Asian Communities Must Desert the American Empire and Protect Black Lives

George Floyd was murdered on May 25, 2020, and we stand in unequivocal support of the protests and uprisings that have swept the US since that day, and against the unconscionable violence of the police and US state. We can’t continue with business as usual, which includes celebrating Pride. This week, Autostraddle is suspending our regular schedule to focus on content related to this struggle, the fight against white supremacy and the fight for Black lives and Black futures. Instead, we’re publishing and re-highlighting work by and for Black queer and trans folks speaking to their experiences living under white supremacy and the carceral state, and work calling white people to material action.

no justice. no pride.


Tou Thao. The name of the Hmong police officer who was a bystander and accomplice to the murder of George Floyd. Thao stood by and watched as Floyd’s last breaths were taken.

My heart dropped when I saw his name — Thao is my cousin’s first name. I grew up with the name Thao. Like me, the officer descends from Southeast Asia. It’s not just Thao’s name that’s familiar to me. Asian complicity in violence against Black people is not new. Several years ago, New York City erupted in warring protests over the murder of Akai Gurley in 2014, a Black man who died after Chinese police officer Peter Liang fired into the stairwell of a housing project.

A multiracial group of protesters demanded justice for Akai Gurley. Meanwhile, counter-protesters — many of them of East Asian descent — vowed to protect Peter Liang, considering him a scapegoat victim. His protectors claimed that the jury only convicted him in 2016 because he was Asian rather than a white officer. The common denominator between the death of Akai Gurley and that of George Floyd is the deliberate theft of Black life.

No matter how we analyze events, no matter how the politics that are spun, Black people are in constant mourning. No words that I write will revive George Floyd or Akai Gurley, as much as I would like that to be the case. No words that I write can provide true consolation to their families, because they should be alive.

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The theft of Black life has been the foundation of the United States since the country was born. The first police forces were meant to be slave catchers and exterminators against Indigenous people. Today, Black and Indigenous people face the highest rates of police murders. The police are not friendly neighborhood authorities; they are an army intent on protecting the American empire. In 1990, the National Defense Authorization Act further cemented the role of police as military by approving surplus military equipment to be sent to local police departments.

It shouldn’t be lost on us that this case of police brutality occurred in Minneapolis, in a state with the largest refugee population per capita. Before Tou Thao was a servant of American empire, his family had to flee Southeast Asia, where Americans had destroyed beloved homes and killed approximately 3.4 million people. Those who left behind their ancestral land in the wake of the war in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos make up the largest refugee group that has ever entered the United States.

Within that same war, Black people were disproportionately drafted to kill Southeast Asians: the percentage of Black soldiers recruited were more than triple the percentage of Black people in the general population. Black soldiers were placed on the battlefield expected to defend a country that repeatedly stole the lives of their family and community members. What this means is that both now and then, both in Minneapolis and in Southeast Asian jungles, Black life is considered disposable.

Many Black soldiers ended up deserting the army. Meanwhile, civil rights movement leaders, from Malcolm X to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, denounced the war as forcing Black people to serve white colonizers. These leaders expressed solidarity with oppressed people they had never seen or met.

Like the many Black soldiers in Southeast Asia, it’s now long overdue for Asian Americans to desert the cause of white supremacy.

The police department that Tou Thao serves is a mirror image of the occupying armies in Southeast Asia. Every day that he goes to work, he is doing the work of shortening Black life; he becomes part of the lineage of slave catchers and “Indian killers.”

We have been drafted to protect white institutions that come at the cost of Black lives. We have been named a “model minority” to convince us that we’ve been saved a seat at the table among white peers — but that table was cut, assembled, and varnished by Black slaves.

Asian Americans should look into the face of Tou Thao and see their own brother. It is our duty to bring him to justice, because he is not the only one. There are scores of Asians who have turned their backs on Black people. And they live in our homes. They’re in our neighborhoods. They come to dinner. They’re enmeshed in our lives. Which means we have the duty to make sure they do no harm, otherwise we’re in the wrong, too. The cost of inaction is another life lost.

There will be a day when Black people no longer have to endure this endless cycle of grief. We must be committed to bringing that day to the present. We have to act like that day has to arrive now, because every day that passes has the potential for another life stolen.

A world of Black liberation by nature creates a more just, joyful world for all people. But that shouldn’t be the only reason why we act. We all have a responsibility to George Floyd, simply because he was a human being who should be alive.

We also have a responsibility to Akai Gurley. To Tony McDade, a Black transmasculine person who was just murdered by the police on Wednesday. To Nina Pop, a Black trans woman who was stabbed to death earlier this month. Say their names aloud. Each time you say their name, think of their families, the friends they left behind, the homes they loved, the air they breathed before they were taken.

Situations of police brutality can leave people feeling powerless, but a choice lies in our hands. When we do nothing, like Tou Thao, we become accomplices to the death of Black communities. Instead, we can contribute to a rich legacy of freedom fighters, those who believed in a world where all people thrive. Despite the constant attacks on Black life, Black artists and activists continue putting forth the most fearless, vibrant visions of our collective future.

Here are just a few to whom you should commit your time:

Black Trans Men Face a Constant Threat of Police Violence by Ash Stephens. On Wednesday of this week, Tallahassee police killed Tony McDade, a Black trans man. Ash Stephens outlines the threat of violence to Black trans men’s lives. Black trans people are murdered by both police and civilians with little consequence. “After learning about the murders of Black men, I don’t think I feel more vulnerable now. As a Black trans man, I’ve always felt that.”

Amy Cooper Knew Exactly What She Was Doing by Zeba Blay. “There is, of course, a long history of white women in this country falsely accusing Black people, particularly Black men and boys, of crimes they did not commit.” Amy Cooper, sadly, is not original. And, as Zeba explains, she was deliberate in her decision to threaten Christian Cooper’s life.

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I don’t want to wake up to news of murdered kin anymore. I want to wake up knowing our kin are safe, celebrated, and cherished. . For those of you who do not know, George Floyd was chocked to death by white policeman, Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis, MN. In a video (that we shouldn’t be massively consuming), the policeman’s knee punctures Floyd’s neck as Floyd insists, “I can’t breathe,” and “My stomach hurt, my neck hurt, everything hurt.” . In some of the few articles that have come out thus far, it is stated that someone called the police after Floyd had a small dispute with a cashier at a deli for allegedly using a forged check. Clearer details about this will soon surface. . I am fucking exhausted. Your outrage is no longer enough. Your (white) outrage isn’t protecting us. I am tired of witnessing murder after murder after murder. . Share this image widely. LET IT BE KNOWN THAT WILL NEVER TOLERATE BLACK DEATH.

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“I don’t want to wake up to news of murdered kin anymore. I want to wake up knowing our kin are safe, celebrated, and cherished.” Alán reminds us that it’s our duty to channel our outrage into action. It’s not enough to be angry.

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This week, the Minneapolis Police Department murdered George Floyd, blocks away from several of our members’ homes. In response, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey condemned the murder, saying that “Being Black in America should not be a death sentence.” This is the same Mayor Frey who fought tooth and nail last year to win an $8.2 million raise for MPD. City leaders felt the heat of community organizing, and so they fired the cops who killed George Floyd. But it’s not enough. We have spent hundreds of hours in the street and at City Hall, telling Frey and the Council that it’s time to move our money out of a murderous police department and into the resources that really keep our people safe. They have not had the courage to do it. Now, due to COVID19, Minneapolis is facing a budget shortfall and has to make decisions about how to cut about $60 million from the city budget. They will be making these decisions in the next month. In a pandemic, we need every penny of our city’s money to go to keeping people safe, healthy, and housed. We need mental health resources, solutions to the opioid epidemic, affordable housing, and public health approaches to violence prevention. Instead, $193 million of our city dollars are going to murderous police and the guns, tear gas and rubber bullets that they use on our people. It’s time for Frey and the City Council to stop making statements on social media and start holding MPD accountable in the only language they speak: money. Call Mayor Frey and tell him: “Cut MPD’s budget. We need money to keep our communities healthy during the pandemic, not murder them in the streets”. image created by @saint_chubbz #GeorgeFloyd #Justice4Floyd #LetUsBreathe

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In a world where so many of us lack adequate housing and healthcare, the police budget does not need a raise. In fact the police needed to be defunded altogether; their budget could be channeled into methods of keeping communities safe while resolving conflict.

As documented by Vienna Rye on Instagram, Angela Davis reminds us that anti-Black violence is not a singular event. It is actively produced with malice by the white nationalist state.

A Small Needful Fact by Ross Gay. Ross Gay’s poem lovingly remembers Eric Garner, who was killed in 2014. Like George Floyd, Eric Garner was murdered by the police by choking, and the hashtag #ICantBreathe subsequently went viral.


Addendum (6/1/20): This article originally did not include the unique experience of Hmong people during the war in Southeast Asia. Hmong people have historically been oppressed by Southeast Asian governments, which continues today. The U.S. Army leveraged this dynamic to hire Hmong communities to fight alongside American soldiers, using incentives like schooling, since education was not something that was afforded to Hmong people. Now, the U.S. government is ramping up deportations of the Hmong diaspora back to Southeast Asia. They are being deported from one hostile country to another.

Xoài Phạm is a Vietnamese trans person who descends from a long legacy of warriors, healers, and shamans. Her life's work is in dreaming new futures where we are all limitless, and she makes those dreams a reality as a poet, essayist, editor, and collaborative educator. Learn more about her work here: xoai.co. Catch her on Instagram @xoai.jpg and on Twitter @internetxoai.

xoai has written 7 articles for us.

17 Comments

  1. this. this is the article i was waiting for. i am so tired of asian americans, particularly east asians like myself with socioeconomic privilege, propping up white supremacy. nobody would like more than the white elite for us to buy into and propagate the model minority myth rather than standing with our fellow people of color.

  2. i appreciate this, xoai. AS at large also needs to desert the amerikan empire, tho i doubt it’ll happen with the liberalism of white queers. when a few months ago the political discourse around presidential debates was pro warren lmfao.. still waiting for this website to really take up the anarchic communist legacies of queer n trans people. anyway if you’re white or nonblack reading this comment read “lose your kin” by christina sharpe and also her book “in the wake”, and then do it — lose your kin, your stolen wealth, your stolen land, and give everything you can to Black ppl lol

  3. What about black-on-asian violence? Look at the BoK and FBI stats abd you can see Black-on-asian crime is 280 times higher than asian-on-black crime. When black gangs stopsucker punching elderly couples innocently walking down the street, THEN I’ll support BLM. It’s unbelievabke how this generation of asian love their peers and black americans more than their own grandparents and community elders. Just sick.Fo shame!

    • Without the tireless activism of Black people, our grandparents and community elders would have been barred from immigrating into the United States. Also, there would be no Civil Rights Act, no Civil Liberties Act, no workplace discrimination protections, and no voting rights, no queer liberation, all of which directly benefit us as Asian people. It’s unbelievable how some Asians like yourself ignore how Asian Americans and Black Americans fought alongside each other during the Civil Rights Movement.

      “Black-on-Asian” violence is a result of deliberate attempts by the White establishment to pit minorities against one another. The White establishment created the Model Minority myth to sow resentment between us and Black people and prevent us from fighting against our real oppressors. The White establishment has consistently abused Black people (in ways that are not comparable to what Asian Americans have faced), ensuring that Black neighborhoods would face poverty and discrimination, both of which drive people to crime. Then, they used segregational tactics to ensure that Asian American homes would act as a buffer between Black neighborhoods and the White neighborhoods they really wanted to “protect”.

      Your disgusting anti-Blackness is not a solution to “Black-on-Asian” violence.
      The solution to such violence is reinvestment in community resources (through defunding police), intra-community dialogue, reconciliation, and Black-Asian solidarity against White supremacy.

      You say that you’ll only agree that Black Lives Matter if your demands are met. But the value of Black life is not conditional. The lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade—and countless others—are valuable and irreplaceable, regardless of the crime statistics you cite.

      The fact that you’ll only care about the state-sanctioned executions of these Black people if you gain something in return is what is truly disgraceful and shameful.

      • Came here via “On the Front Lines: Alternative Forms of Protesting Police Violence” from the “You May Also Like” category.

        Although leaving new comments under old articles is usually moot, I can’t not take this opportunity to verbalize some thoughts that have been churning for a while which I’ve been meaning to sort.

        Some of these thoughts are for the article itself. I can appreciate how the author uses the draft as a comparison for our moral imperative to do the right thing. Reminding we too can confront learned helplessness. Those vets didn’t have to take part in the war. We don’t have to be complicit with the government. Yes.

        Most of my response here is for the comments.

        We should stand for justice without hope of tit for tat, it’s true. You are also correct about the institutional setup at play. Blame goes all the way to the top. Just as with war, our politicians have civilian blood on their hands.

        I can still minimize my interactions with vets, however. I can conserve my energy if I so choose. Withhold contributions when the collection plate comes around, even while believing that veterans do deserve proper treatment. Taking care of them, for me just isn’t a priority. Why would it be?

        Even if I am not Vietnamese. Even if my family did not suffer directly. The military industrial complex is bigger than any of us, and I have chosen not to focus my finite resources on helping those it chewed up and spat out. And I do not go out of my way to seek out methods to exclusively assist those who were medics, because as an individual I have other things on my mind.

        Likewise, I can grasp that someone who perhaps has a face not unlike mine might want to sit this out. We hyphenated Americans are a diverse bunch; what informs their choice I’d have to guess at without full knowledge, but it’s enough to suggest our lived experiences are not the same. And if they take a hard stance against becoming a cog in the fight against racial inequality, if they should express their sentiments without a trace of eloquence, I wince, but so what? Training is a privilege. Ought I lecture them, from an ivory tower, those who have had less? Material conditions are not simply theory.

        In the English-speaking world, Asians with elevated platforms go harder for Black people than for other Asians. It makes a sort of sense, but it hurts to see. And personally my enthusiasm for joining the streets has flagged; when I saw the outpour from AAPI organizations and people, my desire to participate diminished.

        There’s just something about being told, Asian to Asian, that we’re not meeting our obligations. As a human being, I understand that I could always be doing more. My token donation to the cause is just that, a token. But to be told that this isn’t about PoC solidarity, but to be reminded of our supposed Model Minority docile bootstrapping status -as if we have benefited by being the wedge- as an incentive to prove ourselves?

        Why? To pay back a debt, or to assure ourselves our sins can be purified? Self-flagellation may be trendy, but it does not do to wrap yourself in a mantle cut from the same cloth as white guilt and immolate. We should not attend these trends for the reasons of the white liberal.

        We should be allies who lay down our arms for each other and take up common cause. But we are not truly comrades in every sense, not while we have this tension between us. I can be Yellow Peril supportive of Black Power when I know we are working toward justice together. I can be there with my support, without letting down my guard.

        You say we owe our presence to the work of Black people. You say we have suffered less. That may well be true for the more recent waves of immigration. Our connection to those before -those who were blown up, lynched, or sent back if they survived- is threadbare. The history is ours, however. And I am tired of being both foreign and American, always called upon to prove my allegiance.

        There is a part of me that wishes our immigrant parents had not sought their way over here after IMF colonized their home countries under its thumb. There is a part of me that flinches with every tremor of conflict resurfacing on the global stage. Two centuries of war against Asia, and I’m aware the West will win or break trying.

        I have an East Asian face. With Covid and the hatred it revitalized, I have seen glimmers of support for my people in diaspora, which is better than nothing. We are secondary to questions about the virus itself, vaccine development, the future of the economy…I don’t bedgrudge that. People have priorities, after all. Their own lives are at stake.

        Nor do I begrudge BLM this moment. I hope the movement has the momentum now for real change. That the American people can gain more than tepid reform to appease the masses. I hope we have the force of will to hold the capitalists in charge accountable for the damages they’ve wrought; I hope that we will collectively recognize that lives are worth more than property.

        And then, when the war with China turns hot, when it is not just the odd scientist here or there found dead on suspicion of espionage, I hope people who look like me can still find safety in the only country we’ve ever known. I hope so, knowing whether others do the right thing or not has nothing to do with what I gave now or what I’ve given to stop pipelines, or any other action I may have taken in my life.

        If I contribute now for the right reason, I can be at peace with myself having the simple satisfaction from the pursuit of justice. If I do it without intent of currying favor, I will not be disappointed when my fellow Americans step on me and mine. I know their responsibility to refrain is not greater if I have achieved more good works, and it is not lesser if I have not.

        But it is hard, to not be affected, to not feel crushed between the gears of American politics. I agree we cannot opt out and do nothing. But I still feel hollow, and my faith, it wavers.

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