By Guest Contributor: Kaela Mei-Shing Garvin (@KaelaMeiShing)
Black lives matter. Full stop. Any discussion of police violence against American lives must begin and end with (and consist of) the experience of black and brown people in our country. If we are to end police brutality, that must be our main focus. It’s not for us to make metaphors, excuses, or pander to nonblack people. Black and brown people are being gunned down in the street, and our job as citizens must be to center on the issues; our activism must not center on our own guilt or our own lives but those of others.
I, however, am a hypocrite. I’m about to pander in a big way.
This week, I attended a protest in New York City which started at Union Square, organized by NYC Shut It Down, “a multiethnic, multigenerational group of anti-heteropatriarchal activists who fight against militarized policing and racial injustice,” in their own words. “Don’t waste your time arguing with people who don’t believe in the cause,” a speaker had told us at the beginning of the night, “but mobilize your own people.” I paraphrase: words were swallowed in the crush of people, but I was deeply struck by this sentiment.
So this essay is for my people: the well-meaning Asian, white, and racially “other” liberals like me, liberals with our hearts and minds in the right place and our actions slow to catch up. It’s for us pandering, guilt-motivated people who cry watching yet another video of police brutality, post “Black Lives Matter” on facebook, and then go about our day, the pain of what we saw dissipating as the hours accumulate. It’s not for people who don’t care about black lives; it’s for those who do. If you don’t already believe in dismantling the system, in righting its institutional wrongs, you can feel free to look away now, to return to your life of ignorance; you are not my people.
After the speakers, we began to march. The protest wound its way through the streets of Manhattan followed by dozens of cops. I overheard one of them on his cell phone, a tall, distinguished white man in uniform urging his peers to “hurry up and get ahead of this group; we need you in front of us right now. This needs to stop.” The policemen kept appearing seemingly out of nowhere, making several arrests on foot and on motorcycles, in vans and in cars until we came to a pause in Herald Square, when the number of officers seemed almost equal to the remaining number of marchers. By then, nine protesters had been arrested. If we were to continue, we did so autonomously and at our own risk, the organizers told us.
I followed the remaining group to Times Square, where a line of policemen awaited us, blocking our progress. It was there we learned that the protests in Charlotte, NC had grown violent, and that someone had been shot. The group marched on through the streets. I returned home and ate a sandwich.
In my experience of being Asian American, there is a deep and insidious history of anti-blackness and also a culture of respecting my elders. The latter certainly affects my ability of confronting the former, though it can also be chalked up to my lack of gumption, my lack of integrity. Innumerable are the times my family and friends have made racist remarks in my presence; I can probably count on one hand the number of times I have, in the moment, corrected them. Their misplaced comments are often born out of ignorance–or worse, a desire to overcome our own societal handicaps as a marginalized minority. And because I understand the intricacies of that position and because I love them to distraction, I say nothing. I do nothing.
The movement for true justice and equality requires more from us, requires us to be better. At the few NYC Shut it Down rallies and protests I’ve attended, they have been extraordinarily inclusive, presenting speakers from Native, Latinx, queer and trans groups, insisting that when we say “Black Lives Matter,” we don’t just mean black male lives but everyone the system leaves behind. It shouldn’t take tragedies for us to take up the mantle. It shouldn’t take tragedies for us to organize our communities against injustice.
For me, though, it does. I entrench myself in these issues only while it is fresh, while there are new bodies to count. In the interim months, my activism lies dormant. Many of my peers’ activism lies dormant. We gather again when there is another hashtag, ignoring systemic failures when it’s convenient for us.
Here is what I pledge to do, and what you can join me in doing:
Kaela Mei-Shing Garvin is a Brooklyn-based writer, producer & performer. Founding member of Undiscovered Countries, co-creator of original series 2 Girls | 1 Asian. Her essays have been published on PCP Media and Lady Parts, a feminist blog highlighting sexism in the entertainment industry; she is a writer for upcoming series BKPI created by Hye Yun Park.
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