Over the past month, the protests following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, and countless Black individuals have sparked and ignited conversations around the Black Lives Matter movement and the unjust treatment of members within the Black community.
Growing up, I always found it difficult to confront my Hong Kong immigrant parents about social issues such as racism. I was taught to honour and respect my elders—especially my parents—and not challenge their deeply rooted beliefs and biases.
I’ve always acknowledged our differences. My parents were born and raised in Hong Kong and immigrated to Canada in 1990. My younger brother and I were born and raised in Toronto, Canada. As a first-generation Asian Canadian, I am aware that my upbringing was very different from my parents’.
In light of recent events, how do we talk to our Asian immigrant parents about anti-racism and the Black Lives Matter movement? As Asian Americans and Asian Canadians, we need to have open dialogues with our parents and recognize there may be challenges that come along with it.
Educate yourself first
Before we approach our parents, it is our responsibility to check our own biases and educate ourselves first.
What is systemic racism? How does racism look like in our day-to-day lives? What does it actually mean to be anti-racist? As an Asian American or Asian Canadian, what does it truly mean to be an ally for the Black community?
I remember taking a race relations course in university. That was the first time I was really exposed to and understood the concept of systemic racism, the ongoing disproportionate oppression of minority groups, and the socially constructed structures and norms our society is built upon.
Many resources have become available to help educate ourselves on anti-racism and the Black Lives Matter movement. This information can come in the form of books, documentaries, social media posts, webinars, articles, blog posts, and more.
Ask your parents about their personal experiences with oppression and/or discrimination
“But it happens to us too.” This may be a common response we get from our immigrant parents when we have these conversations about racism, oppression, and discrimination.
Sit down and ask your parents to share their own personal experiences with racism, oppression, and discrimination. It’s important to lean in and actively listen to what they’ve been through.
Explain to your parents that the Black Lives Matter movement is not undermining their experiences and struggles as an Asian immigrant. Acknowledge that they have also faced countless hurdles and obstacles when it comes to racism and discrimination. However, at this time, we need to stand with and support the Black community.
Explain and dismantle the model minority myth
To help our parents better understand the BLM movement, we have to explain our role as the model minority.
Ijeoma Oluo — author of So You Want to Talk About Race — explains that “the model minority myth is often used to separate Asian Americans from other people of color by using their perceived socioeconomic and academic success and docile nature to compare and contrast with black Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans.”
This myth encourages further divide among racial minority groups. In the eyes of white supremacy, Asian Americans are seen as the “ideal minority group.” We are fed the narrative formed around a collection of stereotypes — “all Asians excel at math and sciences”, “we all have a strong work ethic”, or “all Asians practice strict parenting”.
As Asian Americans and Asian Canadians, we need to help our parents understand allyship in the fight against anti-racism. As part of the model minority, we have a duty to support the Black community.
Having these tough conversations with our parents may spark a whirlwind of emotions. They may be resistant to listening at first, my parents surely were. I’ve had my fair share of awkward silences, but these conversations require patience, understanding, and most importantly, empathy. I’ve learned that I need to put myself in my parents’ shoes when talking to them about issues such as racism.
When we’re talking about racism with family members, it’s also important to realize we may be exposing generations of deeply rooted beliefs and biases. Acknowledge those differences and remember that we are growing up in a different time. Our parents may feel like their morals, values, and beliefs are being judged or compromised.
It is important to put our pride and anger aside and approach these conversations with empathy.
Combatting the language barrier
Some of us may face a language barrier when talking to our parents about anti-Black racism and the Black Lives Matter movement. Luckily, there have been many organizations that have been providing resources to help amplify the message of Black Lives Matter within our communities.
Letters for Black Lives is a “set of crowdsourced, multilingual, and culturally-aware resources aimed at creating a space for open and honest conversations about racial justice, police violence, and anti-Blackness in our families and communities.”
Letters for Black Lives also offer translations of their resources, which may be helpful when having these conversations and discussions with our parents.
Keep the conversation going on racism
This is not a one-time conversation. We need to actively follow up and continue the discussions around anti-racism with our parents. Talking to our parents also means actively calling them out on their microaggressions or unintentional racism.
Encourage parents to support Black-owned businesses, sign petitions, and donate to causes that support the Black community.
To keep the conversation going, we must continue to check our own biases and our parents’ biases. We must continue to learn and unlearn.
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