Interracial Alliances: Black and Gold

On July 3, the streets of Flushing, New York, were littered with “All Lives Matter” signs. A group of immigrant organizations in the Asian American enclave—the world’s largest Chinatown—had organized a rally in support of the New York Police Department. But  as word spread about the pro-police event, members of progressive Asian organizations such as Chinese for Black Lives, the Asian American Feminist Collective and Red Canary Song joined forces to stage a counter-protest in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

In the past, demographic and ideological differences have prevented U.S. minority groups from effectively building cross-racial solidarity. But the racism of the Donald Trump administration has shown the need to band together against common experiences of oppression. This year, many Asian Americans have experienced heightened prejudice, forcing the Asian community to confront the systemic racism of the United States. A recent survey of Chinese Americans found that nearly half of the respondents had experienced racial discrimination due to COVID-19.

Asian Americans have only recently begun to vote Democratic, and a gulf between the average incomes of Asian and Black Americans has led to feelings of distrust between the two groups in the past. “The root of all these cultural clashes is around scarcity,” said Maikiko James, a multiracial Asian and Black political organizer and DSA National Political Committee member. “It’s really about protecting ourselves from what we fear, right? Not wanting to be victims, not wanting to be the most harmed by structures and power.”

In May, in response to these tensions and to the widespread protest sparked by the death of George Floyd, media advocacy organization Define American held the Black + Gold Forum, inviting prominent Black and Asian American voices to discuss the ways their communities could support each other.

“Asians have been in the United States for hundreds of years at this point, and yet so often we think of Asian people as ‘other,’ or as foreign,” said Noelle Lindsay-Stewart, former head of entertainment partnerships and advocacy for Define American. “In the same vein, you also have the Black community, which also has been in the United States for hundreds of years through forced migration, and even now, 150 years after the end of slavery, is still not treated as fully American.”

Much of the Forum discussion focused on cultural methods of building solidarity. Director Jon Chu admitted that he and many other Asian Americans had been unaware of the scope of institutional racism in the United States until Trump ascended to the presidency. Though Chu’s 2018 film Crazy Rich Asians was celebrated for boosting Asian American representation in Hollywood, this sort of cultural victory does little to rectify issues of income inequality, which is rapidly rising among both Asian and Black Americans.

“There’s a lot of really basic political education that needs to be done, in terms of establishing these types of cross-racial solidarity on the basis of everyone living under this same system of oppression, but differently,” said DSA member and organizer Promise Li.

Li pointed out that there is considerable economic and cultural diversity within the Asian American community, perhaps more than in any other U.S. racial minority group. Indeed, many Asians are more likely to identify with their ethnic subgroup than with “Asian Americans” as an overarching category. “Asian Americans who work at boba or bubble tea shops, to Black folks who are struggling to find a job,” Li said. “How can we actually build up solidarity along these class lines instead of buying into these more liberal representation struggles and narratives?”

Within DSA, the Afrosocialists and Socialists of Color Caucus is leading the effort to build solidarity and empathy across racial lines. It’s a welcoming space for people of color in a predominantly white organization to discuss their experiences as minorities in America—and the ways that these experiences can and should inform their work as socialists and political organizers. But Li cited examples such as the Flushing counter-protest as evidence that these cross-racial solidarity efforts are not limited to DSA. “I think that type of thing is very new,” Li said. “The fact that this kind of countering in our own communities can get that type of traction is very exciting.”

Still, months after the Black + Gold Forum, the injustices that inspired the panel remain largely unaddressed. Anti-Asian hate crimes in New York City have jumped nearly twentyfold, and the policemen who killed Breonna Taylor continue to walk free. The systemic racism and deep-seated white supremacy that have fueled U.S. anti-Blackness and anti-Asianness aren’t going anywhere, regardless of the election results.

“In our work in DSA, we have to be centering race,” James emphasized. “It’s commonly said that race and capitalism are intertwined…but if we don’t center people of color in our work, then we can’t move forward.”