Written by Erica Gehringer
In a recent interaction with a private Korean American adoptee Facebook group, I, as well as fellow adoptee allies, called out overt anti-black racism. However, instead of any moderating of those who made such inhumane comments, the moderators of the group decided to message those of us who spoke out against them. In their messages, they told us that by anonymously publishing their post on a public forum, it was “disrespectful and offensive to everyone, and does nothing to build trust within the Korean adoptee community. It also compromises the level of integrity needed to make the group a safe environment for members to participate.” There are so many ironies that lie within this statement. How can I, as a person of color, trust an environment that only further perpetuates racism? How can a group uphold any sort of “integrity” if they target and lecture those who are in solidarity with racial justice rather than those who literally make “jokes” that being Asian inherently makes you better than being black? How can I trust a group that makes light of the murders done by white cops (and upheld by our white legal system) unto so many communities of color?
The moderators further wrote, “I know the poster personally, and she is not racist or someone who would intentionally hurt others, yet she was unnecessarily vilified by Land of Gazillion Adoptees. Maybe the screenshooter had good intentions, but it backfired and hurt the poster and the group instead.” Perhaps instead of worrying about the image of being “good” people or groups, we should put that energy into actually creating more inclusive and safe spaces. Maybe then my adoptee allies and I can respect and place our trust into such a group. In addition, knowing someone personally absolutely does not excuse that person from holding racist views, and we absolutely do not owe anyone’s opinion, regardless who it is, respect if it oppresses us or another group of marginalized people. Moreover, there is a difference between a person’s intent and the impact they make, so when someone calls us out or suggests that our words and/or actions are racist (or any kind of -ist or -phobic for that matter), instead of getting defensive and trying to prove what great people we are, we need to think about why someone may have told us that and actively challenge where we originally formed those thoughts.
I then asked the moderators to define what “racism” means in terms of the group. In reply, they said, “In my youth (I am in my late 50’s), a racist was defined as a person wanted to eradicate an entire group of people. My impression of today’s definition is more like…if I don’t like what you say about me, you’re a racist.” The problem that lies within this very thought of racism is the lack of acknowledgement that racism comes in many different forms and can transform with time. It is not simply about “not liking what someone says about me.” It is about how people of color are treated based on their race. And just because we aren’t members of the Klu Klux Klan, it doesn’t mean that racism is over. We currently live in the age of colorblindness, or the absurd idea that racism no longer exists and we are all treated equally. However, by complying with this ideology, we are still complying with white supremacy by seeing whiteness as the norm as well as what is “right.”
The reason why we brought forth the comments was not to personally target individuals; it was to highlight the fact that these are not isolated thoughts or posts. And this incident in particular happened to be a perfect example of how we view blackness in the United States, even by fellow people of color, and in particular as Asian Americans. The posters’ comments may seem “harmless,” but that’s how power and oppression works. We are taught to unquestionably believe that certain marginalized groups deserve the social treatment they receive. Let me also be clear in what I mean when I say “anti-black.” When I say someone is perpetuating anti-black sentiments, I am saying they are following the social script we all have been taught in this country. It is not an individual “call out” or “attack” on anyone personally; it’s a very systematic, institutionalized, and seemingly intangible social power over all of us, and it is thus a societal issue that we must all recognize. We live in a culture that deems people of color, especially black people, as “less than,” as not worthy of life, and as non-human objects that we are allowed to exploit and oppress at any expense. And this is nothing new: From slavery to lynching to the Jim Crow era to mass incarceration to police brutality to daily microaggressions to limited and restricted access to resources and opportunities. And simply because some of these events happened in the past does not mean that their historical contexts are no longer relevant. It is not a secret that we live in a country that is built (and still building!) on imperialism and white supremacy, and we have a social responsibility to understand—as well as challenge—just how negatively this affects us all.
So, it is indeed anti-black to make a statement such as “Us Asians rock!! We are not trouble makers!!” in regards to police murders. It brings forth the idea that our lives are more valuable than those of different races and completely takes away from the very serious epidemic of police brutality against black folks. By claiming that we’re not “troublemakers” I also question what “trouble” even means. Is buying a pack of skittles “trouble”? Is it worth being murdered over? Is walking the streets simply with your hood up “trouble”? Is it worth being murdered over? What “trouble” justifies murder? Furthermore, even if someone appears to be a “threat,” there are multiple ways to subdue people without lethal force. Yet, we as a society automatically assume black people are dangerous thugs who are not worthy of life, so we are much less inclined to care if they die or not. And as aforementioned, this idea that black lives don’t matter is historically rooted, not just some coincidental happenings.
I am also not saying that we shouldn’t be proud of being Asian or having a person of color identity because it is extremely important to embrace and love those identities. However, I am saying that we as Asian Americans and Korean American adoptees need to recognize our different social identities and the privileges associated with them. Rather than adhering to white supremacist thought by making our value of life as different people of color a competition to be worthy enough of white standards and approval, we must stand behind and with our fellow communities of color and their struggles and triumphs; we must support and raise each other up on the basis of resisting white supremacy. And as a Korean American adoptee who cares about racial justice, I cannot and will not be associated with a group or community that claims to create “safe spaces” while openly supporting and perpetuating such deeply oppressive and inverted ideas and views about race.