Over Memorial Day weekend in America, a chilling act of racism was caught on camera when Amy Cooper called the cops on bird-watcher Christian Cooper, of no relation.
“I’m going to tell them that there is an African-American man threatening my life,” she says.
But that very same night, police in Minneapolis arrested George Floyd on suspicion of passing a counterfeit bill. He was handcuffed and held down on the ground, with a knee to his neck, by a police officer for several minutes as he repeatedly said “I can’t breathe.”
By the time EMS arrived at the scene, Floyd did not have a pulse, and was later pronounced dead.
Over this past week, both of these viral videos have dominated news headlines and there has been an outpouring of grief, frustration and rage over anti-Black violence in America — led by Black people.
Not to say there haven’t been other people in the fight against anti-Black racism, but there has not been enough and there needs to be.
Black people did not do this, this was done unto them. Examples abound through history. The devastation of Black Wall Street in 1921 after a white woman said a Black man scared her. The lynching of Emmett Till in 1955 because a white woman falsely claimed he flirted with her. The brutal beating of Rodney King in 1991. The shooting death of jogger Ahmaud Arbery in George this year.
Black people are being hunted and killed.
“Racism is not getting worse, it’s just getting filmed,” Will Smith wrote this week
My response to the video of Floyd was visceral. But throughout, I kept turning away from Floyd to look at the officer standing behind — he was Asian. His complicit silence throughout the video as this man pleads for air is deafening.
While that officer does not represent all Asians, he made me think about the silence from so many Asians in regards to anti-Black racism. We must acknowledge the anti-Blackness that exists in our Asian communities — East, West, North and South Asian. Racism is not just black and white. The oppressed can also be the oppressors.
I’m fully aware that everyone doesn’t comment on social media about the news, but I find it telling when I scroll through my feed and see how many posts from my Black social circle are related to the events of this past week and how few from my Asian followers show solidarity or support.
I’ve found it even more telling from how personal phone, text or email interactions have begun this week — I know who is okay and who is struggling from their words. Do they care? Do they just not care enough?
As a South Asian, I have heard derogatory comments about the Black community behind closed doors. I have witnessed how my own culture somehow feels closer to whiteness, thinking living in white neighbourhoods, acting and speaking like white people and staying silent on racial matters will somehow bring more power and privilege.
I have even heard some Asians turn their nose up at the plight of the Black community, to the extent of blaming them for not working harder to change negative perceptions in society, meanwhile brushing our own issues of casteism, shadeism, female feticide, islamophobia, homophobia, domestic violence and others under the rug.
I feel dejected writing this; it is not easy because I love many aspects of my culture and there are so many good people fighting hard against prejudice, discrimination and racism within my community. But I know right from wrong. I know that we do not need to tear down the Black community in order to raise the Asian one. I know we can do better and be better allies.
Silence is not acceptable. Lives — Black lives — depend on it. We need to speak out against hate. It’s not enough for the people on the receiving end of hate to call it out.
“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people,” said Martin Luther King Jr.
As Asians in Canada, we also need to spend more time listening and learning. Many of us, myself included, are not well versed enough on the plight of Black Canadians and their role in Canadian history and politics. Their fight against institutional racism in the civil rights movement has paved the way for immigrants like me to be here today.
We need to interrupt our own biases. Our false ideologies do not benefit us, they only serve to uphold white supremacy. We need to interrupt and own our individual part in racism so we can change our individual behaviours. Every small action works towards dismantling systemic oppression.
The past week has been traumatic for many of us to see. Imagine having to live with that trauma an entire lifetime; for entire generations. I hope we can all take pause and reflect on how we are all part of these devastating atrocities and what we can do to change course.