Black Lives Matter: My Social Justice Journey

On May 25, 2020, a white police officer in Minneapolis killed a black man for allegedly using a fake $20 bill at a convenience store.

At a time when we were all staying at home, everyone saw a video recording of the murder of George Floyd. 8 minutes and 46 seconds. This is how long this police officer pinned down his knee on a man’s neck as he gasped for air and said that he couldn’t breathe. During George Floyd’s last final moments before death, he called out for his mother.

It was painful to watch and the injustice of this murder was undeniable. It looked like a modern day lynching. Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty? Of course people were outraged, and the Black Lives Matter movement quickly accelerated in a way that it hasn’t in years. Since we were all sheltered in place, no one had any distractions to ignore what happened.

New conversations sparked about racism in America. The issues of systematic racism is a heavy and uncomfortable topic, so it’s not really typical happy hour conversation. But, during this time, I was happy to see conversations pick up around social justice on my social media feeds and within my inner circles. I began engaging in conversations about race with people in a way that I have never before.

This image comes from “Blackout Tuesday” on June 2, 2020, a day when we all decided to take collective action and post a black square on our social media feeds to protest racism and police brutality. It sparked SO much controversy on whether or not people and businesses were only “virtue signaling” by posting it BUT, if you didn’t post it, it seemed like you didn’t care at all.

A lot of people said they were “muted”, so that they can listen and learn. Others got mad because they think people should be using their platforms to help amplify black voices. Honestly, it was a damned if you do and damned if you don’t type of situation.

I think what’s important to remember is that everyone is on their own journey in social justice. It really begins with awareness and a willingness to learn and grows from there. I’m still learning how I can be a better ally in a way that feels authentic and effective to me. Today, I want to share where I am on this journey, in case it helps anyone else as they continue on theirs.

Oh shit… Am I racist?!

I never thought I would write about social justice and the Black Lives Matter movement on this blog. I’ve never considered myself “political” or an “activist” in any way. But then 2016 happened and somehow we elected a racist, narcissistic, sociopath to become the president. (Still, not my president!)

When Trump got elected in 2016, my world view got flipped upside down. How did such a despicable human being become elected to become the president of the United States? AND the majority of my relatives is Pro-Trump? This can’t be. 

I’ll be honest in saying here that I decided not to spend Thanksgiving 2016 with any of my family, not even my parents. I had a small dinner with J, 2 close friends and a cousin. This is HUGE for me! You guys know how much family matters to me and how much I love Thanksgiving. But I couldn’t face spending that much time with people who supported this world view. I felt too depressed about the whole situation, so I just wanted it all to go away.

But yet, here we are. 4 years later in 2020, and we as a collective United States is still seeing Trump as a viable option (family included, don’t get me started). Trying to pretend that this isn’t really happening didn’t work. Me in 2016: “One day, it’d be like a miracle, it just will disappear.”

I have spent the last 4 years trying to understand how we got here. Nothing is ever black and white, so I wanted to better understand the messy grey area that we’re in. Fundamental questions about our values and beliefs is now brought into question.

“Do you hate women?”

“Well, what do you think about that wall?! You remember that we’re immigrants too right?!” “… we followed the rules and got here legally!”

The one question that I didn’t really have to ask?

“Well, are you a racist?!” 

I didn’t have to ask because I already knew. As uncomfortable as it is for me to admit, my family is definitely racist. If you ask this question to an Asian kid (can I still call myself a kid? lol) in the United States, 9 out of 10 will probably admit that their family is racist.

But here’s the kicker. Something that I didn’t realize until about 2 years ago is that I am also racist.

This is not a position I would have taken if you asked me the same thing back in 2016. Because, racism is bad. I grew up in Oakland, how can I be racist? I don’t hate black people. I don’t see color. I treat everyone the same. … Right!?

Credit: Grace Owen (@stuffgracemade)
Credit: Grace Owen (@stuffgracemade)

So having someone like Trump elected, after we elect our first Black President (we miss you President Obama!), was really eye opening. In the last four years, it’s really surfaced up a lot of the underlying tension that has been here all along but perhaps through my own ignorance and comfort, was too blind to see.

For the longest time in school, we’ve been taught “Black History” which sounds something like this: We ended slavery in 1865. 100 years later, civil rights happened and we ended segregation and black people also got the right to vote. Today in the 21st century, we don’t see color and we’re no longer racist. And we all live happily ever after. The end!

It wasn’t until two years ago, did I really start having to grapple with how racism has been here all along. Like Voldemort, racism in America has been hiding without a body, and all of a sudden with a figure like Trump, he is reborn and giving power to those who did not have a voice.

Because of all this, I’ve been more motivated to dig deeper to better understand the racism in our country. I don’t agree with any of it, but I want to understand why. How is this possible when we were supposed to have our happily ever after? As it turns out, racism didn’t really affect me on a day-to-day basis, so it’s easy to miss. But it’s been here all along for those who paid close attention and probably not going away anytime soon. At least not if we just ignore it and pretend it doesn’t exist.

Before putting the blame on others, thinking, how could they?! I’ve started thinking more about myself and my role in all of this. I’m trying to grow and develop a language where I can admit that I am slightly racist too, and how I have internalized this racism having grown up in a place as diverse as Oakland. All of this also really pushes me to think harder about the structures of systemic and institutionalized racism that I participate in just by being a citizen of the United States.

There are a lot of underlying issues at play. None of this will be fixed over night, and I sure as hell won’t be able to fix this all with a blog post. But, in the wise words of the Archbishop Desmond Tutu: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

So, at the very least, I don’t want to be silent about this. I am definitely not neutral.

My Journey of Becoming More “Woke”

Back in 2018, I was lucky to take a 2 day course with Dr. Myosha McAfee and the author of White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo, to learn about systematic racism. It was eye opening for me and others in the room. I still remember one of the mistakes that I made during the 2 day class that I have burned into my heart and I wanted to share with you what I learned from that experience.

Prior to these trainings, I would have never called myself a racist. But these multi-day workshops gave me the opportunity to talk openly in a safe space about race and how it’s impacted me growing up and how it’s shaped my world views today.

During the in-person workshop of around 200 people, we were asked to break out into small groups and to “find our family”. “Our family” meaning people of our own race. To make things easy, we broke out into groups of either white people or groups of “people of color” (POC). (There’s not too many minorities in the workplace so POCs are naturally grouped together. 🙄)

This wasn’t to segregate us, but it was our way of finding our support group within the class. People who were likely in the same part of their journey.

In this small group, our prompt was to talk about our experiences with race and racism. In this breakout, my “family” was a group of 5 strangers: 4 Asians and 1 Black girl.

In this group, I talked about my experience growing up in Oakland. Not the hipster “Brooklyn-like” Oakland that many love today. I grew up in Oakland during a time when it was not fashionable to live in Oakland.

I grew up living a few streets away from Murder Dubs (and oh goodness, I just Googled “Murder Dubs Oakland”Reddit and Urban Dictionary never fails me lol.) All that to say, I grew up in a scary place. It’s natural when you live in a high crime rate area, that you have certain stereotypes of people you should profile and be afraid of.

So that’s what I shared with the group regarding my experience with race. I shared that my main experience with race is that I was brought up to be scared of black people.

When I was 6, my dad was held up at gun point coming home from work. Luckily nothing bad happened and he came home safely. A few years later, I was in a parking lot late at night with my mom and a few of her friends coming home from temple. We were also held up at gun point. Who was responsible for these incidents? I don’t think I have to call it out here.

I’m lucky that nothing has happened directly to me beyond that, but I can recall countless stories about the violence and crime committed against me and people who are close to me in Oakland.

So in my small group, that’s what shared. I asked the question of “how do I get over this fear that I have grown up with?” I don’t WANT to be scared of black people but that’s what I’ve grown up to know. To this day, we hear about stories about the crime that black people commit, targeting people like me in Oakland Chinatown. This perspective has been ingrained in me and it’s difficult to unlearn. There’s also a question of, is this something I need to unlearn for my own personal safety?!

But here’s the thing. Up until this point in my life, this question has been very focused on me. MY personal safety. MY feelings.

It wasn’t until this workshop did I start seeing things from outside my own personal lived experience. As the workshop progressed, I started to think about is the depth of pain that I might have caused the one black girl in our small group by sharing my struggles with race.

No, she didn’t call me out on what I shared. Nor did she look disturbed when I was sharing my stories. But what I do know, is that she did not like the “family” group that she joined because in our next small group breakout, she chose to not join our group again. She went with her true fam — a group of black people.

I really internalized that action she took and reflected deeply on why she didn’t choose to come back to our “POC” group.

I don’t know what took me so long to try to see things from the other side, but I am so glad I am finally able to empathize, even just A LITTLE BIT more with the black community. In this workshop, we were asked to consider what it felt like to be Black in America.

Yes, I sometimes feel scared when I walk by a probably harmless black person in Oakland, but can you imagine how it must feel to be a harmless black person walking down the streets of Oakland, minding your own business, and have someone clutch their purse a little tighter, or lock their car doors as you walk by? EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

Forget for a second the polarizing questions of how police, a group of people who are supposed to protect you, is KILLING black people in America, since that seems to be a controversial topic that people can’t agree on. I just want to bring it back down to the bare basics of being human. Just imagine feeling terrorized every single day if you’re “one of the good guys”.

Every day, being Black in America means that you have to prove yourself to be “good”. And even when you’re “good”, people are scared. That’s just a horrible way to live and it pains me to think about how long I’ve gone carrying on with my own life not being more empathetic to this fact. Like I said, I grew up in Oakland, surrounded by black people, with black friends and I was this clueless. Imagine growing up in the suburbs never being exposed to a “good” black person and you only hear stories of crime from friends and the media.

Through this workshop, I was able to understand little bit more why things are the way they are today and had a better framework of coming to terms with my own inner issues with racism and have actionable steps that I can take to try to improve the current situation.

Less of “I don’t see color”, and more “I understand that there is color and racism in the US and this is how it impacts people who don’t look like you”.

Lessons learned from this experience

I wanted to share my experience here because in 2020, like many of you, I’m still on a journey of learning and unlearning. In the midst of COVID stay-at-home orders, and murder of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain and the countless other black lives taken, there has been a new uprising on the Black Lives Matter movement.

It makes me hopeful. Way more hopeful than I have been in the last 2 years because more people are talking about this. I’m not here to claim that I know it all, but I do want to share my POV on this in case it helps you on your own journey.

  1. Don’t unpack your inner racism against black people with a black person. 
    I know all of this might be new to you, but black people have been living this their whole lives. So don’t be stupid like me and share stories about how you’re not racist but… you’re struggling with unlearning how to NOT be scared of black people given “XYZ” fact.It is like telling someone to their face, “When I see someone who looks like you and people you know, I can’t help but get scared.” That’s a YOU problem, and not a black person’s problem. How insensitive and hurtful is that?This is why black people are saying they are tired and we shouldn’t be asking them how to get woke. Now, if someone actively engages you and asks for your opinion, sure you can probably share it. But don’t go looking to a random black person you know just to get a POV.My actionable steps to not mess up again:
    Find your version of your “fam” to have meaningful conversations about race. You will have questions on where you are stuck. This is okay, we are all on a different part of our journey and you’ll probably find someone who have similar questions as you, with similar lived experiences.Now that it’s 2020 and more people are interested in talking about this casually, you will likely find someone who will chat with you about this.
  1. Why can’t black people just work a little harder just like the rest of us hard working immigrants?
    Something that I’ve also internalized growing up in Oakland, being an Asian immigrant is the idea of the American Dream: “Anyone can get ahead if they tried hard enough! Look at me, I did it! I went to Oakland High and did not get preferential treatment at all!”Sure, that’s true to some degree. I’m sure anyone can get ahead if they tried a little harder. But something that I have never truly considered while growing up is the privilege that I have of being an Asian girl – I’m harmless. What I understand my privilege as now is this: if you can drive down the street in Oakland and not have to worry about getting pulled over for absolutely no reason and be late to work, then you’re living a privileged life.Have you been pulled over before? Is it just an inconvenience for you? Maybe you get a ticket? Well if you’re black, for one, this is more likely to happen to you more often. That’s a fact. Many black people have shared that they have a protocol they follow to ensure that they stay safe just in case the police is scared of them. Black people are scared for your life when they get pulled over. They are not being dramatic here.
    Me? Sure, I get scared from the sirens pulling up behind me and am scared of my confrontation with a cop. But I’ve never been scared for my life. Mainly I’m just annoyed that I might get a ticket and I late to wherever I’m trying to go.I never truly internalized just how privileged I was until the last few years because I was just busy working to “get mine” as an immigrant and never considered that maybe, just maybe, I have it WAY easier than someone else who’s also from my neighborhood and with the same access to limited resources. So yes, while black people can “just work a little harder”, there’s a lot of systemic issues that makes it A LOT harder than what meets the eye.My actionable next steps: 
    Helping share this perspective with others who might have shared this mentality e.g. with my own family members who still think this.
  1. This is a journey, be nice to people who might not know any better.
    Looking back, a few years ago, I truthfully couldn’t give you the reasons of why “All Lives Matter” is a racist statement. I’m glad no one shamed be for being clueless.I actually saw an Asian business owner do this on IG back in June. She is for the BLM movement, but she just didn’t know and used an #alllivesmatter hashtag because she thought it was interchangeable with #BLM. Her followers politely educated her on the difference and she changed it right away because she is also at the VERY beginning of her journey, but she wanted to stand in solidarity.I’m not much further along in this journey, but enough to know that it’s not productive to shame someone who is trying. No one is going to solve racism overnight and you’re likely going to learn something new from someone who might just be a little bit further long in this journey than you are.
    Let’s just be nice to each other and slowly try to bring each other along. That’s all we can really hope for right?Actionable next steps: Really spend the time and listen to people on where they are at on their journey. I’m 2 years in, and I can tell you that I’m still having a really tough time getting some of these concepts straight. People will make mistakes and being a jerk to them won’t help them along. No one likes to be wrong so are more likely to fight you instead of “become woke” overnight.

Continuous Learning

If you’ve made it this far down the post, thank you for reading. Like many other people, I’m still learning and unlearning. There’s a chance that what I wrote can be seen as wrong or I might accidentally offend someone. But none of that matters. I’m taking a stance now in at least talking about it, and flexing the muscle to be more uncomfortable. And if I’m incorrect, please reach out to let me know. At least then I would know and I get to learn something. I want to be just a little bit better than I was yesterday, and slowly we can build towards something different and past down this new perspective to new generations to come.

Credit: Jane Mount (@jane_mount)
Credit: Jane Mount (@jane_mount)

In case you want to learn more with me, here are some books that I’ve found insightful:

Or if you want to hear more from me about this topic, here’s my #BLM IG Stories where I have shared many of my feelings on this topic with some good videos you can watch.

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