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Black History Month and Asian Allies

I remember the first time I actually heard the n word. I was watching Rush Hour.

Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan walks into a pool hall. Chris Tucker greets his black friends using the n word. Jackie Chan, trying to fit in, also says the same thing. And a brawl breaks out. You can watch the scene here.

I was 11 years old at the time. I actually didn’t understand that scene. It was the first time I heard the n word being used.

That’s what happens when you grow up in the suburbs in Markham, Ontario. Surrounded by other immigrants (mostly East and South Asians), we were partly insulated from the larger racial politics of Canada and America.

As immigrants, our families don’t really understand the racial histories and politics of Canada (and America). We come here, and we just try our best to fit in. And of course, school didn’t teach me the real Canadian history (genocide of Indigenous people, slavery in Canada, Chinese railway workers, Japanese internment camps, etc.).

Flash forward to high school and college…I don’t remember how I learned about the n word. But I definitely started hearing people using it. And I also started using it.

I knew very little about social justice back in the day. I was ok with people calling me “chink.” I knew very little about the history of racism. So I didn’t think it was a big deal for people to call me chink, and wasn’t a big deal for me to use the n word.

So in such a weird revelation…if our anti-black racism is unexamined, then chances are, our internalized racism is also not fully examined (if you’re racialized).

Cause if you truly want to understand the racism that you experience, you need to understand the relationship between anti-Asian racism and anti-black racism under white supremacy.

So for Black History Month, we need to learn about the context of anti-Asian racism in relation to anti-black racism under white supremacy.

Cause even though we seem like very different peoples (black and Asian), we’re all oppressed under the same system of white supremacy.

And back to Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan. While the scene was played for laughs, it is also a representation of our racial politics. Asian immigrants come to this land not knowing about the racial politics.

But how long can we plead ignorance? As incidents of police violence against black communities become more and more public, it’s made clear that these aren’t individual incidents. It is historic and systemic.

And with the spike of anti-Asian racism since the start of the pandemic, it has exposed the underbelly of the history of anti-Asian racism in the system of white supremacy...and how fragile our perceived status of "model minority" truly is.

If we truly want to understand the impact of anti-Asian racism in our lives, then we have to uncover the relationship between anti-black racism and anti-Asian racism. These two things are intrinsically linked, under the larger system of white supremacy.

We all have a responsibility to understand the history of anti-black racism, and to fight against it. And by extension, it’ll help us better understand anti-Asian racism, to help us reconcile our own internalized racism (towards ourselves and others).

And don’t believe the lies that Canada is somehow less racist than America. Canada has attempted to erase its own racist histories to create the myth of benevolence. The lies fed to us is insidious, and attempts to convince us that we don’t experience racism. Don’t be fooled.

So let’s educate ourselves on the history and ongoing legacy of anti-black racism this Black History Month and beyond.

Here are some resources:

As always, thanks for tuning in. If you found this helpful, share with your peeps. You can also get my free Asian Survival Guide.

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Harry Au

Therapy for Asians

MSW, RSW | he/him

I help Asians go from feeling trapped to becoming self-liberated.

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