Why I Stand With Others In Protesting, Shouting At The Top Of My Lungs, And Still Learning
I feel like people should be saying something, doing something, in whatever way they do it. However they themselves take a stand. However they engage.
Another Black life, that life of George Floyd, with no uncertain areas of gray, was murdered by police. For passing a bad $20 that he may or may not have known about. His killer a White Man, his accomplices, other policemen, other POC. I can’t say for sure all the factors that contributed to this outpouring, this showing of emotion and uprising by the people across the nation and all over the world–but it seems different. It feels different. Maybe it’s the administration, this president, the last close to 4 years seeing racism on the rise and the White Power movements that seem to be not so hidden as they once were, emboldened by a sentiment from leaders in this country that POC and immigrants are somehow more expendable than the rest of the population.
Maybe a worldwide pandemic, being quarantined, a new normal of social distancing with our survival instincts already heightened–maybe this was just the course it had to take.
Breonna Taylor. Philando Castile. Eric Garner. Trayvon Martin. Ahmaud Arbery.
The Amy Coopers of the world. The Barbecue Beckys of the world.
In that way, I think it was the final straw.
I was thinking about it the other night–the anger, the frustration–I didn’t realize how angry I was until that first Wednesday, where along with others, I couldn’t help but use the most vicious of voices that came from deep within my body to denounce what had happened.
Reflecting on the events over the last two weeks, I realized that in some ways, being born out of the Vietnam War, it’s outcome making me lose everything familial I would never truly know, that this also played a part in those feelings. A War orphan summoned to a new land under the same guise and the same tenets that brought the U.S. to Vietnam, while opportunity granted like others in the Vietnamese community who came to the U.S. (albeit a different perspective and a different set of experiences), there is a dichotomy in my life that will always need to be reconciled, a Vietnamese family lost, an American family that eroded over time slowly evaporating from normal existence–a legacy of loss that will continue on with my daughter who will bear that loss as well.
In that way, that loss, that sense of everything being taken away by a structure of colonialism and Whiteness–in many ways, I just can’t help but feel the way I do. I can’t help not using my voice for George Floyd, his family and his daughter, even though I never knew him. As a Vietnamese American, who’s existence in the U.S. is leveled with politics, racism, xenophobia, and the fact that we may never truly belong in the eyes of some–because can you imagine this country electing a Vietnamese American President in your lifetime?–while different–there’s a shared experience of loss. As an Asian American, an immigrant, an adoptee who can never truly trace their paperwork back to the beginning, there’s a shared distrust and fear of government and law enforcement.
That I can easily be lost under a pile of paperwork and bureaucracy.
They are wounds that last a lifetime.
At the same time–while I stand with the community, while I stand for justice, while I stand to take down a corrupt system, a system that murdered George Floyd and countless other Black men, women, and children–while I understand the need for change in part because of Vincent Chin, Fong Lee, Map Kong, the Chinese Exclusion Act, Japanese Interment–just a few of the injustices brutally handed down to the APIA community–while I hold those in the back of my mind, like individuals from other communities of color out now in protest and in solidarity that have also experienced shared racism and injustice at the hands of a White system bent on using POC for their own purposes–I remember that I am still not Black, still do not experience the same disparity in regard to police killings and overt racism that the Black community does, and that I too, like others, need to remember when to shout, when to raise my voice–and when to listen–to support the young Black leaders and activists out there today so their voices are heard among the noise.
To remember that while this is my fight, it is also not my fight.
That I still have learning to do.
A Symbol Of Unrest: The Minneapolis 3rd Police Precinct. It Can’t Always Be Peaceful And That’s Okay
At one of the protests in St. Paul near the capital, one of the speakers, like others who’ve said the same, talked about how in no other city where this has happened, was a police station burnt down to the ground. While I will always subscribe to the fact that opportunists will always be opportunists, and that small POC and immigrant businesses should remain to flourish–I have no issue with a show of force from the people. I have no issues with peacefully protesting but shouting at the top of my lungs when needed, when appropriate–when the anger is so much that it demands it. Should it be complete chaos? No. But as I’ve heard from young Black men and women–it can be replaced, it’s just a building–and some I’ve talked with have said that they don’t think this would have been covered by the media in its totality, or sparked as many protests around the country and the world, if there would not have been what many have called “civil unrest”.
In that way, I remember the first protest I ever went to for the Gulf War, since then giving my voice, my feet, and my body, to many other protests and movements–and while they do create change, they can create change on many different levels–it’s not always the case. It doesn’t always change from a structural level, and at times, there has to be what people, many outside of the communities affected, call “civil disobedience”. A letter, an essay, a post–this one included–they can fall on deaf ears from a larger perspective.
The 3rd Precinct?
Who cares if it burned to ground. It was a symbol of a racist structure that has taken the lives of too many Black men and women, and that has helped to undermine and keep down so many marginalized communities.
I was happy to see it burn and be taken over.
I was happy to see a symbol of hate be torn to the ground and taken over by the communities it has long helped to suppress.
The Policing Of Peaceful Protesters, Intimidation, And The Use Of Force
That first night I was at the 3rd precinct, when the Autozone was set on fire, that night was filled with anger and frustration and at the same time, it was fueled by police that shot at protesters 30-40 ft away with their “non-lethal” guns. Weapons were pointed at me, I was pepper sprayed, and the looks–the looks from police in uniform who wished they could be set free to unleash at us, that same mindset that killed George Floyd–I saw that too many times, underscoring why we were all there–underscoring why after stumbling around for 20-30 minutes after catching pepper spray, I went back to the same area to stand in protest again.
The second night I was in St. Paul, seeing its own unrest and voices of protest as it too has seen Black Lives and other POC lives taken too early from the community and stood in solidarity with it’s twin city in denouncing the murder of George Floyd.
That night was met with more weapons pointed in our faces, tear gas let go 2-3 times in two different areas, shot at with their flash guns as we were pushed farther up the streets in residential neighborhoods, and a police presence that wasn’t warranted–but was used to intimidate–some of the officers clearly wanting to simply get into it.
Too many times their weapons were pointed at people that only had cell phones and cameras. That weren’t interfering with any first responders and firefighters (in one location) but making their voices heard. Too many times throughout that night, like many others there, I had to yell to put down their weapons, to step in front of their guns because there was no reason for them to have them up, to have them aimed at someone unarmed (because the police were afraid, because of their own racism, they’re own prejudice, their own fear).
They needed to be presented with a choice–shoot, or put it down.
They needed to understand that we weren’t afraid.
By the end of that 2nd night, when I got back to my car, I stood in an alley for about 20 minutes–pacing, talking to myself, just needing to be–the weight of those two nights compressing on my body and my mind.
I was tired. I was sad. I felt at times afraid–every emotion just coming out as I waited to start my car, turning my back as people started to walk by.
“There’s a difference between those calling for peace and those calling for quiet.” – Al Sharpton
I say all of this because it speaks to the point that the initial gut reaction by law enforcement and the those that govern them–after the institution and its police officers killed George Floyd–was to be afraid of the people, to use force against the people–instead of protecting the small POC and immigrant businesses, the places where people in the community go for basic needs–instead of protecting those and protesters exercising their 1st amendment rights–they helped to let the city burn.
It was, as I’ve written so many times already, the same mindset that killed George Floyd.
The Days Going Forward
Over the next few days I stood with so many others, shared ground with them in protests–law enforcement while still a presence and still making bad decisions, at least in some ways was turned down more, with the eyes of the world watching, the leaders of the cities trying to protect it, but also falling into a narrative where they spoke of peaceful protests, the right for the people to be angry, but enlisted curfews and a police presence stifling those rights–out of fear and in many ways prejudice. I imagine many others like myself, those much closer to the ears of the Governor and Mayors–versus a tweet–I like to think they helped show them the error of their ways.
I’ve been glad to talk with so many people, listen to their voices, standing and sharing space with them, and was so thankful to the young voices, the young Black voices, helping to lead the way, taking their time to dialogue—everyone, instead of a fist bump or handshake–an elbow bump, an understanding, in some ways so much more pointed and deliberate. Some of the conversations I’ve had, those interpersonal moments, talking about raising children of color, protesting with them because they want their voices heard–because they are old enough to understand the gravity of these moments–they have been both sobering and uplifting and I’m thankful for all the conversations I’ve had. I’m thankful for all the strength and support.
Below are some pictures from other days of protests and the memorial for George Floyd.
Black Power And Asian Support + Asian Power And Black Support
I’ve been writing this post over the last couple of days, taking breaks, I think in some ways trying to get it right in my head, and I think when it comes down to it, for me personally, I want to make sure I put another voice out into the world that clearly states I don’t believe we should be talking about anti-Asian sentiment in regard to other communities of color in the same breath as George Floyd.
All communities have their own in-house broken pieces to cleanup.
It serves no purpose.
At the same time, some are using the opportunity to divide, to misdirect, or even with good intentions still feeding into stereotypes and pushing a message out of fear.
I saw this post on a FB group I was in and it talked about a case here where some teenagers kicked an older/elderly Asian American lady in May–the racism that exists from COVID-19–and then made a statement like “Who marched for us?”–such a brief statement–but it demands untangling because at its core it’s trying to shame communities, and because in the same breadth as George Floyd, within that context, seems directed at the Black community, saying that they don’t care about Asian American causes so why should we care about Black causes?
Instead of offering support and talking about the ways that the Black and Asian communities have come together to support each other, statements like those choose to divide.
I’ve seen some posts in various places that have shown images of looted restaurants in Chinatowns with statements like “Nothing matters until #AsianLivesMatter” and during a time when the country is protesting against the killing of a Black man from the Black community by law enforcement, which disproportionately kills Black men more than any other community–I feel like this statement says the two are mutually exclusive. That you can’t protest and mourn for George Floyd and care about the Asian American community–that you have to choose.
At the same time, it also clearly states that nothing else matters, including the murder of George Floyd, the anger and frustration, the sadness–what’s brought people out into the streets–that none of that matters until “#AsianLivesMatter”.
I don’t stand with that.
I saw an article talking about the support of police reform and standing with the Black community–but at the same time talking about the fear of the Asian community because one of the officers was Hmong–the statement in many ways portending there would be retaliation, and not specifically said, but I feel it’s inferred–from individuals within the Black community.
But up to that point, and since then either–I haven’t heard of a rash of crimes against the Asian American community at large in Minneapolis or St. Paul because of the murder of George Floyd and one of the policemen being Asian America. If anything–the concern was out of town White Supremacists.
I’m not trying to dismiss any histories or those feelings, or where that might come from–but it also feeds into a larger narrative of fear–and holding onto that fear.
Even though in the here and now in this particular moment–there has been nothing to fear.
When I look back at history and in my own life (the advantages of being an old head), locally and nationally, online and offline, individuals in the Black community have come out in support of Asian American causes, businesses, art, entertainment, lending their voices and support to the Asian American community, just like individuals in the Asian American community come out and support Black causes, businesses, art, entertainment, lending our voices in support of the African American community.
What we’ve done together as communities, some of what we’ve shared together, worked on together, prospered together in–those are beautiful moments to treasure and build upon.
As A War Orphan. As A Member From The Adopted Community
I’ve seen posts/heard thoughts in regard to whether or not Asian Americans (and other nationalities) who belong to the adopted community, primarily via transracial and transnational adoption into White families–if they should speak their voice on what’s happening with George Floyd because of their proximity to Whiteness, because of the privilege they received, or worried about possibly appropriating the moment, or in other instances, defending the capacity of POC adopted into White families to be allies and accomplices for the Black community.
I think by not standing up, by not saying anything–and in whatever way that is done, on whatever level that is (one not higher than another)–that umbrella of White Privilege is being used.
At the same time, by voicing those questions, that dialogue, I feel like that’s something to go forward from and in a lot of ways, shows that regardless of proximity to White Privilege, there is no choice–it’s whether or not those feelings are suppressed–and I think not because of White Privilege, but because of White Oppression.
In some cases, that White Oppression can come from a familial perspective. From family members who don’t understand because they are not POC. Because they are not Asian American. And I understand that it can be exhausting.
That it can be easier to say nothing and avoid specific topics–much like other individuals in the Asian American community dealing with different mindsets from different generations and countries.
At some point though–it has to be broken. A new cycle, a new way needs to be put forward.
It is easier said than done at times–for me personally, I no longer deal with that type of exhaustion or dichotomy as much from a familial level in regard to immediate family because the family I was placed with via adoption hasn’t been a large part of my adult life in totality–and while there are drawbacks to that–one of the absolute benefits is not having to fight against a White perspective.
In that way I understand–it’s not always easy to go against those systems.
But it’s worth it.
At the same time, I push aside that notion that because someone from the Asian American community was transracially and transnationally adopted into a White family–that this means they don’t know how to relate as POC or from the Asian American community. That somehow, a system which they had no part of, that we had no part of, that was exercised on babies, toddlers, and children–that this somehow takes away rights as a Person of Color, as an Asian American, and as an immigrant.
Voices From The Memorial In Minneapolis
I think a good way to end this post is to listen to some of the people I talked with at George Floyd’s memorial in Minneapolis. To hear their words and what’s brought them out.
— xD (@slantyapolis) June 4, 2020
— xD (@slantyapolis) June 4, 2020
— xD (@slantyapolis) June 4, 2020
— xD (@slantyapolis) June 4, 2020
— xD (@slantyapolis) June 4, 2020