Black History Month: Then, Now, & Us

Since 1976 Black History Month has been widely celebrated in the U.S. as a month to recognize the Black community’s contributions in advancing society in many different industries, most notably in the the steps leading up to the Civil Rights Movement, and during the events demanding equal treatment. Oftentimes school courses and curriculums only concentrate on achievements, but never dive into the dark history of the violence and mistreatment of Black people, nor do schools speak in depth about the issues pertaining to race relations in the present day. There is no doubt there have been great strides in the fight for human rights and equality, but there is still a strong need for progress as marginalized groups still exist. Without extensive knowledge and awareness, divide in the country is happening more and more. Movements are not successful without allies and a concentration in particular is the relationship between Black Communities and Asian Communities.

Both the Asian American and the Black community have historically faced a common oppressor. What started as an idea stemmed by white supremacy, morphed into a social construct still in existence today. Overcoming white subjugation and all issues pertaining to race relations has been a uphill battle, and when the need for solidarity is most crucial, Black-Asian conflict has arisen. The animosity between the two marginalized communities is not simply individual prejudice; tension between the two communities is rooted in a deep history of systemic oppression. Both groups have been pitted against each other since the Civil War and Reconstruction Era. Observing the United States’ framework, the foundation is stained red and built on ethnic violence and colonialism. The destruction of cultures ranging from stealing land from the Native Americans to the trading of African slaves are only a couple examples of this long history. The pursuit of approval from the white majority, to simply survive, has resulted in the denial of diversity, culture, and individual identity. The lack of promised liberty and justice has led to a racial division that juxtaposes the causes of the two communities rather than unite them forming coalitions and allies.

The separation of the two communities is highlighted by modern events like: The LA Riots of 1992, causing divide among the Korean American community. One side of liberal Koreans sought to unite with other minorities to fight against racial oppression and scapegoating; while more conservative Koreans emphasized law, order, and political differences between minority groups. Another situation, the killing of Akai Gurley by New York  police officer, Peter Liang, left Black Lives Matter supporters demanding and receiving justice. There were Asian Americans, however, who felt that Peter Liang was scapegoated when he was convicted while other white police officers who have also killed unarmed young Black men have only been punished with a slap on the wrist. Elaine Kim, professor of Asian American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, stated in an interview that, “individual prejudices are symptoms of the larger structure.”

One must also look at the portrayal of Asians in society and how ideas like “The Model Minority” further contributes to anti-blackness. Historian Ellen D. Wu’s book, The Color of Success, breaks down how Asians were once seen as “The yellow Peril”, a danger to the Western World during colonialism starting in the late 19th century into the 20th century; and argues perspective changed once the general population, starting with the government accepted Asians as functioning members of society to gain convenience in situations or other events. For instance, the Chinese Exclusion Act barred entry into the U.S.  in fear jobs would be taken away. The Act was repealed in 1943 with the urge from President Roosevelt, because more allies were needed to win World War II. The Japanese had to continuously prove their allegiance with accounts of combat during World War II even though civil liberties were taken away as Japanese U.S. citizens were put in internment camps. These examples are not meant to compare what atrocities were worst, but a parallel that people of color are treated unfairly and Asians under the “Model Minority” are used as a wedge to further divide people of color.. The Washington Post’s article, The Real Reasons The U.S. Became Less Racist Towards Asian Americans,  sheds light to Asians only seeing success once “white politicians who saw it as a tool to win Allies in the Cold War”, and “1960’s anxieties about the civil rights movement cause white Americans to further invest positive portrayals of Asian Americans.”  It’s crucial to understand, the social health of an individual is interconnected with the social health of the collective and for this reason advocacy for other marginalized communities is crucial for the progression and health of society.

Despite the purposeful tension and division created to silence voices and break solidarity, the history of social movements is not without mutual support and collaboration. It ranges from key individuals during the Civil Rights Movement such as Grace Lee Boggs, Yuri Kochiyama, Richard Aoki, and Mike Tagawa; to community efforts between the Vietnamese and Black residents affected by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Fast forward to present day to see more and more organizations that represent Asian Americans while advocating for the rest of the minority community such as 18 Million Rising, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), and the Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC). In order to progress the Vietnamese community in both the United States and Canada, UNAVSA must acknowledge it’s crucial position in the fight for equality.  As former President Barack Obama stated, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” By providing engagement and educational resources, UNAVSA is extending its hand to our brother and sister minority communities. We know that the path towards social justice requires strengthening all marginalized communities for there is no simple solution to systemic oppression. We as individuals need to be more mindful that what affects one, affects all and thus lies Martin Luther King Jr.’s sentiment that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

How can you be involved?

REGISTER TO VOTE. Online voter registration is available 24/7 for most states. Participating in voting at all levels of government (local & national) not only is a way to voice opinions on issues, but also shows Asians as active members that care about the state of the country. In return, policy makers and those in government leadership gear policy to those that show up and vote. Don’t hesitate to contact us for additional support or voter registration help!