In Solidarity and Allowing Space

Yoo-Jin Kang, ’15, Language and Cultural Studies & Interdisciplinary Studies, works on the staff of the Women’s Center at UMBC and is a member of the UMBC Women of Color Coalition.

Yoo-Jin Kang HeadshotLast week was a pivotal and sobering moment for me. Long-standing issues of structural violence and oppression came to a tipping point, and the city of Baltimore was in the national spotlight.

What was most amazing for me was seeing before my eyes the clear discrepancy between the actual events occurring in the city, which I learned about through the on-the-ground people posting on Twitter and other social media platforms, and the “events” that national media chose to highlight. It seemed that the lessons from all of my courses about gender, race, media, and the history of structural oppression for communities of color, particularly the black community, were being wrapped together and placed in my lap, and I had to decide whether I was going to accept the burden or sweep it under a rug.

What made me the most angry was how quick people were to judge, post, and self-orient. This tendency can be seen through counter-hashtags (reacting to the hashtag #blacklivesmatter) such as #bluelivesmatter, #alllivesmatter, #notallcops, etc. The issue with these counter-hashtags, in my eyes, is not that they are necessarily incorrect. Yes, police lives do matter. Yes, everyone’s life matters, and as my friend, Crystal Ogar pointed out: “Shouldn’t that be obvious?” But the point of the hashtag #blacklivesmatter is that it calls out the directed, systemic elimination of the black community in America through various forms of racism, discrimination, and prejudice. As the Black Lives Matter website states, “When we say Black Lives Matter, we are broadening the conversation around state violence to include all of the ways in which Black people are intentionally left powerless at the hands of the state” and importantly, “The movement also seeks to affirm the lives of Black queer and trans folks, disabled folks, black-undocumented folks, folks with records, women and all Black lives along the gender spectrum.  It centers those that have been marginalized within Black liberation movements.” I think this last blurb is so important because while the national media and movement have focused on the deaths of young black males, and with great reason, I hope that we can also allow space to recognize that there are so many more who are affected by this violence beyond the cis-male demographic.

On Monday night, April 27th, I felt real anger and frustration reading some of the posts on my Facebook news feed, which chastised protestors and wagged shiny, privileged fingers at the violence and riots that ensued in Baltimore. “Good job. Now you’re ruining your own city”, one post read. Another: “So disappointed in my city … Now you can’t blame anyone but yourselves for not receiving benefits when you burned down your own school buses.”  I realized that many people were missing the point. I do not in any way encourage the use of violence as a means of communication. However, I cannot sit here and claim that I know the lived experiences of the black community in Baltimore. But to condemn the violence done by the few people who rioted while ignoring the decades of police brutality and structural violence committed against an entire community is to perpetuate a double-standard. This issue is complex, and when some people act like it’s as simple as “Violence never solves anything” or “Not ALL police…,” they reinforce the system that keeps communities silenced and oppressed. Ta-Nehisi Coates from The Atlantic speaks about this in his article “Nonviolence as Compliance

The next day, after reflecting with close friends, I joined Kelsey Donnellan and others at march downtown. (Kelsey described our experience in her own post).

As a self-identified woman of color and an Asian-American woman, I have felt my fair share of confusion and hesitation about how to support the cause of justice for people whose struggles are different from mine. I know that I must continue to be mindful of when I can step in and when I should step back.

What I do know is that the Black Lives Matter movement is relevant to everyone. As one student said at the UMBC Teach-In last Friday, “This is a HUMAN issue.”

Baltimore Protest--Yoo-Jin KangHowever, I think the Black Lives Matter movement and the recent calls for social justice are also particularly relevant to other communities of color, and yes, that means the Asian community. In the Asian community (which is itself  diverse and widespread), we cannot get so bogged down in our own frustrations with the “model minority” myth, or at being treated differently from other people of color but still not having white privilege, to the point that we forget that the people who are fighting in the Black Lives Matter movement are our brothers and sisters. I’m tired of people choosing to separate when they feel uncomfortable about incidents of violence and discrimination. We need to do this together.  I don’t want to look back on this period in history and say, “I did nothing. I did not speak up for the people who I call my friends and family.”

George Herbert said: “The Shortest Answer is Doing.” I agree, whether that “doing” is listening, researching, stepping back, or stepping up.

Learn more about #BaltimoreUprising at baltimoreuprising.com.

Contact the author, Yoo-Jin Kang, at ykang2@umbc.edu.

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Comments

  1. C. Baker says:

    Thank you for this well written, poignant piece.

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