June 2nd signalled a revolutionary time in history.
Widespread protests in response to the unjust deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless Black individuals generated much-needed discussions on how we, as Asian Canadians and Asian Americans, need to be better allies in the fight against anti-Black racism.
We must act now.
At Cold Tea Collective, our community of writers and editors are reflecting on our responsibility to be allies in the fight against anti-Black racism, the biases that we are complicit in and need to unlearn, and the lessons that we have a duty to share for others in the Asian community.
UNDERSTAND WHAT ALLYSHIP IS
Allyship begins with self-reflection, self-education, and committing to doing the work internally.
“I have some deeply rooted anxieties and misconceptions,” contributor Tiffany noted. “For as many as I have caught so far, there are probably just as many I am not yet aware of. It will be a lifelong process of listening, reading, adjusting, and re-adjusting.”
As Asian Canadians and Asian Americans, we need to examine our own privilege.
While we’ve been discriminated against as people of colour, we’ve never experienced “the systematic dehumanization that Black people have faced during slavery and continue to face today”, as noted by Claire Jean Kim, professor at the University of California, Irvine.
By educating ourselves, self-reflecting, and recognizing the anti-Black racism that we need to unlearn, we can begin to contribute meaningfully to change.
But it needs to be genuine and intentional.
Are we actively listening to the Black community and amplifying their voices in a way that honours them? Or is the allyship merely performative?
Layla Saad — author of Me and White Supremacy — recently discussed how cautiously excited she is by the global attention anti-racism is receiving right now. While it sparked conversations and protests, her fear is that it’ll grind to a stop as it often has in the past — “except now it’s more dangerous because people feel like they did their part.”
Allyship isn’t a switch you simply flip on for yourself, it’s a lifelong process that becomes our responsibility.
RECOGNIZING YOUR BIASES
In order to unlearn stereotypes and inherent biases, we need to hold ourselves accountable in the role we play in enabling systemic racism. How have we absorbed anti-Blackness throughout our life?
The media narrative that’s often used to justify or explain police brutality played a role in staff writer Kayla’s unconscious biases. It’s a mindset that she’s unlearning.
“I viewed educated, accomplished and white-collar Black people differently from low-income, uneducated or homeless Black people in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement . . . [A] victim’s criminal record or sobriety may be used to justify the incident, or on the flip side, a victim who is educated and conventionally successful will seem like a greater loss.”
“This is a toxic narrative framework. All Black lives matter. We need to stop using accolades as an argument for why Black people shouldn’t be killed.”
Without examining where our assumptions and stereotypes come from, we create further roadblocks in our ability to be true allies.
Leaning into that discomfort and confronting our own biases is uncomfortable, but it’s an important starting point. It’s something that contributor Sandra acknowledged, “It sounds very harsh to call myself a racist, but I think we all are on some level.”
STAND AGAINST SYSTEMIC RACISM
When we see images or videos of police brutality towards Black people, how often have we said, “racism doesn’t exist in Canada?” It’s a sweeping statement that isolates the problem to America.
While we pride ourselves for living in a country that boasts diversity and multiculturalism, Canada has a deeply rooted history of anti-Black racism.
In a 2019 report to the City of Vancouver, Oludolapo Makinde cited that the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent — a special procedure established by the Human Rights Council — issued a report in 2016 “expressing concern about anti-Black racism in Canada, [indicating] ‘Canada’s history of enslavement, racial segregation, and marginalization’ as the root of anti-Black racism in Canada.”
By denying or pretending that anti-Black racism doesn’t exist in Canada, we’re perpetuating systemic racism and further excluding Black voices. This isn’t an American problem — it’s our problem too. And it’s a reality that we need to confront.
As Cicely Blain — the co-founder of Black Lives Matter in Vancouver — stated, “We live in a world (yes, all of us, everywhere) designed to continuously harm Black folks; to perpetuate and ensure violence against Black bodies; to systematically and consistently keep Black people down.”
Systemic change can’t happen overnight. But with collective action and collaboration, we can begin to move in the right direction.
Cold Tea Collective’s founder and executive producer Natasha Jung has been speaking at a number of events and panels on behalf of Cold Tea Collective about anti-Blackness in Asian culture.
She’s also reached out to several organizations whose board of directors comprise a majority of white people.
“So far, I’ve had a few very positive and supportive responses. I think as a POC media collective, it’s our duty to amplify the voices of Black, Indigenous and other POC communities, whether that be through our content or directly to the people behind organizations in our community.”
A barrier she notes is understanding where people are at.
“I understand that people are on their own journey, so it will be challenging for me to understand where I can assert my beliefs while still respecting others who are in a different part of their journey to becoming an ally.”
A LIFELONG RESPONSIBILITY
Being allies in the fight against anti-Black racism is our responsibility. We as Asian Canadians and Asian Americans must do our part actively.
Our understanding of allyship and anti-Black racism will continually evolve as we learn how to do the work and take on this journey.
We must be committed to doing the work by lending our ears to Black people, funding their work, and honouring their voices.
This is the beginning of a lifelong responsibility to be allies.
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