As an ‘oriental’ kid, who immigrated to the Detroit area and spent 10 years of formative youth in the 313, I came up in a black/white racial binary that rendered me invisible. Yeah, I meant to say ‘oriental.’ We weren’t ‘Asian’ yet.
I was privileged to have an upper middle-class upbringing that valued education, but not so privileged to have a home life that was volatile and unsafe. I left home for the first time at 15-years-old, and dropped out of high school to work full-time at a dry cleaner.
I worked in the front of the store, so the hands-on work of pre-spotting stained collars and crotches, pinning numbers on dirty clothes, and bagging the final products was finished by evening, when I had a lot of down time between ringing up the slow trickle of customers. I passed the time by indiscriminantly reading whatever book was lying around–the Internet wasn’t a thing yet.
On one of those boring evenings, my co-worker, an older black woman, filled the time by scolding me for doing a shit job on sewing shirt buttons. She punctuated her angry in-my-face tutorial on how to sew straight and secure buttons by picking up the trashy crime novel that I was reading and waving it at my face.
“You need to stop reading this trash and get that GED,” she yelled. She then went on to brag about how her son got his GED and takes night classes at OCC (Oakland Community College).
College. I wanted that.
During those teenage years spent living on the streets in my car (a used Yugo that I proudly bought for six hundred bucks), in a runaway shelter, and couch surfing with friends, I learned how to live hard but not be hard, by watching people who struggled the most. Those people were black people. My well-meaning white friends couldn’t share their privilege with me even when they wanted to, and they definitely didn’t know how to help me to help myself. At one point, my white best friend’s good-hearted parents brought me to their parish priest to talk about adopting me, but I resisted because I knew this.
When I finally got my GED and made it to the University of Missouri, I wore out my library card reading about the lives of black people. I wanted to know why the black folks I knew had worked so hard for generations, but didn’t move forward the way white folks did. It was the lessons from black accounts of slavery, civil rights, racism, feminism, and daily struggle that fueled me to leave the Midwest and do something about social justice for my own Asian and Pacific Islander American community. I’m living testimony that the struggles of black people in America literally matter to an Asian American.
This is why it’s ‘BLACK’ lives matter, and not ‘all’ lives matter.
As Robbie Clark, organizer with Black Lives Matter Bay Area explains in a 2015 Washington Post article, “What we’re saying right now is that all lives will actually matter when black lives matter–and black lives don’t matter right now. So we need to say black lives matter to change that.”
Today, I’m speaking on this as a cancer-patient-turned-advocate and doctoral student researcher at UCLA, who is building a career focused on health disparities among sociocultural minorities. If I stay silent about the unspeakable violence against and murder of black people, I would be guilty of taking everything but the burden–I would be exploiting black lives. This is why black lives matter to me.
If you are a non-black ally who wants to support the #BlackLivesMatter movement, one good way to starts is with the people in your life. The API community is crowdsourcing a letter to explain Black Lives Matter to their own folks that you can check out and edit to your liking HERE. They also still need help with translating the letter into different languages and spreading the word, so hit them up if you’ve got skills.
UPDATE: GangsterLog 07.13.2016 One year ago today, Sandra Bland was pulled over and arrested by a Texas State trooper for not signaling while changing lanes. Three days after her arrest, she was found dead, hanging in her jail cell. The medical examiner ruled it a suicide, but her family disagrees. This past Sunday, my friends and I attended what was planned to be a small gathering of a couple hundred folks in support of #BlackLivesMatter in Los Angeles. Instead, thousands of people showed up and the meeting was moved outside to a nearby park. We then took to the streets marching peacefully and mournfully, while voicing our outrage. Of course, media coverage only mentioned that the march shut down the 405 freeway. What they didn’t say is that thousands of strangers across many different races marched peacefully together for miles across Los Angeles without a single arrest or incident. I’m posting this video from the march in honor of Sandra Bland and too many other black lives lost to police violence. #SayHerName