Hi everyone, this post is going to be serious. I know that Black History was last month, but I am hoping that by running this in March, it serves as a small reminder that we need to have these conversations throughout the year. This post today will talk about how we people of color can consciously and unconsciously perpetuate the injustice we are hoping to address, and how we need to examine our privileges and biases, especially our anti-Blackness.
Honestly, I’ve been a little hesitant to write on this topic. Normally I talk about communities of color and the challenges we face navigating a white-dominant culture. I am hesitant to point out dynamics among communities of color, and I know other leaders of color are too, because oftentimes, people in power look at these types of conversations as a sign of weakness and use them to rationalize things like withholding funding: “If these people can’t even get along with one another, how can we invest in them?” (I’ll address this in a future post tentatively called “The Racism of Expecting Communities of Color to Just Get Along.”)
But it is critical that we communities of color examine our relationships with one another, our own biases, and how we may be benefiting from the oppression of others, especially of the Black community, without even realizing it. Otherwise we too may unwittingly be perpetuating the injustice we seek to fight. This happens all the time. Last week, for example, I learned of another Asian American of influence who has not done their own work on examining their privileges and biases and who was supporting inequitable decisions. When we don’t do our work, we POCs often advance harmful concepts and practices, yet we are taken seriously because we are of color.
After the 2016 elections, a colleague of mine, Bao Nguyen, started a group called “Viets Who Give a Sh**” to mobilize Vietnamese Americans who wanted to be more civically active. A conversation started on how we Vietnamese could be supportive of the Black Lives Matter movement. The discussions and actions that ensued (and led to this one-pager formatted by my friend and NAF’s web designer Stacy Nguyen, who also contributed significantly to this conversation) made us realize we had a lot to uncover to be effective allies. Here are some realizations we had, but they are by no means comprehensive. Nor are they groundbreaking; other leaders, especially Black leaders, have pointed out these issues for years, but maybe we don’t always hear. By sharing them, I hope it spurs other colleagues of color to engage in these reflections and conversations that are difficult but necessary for us to be effective in our work advancing social justice:
We need to talk about anti-Blackness, not just about racism: In many ways, the label “racism” shields us from having deeper, more nuanced conversations. It presents this sense that white folks have all the systemic privilege, and all POCs are disadvantaged equally. The reality is that privileges and oppression are also inequitably distributed among communities of color, and that we people of color are often extremely anti-Black, even if we don’t want to admit it.
We need to examine anti-Blackness (and pro-Whiteness) within our cultures and upbringings: Many, I would say most, of us non-Black POCs (NBPOCs) have been socialized to be anti-Black and pro-White. Growing up in Vietnam, I remember the pervasive negative messages we received about Black folks, along with the reverence yielded to the white folks we saw on TV or who came to tour the country. It is still pervasive; to this day, there’s “whitening” lotions and face masks sold at premium prices. Date a white person and your relatives are in awe; date a Black person, and your family might disown you. If we don’t examine how we might have internalized these messages, we are at risk of upholding racist, anti-Black systems.
We need to acknowledge that we are complicit in the oppression of Black people: Many POCs advance harmful concepts, such as “color-blindness.” And sometimes we are used to justify injustice. In the API communities, for example, we often talk about the Model Minority Myth, which allows the aggregation of all APIs into one monolithic group that seems to be doing well, and then conveniently glosses over the challenges diverse API communities are facing. This Myth is often weaponized against other communities, especially the Black community. APIs have also been used as a wedge in the anti-Affirmative-Action movement. We need to examine these and other insidious concepts and strategies so that we do not become complicit in anti-Black oppression.
We need to be aware of our privileges and how we benefit from anti-Blackness: Just as we ask our white colleagues to examine their privileges, we also need to do this. In many ways, because anti-Blackness is so prevalent in the world, it serves to lessen the oppression NBPOCs may be experiencing, and we may not realize it. This does not diminish the systemic injustice faced by non-Black communities of color; clearly, especially in the past three years, every marginalized community has faced a severe increase in trauma. But we can address injustice more effectively by understanding our privileges, including ones derived from Black folks taking on a significant degree of oppression.
We need to recognize and appreciate the contributions made by Black leaders: Many of us non-Black POCs have taken for granted how much we continue to benefit from the work and sacrifices of Black civil rights leaders throughout history. Many of us immigrants/refugees and other communities of color would not be here in the US, and our lives would be completely different, if it weren’t for the rights and freedoms hard-won by Black leaders, many of whom were murdered in the struggles for things that we now take for granted. It is important for us to continually remind ourselves and our families.
We need to be aware of our own fragilities: We talk a lot about white fragility. And I recently wrote about funder fragility. We should also talk about NBPOC fragility. I’ve seen this a lot: a Black person points out something problematic, and a NBPOC jumps in with “well, what about the API community? What about the immigrant community?” or “Not all Asians are anti-Black” or “stop with the Oppression Olympics,” etc. We can, and should, tackle all forms of injustice, and focusing on anti-Black injustice does not detract from other struggles.
We need to understand that ending anti-Blackness helps all of us: Just as we all benefit from the work of Black civil rights leaders, we should recognize that ending anti-Blackness is something that is intrinsically ethical to do, but it also benefits all of us. When we lessen the systemic injustice perpetuated on our Black community members, society is stronger, and we are all better off.
While we continue to reflect and have conversations about anti-Blackness, here are a few actions we can start taking:
Attend trainings specifically on Anti-Blackness: As mentioned above, more than just anti-racism, we need to attend trainings on anti-Blackness. Make sure it’s run by Black facilitators, and compensate them respectfully.
Counter anti-Blackness within our own families and communities: I know it’s hard to deal with our families or fellow community members sometimes, but because of that, we often let their problematic philosophies, statements, and actions go unchecked. Next time we hear something anti-Black, let’s correct it, even if we might upset the people close to us.
Do our own learning so we don’t burden our Black friends and colleagues: Just like it’s exhausting for us to educate other folks about various issues, it’s exhausting for our Black colleagues to educate us non-Black POCs. Let’s do our own work.
Avoid appropriating or diminishing Black culture: I see a lot of non-Black POCs trying to “sound” Black, and I’ve done it myself. It’s disrespectful. Let’s be more thoughtful. Here’s, for example, is a great article on digital blackface and why we should avoid it.
Donate to and volunteer with Black organizations: There are plenty of amazing Black-led organizations doing important work. Donate to them. Volunteer if they are in need of your time.
Use our privilege to bring resources and attention to Black-led movements: For example, here’s a great case statement for increasing philanthropic funding to Black-led organizations. Read it, and advocate for more funding to go to the black community. Attend rallies, testify on, and help bring media attention to Black-led issues.
I know this is just a blog post and I’m sure I missed a whole bunch of important points. While we ask our white colleagues to do work on dismantling systemic racism, we POCs must also do our part, including understanding how we may be contributing to injustice by our perpetuating of anti-Black racism.
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