February is Black History Month, which is why I will be devoting the next few articles to talking about anti-black racism. Along with colonialism and imperialism, anti-blackness is the crux of white supremacy. While many may think that anti-black racism is a specific oppression placed upon Black people, the concept of anti-blackness deserves much broader deconstruction than how it is popularly understood. Through its contrasting relationship with whiteness, anti-blackness is the basis on which other forms of racism, like Orientalism, are framed by white supremacy. Without an understanding of how anti-blackness operates in Western countries, we are unable to truly understand white supremacy and how it is sustained – making it that much harder to dismantle.
As an immigrant to Canada, I have witnessed anti-blackness operate rampantly within the Asian community. Whereas many Asian immigrants in Western countries are seen as the “model-minority,” we are often compared by Western society to Black and Indigenous communities as being stereotypically more submissive, obedient and easier to assimilate. A year before the 1992 Los Angeles riots, a Korean shop-owner shot a 15-year-old Black girl named Latasha Harlins under suspicion that she was stealing a bottle of orange juice. Harlin’s death played a major role in the riots that began after the acquittal of the police officers involved in the brutal beating of Rodney King. Her murder was just one of many cases that exhibited Asian immigrants’ complicity in anti-black racism. In other words, Asian people help perpetuate the idea that whiteness is the standard ideal.
Black-Asian history and its deep-seated relationship with anti-blackness is a disturbing conversation to have. With the recent rise in Neo-Nazi attacks and ideology, it is dizzying to entertain the idea of division between communities that should be collectively fighting to end racism and injustice. Instead of solidarity between two groups that share similar experiences of exclusion and discrimination, we uncover a long history of a different type of competitive hatred that has resulted in a dominance for survival in mainstream white culture. That being said, there is also a long and rich history of cohesion between Asian immigrants and Black people that should be embraced and remembered. This includes Asian-American involvement within the Civil Rights movement (especially in left-wing movements) and Black-Asian marriages from the 1950s to the 80s (most often meeting as co-workers at domestic service jobs, since work for people of colour was limited).
While it may not seem conducive to share and discuss the Black-Asian narrative during this politically-charged time, it is perhaps more important than ever that those of Asian heritage confront this dark history. While we are also victims, we must also admit our complicity in the oppression of Black bodies. In order for Black and Asian people to stand united in resistance to the spheres of injustice, Asian people must dismantle anti-blackness within our own communities first.