The death of George Floyd was all too familiar — a Black man killed by a white police officer. How many times have we seen this exact same scenario?
Like so many others, growing up, I wanted to believe in an America without racism. I was in awe of Black excellence — from listening to Black artists like Beyoncé and Usher, to watching Serena and Venus Williams dominate women’s tennis. I live right outside Detroit — the birthplace of the legendary Motown Records. Surely the mainstream success of Black individuals suggested that we had largely moved on from systemic racism?
But the success of a select few doesn’t negate the suffering of the majority. One 2019 study found that Black men in the United States are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than white men. More shockingly, another study found that white officers in the US are significantly more likely to use guns in predominantly Black neighbourhoods than Black officers.
As residents of Canada, we have to recognize that this systemic racism isn’t limited to the US. We can no longer superficially proclaim Canada to be a ‘racial and multiethnic haven’; it never has been — anti-Blackness is embedded in both Canada’s institutions and history at every level.
Within the U of T community, three Black women students penned a brilliant open letter to Trinity College for for its anti-Black racism against Black students — racism the three writers personally experienced. In Toronto, a city boasting the motto “Diversity Our Strength,” a Black individual is 20 times more likely to be shot by a police officer than a white individual. Our own prime minister can’t even count how many times he has done blackface.
As a person of Chinese descent, I can confirm that anti-Blackness isn’t unique to white culture; it runs rampant in Asian circles as well. In Asia, skin-whitening procedures are commonplace, as pale complexions are indicative of higher social class.
In Japan, blackface is widely employed by comedians and entertainers. In India, people from the south are ridiculed for having darker skin. An Asian fraternity at New York University was recently suspended after screenshots of a group conversation in which members made derogatory comments about Black people were leaked. I used to teach English in China, and students often mocked certain individuals for being “too dark,” claiming that they practically “looked African.”
Black-Asian solidarity is a tricky topic — this relationship is one characterized by apathy at best, and hostility at worst. And while Asians in Canada also experience, and have experienced, racism — see the Chinese Immigration Acts of 1885 and 1923 and the recent rise in anti-Asian racism due to COVID-19’s Chinese origins — we don’t understand or feel the full dimensions of the racism that Black people face.
More often than not, Asians are praised as the ‘model minority’ — a myth which has served as evidence for the ability of racialized people to advance socioeconomically while bypassing the institutional barriers that inhibit and discriminate against Black people and other minorities.
You might be wondering after all this, “How exactly can I get involved?” Protesting is certainly one way to go, but showing solidarity doesn’t necessarily mean showing up to every single Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest. It’s also natural to feel reluctant to go near massive crowds in the midst of a pandemic. But there are still a lot of other ways you can support BLM.
The first step is to educate yourself on systemic racism by reading books and articles, watching documentaries, and listening to Black voices. Books on anti-racism have been topping bestseller lists lately, so there’s no shortage of excellent reading material. Netflix has made 13th, an Oscar-nominated documentary that details the plight of Black people, from slavery to mass incarceration, and is available for free on YouTube. Additionally, The Varsity has released articles recommending music, movies, and books on anti-Black racism to help.
Next, donate to local Black organizations and nonprofits. Research the causes you feel passionate about. For instance, Visions of Science is a Toronto-based nonprofit that’s looking to engage underprivileged and under-represented minorities in STEM; this suits someone like me who loves doing STEM outreach. The Black Legal Action Centre provides free legal counselling to lower-income Black households. You can even donate to the Canadian branch of BLM.
Consider amplifying Black voices by supporting local Black-owned businesses and listening to Black artists. But it’s also important to note that you should do so out of genuine interest and avoid tokenism, which does more harm than good.
Additionally, call out anti-Blackness whenever and wherever you see it. It is vital that we don’t simply act as bystanders. This includes interactions with your own family members. Try to involve them in meaningful, educational conversations about racism and racial bias.
Letters for Black Lives is an open letter project targeted toward older-generation Asian family members that conveys the need for Asian solidarity, and they’ve released translated versions. Indian-American comedian Hasan Minhaj also released a video targeting the Asian community in a desperate call-to-action, with subtitles available in 29 languages.
Finally, we need to engage in purposeful, creative, and sustainable ways to fight against systemic racism. We must go beyond ‘woke’ social media posts and long-winded talks about race. Innovate and discover ways in which your own personal talents, hobbies, and interests can support Black lives.
I am personally inspired by Helen Tran, a Vietnamese-American chemist and incoming U of T professor who has dedicated herself to doing community-based outreach to promote women and underprivileged minorities within chemistry.
This string of BLM protests already promises to be different, as visible changes are already happening. In Minneapolis, where George Floyd was murdered, the city council has already pledged to rebuild the city’s police department. Two members of Toronto’s city council recently proposed reducing police funding by 10 per cent to redirect toward community services, following widespread Black activist calls for defunding.
BLM protests have broken out all in countries across the world — including both Japan and Korea, Asian nations that are mostly ethnically homogeneous but also grapple with anti-Blackness.
The Asian community can no longer persist in its long-standing attitude of passivity, silence, and apathy. The world is uprising in support of Black lives and we all must do the same.
Benjamin Ding is a fourth-year chemistry, mathematics, and biology student at Victoria College.