Two days ago, police shot and killed another Black man — the latest victim in an epidemic of state-sanctioned gun violence against Black bodies that has already claimed 136 Black lives in 2016. Philando Castile, 32, was driving in a car with his girlfriend Diamond Reynolds and her 4-year-old daughter when their car was pulled over by police in Falcon Heights, Minnesota for a broken tail light. Castile, who was licensed to conceal-and-carry, notified the officer that he was armed and that he was reaching for his wallet to retrieve his ID and registration, as per the cop’s instructions. He did everything that young Black boys are taught to do in the Talk. The officer fired four shots anyways, killing Castile before his horrified family — all over a burned out light bulb.
National attention is focused today on Minnesota as we mourn Castile’s death. Unlike the vast majority of Black and Brown men shot and killed by police every day — whose deaths receive scant attention or outrage — we cannot help but be confronted by the pain of Castile’s murder. Just minutes after the still unnamed police officer shot and killed Castile, Reynolds began streaming the killing’s aftermath live on Facebook. An understandably distraught Reynolds broadcast the full trauma of a racialized police encounter turned deadly, using her video to pray, ask for help, and to record important details about the incident.
One important detail is Reynolds’ description of the police officer who killed Castile. Recounted from the backseat of a police cruiser while she was still handcuffed, Reynolds narrated in her video that the police officer who killed Philando Castile was a “heavyset” “Chinese” man. That officer was later identified as Jeronimo Yanez, whose race and ethnicity has not been revealed.
Frankly, I don’t think it matters if Castile’s killer was non-White, or if he is indeed Asian American. Black lives matter. Black lives matter when a White police officer shoots and kills Alton Sterling on Tuesday for selling CDs in a parking lot, and Black lives matter when a non-White police officer shoots and kills Philando Castile on Wednesday. Black lives matter regardless of the race of the person who takes them. Hours after Castile’s death, Minnesota governor Mark Dayton confirmed that race played a role in the shooting, saying that Castile likely would not be dead were he White.
The deaths of Philando Castile and of Alton Sterling — killed less than 24 hours earlier by police for selling CDs in a parking lot — demonstrates the value that society still fails to place on Black lives. Asian Americans cannot afford to be bystanders in this fight, because this is our fight, too. All of America stands at a crossroads, staring down a quintessential moral choice: what kind of society do we want to live in? Do we choose a society where the lives of Black and Brown people — including Black and Brown Asian Americans — has value? Or, do we continue to uphold a system that places no value in the lives of non-White people, including our own; and wherein only some can place their trust in our law enforcement?
What side will we choose?
An unarmed 16-year-old schoolgirl who refuses to put away her cellphone does not deserve being grabbed by the neck and brutally slammed to the ground by a trained police officer. I repeat: an unarmed 16-year-old schoolgirl who refuses to put away her cellphone does not deserve being grabbed by the neck and brutally slammed to the ground by a trained police officer.
Last week, 16-year-old Shakara — a student at Spring Valley High School — was seen on cellphone video being thrown to the floor of her math classroom by South Carolina Sheriff’s Deputy Ben Fields. Cellphone video shows that Shakara was seated at her desk and making no sudden moves immediately prior to the violent assault where Fields grabbed Shakara from behind by her neck, and flipped her over so suddenly that the desk she was seated in overturned with her, and then bodily drags her out of the tangle of plastic and metal to lie prone on the classroom floor (video embedded after the jump). Already, social justice activists have rightfully identified the incident as yet another example of excessive police force targeting a Black body for unnecessary and unprovoked violence.
Already, too, however, a chorus of naysayers have also chimed in. “Hold up,” they say, “we haven’t seen the ‘rest’ of the video.”
“We don’t know,” they say, “what Shakara did to provoke the attack.”
There is nothing a seated, unarmed, and non-violent teenager could do that would justify this kind of brutal assault.
It’s not easy being a feminist of colour.
There’s this presumption that we as minority women can divorce our feminism from our race advocacy, and — more importantly — that we should. Among White feminists, the sticky issues of race and racism are rarely addressed; or when the existence of race is acknowledged, it is treated with such appalling clumsiness as to render theoretically feminist safe spaces decidedly unsafe for women of colour.
Among communities of colour, aspersions are also sometimes cast against WOC feminists. Sidelong glances are thrown in our direction because we understand that race oppression does not occur in a vacuum, and we dare to include within our race activism an integrated focus on the twin spectres of misogyny and male privilege. We present an intersectional politic that intermixes race and gender privilege with oppression, but we are often asked to mute our feminism and decenter ourselves in the name of blind racial solidarity. Talking about White patriarchy is okay, they say, but patriarchy in communities of colour must be taboo. The Movement, they say, requires a unified front. Feminism, they say, is a distraction from the Cause. Those of us who refuse to divorce our feminism from our race advocacy, they say, are misandrists and sellouts. Never mind, of course, that some of Asian America’s most dedicated civil rights legends — including Grace Lee Boggs, Yuri Kochiyama, Helen Zia and Patsy Mink — were self-identified Asian American feminists whose feminist work is treated as completely compartmentalized from their other advocacy.
To ask that feminists of colour be only feminist in feminist spaces, and only POC in POC spaces, is to ask the impossible: I cannot sometimes be only a woman and sometimes only be Asian American. I am both these things at all times; so too, therefore, are my politics.
Five years ago, long before Fresh Off The Boat became a runaway ABC sitcom hit, I wrote my first post on Eddie Huang. This was before Eddie was a star of Vice TV. This was before he was the author of a hit Asian American memoir. This was before Eddie Huang was a household name.
This was also way before Eddie Huang fucked up royally on Twitter last week.
This past week, Bill O’Reilly was his usual raging asshole self when he set out on his Fox News show “The O’Reilly Factor” to debunk the notion of White privilege. The essence of his argument? Asian Americans are doing great socioeconomically even though we are not White. Therefore, racism must not really exist, and the root of the problem for African Americans must be a cultural pathology.
To bolster his argument, O’Reilly pointed to racial disparities between Blacks, Whites and Asians in graduation rates, unemployment rates and median family income to conclude that African Americans have essentially invented a mythological White privilege as an attempt to avoid taking “personal responsibility”. O’Reilly argued:
In essence, Papa Bear provides a textbook example of Asian Americans used as the wedge minority by the White mainstream to berate African Americans (and implicitly other academically disenfranchised minority groups) for not bootstrapping their way to socioeconomic success. It can’t be racism; it must be some deficiency in Black culture to blame, right? After all, the Asians can do it, why can’t the Blacks?
An unarmed teenager raises his hands above his head and pleads for his life. He is fatally gunned down by Ferguson police officers. He was 18.
An unarmed man is detained at San Francisco’s Fruitvale Station on New Year’s Eve. He is fatally shot in the back by San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit train police while lying face down on the ground and hands cuffed behind his back. He was 23.
An unarmed teenager walks home through an unfamiliar neighbourhood, an iced tea and a pack of Skittles in his pocket. He is fatally shot by a self-appointed vigilante. He was 17.
An unarmed teenager knocks on the door of a house, seeking help after a car accident. She is fatally shot in the face with a shotgun. She was 19.
An unarmed man reaches for his wallet. He is fatally shot 41 times by New York City police. He was 23.
These are only a handful of the lives cut far too short — the victims of American Blackness under siege.
Since 2001, Reappropriate has been the web's foremost Asian American activism, identity, feminism, and pop culture blog!