an alliance against hate.
Recently, I’ve felt heartened by the number of interethnic alliances I see forming in the anti-racist community. Although you don’t see much coverage in the mainstream press (is there a reason to keep feeding the belief we all hate each other?), the fact that so many people choose to identify as a “person of color” shows you our political standing.
I have a number of politicized identities, and “person of color” is just one of them. More recently I think that I have been searching for some sort of broader social justice identity. And I think others are moving in the same direction. In the hate crime murder of Satender Singh, California state senator Darrell Steinberg notes as follows:
Community leaders from CAPITAL, the Council of American-Islamic relations, the Japanese American Citizens League, the Sacramento Gay & Lesbian Center, Stonewall Democrats, the Capital Unity Center, the Slavic Assistance Center, just to name a few, have been instrumental in forming an alliance against hate in Sacramento.
Zuky sums it up as follows:
I also think it’s crucial for Asian Americans to reach beyond our own community and build coalitions and communities with other groups who also feel marginalized by dominant society. I do not believe that a principled anti-racist movement can only fight against certain forms of racism. As I see it, Asian American anti-racists must stand in solidarity with all people of color, even when they don’t stand in solidarity with us, simply because it’s the right thing to do. Personally I don’t want to work with any so-called anti-racist who’s okay with racism directed at non-Asians, or who blames other communities of color when other forms of racism receive more mainstream attention than anti-Asian racism, or for that matter who’s okay with sexism, classism, homophobia, or ablism. Personally I feel that the only positive path forward involves a broad vision of social justice.
For me, this broader identity has been driven, fed and nourished by relationships with individuals, which have often become alliances between organizations or groups. So a casual mention of an incident to a friend with a different ethnic, gender or sexual identity becomes a link from my group to theirs. I remember the first time it happened, and how I was flooded with supportive mail from people who truly understood. They might never have shared my experience, but they were able to extend their empathy through experiences of their own. Moreover, they were able to act. They wrote letters. They joined protests. And their action created a connection between us that might not have existed previously. Sounds corny, but it made me feel less alone.
I feel a little funny defining a part of my identity by a shared experience or understanding of oppression. While I don’t think it’s exactly like considering myself the victim, there is something about having been a victim that can make you internalize oppression and shame. It doesn’t help that so much racist rhetoric reinforces this: turning over every rock to look for racism, walking around with a chip on your shoulder, seeing racism in everything, making a mountain out of a molehill, playing the victim, the race card.
All of these descriptors are loaded. All of them carry the powerful weight of the majority to make you feel a little less-than. But there is more shame in being the oppressor than in being the victim. And I am reminded that denying or discounting racism is, in itself, racism.
Moreover, I tend to find that people who employ this type of racist rhetoric are also quick to disparage the work of activists. You can see how Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have been transformed into cartoon characters that whites often use as shorthand to discount the very real effects of racism. Talk about “political correctness run amuck,” use scare quotes around the term “activists” or “black leaders,” toss in a gratuitous reference to Jackson or Sharpton and you’re done. No need for any kind of critical thought. Just a white slap and some sly digs that will have the white majority nodding their heads and turning away.
But the activist community says, Oh no you don’t. You will listen.
So maybe the broader social justice identity we need to seek out needs to focus on being an activist. So our identity is formed around action against injustice. Because the path forward means we need to be moving.