Why I Believe Non-Black Minorities Should Help Create Black Radical Agenda, Not An Agenda Black People Are Conveniently Used For
Allyship is more than unification in an action that happens to benefit both groups in separate ways.
June 26, 2020 at 5:36 pm
I grew up being told I couldn’t marry a Black person. It was second nature — the sky is blue, the grass is green and Indians don't marry Black people. I, now horrifically, remember telling this to a classmate as a child, with no semblance of doubt in my mind that something was terribly wrong with that belief.
Millions of non-Black minorities — despite facing prejudice themselves — are exposed to the toxic influences of white supremacy, where increasing privilege is given to those who appear “more white” and follow specifically anti-Black ideologies. This is rooted in colonialism, which led to the objectification and oppression of various minority groups, and most significantly — Black communities being forced to the bottom of the racial hierarchy. Neocolonialism continues to perpetuate these power dynamics today.
As an Asian American, I benefit from assumptions regarding my academic proclivity, and it is assumed I won’t commit a crime. I don’t fear for my life or deal with the exhaustion of evergreen white on Black terrorism. Though not equivocal to white power, non-Black minorities absolutely harness biases that further oppress Black communities. While posting, reading and donating are ingredients for sustainable change, being willing to practice vulnerability and self-reflection — to go to “difficult” places — demonstrates that we as non-Black minorities can show what we are preaching. Vulnerability is paramount for authentic action on individual and systemic levels. With anti-Blackness historically entrenched, we must look back to understand how to dismantle and rebuild.
Activism blossomed among oppressed U.S communities from the 1960s to the 1980s: the Brown Berets, Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers (UFWs), Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, The Black Panthers and Black Power movement, Yori Kochiyama and the Asian-American Movement, and Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan and second-wave feminism to name a few. While these movements, when (if) taught, are often portrayed as discrete fragments in time, the reality was one of interconnection — though the full extent of collaboration was limited by problematic ideologies cultivated by their oppressor.
The United Farm Workers, described as The Black Panthers’ "unlikely ally,” rallied for the Panthers when the FBI targeted them, and the Panthers boycotted Safeway stores alongside the UFWs. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, as well as sex, benefitting the feminist movement. While many second-wave feminists sided with pioneers of the civil rights and Black Power movements against a common enemy, they were also criticized for advocating for primarily white feminist issues. The civil rights movement made space for the Immigration Act of 1965, which accounts for why I am typing on a Macbook in New York City right now. The Brown Berets stood in solidarity with the Panthers, holding a joint Black and Chicano unity conference. In 1969, a multiracial coalition of UC Berkeley students, the Third World Liberation Front, demanded curriculums acknowledging the histories of oppressed communities.
While common good emerged from these collaborations, romanticizing a complex past prevents a better future. In fact, the concept of Afro-Pessimism argues that Black people's "flesh and energies are instrumentalized for postcolonial, immigrant, feminist, LGBT and workers' agendas." It is about time that we have Black radical agenda, not an agenda that Black people can be conveniently used for. Allyship is more than unification in an action that happens to benefit both groups in separate ways. And in fact, white supremacy continues to pit these very groups against one another despite their shared oppressor. With white power hoarding the majority of resources, “othered” communities are left to fight over basic needs and societal acceptance — to survive. And the less "Black" you are, the more resources you reap.
The psychology of oppression elucidates why an “I had it hard, too” perspective is common, but this is no excuse for minorities to remain silent, equate struggles or rationalize biases. In the U.S., Black folks are more likely to be arrested for drug offenses despite being no more likely to sell or use drugs, one of countless injustices resulting in a disproportionate Black prison population. Police are more likely to kill Black folks than whites, Asians or non-Black Latinx folks. In India, Black people were assaulted for fabricated accusations of being cannibals. Countries on every continent harbor derogatory names for Black folks — including my own group’s term, “bandar,” which translates to “monkey.” This unacceptable, jarring reality proves we must reflect on our own and our community’s roles in individual and structural racism towards Black communities, who Robin DiAngelo writes, in White Fragility, are “the ultimate racial other.”
While authentic understanding is imperative for change, understanding without action is silence. And action without understanding is ineffective. Let us not unite only when it benefits our own groups, but also as accomplices to the Black community in dismantling centuries of anti-Black racism — just as Yuri Kochiyama did, when she elevated the voice of Malcolm X, housed Black activists and organized campaigns to free wrongfully imprisoned activists.
As minorities who don’t have to fear being murdered each time we drive, jog or carry a backpack, it is our duty to be uncomfortable, to reflect, to listen, to educate, to elevate, to protest, to dismantle, to rebuild and to step up — because we are responsible for Black lives, too.