By Seo Yoon Yang
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — As a Korean-American teenage immigrant living in a predominantly white city and attending a school with a predominantly white student body, racial slurs and insensitive comments have unfortunately become a normalized part of my life.
Before living in Tennessee, I grew up in Palm Beach County, Fla., an area with a large Jewish community. Listening to their fears of anti-Semitism and hearing of hateful crimes committed at synagogues, I’ve grown up knowing prejudice isn’t limited to the color of your skin.
As a person of color and a member of a minority, I know that if we’re not united against bigotry, then none of us stand a chance. The global protests happening today might center specifically on injustices against black Americans, but as Jewish history shows us, tolerating systemic hatred does not end well for any minority. Black Jews have shared that they need our allyship more than ever, and there are tangible ways that we, as members of minority communities, can serve as allies to their struggle.
Instead of sharing our own stories, it’s time to elevate black voices. Speaking up is courageous. But right now, we need to step back. We need to hand the microphone to and uplift black voices and black communities rather than speak over them. Rather than lead, we need to ensure that black individuals become the forefront of conversation and this movement. We need to step back and support them as they bring changes to our society.
Stepping back can take many forms, including reposting resources released by black organizations and black activists, or making sure you attend a protest that is organized by community leaders as I do. It also includes getting your communities to understand why this is a fight for all of us. Some in your communities might complain that others don’t take their struggles as seriously as they do the protesters, but we must explain why the story of George Floyd is really a call to action for all of us, and about strengthening our society for all minorities.
We may be members of a minority, but we still have privilege. Just because we have faced oppression or discrimination — or just because we are not white — does not automatically exempt us from experiencing privileges. I believe that we are all privileged in one facet or another, and we all need to recognize it.
I am privileged that I will face limited discrimination in the workforce. I am privileged that the government has not enforced hard regulations to limit immigration from my home country.
I believe this should be a time of reflection for all of us. We must recognize our privileges and decide how to most effectively use our privilege to uplift the Black Lives Matter movement.
Suffering is not a competition.
It’s easy to center your own experiences when you and your loved ones have faced direct discrimination. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve had this toxic mindset in the past as well. Growing up, I was resentful of our history curriculum. Never having learned about the Chinese Massacre or Japanese internment camps in school, I often felt as though the plight of Asian Americans was constantly swept under the rug in favor of prejudices against other groups of minorities.
And while I don’t invalidate my feelings, I have also grown to recognize that I cannot directly compare the experiences of Asian Americans with other minority groups. We always need to make room for the most marginalized communities in our history, media and movements for justice.
This is not a time to compare our hardships or our issues. This is not the time to invalidate the experiences of black people by trying to highlight our own issues. Yes, Jewish Americans have experienced violent anti-Semitism at increasing rates in recent years. Yes, Asian Americans have been subjected to violent xenophobia during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our struggles are valid and should be expressed. But we need to recognize the time and place for those discussions. We need to be aware of what we say and who is present when we speak. We need to be aware of what can be insensitive for other individuals. We all need to recognize that right now is not about us. Fighting for black Americans is for the good of all of us.
Black Lives Matter represents our nation’s fight for justice, diversity and equity by fighting white supremacy and discrimination. When I fight for Black Lives Matter, it means I also fight to break down the wall of hate and prejudice. When I fight against white supremacy, I fight against individuals who have called me “chopsticks.” When I fight against discrimination, I fight for my younger sister who gets told “to go back to your country, pancake face.” I fight for a country where Asian Americans are not spat on by their white counterparts wearing facemasks that say “thanks, chinks.”
Fighting and standing up to a highly discriminatory system and emphasizing the prejudice plaguing America is a fight for all of us. The strides we make in Black Lives Matter will be a step in fixing the systemic intolerance, and the effects will trickle down to benefit all of us.
As members of a minority in America, our experiences supplement the empathy we feel for marginalized and impacted communities. And we need to consider our experience holistically in order to understand our strengths and weaknesses in assisting the Black Lives Matter movement.
Seo Yoon Yang is a rising high school senior in East Tennessee.