Thousands of hate incidents against Asian people across the country have been documented by advocacy groups in the last year, ranging in severity from spitting to the unprovoked push of an 84-year-old Thai American man in San Francisco who died of his injuries a few days later. These incidents have prompted the renewal of conversations about security in Asian American neighborhoods, privilege, solidarity and even anti-Blackness in response to the violence.
That last element, activists say, devalues the decades of coalition building and allyship between Asian American and Black communities. But Russell Jeung, a professor of Asian American studies at San Francisco State University and co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate, notes that efforts to create a racial wedge between such groups only empowers the white supremacy that makes racist violence possible.
“The racism overall against Asian Americans is another form of white supremacy. As Asian Americans dismantle the racism directed toward us as outsiders, we’re partnering with African Americans in dismantling how they’re racialized and oppressed,” Jeung said. “In a lot of Asian American issues, we become the wedge group to divide and conquer people of color rather than focusing on our unity and trying to dismantle the overall system. We need to dismantle white supremacy together.”
This is not lost on organizers and activists who have worked to combat this narrative for decades. With that, here are a few ways for people to practice solidarity and allyship with Asian American communities.
Education Is Key
It’s important to recognize how acts of hate rely on a group’s history of neglect, oppression or violence, organizers said. Through education it becomes easier to recognize bigotry as linked to a larger history of violence, said Alvina Wong, of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network.
Education is also key to resisting the “model minority” myth, and cuts down on the idea that Asian American communities are monolithic, experts point out. There are a host of disparities within these communities. For instance, Vietnamese Americans have a much higher poverty rate than Japanese Americans, according to a 2017 report.
“Try to learn history and learn about Asian American histories and cultures, the migration patterns of immigrants and refugees, and why we have an Asian population in the U.S. to begin with,” Wong said. “From there, look at the history of Asian and Black solidarity and joint struggle … the civil rights era and even the early joint labor movements. I think people could do their due diligence to seeking it out and learning it up.”
Mutual aid is a centuries-old radical political practice that emphasizes solidarity and interdependence to meet people’s basic needs. Mutual aid happens when everyday people come together to meet one another’s needs, like providing food and domestic violence resources, without relying on government power structures.
“Mutual aid is really beautiful in that it really recognizes that if I have something I can give, someone who needs it can benefit and we can all be in community together,” Wong said. “Last year, through the pandemic was a really big showing of how mutual aid is so effective, especially when our government isn’t taking care of us or investing in us and the resources that we need.”
Several mutual aid efforts have popped up across the country in response to anti-Asian sentiment and Covid-19’s devastating impact on Asian American communities. In Oakland, California, hundreds of people have volunteered to escort fearful elders on walks and errands around Chinatown. Asian and Black creatives have raised more than $150,000 for Asian American advocacy groups in California that serve several Asian American communities through everything from food delivery to legal help. In New York, a coalition of activists have filled refrigerators with food in Manhattan’s Chinatown.
“Mutual aid, at its core, is really a form of political participation. It necessitates everybody taking responsibility to care for one another. So you see a reciprocal exchange of resources and services,” said Senti Sojwal, of New York’s Asian American Feminist Collective, which has launched its Black and Asian Feminist Solidarities project. “Mutual aid is such a beautiful concept because it’s so huge.”
Get Active in Organizations
Organizing has always been key to liberation efforts for several oppressed groups, whether it be through planning solidarity marches, mutual aid efforts, or even approaching government leaders. There are several groups doing this work in Asian-American communities including the AAFC, Stop AAPI Hate, the APEN, the Chinese Progressive Association, Womankind, Filipino Cultural Center, the Southeast Asian Community Alliance, and others. Lai Wa Wu of the Chinese Progressive Association said that participating in such groups is a great way to be an active ally to Asian American communities.
“Join, support and donate to organizations that are working on the ground to build cross-racial healing and racial justice work,” Wu said, as well as “restorative practices, and for long-term economic and racial justice that lifts up all communities, especially working class communities of color, even after media attention has died down.”
Joining organizations isn’t just about the work being done, Sojwal added. It is an opportunity to be in community and build genuine relationships with the groups you’re hoping to stand with.
“You can’t love what you don’t know,” Sojwal said. “If you aren’t actually diversifying the things that you’re reading, the organizations you’re supporting, the friends you surround yourself with … you’re really doing a disservice for your own ability to expand how much you care and what you know.”
Even if becoming an official member of a group isn’t possible, Wong said providing funds and resources goes a long way. “A big part of how to be allies in this moment is advocating with us,” Wong said. This could mean helping to fund culturally competent resource centers, programs and services, Wong added.
Know That Police Aren’t Always the Answer
Experts have noted that the recent violence against Asian Americans has led to calls for increased policing. But organizers note that more state control isn’t always the answer, because further empowering police in these moments could do more harm than good.
“At these moments a lot of people’s natural reaction is to revert back to the institutions and systems they think they know and can rely on because, in many ways, they are socialized to believe it is the only way,” Wu said. “We need to redefine accountability and safety that’s rooted in empathy for ourselves and for others.”
As news of the attacks on Asian Americans made headlines, actors Daniel Dae Kim and Daniel Wu donated thousands to a reward to find the suspect in one such attack. At first glance, this may seem like a helpful move but, activists said, such rewards only affirm police power and presence and ignore the long history of violence Asian Americans have faced at the hands of police.
“Our feminism is a feminism that is against police and prisons, and we do not want to see any initiative that scapegoats Asian American communities in order to create a larger police presence,” Sojwal said. “We have seen this time and time again, South Asian and Muslim communities experience racial and religious profiling and surveillance. Police have continued to harass Asian immigrant workers … police target Asian sex workers and asylum-seekers.”
Sojwal pointed out that some celebrities calling out such violence are also co-opting “the language of anti-racist organizing to increase policing in our communities. And that’s not the future that we want to see. Our feminist response … is saying, ‘How can we amplify community care and the work our communities are already doing to keep us safe?’ “
Be a Good Bystander
“Bystander support and intervention is so important because it helps us shift our responsibility for each other towards the collective community,” Wu said. “We need people to call in strangers, community and family members on racism, slurs and stereotypes. When something happens, check in on each other as you would your own loved one. Help guide them through what they need, be there to show you care and that you are with them.”
Bystander intervention describes a situation in which a person not directly involved in an incident steps in to change the outcome. The term is largely used when discussing sexual violence, but organizers say the practice can be used in any context. Sojwal said it is also critical for bystanders to ask themselves, “What can I do instead of calling the police?”
“I think that one really important thing to do, is to respond and de-escalate instances of racism or violent attacks,” Sojwal added. “There are a lot of places that you can go to take a bystander intervention training, and actually learn the words to say, or how to get somebody to safety. And I think that's something that we can all equip ourselves with.”
All of these efforts are part of what organizers call “political solidarity.” Sojwal said it is important to listen and see the nuance in people’s struggles while understanding that all oppression is connected.
“Solidarity depends on how we come together and is defined by how we understand and enact our responsibilities to one another,” Sojwal added. “No one says it better than Audre Lorde who says, none of us are free until all of us are free. Political solidarity also means that we are not equally affected by injustice, but what can we do together to create a world where all of our communities can thrive?”