Mak, who goes to Yale, was a summer intern at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the biggest newspaper in Milwaukee and in the state of Wisconsin. He was sent to report on what was then still a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest.
By the time he got there, people were starting to push the riot police. One man had tears in his eyes as he did it. Years and years of anger were boiling over. Pushing and rock throwing turned to smashing cars and burning buildings. By the time it got to shooting, Mak hid behind a car in fear for his life.
The Sentinel later sent another intern, a White photographer. Protesters told him to leave and then ran after him. When Mak tried to help him, they started beating up Mak. He was curled up into a ball as blows came down on him. And then he heard a voice:
“Stop! He’s not white! He’s Asian!”
And they stopped. He was taken to safety. He suffered only scrapes and bruises. He saw it as the actions of a few, not Black Lives Matter.
The thing that most stuck in his mind, though, came before the riot. A woman asked:
“You’re Asian, right? Why are you even here?”
The simple answer is that, as a journalist, it was his duty to “convey the pain and grief that can result from misuse of power.”
But as an Asian American should he support Black Lives Matter?
As Mak tells it, Asian American activists seem to be divided into two main schools of thought: the colour-blind and the colour-conscious (my names).
This came out dramatically in the case of Peter Liang, a Chinese American police officer in New York who shot and killed Akai Gurley, an unarmed Black man. Some Asian Americans sided with the colour-conscious Black Lives Matters and wanted Liang held to account. But others, like the Chinese Action Network, wanted the courts to be colour-blind and let off Liang just like they would any White police officer.
The colour-blindness goes beyond the Liang case. The Chinese Action Network, for example, also wants New York prep schools to be colour-blind when admitting students. And some of the same Asian American rights groups in California which do not support Black Lives Matter fought SCA5, which would have allowed public universities to use colour-conscious admissions.
The colour-conscious see redlining, racial profiling, stop-and-frisk and mass incarceration. They see the Pacific Islander and South East Asian men being sent to prison in high numbers. They see how the fight for Black civil rights helps everyone, not just Blacks.
The colour-blind see only their own battles, using the Bootstrap Myth to dismiss Black concerns. They think that bringing race into it, as Black Lives Matter does in its very name, only winds up making things worse not better.
– Abagond, 2016.
- Sylville Smith
- Black Lives Matter
- Peter Liang
- colour-blind racism
- counter frames – how race affects how you see the US