OPINION| Anti-racist advocacy must always include solidarity

Apoorva Verghese, Intersections Editor

anti racism solidarity image
Emma Vaughters

Recently, the U.S. has seen a significantly higher rate of hate crimes committed against Asian Americans compared to past years. According to data from Stop AAPI Hate, an organization dedicated to raising awareness about violence against Asian American Pacific Islander communities, Asian Americans faced 2600 hate crimes in just 20 weeks between mid March and early August of 2020. The NYPD also reports that anti-Asian American sentiment has increased by 1,900% over the past year. 

Considering the dangerous rhetoric surrounding the coronavirus in the U.S., the facts of this report are not shocking. For the past year, Asian Americans have been particularly vulnerable to persecution due to racist beliefs about the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. As the coronavirus first began to spread globally, several people engaged in explicitly anti-Asian rhetoric, blaming Asian countries for the pandemic. Asian Americans suffered as people boycotted their businesses and publicly attacked them. The coronavirus was also racistly labelled the “China virus” and “Kung flu,” terms frequently used by politicians like Donald Trump and conservative media outlets

Even reputed media outlets such as The Washington Post would frequently publish opinion pieces directly blaming China for the spread of the coronavirus. By placing the blame on China, media outlets unjustly linked Asian Americans to the pandemic. 

This recent data shows that while all these headlines were being published and xenophobic remarks went unchecked, Asian Americans have been facing unprecedented levels of violence with little to no response. With these new numbers coming to light, several activists have taken to raising awareness on the issues and asking people to understand how dangerous this type of language can be. The recent public outrage is largely due to activist Amanda Nguyen’s viral Instagram post, urging people to speak up against the violence. 

Though the majority of this activism has centered combating violence against Asian Americans, certain activists have been met with controversy for their approach to the issue. Specifically, some of the activism surrounding anti-Asian racism has been disturbingly anti-Black. While activists aren’t necessarily saying explicitly racist things, many are comparing the lack of visibility for Asian Americans to the “hypervisibility” of Black people and movements like Black Lives Matter. More specifically, people are framing the visibility of Black anti-racist movements, particularly the surge in Black Lives Matter engagement, as a form of privilege that is not granted to Asian Americans. 

This type of comparison has been heavily criticized as problematic for several reasons. Not only does this type of language appear to criticize Black activists and movements, it also erases the efforts of grassroots organizers who built up movements like Black Lives Matter. For decades, Black civil rights leaders carried the burden of advocacy alone. It also ignores the fact that the work of Black activists has extended beyond just one community, benefitting essentially every marginalized community in the U.S. 

It’s absolutely necessary to raise awareness of the rising persecution of Asian Americans, but that advocacy needs to avoid such anti-Black pitfalls. Rather than lead to genuine change, this form of advocacy simply pits minorities against each other. 

Importantly, this type of anti-Blackness does not exist in a vacuum within Asian communities. Across the U.S., Asian Americans are frequently portrayed as white-adjacent, an oppressive and monolithic characterization that is perpetuated through narratives such as the model minority myth. Consequently, Asian American communities have long grappled with pervasive anti-Black sentiments that often also manifest in the form of colorist, capitalist ideologies. This type of divisive activism is simply another tool to deepen the chasm between Asian and Black communities. 

The rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans is atrocious and representative of the type of blatant, unabashed xenophobia that has been fostered in recent years. Considering the pandemic is far from over, it’s also unlikely that these attacks will slow down anytime soon, meaning it’s crucial that we all use our voice to speak out against this violence. It is just as important, however, that we have these necessary discussions without drawing comparisons between the visibility of Asian Americans and Black people. There’s absolutely no justification for painting Black activists as obstacles to social justice for Asian Americans when, historically, they have been nothing but ardent allies. 

Black liberation and Asian American anti-racism efforts are not independent movements. Rather, they are closely tied efforts, both attempting to dismantle the violent notions of white supremacy in our society. Solidarity, not division, will always be the key in anti-racist advocacy.