On Tou Thao and Anti-Blackness in Asian Communities

There’s no elegant way to start this and there’s no time to enter this topic gradually: The pervasive anti-Blackness in Asian communities needs to stop.

Anti-blackness has always been an ugly side to Asian communities, but when Tou Thao just stood there, standing watch, as George Floyd was murdered – this conversation became that much more important and dire. Historically, because of the positioning of Asians as “model minorities,” the success and assimilation of Asian Americans has always had, and continues to have, a direct connection to anti-Blackness and the legacies of white supremacy. It’s not easy to confront, but it’s undeniably true and it’s inhumane to pretend otherwise.

As Hari Kondabolu pointed out, that image of Tou Thao just standing there “literally and metaphorically depicts how we Asians reinforce Anti Black racism and systemic white supremacy.” And if we do nothing, stay idly complicit – silent at anti-Black comments, not taking political action, not pooling our resources to help – we’re also guilty of just standing there as Black people suffer and die.

It’s easy to give into the ugly and convenient impulse to just distance ourselves from Tou Thao, but that’s impossible. His position, his ability to just stand there, is inextricably tied to his position as an Asian American police officer. Thao’s ability to stand there says everything about how he ranks with his white peers, which lives he values, who he serves. It’s also easy to write Thao off as one bad Asian cop, but from recent reports of Jared Yuen and the many more that surely go unreported, it’s just not true and it’s, once again, inhumane to pretend otherwise.

Tou Thao is just the most recent figure in a long history of Anti-Blackness in Asian communities that, too often, goes unchecked. Systemic oppression pits people against each other. Specifically, within Asian American communities and experience, systemic oppression makes it easy for us to look the other way, assimilate and advance ourselves instead of being effective allies. But clearly, the pandemic has only further proven the fact that whatever position or safety Asians are afforded as a model minority, is conditional. Dismantling racism, real progress, means bearing witness to the Anti-Blackness going on everywhere, but especially in our own communities, and calling it out.

As sociopolitical comedian W. Kamau Bell tweeted, “a system of white supremacy convinces many people that one surefire way to get ahead in America is to be shitty to Black people.” For too long, Asians have bought into that system at the cost of Black lives. Just as Asian American success or assimilation is tied to America’s Anti-Blackness, any freedoms and rights Asian Americans have today are directly tied to the work of Black civil rights advocates and their action. We have a duty to dismantle the larger system of Anti-Blackness but also the kinds prevalent in our own communities. 

We, Asian Americans, are a huge diverse group. Our experiences no doubt differ, maybe even conflict. So, I have no doubt that each of our capabilities of supporting Black Lives Matter will differ. Here are just a few tweets sharing resources and all kinds of action, for ideas on where to start:

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