FLY is honored to publish an open letter from June Wang, Vice Chair of our Board of Directors, about her perspective as an Asian American supporting the black community. She also includes a list of writings and references that have helped her learn about systemic racism.
June writes, “Too often, Asian American and immigrant communities have been complicit and not shown up for the black community – driven by our desires to fit into the dominant white culture and gain success in what feels like an American black or white story. The traditional saying, “the nail that sticks out is the one that gets hammered,” has often been a reminder for Asian immigrants that it is better to stay silent than to speak out. But going along has given birth to Asian police force members who are not only complicit to, but even the source of police violence.
Like many, I’ve been grieving, angry, and looking for ways to support the black community. I recognize that as a 2nd generation Chinese American, I would not be here without the black-led civil rights protests of the 60’s. Those protests not only brought about the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, but eventually helped usher in the 1965 Immigration Act, which shortly thereafter allowed my parents to come, meet, and start a family in this country. It may sound dramatic to say, but I owe my life to those protesters decades ago. As do so many immigrants and immigrants’ children.
Despite the truth of that statement, I’ve had to get educated at many points in my life about why it’s not enough for me as an individual to just “not be racist.” I grew up in an immigrant household where the implicit assumption was that if you worked hard and followed the rules, you would be successful. And as long as you treated everyone around you fairly and equally, that was enough.
What I was never taught, but have come to understand, is that the rules don’t work for everyone equally. And the injustices faced by the black community are deeply historic, systemic, and embedded into our culture. I think about how excited we Asians were when we finally got represented in movies on the big screen. But then I think about the common portrayals of blacks in the media, which have been vastly negative and continue to be to this very moment. And then I realize that in many ways, we Asians were lucky to have been absent for so long rather than always painted as violent and dangerous.
In the past week, I’ve been encouraged to learn about a history of Asian American activism that I never knew existed. This little-known legacy of activism won the rights for non-Whites to be citizens back in 1898 and also brought about the Asian American movement of the 60’s and 70’s that worked for civil rights and social justice. And today we see BTS fans match the group’s $1 million donation for Black Lives Matter. Some Asian-Americans have been vocal for justice, but we need to step up even more.
I am still learning how to do better by my black brothers and sisters, how to keep fighting against the systemic injustices that are so deeply embedded in our nation, but I share these links below for those like me that have not always understood how deep racial injustice flows in our country and why we — yes, Asians and immigrants — need to do something about it.
Note: I have been grateful for the many anti-racist reading lists circulated since I first wrote this essay. Below I share ones on systemic racism that opened my own eyes.
- Read The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander: The most powerful book I’ve read on how deliberate modern choices by national leaders created systemic injustice and mass incarceration of blacks. Also see her most recent op-ed in the New York Times.
- The National Memorial for Peace and Justice: We have holocaust memorials, but why don’t we have lynching memorials? This museum is one of the most visceral, painful reckonings with our nation’s history. But my favorite room, the one that gave me hope, was the wall of s/heroes. At every dark moment in time, there have been and will always be brave leaders who do what is right.
- This companion report on lynching in the U.S. is available to read as is Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy (to read or watch)
- The 1619 Project, especially this essay by Nikole Hannah-Jones on how Black Americans have fought for America to live up its original ideals and values.
- Watch 13th on Neflix for those who prefer documentaries. I appreciated seeing conservative Newt Gingrich in this. It’s not just a liberal thing.
TOOLS AND RESOURCES
- Campaign Zero: Policy solutions on how to end police violence.
- Allyship Actions for Asians: I appreciated the one on following black leaders on social media.
- Racial Equity Tools: Tons of research and resources, especially for those working in the social sector.
“History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.” – Maya Angelou
Photo credits: (L) Charlene Lewang, (R) June Wang