By: Joliana Yee, APAN Regional Ambassador
With the current state of Black communities living under siege and the value of Black lives continually being disregarded in this country, I’ve been pushed to reflect more deeply on what it means for me to be a member of the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) and People of Color (POC) communities. As someone whose racialized experience has been redefined when I came to the United States from Malaysia in 2006 to pursue my undergraduate degree, I frequently think about my responsibility in and how I might be contributing to the advancement of my communities towards collective liberation.
Watching this video of Loretta Ross, co-founder and the National Coordinator for the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, explain the history of the term Womyn/People of Color as one that was born out of solidarity with and “a commitment to work in collaboration with other oppressed people of color who have been minoritized” truly resonated with me. How did we get to a place where a political designation has been reduced to a biological destiny? Being a POC is more than skin deep but sometimes looking at my APIDA students, faculty and staff colleagues I fear that we “forget” that when it becomes inconvenient. In the midst of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, the APIDA community has been largely absent in the fight for black lives. As a community that has pushed to be acknowledged as part of the POC collective in conversations of racial inequality and inequity, it is ironic that many are choosing to distance themselves from the issue at such a pivotal moment in history.
A mentality born from being decentered in a white supremacist culture, anti-blackness isn’t new. There’s a deep history to it and as we confront current realities we must also be committed to learn our history. Tensions between Korean American shopkeepers and African Americans were put on national display during the Los Angeles Riots in 1992, and in many Asian communities, anti-black sentiment continues to go unquestioned and unchecked. The model minority myth is a historical and presently used tool designed to protect institutionalized white supremacy and validate anti-black racism. Jason Chu’s spoken word piece “They Won’t Shoot Me (I Am Not #FreddieGray) creatively sheds light on this longstanding issue.
What will it take for the APIDA community to truly see that all oppression is connected and thus our liberation is bound with that of other POCs? It is not to play oppression Olympics and say that we have to set aside our communities’ issues to pick up others but uniting under the term POC will allow for building cross-racial solidarity and more powerful racial justice movements that will only benefit us in the long run. It shouldn’t require another case like Officer Peter Liang’s in New York or Sureshbhai Patel’s in Alabama to ignite our consciousness and commitment to centering the needs of the Black community who have been disproportionately impacted by violence.
It is evident that the model minority myth and internalized racism has created incentives for past and present silent complicity in a racist system and complacency in perpetuating anti-black racism. Therefore, the very choice in itself to work with other marginalized and oppressed groups of people is how we begin to resist white supremacy in a meaningful way and combat racism rooted in anti-blackness and colonialism.
Drawing from the title of the critical transformative justice anthology, by Jai Dulani, Ching-in Chen, and Leah Lahshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha: The revolution starts at home. We must consistently reflect on our own privilege, power, and identity; own and admit ways in which we’ve been complicit in a racist system as well as hold one another accountable. In the words of Yuri Kochiyama, “keep expanding your horizon, decolonize your mind, and cross borders. Remember that consciousness is power.” Thus for me, I am committed to a life of dismantling and resisting master narratives as I work to decolonize hearts and minds. I will participate and show up the way others ask me to. I will speak out against injustice without usurping another voice. I will incite consciousness-raising in myself as well as others through my vocation as a Student Affairs educator.
“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others” – Nelson Mandela