Beyond Black & White: A Moment of Reckoning For Other Communities - OZY | A Modern Media Company


Because other communities of color have a different responsibility here.

By Pallabi Munsi

When 30-year-old Nour Wolf, a software engineer originally from Syria and based in Berlin, saw a Facebook post seeking help in translating a letter from English to Arabic in an attempt to further the conversation on racism by the group Letters for Black Lives, he jumped in to do his part.

He can sympathize with being oppressed by the U.S. and wanted to show solidarity. “I come from the Middle East, and over the past years have definitely faced certain situations where I felt I wasn’t being treated nicely because of my skin or hair color,” he says. “I could totally feel the pain the Black community, among others, is suffering from around the world.”

It’s not just Wolf. People, mostly youngsters, across different races, ethnicities and genders from around the world are part of the volunteer-based Letters for Black Lives, which aims to rack up conversations about racism.

[Racial conversations are] very complex based on the history of each group and based on the ways in which they’ve been oppressed and colonized in the U.S.

Jasmine Haywood, strategic impact and learning officer at Lumina Foundation

The initiative started after Philando Castile was shot in 2016 by a Latino cop, which followed the 2014 shooting of Akai Gurley by a Chinese American cop in New York City — a polarizing case for the Asian American community. So far, they’ve written letters to the Bengali, Hindi, Hmong, Arabic and Iranian communities, among others.

Since the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Memorial Day, America has been up in arms, protesting police brutality and demanding justice, peace and dismantling of white supremacy.

But the debate goes beyond just black and white. It is, in fact, a moment of reckoning for all communities across the world — especially the “model minority” Asians, the Latinos and others. And it is important to address all of that to end systemic racism, say experts.

Jasmine Haywood, strategic impact and learning officer at Lumina Foundation, who has researched anti-Blackness in America, says the conversations are “very complex based on the history of each group and based on the ways in which they’ve been oppressed and colonized in the U.S.” 

As Hasan Minhaj, a second-generation Indian American, says in a recent episode of the Netflix series Patriot Act: “Asians, we love seeing Black excellence — Barack, Michelle, Jay [-Z], Beyoncé. … We spent the last five weeks praying at the altar of Michael Jordan. How could we be afraid? We love Black America. Yeah, on-screen in our living rooms. But if a Black man walks in your living room or wants to date, God forbid, marry your daughter, you call the cops,” he says, adding that Asians should remember they could move to the U.S. for a better life after 1965 thanks to the Black community and their fight for civil rights.

Sophia Chang, the Asian hip-hop trailblazer, spoke on a recent episode of the Hulu TV show Defining Moments With OZY about how she was “the yellow girl in a white world” and how the system made her strive to be “white” as a youngster.

And there can be discrimination within broader racial groups. The writer Jay Caspian Kang recently pointed out the mass condemnation of Tou Thao — the Hmong American policeman who stood by Derek Chauvin as he crushed George Floyd’s neck by kneeling on him — by the “model minority” Asian Americans. “Professional Asian Americans almost never reach out to populations like the Hmongs, except in the most cursory, box-checking ways,” Kang wrote.

But Haywood believes it is important for all other communities to stand together for Black lives and not take the center stage right now. “Within any marginalized group, there are going to be divisions or disagreements about joining in solidarity with the Black community,” she says. “That is simply a result of white supremacy and how pervasive it is in not just this country, but in the world. So it is a part of the division in every community, whether it is implicit or explicit.” 

Chang believes that it is important to be allies with the Black community — “and it starts with accepting your privilege,” she says. 

While Kang writes that there’s no excusing Thao for what he did, he believes “Asian Americans should ask themselves this question: When you say ‘our’ and ‘we,’ who, exactly, are you talking to? And if you put it in a tweet (it’s always in a tweet), who, exactly, are you hoping faves that tweet?”

And therein lies the answer to internalized racism.

Sign up for the weekly newsletter!

Related Stories