Overcome Your Fear to Be a Better Ally

A Plea to Fellow Asians to Unlearn Our Anti-Black Cultural Biases and to Speak Up for Black Lives

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From a young age, I was told to express my dissent tactfully (to a fault) and to voice my disapproval quietly, because conflict incites negativity. So when I recently voiced my opinion on white privilege and fragility to an All Lives Matter defender, I felt vulnerable, anxious, and afraid of retaliation. I almost deleted my comment as soon as I posted it.

I and a lot of Asians are feeling uncomfortable right now about speaking up because we’re in a unique category of both having more privilege than other minorities but then also being categorized as second-class citizens in most other aspects. 

Up until recently, I’ve been occasionally vocal at best, empathizing with the Black Americans’ plight but stopping shy of speaking up against the systemic racism blanketing this country. I’m ashamed that it took so long for me to acknowledge my discomfort and fear of confrontation and to harness them as tools to speak louder and to be more informed.

Racism Scale: Where Do You Fall? (Source: CristlnMD, racismscale.weebly.com)

I’ve painfully had to come to terms with my own ignorance, as well. My sister-in-law and I were walking through a beach town one day and she noted how it might feel weird to live there because all of the people in the town that we’ve come across with were white. I told her, “isn’t that an odd form of reverse-racism when you pre-judge a place just because it’s predominantly white?”

What I failed to see was that reverse racism is a flawed construct, purely because racism means “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.”

So reversing that belief actually talks about abolishing thoughts of superiority based on race. You can’t be a reverse racist because as a person of color, you have already been deemed by the system as inferior and have no superiority over anyone.

Because we’ve been taught for so many generations to avoid conflict–so that we can advance, so we don’t lose our proximity to whiteness, so we don’t lose our model minority status–we’ve chosen to stay mum in exchange for a perceived seat at the table that we know can be revoked at any time.

It’s our differences in race, culture, and heritage that make the world a better place; they are not what should tear the world apart.

By and large, Asians have been meeker on the subject of racism because confrontation has historically been perceived as a negative trait. Better we avoid conflict and resolve things quietly. Worse yet, if we stay quiet on the matter, maybe we won’t get involved.

Now I’m learning to act on my empathy, to learn to be actively antiracist, and to learn from my own internal and external biases that may be causing my inaction. This is what I’m prevailing on my Asian brothers and sisters to do, too.

We have to own up to our own shortcomings, too. Yes, Asians experience racism, but it’s also perpetuated within the community when we pit ourselves against other Asians and against Black people.

We have to–however uncomfortably–confront our own shortcomings in either condoning or even participating in acts of racism or microaggressions. We need to understand how we can overcome our biases, to learn from our mistakes, and to teach our children by our own example. 

So while it’s so easy for us to keep quiet because we perceive it to be not our problem, because we’re afraid of blowback, or because we don’t want to be caught in the crossfire, we can’t hide behind these reasons anymore.

Our discomfort or shame in our complicity at any point in our lives can’t ever measure to the strife and pain that the Black community lives every day of their lives. Our voices need to come together, however muted or less impactful you think it may be, because this message needs to be amplified–Black Lives Matter. 

I’ve been told they don’t know where to start. They’re not sure what to say.

What we shouldn’t do is to pass our guilt to our Black friends; they are triggered enough.

We shouldn’t look to them for guidance; we can do our own research to be stronger and more informed allies.

We shouldn’t tell them how to mourn or how to protest; we should listen to them and work on supporting them better.

We should acknowledge the anti-Blackness that seeped into our culture and work towards changing it, starting with us, and then working with our children.

We should talk to our elders and not excuse their age for any racist actions and words. We need to start a genuine conversation with them about why we all need to do our part to fight systemic racism, and we need to be ready with counterarguments when relatives defend their stance.

The road to healing and change is long and arduous, and they cannot do it alone. Yes, we have our own battles, but that shouldn’t stop us from helping them with theirs. In fact, our own battles should spur us on to help them. Our silence is the shroud that muffles their voices all the more.

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• Letters for Black Lives • Please see my bio for the electronic version to email to family and friends. Note, I did not write this, but I’m wanting to share it here and make it available para sa lahat ng aming pamilya. In the link in my bio, there’s also additional letters with a multitude of translated versions. Also note, this letter was originally created years ago when the murders of Alton sterling and philando Castile happened. Those can be changed to “George Floyd” and ahmaud Arbery. Let that sink in- that is, unfortunately how interchangeable this moment is. That’s the level of injustice, oppressive devastation, and systemic shit we’re dealing with. . I hope our family can understand and extend their support. Anti-Blackness, colorism, and colonial mentality run generations deep. Let’s continue to use this time to address that in our families, in the smallest and biggest ways we can. . . . 🤎Be well aking mga pamilya🤎 . #blacklivesmatter #filipinosforblacklives #filipinosforblackliberation #antiblackness #colorism ##drtherapinay #feministtherapy #decolonizingmentalhealth #decolonizingtherapy #sikolohiyangpilipino #filipinx #pilipina #filipinxfeministpsychology #filipinxforblacklives #decolonizedminds #islandwomanrise #islandwomxnrise #isangbagsak #babaylan #pinay #pilipina #pinoypride #pinxypride #pinaypower #filipinomentalhealth #asianmentalhealth #endthestigma

A post shared by Dr. Therapinay (@the.drtherapinay) on Jun 3, 2020 at 9:29am PDT

I’ve fractured a friendship, lost social media followers, and had difficult conversations with elders and the pain of losing a loved one over this is heartbreaking. But so is all the divisive societal, political, and economical structures that need to be dismantled.

All human beings are entitled to the same rights and the same opportunities, and if their mouths are stifled, then we need to do our part to speak up for and with them.

It’s our differences in race, culture, and heritage that make the world a better place; they are not what should tear the world apart.

There are so many resources, books, and leaders from whom we can learn about how we can be a better ally to the Black Lives Matter movement, and to the fight against systemic racial injustice.

The Smithsonian: Being Antiracist
Obama.org: Anguish and Action
Michelle Kim: 20+ Allyship Actions for Asians to Show Up for the Black Community Right Now
How You Can Be An Ally to the Black Lives Matter Movement
Guide to Allyship
Brené with Ibram X. Kendi on How to Be an Antiracist

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Social media has been a bit overwhelming since I first put up this post so it has taken some time for me to post this. On Friday, I shared this content on Twitter after I felt the conversations online were like screaming into an echo chamber. I wanted to provide those who wanted to support and be an ally with practical tips to move forward and make a change in our society. I am still somewhat surprised and overwhelmed by the reception so please take patience with me at this time. — For a note on who I am to those who have followed me from Twitter, my name is Mireille. I'm an assistant editor and I do freelance writing, PR and sensitivity reading and other bits on the side. I am extremely passionate about diversity and inclusion, and everything I have shared is not new knowledge to me. From as far back as I can remember I've been campaigning, fighting for equality and supporting and working with black owned organisations. I have worked in the diversity and inclusion space for around four years and I have been equipped with knowledge, skills etc through that work as well as through wider, intensive reading and being raised by a Jamaican mother who has a degree in Women's Studies. I felt as a mixed race person who was emotionally capable despite the current situation that I could use my learned experience, skills and compassion to offer this advice to allies and anyone else who was seeking advice but didn't know where to turn. This is now on my stories as a highlight so please feel free to share from there or here. — A small reminder that this took emotional labour and POC, especially black people are not here to teach you everything. When I said ask how you can support, I meant on a personal level as a friend etc. I hope this toolkit provides you with the starter info you need but there are genuinely people more experienced than me who warrant your listening to – please go and follow @nowhitesaviors, @laylafsaad, @rachel.cargle, @ckyourprivilege, @iamrachelricketts, @thegreatunlearn, @renieddolodge, @ibramxk + a few more: @akalamusic, @katycatalyst + @roiannenedd who all have books or resources from many more years of experience. _

A post shared by Mireille Cassandra Harper (@mireillecharper) on May 30, 2020 at 1:58pm PDT

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