In the San Francisco Bay Area, a spate of brutal attacks against older Asian Americans has galvanized a tightly connected, multiracial coalition of grassroots groups and independent activists.
Over the past week, they’ve come together to organize solidarity rallies, mutual aid campaigns and community-led public safety initiatives that both support Asian Americans and illuminate the systemic violence that afflict all racial minorities.
Working with researchers at the University of California Berkeley, the Anti Police-Terror Project compiled a memo of community safety programs best suited to protect residents in Oakland’s Chinatown, as part of an effort to revive the Chinatown Ambassador Program. Compassion in Oakland, a group founded by Latino activist Jacob Azevedo, has more than 300 volunteers to escort fearful elders on walks and errands around the neighborhood.
A GoFundMe started by Eda Yu and Myles Thompson, both Asian and Black creatives, raised more than $150,000 for eight Asian American advocacy groups, including Stop AAPI Hate and APIENC, a nonprofit that empowers the Asian LGBTQ community in Northern California. A donation from the activist group Black Bay Area helped the Asian Health Services to support the victims of the recent assaults.
While the Bay Area leads the way in cross-racial initiatives, similar efforts have popped up in other cities in the wake of the assaults. In New York, a diverse coalition of activists stocked up fridges in Chinatown with food from local grocery stores. And a solidarity protest is planned for Saturday.
“What we know from history is that we won’t be able to solve the root causes of crime and violence without each other,” said Alvina Wong, the campaign and organizing director at the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, an Oakland-based group that has facilitated many cross-racial organizing efforts, including two rallies last weekend that drew hundreds of attendees.
Since last March, the reporting center Stop AAPI Hate collected more than 2,800 self-reported incidents of anti-Asian hate nationwide. But the latest string of attacks — some of which were carried out by Black people — have brought forth uncomfortable questions about how Black and Asian Americans see one another. When some business owners and public officials in Chinatown called for more policing in the neighborhood, organizers from both sides worried that that approach could fuel stereotypes about Black criminality and reinforce anti-Blackness in Asian communities.
For non-Asian organizers, navigating these dynamics can be tricky.
“It’s hard to change the narrative,” said Cat Brooks, co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project. “There are cultural differences. There are language barriers.”
But because of cross-racial solidarity and relationship building is embedded in the DNA of Bay Area activism, she said, there’s a deep level of trust between grassroots organizations that have fought for one another’s causes for years.
“Our priority is to support Asian-led organizations who know their communities best,” said Rachel Kirkwood, digital organizing manager at Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ), a nonprofit that works to end mass incarceration and youth criminalization.
To Kirkwood, who’s both Black and Asian, the media's tendency to amplify Black Asian violence over Black Asian solidarity can feel misleading and sensational, given the long history of coalition building between the two sides in the Bay Area.
“We look at Bruce Lee and the impact he’s had on the Black community,” said Kirkwood, who uses the pronoun “they.” “We look at the civil rights protest and all the Asian folks who were there with the Black community.” That Asian and Black Americans are and have always been deeply divided, Kirkwood continued, is “a narrative that’s trying to be created but not historically accurate.”
To foster more interracial interaction, CURYJ is hoping to bring more Black and brown youths into efforts to protect older Asian Americans. For an upcoming initiative from the citizen group Asians With Attitudes, CURYJ’s co-founder has been supporting a team of formerly incarcerated young men who are preparing to patrol Chinatown and Little Saigon.
Other Black-led groups worked on creating more dialogue about the ways in which white supremacy sowed division between communities of color.
HipHopForChange, an education nonprofit that tackles socio-economic injustices through hip-hop culture, has been hosting virtual panels to explore the history of and obstacles to building “Afro-Asian” solidarity, like how decades of segregation have made it difficult for Black people in Hunter Point to interact with Asians in Chinatown.
The point of these initiatives, be they rallies or panel conversations, is to make enough noise that people who are indifferent feel compelled to listen, said HipHopForChange's executive director, Khafre Jay.
“We want to reach this moment where a maximum number of people in Chinatown and a maximum number of people in Hunter Point say: ‘Wow, there’s a lot of solidarity. Wow, people are organized. Man, maybe I can join along,'” Jay said. “If Black and Asian people got together politically, San Francisco would look very different.”