by Jamala Rogers, Black Commentator Editorial Board, and Sadie Lum.

Intro: We wish to thank Jamala Rogers, the Black Commentator Editorial Board, and Sadie Lum for allowing us to reprint this timely analysis.

For a fleeting moment, it seemed like the conditions of Asian-Americans would get some overdue and deserved attention—even if prompted by a national tragedy. On March 16, a white gunman fatally shot eight innocent people including 6 Asian immigrants working at three different spas in Atlanta, Georgia. In the few weeks since the lives of these women have been overshadowed by 50 mass shootings in this country.

The motive in the Atlanta shootings has not been definitively uncovered. It appears to be part of a growing tide of hate against Asians, unilaterally blamed because the genesis of COVID-19 was the Wuhan Province in China. China is but one continent, albeit the largest, and Asians are no monolith.

Mourner outside Atlanta spa.

Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPI) is a more accurate and inclusive term to describe ancestry. It is a rich mosaic of nationalities, cultures and languages. Asian American and Pacific Islanders is also used to describe people who trace their origin to the respective regions and their diasporas.

The latest rash of anti-Asian sentiment was fueled by donald trump, scapegoating AAPI to deflect from his incompetence as the sitting president and refusing to address the national pandemic. Historically, tensions between oppressed nationalities in the country have been stoked by the racialized capitalist system to ensure that we stay busy fighting each other and not unite against our common enemy.

It was this recent salting of wounds that angered the two of us because it is such a misrepresentation of our individual histories in the U.S. as well as our shared history. It is a history as tragic as it is triumphant. Our histories together are complicated, made more antagonistic by our existence as oppressed peoples in the United States.

The same ships brought enslaved Africans and indentured Chinese to this country for the purpose of economic exploitation. The Southern economy was built upon the forced, free labor of Black people while the Chinese were paid pennies to build the transcontinental railroad under brutal working conditions.

Image from Take ‘Em Down NOLA website.

Our first recorded interactions go all the back to the 18th century when Spanish colonizers of the Philippines forced the men to Mexico where they worked in the shipyards or the mines. Rebellious Filipino workers escaped to the Louisiana swamps where they hooked up with fugitive slaves known as Maroons. Juan San Malo was the fearless leader of the Maroons who was committed to their liberation from French and Spanish colonizers. Malo was eventually captured and taken to what is now New Orleans. He was hung in front of St. Louis Cathedral in 1784. The Filipinos named its fishing village after Malo and it is believed to the first Filipino settlement in the U.S. Unfortunately, Saint Malo was completely destroyed by the 1915 hurricane obscuring the history of mutual struggle for freedom by Asians and Africans brought to this country against their will.

In his book, Coolies and Cane: Race, Labor and Sugar in the Age of Emancipation, Moon-Ho Jung goes into vivid detail about the relationships between Chinese (coolies) and enslaved Africans in the mid-late 1800s. In this case, it was Chinese migrants who ended up in the Louisiana sugar cane fields working alongside African Americans after the Civil War. Jung chronicles how these workers were viewed and used in the expansion of post-war industrial capitalism. The author recounts the struggle for the two groups to build genuine solidarity while resisting exploitation and wage theft at the same time.

The fight against colonial rule of the Philippines continued during the Philippines-American War. Black leaders like Ida B. Wells had no problem condemning the racist oppression and exploitation by the same country that continued a new form of slavery of her people.

While abolitionist Frederick Douglass could not predict the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was around the corner, he was acutely aware of the discrimination against the Chinese when he penned his speech in 1869 entitled “The Composite Nation” where he advocated for Chinese and Japanese immigration. Douglass asserted that all who were in this country—however they got here– deserved full rights and citizenship.

Politically conscious Black Americans slammed President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s executive order in 1942 that hauled all U.S. citizens of Japanese descent into concentration camps after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. That action was the culmination of a long history of racist and discriminatory treatment of Asian people since the 1880s. Japanese Americans were given about a week to sell all their property and report for their terrifying imprisonment.

Japanese Americans from San Pedro, CA forced to live at Santa Anita Racetrack. Photo by Clem Albers, National Archives.

The Emergency Detention Act of 1950 was repealed as a result of Black-Asian solidarity during the height of the Vietnam War when many activists believed it would be used against Black radicals as Franklin’s Executive Order 9066 was used against Japanese Americans.

Many know of Grace Lee Boggs who was married to Detroit autoworker and organizer James Boggs. They were rooted in the struggle of the Black working class and devoted their lives to justice and equality. Many do not know that it was Yuri Kochiyama who comforted a dying Malcolm X at the Audubon Ballroom after assassins’ bullets pierced his body. In her book, Heartbeat of Struggle, Yuri talks about her movement work and the important relationships she made with African Americans. Her relationship with Malcolm X was probably the most transformative one.

James Boggs and Grace Lee Boggs. Photo from LA Progressives.

The biggest act of solidarity that happened in our two lifetimes was opposition to the Vietnam War. Banners and bodacious chants abounded declaring “No Vietnamese ever called me nigger.” Heavy-weight boxing champ Muhammad Ali refused to be drafted and paid a hefty price for his anti-imperialist stance. Who can forget Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech opposing the Vietnam War at Riverside Church delivered exactly one year before his assassination? Black student groups and civil rights organizations joined anti-war coalitions all over the country to express their opposition to the war at a time when they were being denied their civil rights at home.

Still photo from the film “No Vietnamese Ever Called Me Nigger,” by David Loeb Weiss. Harlem anti-Vietnam War rally.

It was an organic political convergence when three nationality-based organizations of primarily Asian Americans, African Americans and Chicanos formed the League of Revolutionary Struggle (LRS). These organizations, I Wor Kuen (IWK), Congress of African People (CAP) and August 29th Movement (ATM), built a multi-racial revolutionary organization, united around a Marxist-Leninist ideology. The League can cite many successful campaigns for social justice and worker victories as a result of our liberation strategy.

The Jesse Jackson Presidential campaigns of 1984 and 1988, was another significant coalescence of peoples of all nationalities, uniting a Rainbow Coalition, within which Asians played a significant role in the campaigns.

Asian and Black Americans have endured a rocky existence in America. Our citizenships have been challenged literally and figuratively; our non-whiteness reviled at every turn. We have been attacked for taking white jobs and demanded to go back where we came from. We have a shared history of struggle.

Yuri Kochiyama.

This does not mean this relationship is without conflict or contradiction. Our instincts do not always sniff out the divide-and-conquer tactics by our common oppressors. For example, Japanese Americans in Los Angeles were snatched out of their homes for imprisonment at the same time Black migration to the west was happening. Black workers were welcomed to fulfill jobs left open by their Asian counterparts, yet housing was a challenge. The only place Black families could live were the vacant homes in Little Tokyo. In a short period of time, many Black families came, and the name eventually changed to Bronzeville. Japanese American families returned to their old neighborhood in 1946 to find it bursting at the seam with a thriving Black community. In retrospect, this was a stone-cold setup designed to drive a wedge between the two racial groups. Some of those unresolved emotions emerged during the LA rebellions after the beat-down of Rodney King and Korean American shops were targeted for vandalism.

A new generation of Black and Asian activists continue to build upon the positive aspects of the past, seeking common ground and building relationships to dismantle systems of racist oppression. We study together, live together, work together, have families together, vote together and fight together. We are showing up for each other on the battlefronts of justice but also experiencing the social and cultural life of one another.

Image from Latinx Talk website.

Together, we must challenge the racist stereotypes and narratives about one another in the media and across social media—whenever and wherever they raise their ugly heads. Our nearly 250-year relationship demands that we challenge divisive manipulation that fosters race and class mistrust and disunity. Our relationships and the power of our unity transcends a nail salon conflict.

The task ahead is to put our cultural and political differences in perspective and understand who benefits from our disunity. We have documented shared histories and shared oppressors. Those of us who know this have studied the past and vowed not to repeat it. The journey to the “compost nation” that Frederick Douglass talked about is all about building a democracy that values the lives, human rights and contributions of its most marginalized citizens. This is a unique opportunity for Blacks and Asian Americans to come together to provide the illuminating leadership needed in this moment.

Robin McDowell was a valued contributor to this article.

Author’s Bio:

Sadie Lum 

In the 1970’s, Sadie Lum, a third generation Chinese American growing up in San Francisco Chinatown, was influenced by and active in community struggles within the Black Liberation and Asian American movements and was an activist in the Vietnam anti-war movement. As a member of the League of Revolutionary Struggle, she continued organizing among workers and within oppressed nationality communities for social justice and equality. Today, she is engaged in Asians for Black Lives and Against AAPI Hate. 

Jamala Rogers 

A long-time organizer in the Black Liberation Movement, Jamala Rogers has always focused on the personal and political power of all sectors of the African American community, particularly women, youth and workers. She is passionate about building a multiracial movement in this country for revolutionary change. She is the author of Ferguson is America: Roots of Rebellion and an editorial board member of BlackCommentator.com.

Jamala Rogers is the  founder and Chair Emeritus of the Organization for Black Struggle in St. Louis. She is an organizer, trainer and speaker. She is the author of The Best of the Way I See It – A Chronicle of Struggle. Other writings by Ms. Rogers can be found on her blog jamalarogers.comContact Ms. Rogers and BC.

To read more articles from The Black Commentator and make a donation, visit blackcommentator.com.

Cover Photo:

Oakland High students march at funeral of Black Panther Bobby Hutton. source: aam1968blogspot.com. Photo by Nikki Arai.

 

3 Comments

  1. Marion Kwan on May 12, 2021 at 8:36 am

    I wholeheartedly support this article! Our future as Americans Americans must be about connecting and identifying with all America’s minorities however that be defined.

  2. Dee on May 15, 2021 at 9:42 pm

    Excellent article. Hope people share it!

  3. Martin Eder on May 17, 2021 at 10:23 am

    Beautiful to read this deep analysis and historic background underpinning today’s collective struggle against racial justice. THANKS to the authors and distributors.

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