Hmong Americans Are Not Simply “Caught up” in America’s Racial Conflicts. We are Actively Engaged In It.

A protester holds up a sign that says "Hmong 4 Black Lives". (Photo credit: Melody Vaaj via BBC)

By Guest Contributor: Kong Pheng Pha

Conversations have proliferated on social media debating Hmong Americans’ position in the ongoing racial conflicts in the U.S. The murder of George Floyd at the hands of four Minneapolis police officers, one of them a Hmong American, warrants a reflection on the place of Hmong Americans in the revolution.

A New York Times article by Sabrina Tavernise attempted to examine the position of Hmong Americans in the murder of George Floyd. The article tried to present a balanced view of where Hmong Americans are situated in this ongoing revolution without fully putting Hmong Americans on either “side” of the conflict. However, this concerted effort to present ‘two sides’ fails to reflect where many Hmong Americans are: we want police to be held accountable for Floyd’s murder as much as any other community who possess any sense of equality and justice.

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Working people are uprising. Where are the institutions that are supposed to represent them?

Protesters at a Black Lives Matter protest in Minneapolis, MN in 2015 in response to the shooting of 18-year-old Tania Harris. (Photo credit: Flickr / Fibonacci Blue)

By Guest Contributor: Gregory A. Cendana

Working class people, particularly femmes, queers and non-binary folks, impacted disproportionately by a global pandemic and health crisis are leading the largest uprisings in United States history in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Our country is in a moment of reckoning as it navigates two viruses: COVID-19 and racism. A pandemic within an endemic. 

Through the turmoil, Black organizers are helping us reimagine safety in our communities without police, and a world that centers humanity and joy — not profits, corporations and property. Being raised in a union household and after spending a decade of my life working with organizations advancing worker, immigrant and civil rights, I learned these values were also shared by many rank and file workers and more and more people across the country. 

From being a part of the Labor Commission on Racial and Economic Justice to serving as the immediate past Executive Director for the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, my experience is grounded in years of organizing with working people across the country and addressing anti-Black racism and anti-Blackness in my family and the broader Asian American community.

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Asians 4 Black Lives: Structural Racism is the Pandemic, Interdependence and Solidarity is the Cure

A handmade Black Lives Matter sign posted on a mailbox. (Photo credit: Reappropriate)

By Guest Contributor: Asians4BlackLives (@Asians4BlkLives)

This essay was originally posted on Medium, and is republished here at the request of the authors.

The COVID-19 pandemic has driven a new surge in violence against Asian communities across the world. Several high-profile instances of anti-Asian racist violence—spurred on by casually racist remarks at every level of government, business, and popular culture—have created a terrorizing climate for many. In San Francisco Chinatown for example, overt xenophobia, combined with the economic impact of shelter-in-place orders, has left immigrants, elders, limited English-speaking people, and poor folks feeling like targets. In San Francisco, where a staggeringly disproportionate 50% of the COVID-19 mortalities are from the Asian and Pacific Islander community, the pandemic has ushered in multiple violences. This has been further exacerbated by pre-existing crises: gentrification, displacement, homelessness, police terror, inequities in education, a drastic uptick in deportations, antagonism against trans and queer people, poverty, and exploitation. 

Nationally, Black people are dying from COVID-19 at rates twice as high as other groups, an outcome of deeply embedded structural racism in healthcare, housing, labor, and other policies. Communities are weakened from decades of housing discrimination and redlining, forced denser housing, targeted criminalization and incarceration, larger numbers of pre-existing health conditions, and less access to affordable healthy food. Black communities are more likely to live in places with air pollution, rely on public transit, and be essential workers, so exposure rates increase. When Black people fall ill with COVID-19, racism in the healthcare system means lack of access to quality care, testing kits, or funds for treatment. In some cases, like for Zoe Mungin, they are simply not believed and turned away from treatment, until it is too late

We must recognize that the scapegoating of Asians as the harbingers of disease and the state violence against Black people (via systemic policing and state response to the pandemic) are two sides of the same coin. This system of oppression is what indicates whether we live or die. This moment makes it even clearer that we must radicalize our communities for cross-racial solidarity. 

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Talking to my non-Black Asian Mom About Property Destruction

(Photo Credit: Donovan Valdiva)

By Guest Contributor: Kim Tran

This post is cross-posted from Medium, where it originally appeared.

My mom is livid. We’ve been talking for twenty minutes. Helicopters circle overhead, preparing to needlessly surveil a group of high school students in broad daylight as they march to protest the state sanctioned murder of Black people. I’m tired. Sirens kept me up last night. Around midnight, my partner and I heard at least ten consecutive minutes of police speeding to a location a few blocks away. They’ll say it was to keep the peace; we’ll know it was to brutalize agents of necessary change. Flash bangs have kept our dog on pins and needles for the past couple days. In other words, my mother is not catching me at my best.

I awoke this morning to cleanup efforts across the country. As neighborhoods begin to clear shards of broken glass, doorways and singed dumpsters off of our well-tread streets, my mom is demanding I explain how such destruction is justified. I sigh. I haven’t marched these last few days (a childhood respiratory illness has kept me homebound) but this a conversation I’ve had countless times with countless people since 2016.

In my experience, many non-Black Asian Americans chafe at the thought of “vandalism” or “looting.” People in my family often see it as delinquent and sometimes even violent. This coupled with anti-Blackness often sets the stage for frustration, anger and a call out. While I’ve written a lot both publicly and academically about how to challenge anti-Blackness in non-Black Asian American communities, I haven’t unpacked property destruction in relationship to Black Lives Matter protests. So here are some strategies I’ve used. This list isn’t exhaustive, it’s not even particularly nuanced, but as we all invite our families, friends and communities to join the struggle to ensure that all #BlackLivesMatter, I hope it can give you a couple tools.

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Asian Americans Must Address Our Complicity in Anti-Blackness

Former Minneapolis police officer Tou Thao, stands by during the murder of George Floyd.

By Guest Contrubitor: Chihiro Isozaki

Those of us in the Asian American community often discuss what it means to be “yellow” in a country that looks at race as either white or black. Countless articles, personal essays and books discuss what it meant to feel invisible in the fabric of American society, forgotten and excluded.1See, e.g., Jia Tolentino, “Minor Feelings” and the Possibilities of Asian-American Identity, New Yorker (Mar. 6, 2020), It’s great that we’re starting to make noise about this exclusion and claim our rightful space in society.2E.g., Asian American actors have fought against the practice of whitewashing in Hollywood. Amanda Hess, Asian-American Actors are Fighting for Visibility. They Will Not be Ignored., N.Y. Times (Mar. 25, 2016). See also Jenn Fang, The Decade in Asian America, NBC News (Dec. 31, 2019). Yet that same erasure means that sometimes, the nefarious acts of those in our community slip away unnoticed and unaddressed — and it is equally our responsibility to address that.

I’m talking about Tou Thao, the Hmong American police officer that stood by with his back turned as then-officer Derek Chauvin dug his knee into the neck of George Floyd, killing him. I am not the first person to address this need — yesterday, Kimmy Yam published an article on NBC Asian America calling out this very issue. But it’s a problem that, sifting through the first three pages of articles that came up on the topic via a Google search produced only one that properly addressed Tou Thao’s complicity in Floyd’s death as a systemic issue that needs deeper discussion and reflection.

I am incensed, frustrated, and ashamed that one of our own is complicit in an anti-blackness that lies at the root of white supremacy—a white supremacy that hurts our own communities as well.

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