Eight years ago amid the heat of a Detroit summer, legendary Chinese American scholar-activist Grace Lee Boggs sat in her Eastside home with a small group of Black, white, and Asian American activists to discuss the changing racial dynamics in the city and the nation. At the age of 99, she had a lifetime of experience to reflect upon. For most of her life, Grace had established her reputation as a movement organizer in the Black community, in partnership with her husband, Jimmy Boggs, a Black autoworker from the Jim Crow South.
By her eighties and nineties, however, Grace began to speak more directly to and about Asian Americans, as she did in her home on that day in the summer of 2014. “I think when you’re an Asian American, you’re not regarded as very significant,” she said. “But I think we have to change our thinking about that.”
This was, to the best of my knowledge, the final recorded address Grace made to any grouping of people before she entered hospice care. Today—June 27th, 2022, and 107 years to the day Grace Lee Boggs was born above her family’s restaurant in Providence, Rhode Island—I want to reflect on the dual challenge she presented to us in that address in 2014. Why did she choose this moment to condemn the dismissive attitude toward Asian Americans? How was she calling for us—Asian and non-Asian alike—to “change our thinking”?
To locate this moment, as non-Black Asian diasporas in the imperial core seeking solidarity with Black and other Third Worlded peoples, is to know this moment is fraught with deep struggle since times before ours. It is also yet a testimony to the urgency of committing to Black revolutionary praxis in their fight for a new world— knowing no Black life should have been lost to US empire in the first place. If we fall back on bell hooks’ reminder that,“love is profoundly political. Our deepest revolution will come when we understand this truth,” we are forced to rethink what is so necessarily meant by “love” in and beyond these times. And if solidarity is love, we should be pushed to pursue a solidarity that is not just conscious of being against white supremacy, US imperialism, patriarchy, or global capitalism [wrongfully marketed] as separate systems– but a solidarity for an anti-imperialist, socialist, decolonized world that necessitates Black liberation– and which knows we must take down the US empire in its entirety to achieve so.
In the wake of the #AsianPrivilege response hash-tag to #NotYourAsianSidekick and #BlackPowerYellowPeril, it appears as if (among other misguided ideas) there is a prevailing notion out there that, in contrast to other minorities, Asian Americans “lack a history of resistance” (or that we think we do), and that this invisibility and dearth of civil rights history actually confers upon the Asian American community a form of racial privilege.
Putting aside the second half of that assertion regarding privilege for a minute, there’s one other major problem: any argument that relies upon the assumption that Asian Americans lack a history of resistance is patently ahistorical.
Like really, really, really wrong. Like insultingly wrong.
After the jump, here are 10 examples of Asian American’s history of oppression and political resistance.