Meeting People Where They Are: The Seed Crystal of the Letters for Black Lives Project

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Last week, America once again recoiled under the weight of this country’s ongoing criminalization of the Black body when two Black men were shot and killed by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and in Falcon Heights, Minnesota in less than two days. Demonstrators once again took to the streets to raise the banner of Black Lives Matter to protest the growing militarization of law enforcement that disproportionately victimizes people of colour, and Black and Native people in particular.

AAPI have also added our voices to this growing coalition for BlackLivesMatter, many of us writing think-pieces to document why our community must fight to ensure that this society places value in Black lives. Yet, while many of those pieces are targeted towards English-speaking progressive AAPI youth, they rarely permeate other (often non-English-speaking) spaces where other Asian Americans who choose against Black lives digitally congregate. As a consequence, our community remains politically Balkanized. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that a question I am routinely asked in workshops I give about AAPIs and intersectional race politics is: How do I bridge that divide? How do I talk to my parents about anti-blackness?

Less than a week ago, AAPI activist Christina Xu (@xuhulk, who is also working on Multi Entry, a creative ethnography project about contemporary Chinese culture) sent the tweet that would snowball into a crowd-sourced open letter (penned originally in English, and currently being translated by volunteers into over twenty languages) authored by well-over forty volunteer contributors and translators (and counting). Now known as the Letters for Black Lives Project (@LettersForBlackLives), the open letter has inspired many as a positive strategy for Asian Americans to build solidarity with Black Lives Matter by taking ownership of the problematic politics of those within our community. Cited in yesterday’s National Call for AAPI Solidarity with Black Lives Matter (#AAPICall4Solidarity, organized by APALA), the Letters for Black Lives Project has taken the AAPI community by storm.

Last night, I sat down with six of the Letters Project’s coordinators — including Letters Project founder, Christina Xu — to talk about their thoughts about the project, and why it matters for the AAPI community; Poetically, it was also the first time many of the Letters Project’s coordinators actually met one another face-to-face (albeit through video streaming). What follows is a transcript of our hour-long conversation, edited for length and clarity.

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