I am Asian-American. I believe that Black lives matter.
It is egregious that I still need to reiterate this time and again. In light of recent events at the University of Missouri, Yale University, Ithaca College, the University of Kansas, and many other universities across the country, it's clear that we need to collectively confront the everyday racism—anti-Black racism in particular—that pervades institutions of higher education. While it may be tempting to detach ourselves, as Barnard and Columbia students, from events occurring at other universities, we need to acknowledge the fact that Columbia remains a hostile space for students of color, especially Black students.
As Sofia Petros-Gouin, CC '19, pointed out in her incredibly salient op-ed, Columbia is not necessarily better than Yale. Columbia is not necessarily any more inclusive than Mizzou. We are not above this conversation.
Although the Columbia community has certainly taken steps to further this conversation, I worry that the voices of our school's sizeable Asian-American population are missing from it. As an Asian-American student at Columbia, I benefit from and am complicit in the perpetuation of these oppressive structures. Recognizing this was an intensely uncomfortable but necessary process. While I am marginalized and I experience racism in certain ways as a person of color, there is no denying that my experiences are not at all comparable to the oppression that Black people face, from police brutality and mass incarceration to discrimination in education, housing, and employment.
Within my first three months at Columbia, I have borne witness to numerous incidents of anti-Black racism. The tone policing and respectability politics on display in the comments section of Spectator's coverage of Thursday's Blackout rally, for one, demonstrate the denial, invalidation, and antagonism that students of color face daily on this campus. Similarly, when a Black student found the courage to discuss her personal encounters with marginalization on this campus in a public forum, she was met with a barrage of comments attempting to deny the validity of her experiences and to perpetuating the narrative that marginalization somehow does not exist at Columbia.
This sort of dismissive racism (and, specifically, misogynoir) manifested itself yet again this week when the women's basketball team mocked Black female bodies by stuffing pillows in their shorts and twerking. Black students are routinely surveilled, stopped and frisked, and accused of "suspicious activity" on this very campus. As an institution, Columbia participates in the systematic oppression of Black communities—until last year, Columbia profited from the inequitable imprisonment of Black bodies. One cannot look at these incidences and deny the prevalence of anti-Black racism at Columbia.
This is not to say that some Asian communities are not just as affected by white supremacy. For example, South Asians and Middle Easterners experience disproportionately high rates of violence due to Islamophobia, while Laotian, Hmong, and Cambodian communities are disproportionately affected by mass incarceration. And much like African Americans, Asian Americans have been erased from U.S. history lessons, segregated in military units and ethnic enclaves, and displaced from our home communities. So, even as a Malaysian-Chinese individual, I can certainly empathize with the struggles of the Black community.
Even today, the model minority myth that triangulates East Asian communities, South Asian communities, and Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities is incredibly damaging to the liberation struggles of the latter communities and the mental health and educational opportunities of Asian-American students. By stereotyping Asian Americans as apolitical and high-achieving, the model minority myth maintains white supremacy, flattens the diversity of Asian-American identities, and undermines solidarity among marginalized groups. It also advances anti-Blackness by forcing minorities to assimilate and conform to impossible standards of white respectability. The exoneration of a Columbia student who was accused of assaulting an Asian-American student in 2013, for instance, is an example of how the model minority myth has continued to affect the way Asian American students are seen on campus.
But the liberation of Asian Americans from white supremacy is inextricably tied to the liberation of all oppressed groups. For example, Asian Americans have benefitted from the Black-led Civil Rights Movement. This includes the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which protected Asian-American voters; Loving v. Virginia, which ended all bans on interracial marriages; and the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, which enabled the migration of more than 10 million Asians to America. Furthermore, there is a long history between Asian and Black liberation movements—Yuri Kochiyama, Barnard alumna Grace Lee Boggs, BC '35, and other Asian-American activists were part of the movement to support Third World liberation, to create the field of ethnic studies, to demand Black and Japanese American reparations, and to end the war in Vietnam. Columbia, too, has a rich history of anti-racist activism involving Asian-American students organizing with other students of color, with the Columbia University Concerned Students of Color Protest in 2004 and Stop Hate On Columbia's Campus in 2006 coming to mind.
Given this history, apathy is not acceptable, and the Asian American community at Columbia needs to do more for Black students. We need to hold ourselves accountable as both oppressors and allies; we need to listen, prioritize, and learn from Black voices in anti-racist activism; we need to acknowledge, at once, the common ground and the unique specificities of our struggles. We need to challenge anti-Blackness unconditionally, and support Black lives unconditionally.
I, an Asian American, stand in solidarity with the Black community because I refuse to be instrumentalized by white supremacy in the perpetuation of anti-Blackness. Conversations within the Asian American community need to focus not on assimilation into a racist framework, but on dismantling these very power structures by actively working with other students of color. There is a long history of solidarity between Black and Asian communities, and as Asian Americans, we have benefitted and continue to benefit from the work of Black activists. Given the fact that we owe a great deal not just to the centuries-long struggle of African Americans, but also to Black intellectuals, radicals, scholars, and activists, it is not just natural but absolutely vital that we respect and reciprocate the struggle and sacrifices of the Black community.
I am Asian-American. I believe that Black lives matter.
The author is a Columbia College first-year with prospective majors in history and anthropology.
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