It’s time to address anti-Black appropriation in Asian activism
The activism resulting from the recent rise in hate crimes against East and Southeast Asians must remain consciously against the appropriation of Black activists’ labor.
March 25, 2021
In response to the tragic shooting at Atlanta on March 16, 2021, media company 88rising posted a neon green-yellow square on Instagram. Captioned, “Enough is enough. Heartbroken with the disgusting and senseless violence in Georgia tonight. Violence against the Asian community has to stop. Let’s protect each other and stand against hate,” the post was meant to stand in solidarity with the Asian women who lost their lives in Atlanta.
This gesture, however, was met with intense backlash for two predominant reasons. The first: the inappropriate, and historically racist, use of yellow to refer to Asian Americans. The second: the hijacking of Blackout Tuesday, a social media trend created by Black female recording executives Brianna Agyemang and Jamila Thomas. After a former officer in the Minneapolis police department was charged with the murder of George Floyd, and the protests of summer 2020 that followed, the usage of these symbols came off as insensitive.
This recent incident serves as a reminder of the ways non-Black activist movements continue to take from Black activists and their labor. It highlights one of the most pervasive facets of anti-Blackness: appropriation. Since the recent Atlanta shooting opened discourse about racism against Asian Americans and the effects of white supremacy, it is critical that we remain vigilant and continue to address other types of racial injustice, especially anti-Blackness.
This situation is exacerbated by the refusal to acknowledge the deep anti-Black sentiments that run rampant in many non-Black Asian communities. The presence and complicity of Hmong police officer Tou Thao at the murder of George Floyd reignited conversations of what it meant to enable anti-Black violence as non-Black Asians — a conversation that began in 1992 with the murder of Latasha Harlins.
There is a long and complex history of racism toward Black people in the Asian community. For example, the model minority myth — a phenomenon that portrays Asian Americans as uniquely successful and docile — was created by the ruling class of white Americans to drive a racial wedge between Asians and other minority groups. The myth weaponizes the perceived Asian American academic and financial success to undermine the effects of racism toward other minority groups. However, a significant number of Asian Americans truly believe in this mythos and continue to perpetuate anti-Blackness through it. The effects of anti-Black sentiments continue to rear their ugly head, not only in diasporic Asian American circles, but across Asian communities globally: from the use of blackface to monkey costumes to the discrimination of Black people in China due to COVID-19 fears.
Now, among the woke classes of young Asian activists, anti-Blackness often transforms and manifests through the theft of Black intellectual labor. The term “Asian-fishing” was crafted in response to the fox-eye trend, where celebrities and models pulled their eyelids backward and used makeup to give their eyes a slanted appearance. “Asian-fishing” was copied directly from the term “Blackfishing,” which was used to address white women darkening their skin and undergoing cosmetic procedures to emulate the looks of Black women. The derivative nature of this phrase undermines the fight of Black people who seek acknowledgement for their struggles.
Additionally, on many social media platforms, especially Twitter, #AsianLivesMatter continues to circulate, even though Black and Asian activists have spoken out about its appropriative nature. The hashtag was originally created to express outrage and grief in response to the recent Atlanta shootings, but some people are urging others to use #StopAsianHate instead. As one Twitter user wrote, “Things have been terrible for a long time for many. It is not new. We can lift each other up without co-opting.”
Now, more than ever, we need to advocate for those oppressed under white supremacy. This past year has been emotionally draining for both Black and Asian communities, but that does not mean that the Asian community can claim elements from Black movements — especially without regarding the ways we benefit from anti-Blackness as non-Black people. There are even more alternatives to these plagiarized terms: focus on how sinophobia, xenophobia and the United States’ imperial legacy in Asia are to blame for this violence. Use the #StopAsianHate when speaking about these issues, and listen to what Black people are saying.
Expecting Black people to prevent the appropriation of their culture and movements is a byproduct of white supremacy that looks to profit off of anti-Black theft. Solidarity within our communities is a responsibility and labor that non-Black Asians must take on. We must be vigilant in advocating for Asians while also prioritizing a space in which we continually denounce white supremacy and anti-Blackness.
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Email Srishti Bungle at [email protected]