communities have in common when it comes to battling white supremacy.”
“I say this with ALL due respect; you can amplify your cause without directly incorporating another,” wrote another Twitter user. “What is happening in the Asian community is horrific and needs to be addressed. So address that only.”
“Talking about how both Asian and Black communities experience violence can be helpful in showing how much our communities have in common when it comes to battling white supremacy,” said CJ Leung of nonviolent protest group Asians 4 Black Lives. “However, making comparisons like this can easily fall into the trap of playing ‘oppression olympics’ by trying to show which groups have it worse.” (The term “oppression olympics,” coined by Chicana activist Elizabeth “Betita” Martínez in her 1993 talk with Angela Davis, refers to the idea of marginalized people competing among each other to determine who is the most oppressed.)
If the response to Huang was quick and forceful, it’s probably because she is far from the first to push this particular rhetorical line. All over Twitter, similar “but BLM” tweets have gained attention. One, which has since been removed, read, “It’s always about us being told to educate ourselves about black people history but never them to acknowledge the history and diversity of Asians.” Another pseudonymous commenter observed, “I rarely see anyone in this community talking about discrimination against asians. I’ve seen a lot of BLM contents and I’m extremely pleased that we’re helping them by spreading more about the matter. I wish the same thing could’ve been done with other ethnicities.”
On the surface, these tweets come off as exasperated cries for help: We care about you guys. Why don’t you care about us? In this way, however, they suggest that intersectional anti-racism work is transactional: Non-Black people help Black people so they can get something out of it in return, rather than to fight injustice out of basic human decency. They seem oblivious to the long histories of anti-Blackness in Asian communities, the “model minority” stereotype many Asians play into, and the numerous differences rooted in history between how anti-Blackness is perpetuated versus anti-Asianness.
Following a Twitter backlash, Huang wanted to correct the record. “Am I blaming black people? No, I’m absolutely not,” she added on Twitter. “My message is pretty much aimed at all my ‘woke’ friends who have mysteriously gone quiet when they were so virtuously advocating for anti-hate months ago.”
The inevitable problem with Huang’s framing is that it portrays a sense of entitlement to the fruits of others’ activism. Black Lives Matter and the pro-Black movements preceding it worldwide were built on centuries of organizing, power building, and struggle. Before any of Huang’s “woke” friends could hit a retweet button, Black organizers had to work tirelessly to bring issues of anti-Blackness to the forefront. Instead of calling out their supposed hypocrisy in acts of solidarity, why not focus on uplifting pro-Asian activism and celebrating other anti-racism movements?
Directing this kind of sentiment toward BLM also feels hostile. It suggests that Asians like Huang see the success of pro-Black movements and feel some degree of dissatisfaction and jealousy, rather than solidarity and joy, at the increased visibility of the fight to end the systemic oppression of Black people.
Rather than study and collaborate with the activists bringing that movement such prominence, such comments attempt to gain attention by guilting and shaming.
It is one thing for Asian activists and Black activists to reach out and help each other; this is the kind of exchange organizations like Asians 4 Black Lives work to cultivate in coalition with other groups, guided by principles and protocols. It is another thing to ignore the activists and their principles, instead turning one’s attention toward demeaning allyship with Black people, thus diverting attention from aiding Asian communities, which is presumably the very goal of this kind of post. What do tactics like Huang’s achieve aside from causing drama and mistrust between different communities of color? Which Asian victim of violence benefited from a BLM call-out?
If we as Asians, in witnessing constant protests responding to anti-Black oppression and tragedy, come away with the notion that Black people are overly favored, we should consider whether we are perpetuating the very oppression we’re supposed to be fighting.