The Black and Asian communities have a long, complex history. Sometimes, it has been fraught with tension, and to point out the biases and prejudices that have historically existed in both groups is absolutely necessary for better communication and understanding between them.
But it is also necessary to point out successes, since these provide an important model for the future and a sense of hope that there is possibility for unity between the communities. And while there has been tension, there has also been a lot of solidarity between the communities. Often times, leaders of Black activism have also been active in speaking out against Asian racism.
Dating so far back as the 1800s, Black historical figures have been present in Asian allyship. Frederick Douglass, the famous American orator and activist who wrote about his experiences being enslaved, voiced his support for Chinese and Japanese immigration to America in 1869, even when such an idea was extremely unpopular.
A few decades later, Black leaders like Ida B. Wells denounced the Philippine-American War of 1899 and spoke out against American conquest and colonialism in Asia. Many Black soldiers in the Buffalo Soldiers regiment who were originally sent to fight against the Filipino people deserted and joined the freedom fighters, seeing a common desire for liberation between them.
Malcolm X also had ties to major Asian activists; he was close with Yuri Kochiyama and Grace Lee Boggs, Japanese and Chinese American women activists, who took inspiration from his organizing and incorporated into their own activism. He and M.L.K., along with many Black soldiers, spoke out against the Vietnam War, highlighting the hypocrisy of asking Black people to fight on behalf of white Americans against freedom fighters when they themselves were not accepted by America.
Today, many Black activists are also actively involved in Asian activism. Influential thinkers like Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, who coined the term intersectionality that describes the different types of oppression people face depending on their joint identities (such as Black women vs. Black men) spoke out against the Atlanta shootings being described as a “bad day” for the shooter and identified the act as what it was, which was an anti-Asian hate crime. Similarly, Sacramento NAACP president Betty Williams, at a vigil for the six Asian women who were victims of the crime, summed up the sentiments of all activists at the time: “When it hurts one of us, it hurts all of us.”
The fact that so many Black leaders express solidarity and actively support Asian Americans’ activism, as well as Asians abroad, shows that underlying surface tensions and divides, there is ultimately an opportunity for deeper connection in the hurdles that Black and Asian Americans face, and that this connection has been felt many times throughout history. Moving forward, it is this connection that will foster not just healing but radical reshifting of American society in the future.