All lives matter.
That is a phrase steeped in banality and says so much while essentially saying nothing at all. It’s genius, frankly.
I imagine a politician pacing back and forth in a dark room while a think-tank struggles to come up with a bipartisan phrase that indicates that the legislator is ‘pro-universal truth’: Kittens are adorable, war is bad, *finger-snapping* all lives matter.
It is an aphorism I remember using in the not so distant past. A past where I was not conscious to complicated race dynamics (I’m still not) and a past where that phrase shielded me from responsibility or a call to action.
The phrase appears to be an increasingly scarce readymade response. Perhaps it has been become faux pas. I still, however, catch the spirit of ‘All lives matter’ represented frequently.
It personifies a trite holistic approach to an acute issue.
The naivety of ‘All lives matter’ is one that delegitimizes that there is any problem at all. If all lives matter, black lives matter, and boom, racism is solved and we can all go home.
It is also a phrase that muddies the water and splinters focus. Instead of addressing tangible solutions to a problem at hand, we are now arguing about semantics. Its only use then — is to filibuster in bad faith or just parrot ignorantly.
As an Asian American, I am watching the upheaval of race relations from a very specific lens. I am privy to plenty of loud opinions: White America, Black America, Yellow America.
- “Why are they rioting? This is NOT the way to do this. This is anarchy!”
- “We are sick of legislators sitting on their hands while our people are slaughtered and starve.”
- “Those people are insane. They are lazy and are causing disruption because they do not want to work hard.”
What has frustrated me the past several weeks is the lack of ardent support from the Asian community for Black Americans. The things I have heard from many in response to this civil discord has been infuriating.
The most contrived idea I have been given countlessly is how Asians have struggled and worked hard to assimilate and eventually ‘overcome’ blatant racism in America. Which means that Black people can clearly do the same.
“What about our life? What about our racism? What about us? What about our struggle? You don’t see us rioting in the streets and looting and destroying businesses! Do you know what we did? We put our head down and worked hard. We worked hard and didn’t complain — and that’s how we were able to become successful.”
The Asian experience and Black experience are, obviously, not the same.
Asian people still experience racism in America today, yes. That is the reality, lest we forget this ongoing pandemic, the leery eyes that trailed us, ‘Kung-Flu’, harassment, and other demeaning behavior directed at us, the amber-pigmented. That’s not to mention the trauma and ongoing conflict Asian people encounter as 5.6 percent makeup of the country.
There is an assumption that Black America is simply plagued by an absence of work ethic, which is ridiculous, offensive, and incredibly stupid. Black people have faced a uniquely uphill battle that other minorities just haven’t. Not only are they forced to play the game of assimilation, but are also burdened with a compounded 400-year-long strain. Putting your head down and ‘just working’ is not always an iron-clad, viable option.
It’s a wonder how older, conservative Asian Americans have forgotten to recognize a bad faith system. A system that may not reward your effort, but may only do so with extreme condition.
The hardships that Black people face does not invalidate what Asians endure, but shifts into perspective that their plight is currently a more pressing matter.
Asian Americans have not had to handle the scope and scale that racism has shackled Black America. Their obstacles are especially problematic in modern society today:
- We have not had to fear for our lives for wearing a hoodie.
- We have not had our work exploited en masse, leaving our communities disenfranchised.
- We have not been financially hand-tied from receiving loans.
- We are not disproportionately imprisoned for petty crimes and placed into prisons for cheap labor.
- We are not targeted by police and killed in cold blood.
- We do not live in a country where our ancestors were forcefully taken on a boat and enslaved.
What has allowed this incessant racial tension to continue, I believe, is a failure to recognize that we live in different countries.
White America is able to exist with all the colors of the rainbow, in perpetuity, and with the full scope of possibility. That means the ability to fully exceed, fail, or listlessly meander on individual terms without much trouble or explanation.
Yellow America operates under the pretext that, essentially, only hard work exists. We are gauged in some capacity as foreign people in a foreign land, whose only shot at success is by working our asses off and championing each another.
From what I have garnered from Black America, it appears starkly different from the first two. There is a legitimate burden and insecurity that you can do everything right and still fail. That no matter how hard you work, your own labor can be taken from you and leave you exposed.
When these discrepancies of reality collide, there is genuine friction and confusion. “How could you say this about MY America?!” “You are mistaken, your version of America could never exist, it doesn’t make sense.”
That failure to recognize those divergent worlds allows those who are deprived to be continually exploited, which creates privilege and underprivileged circumstance.
Ignoring these stark realities or refusing their legitimacy is no longer an option — and failure to act makes us complicit in perpetuating the power discrepancy.
Championing Black lives is a win for everyone because it establishes a fundamental baseline to ensure that no one endures similar hardship.
For those who wonder ‘Why should I care? This doesn’t involve me’, the reality is that no one is above the fray — since these discrepancies exist merely on arbitrary differences, like our skin. No one is safe until everyone is, and that starts with Black lives.