This week has been incredibly grim. Late last week, there were reports that China was escalating its standoff in Hong Kong, and I could already see the authoritarian violence on the horizon. Little did I know that a mere three days later, the authoritarian violence would put forward its cruelest face in my backyard (as it were) with the horrific murder of George Floyd at the hands of four Minneapolis police officers.
Increasingly, I find myself asking what democracy even means. America and China (and India and Brazil and Russia and Hungary, and, and, and…) are all purported democracies. But what is democracy worth when a man’s life is brutally cut short and, as the mayor of Minneapolis reminds us, “the man who killed George Floyd [is] not in jail”* – while thousands upon thousands of incarcerated black and brown people are languishing in detention centers across America that are petri dishes of Coronavirus? What is democracy worth when [pick your country] brings out all its ammunition to mow down protesters who are simply asking for the most basic of their freedoms?
This week’s Extra! Extra! honors all the victims – past, present and future. Oh it needs to stop – there must be an end to the long list of names we memorialize. But, I’m not naive enough to think more lives won’t be lost before we reach that point.
* Breaking news as we were writing this post reports that one of Floyd’s murderers, Derek Chauvin, was just arrested but no decision on charging yet.
Natalie: It’s hard to even know what to say at this moment.
I am tired. I am so, so tired.
I was already threadbare thanks to this pandemic — a pandemic which is disproportionately impacting black and brown people — and now this… and this… and this… and this… and this. Inevitably, tomorrow will bring another thing.
I am tired. I am so, so tired. But I must keep going for myself, for my ancestors, for my friends and family, for Ahmaud Arbery, for Breonna Taylor, for George Floyd, for Tony McDade… for all the names who have become too numerous to list. We must keep going.
Himani: White people love claiming objectivity. Every damned fucking thing requires a burden of proof, which really means explain it in white-people speak before a white judge and a white jury who won’t listen to anything that’s said anyways because they’re white so they already know the facts of the matter without having to be told them from someone who’s not white.
And us Asians? A white person asks us to jump on a black person’s back and we can’t line up fast enough, asking, “how high?” If you (speaking to the other Asians here) think I’m exaggerating or you want to say that’s a lie, ask yourself – how many times have you heard it circled through your network that so-and-so was dating ::hushed whispers, careful glances around:: a black person. And that’s the most innocuous version of it. Still want to argue with me? An estimated 18% of Asians voted for Trump in 2016, and that statistic only gives you the politics of Asians who voted in 2016. A lot of our community didn’t, and many of their views are just as culpable.
You want the facts of the matter? Here they are, the way they have been, barely changed, for two hundred years and counting.
George Floyd died because someone at a grocery store thought that, in America, it’s a good idea to call the police on a black person because they were under the impression that this person used a forged check. (The first thing you should do, in that situation, is check your own anti-black racism for assuming that a black person is giving you a forged check. The second thing you should do is put your phone away.)
George Floyd died because two of the four officers involved in Floyd’s gruesome murder had previously used violence on the job. One of those officers is white and the other is Asian (of as-yet unreported heritage). Despite over a dozen civilian complaints that had been filed against them over the years, neither one was ever disciplined, let alone removed from the force. This is the same old story we’ve heard in city after city city after city after city (I could keep going, but I’ll stop there). As these officers’ histories corroborate, George Floyd’s murder was not a split second decision on their parts. There’s no possible claim to be made that they “feared for their lives” or whatever other lies people want to tell. (Also, FYI, you’re law enforcement. Putting your life at risk is actually part of your job description. Know how to deal with that reality without murdering and/or traumatizing people, or find another job.)
George Floyd died because the Supreme Court decided to reify what was already happening: ensuring that law enforcement in America have the ultimate immunity from any kind of accountability for their actions. Because apparently, basic human rights and freedom and justice only stretch so far, only means so much, depending on the color of your skin.
George Floyd died because the Asian community has perpetuated the lie for decades of its own history that they’re better than black people. Don’t believe me? Look to Gandhi and post-Mao China as just two examples. I think I would be hard pressed to find an Asian country that doesn’t participate in anti-black racism.
George Floyd died because we all of us owe the black community so, so much more. Rachel posted seven action items for you. Michelle Kim shared action items specifically for the Asian community on her Awaken blog.
And I’ll add one more to both lists: required reading from Carmen.
Himani: If the situation in and of itself weren’t bad enough, the police response to the protests are simply violence upon violence. Especially in contrast to how police have responded to heavily armed white, anti-lockdown protesters. Because only some people are allowed to have rights. Only some people are allowed to advocate for those rights.
Rachel: I can’t do much besides emphasize what Himani has already said, and many more people have talked much more eloquently and powerfully — for decades, generations even — about this. As many have pointed out, you could read pieces about Eric Garner and Daniel Pantaleo, or Ferguson, or Baltimore, or a dozen other cities right now, and they would be equally relevant.
I wrote this 7 years ago. Replace CVS with Target and Freddie Gray with George Floyd.
As one Baltimore resident said, "The CVS? They got insurance, they can rebuild. Freddie Gray had insurance, but it's not gonna bring back his life."https://t.co/sYT37TEWHo
— Jenée (@jdesmondharris) May 28, 2020
The only real insight or perspective I feel I can offer is from someone who lives in Minneapolis right now — I’m in an area of Uptown that hasn’t seen fires yet, but I do want to emphasize that as someone who lives here, as someone whose friends and loved ones are also at risk and displaced, I don’t blame or resent protestors, and am unconditionally grateful for their sacrifice and the risk they’ve taken on to fight for an entire community and a city. The only people I blame are the police and the state, who could choose to end this at any time by surrendering to a process of justice and accountability over power, and are not. Although I can’t speak for small business owners or other members of the community, anecdotally I can say that overwhelmingly the local businesses that have been affected or damaged have only been by collateral damage from residual fires, which have received an inconsistent response from the fire department. The small business owners I have heard from or who have taken to social media or issued statements are overwhelmingly in support of protests, and have asked the public not to worry about their businesses but to keep each other safe and pursue justice. I can’t do very much, but I can say that anyone who’s wagging a finger at the city out of purported concern for citizens like me or community members isn’t speaking for us, and can and should be called on it.
From Minneapolis businesses @MoonPalaceBooks and Gandhi Mahal restaurant: "Things that may be lost or damaged in our building are just things, but your life is priceless, just like George Floyd's life was priceless." People matter more than stuff, remember that pic.twitter.com/j3t80oKkmh
— Diep Tran 🧙🏼♀️ (@diepthought) May 29, 2020
Natalie: I don’t have much to add to what Himani and Rachel have said here, except to add a quote that’s been bouncing around in my head a lot lately: “those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
The man who peacefully protested against systemic racism and police brutality was called a "Son of a Bitch" by your idiot husband and lost his job. Let's not focus on peace and prayers, let's focus on change! https://t.co/GiX1QANOKZ
— Teresa Kaepernick (@TessKap) May 29, 2020
Natalie: Four years ago, after the unlawful shooting death of Philando Castile on the side of a suburban Minnesota street, the area’s WNBA team — the Minnesota Lynx — wore t-shirts in silent protest. The shirts, I thought, were rather innocuous: “Change Starts With Us. Justice & Accountability” inscribed on the front, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling’s names, a Dallas Police Department emblem and “Black Lives Matter” printed on the back. But, of course, the Minneapolis Police Department took exception to the display and many of them refused to provide security at Lynx games thereafter…four of them even walking off the job.
I thought of the Lynx when I heard about the decision from UMN. It’s the right decision, of course — and credit to the school’s first ever African-American Student Body President, Jael Kerandi, for having led on this issue — but, as the Lynx saw, the backlash is coming. The circumstances of today might delay its arrival but the backlash is coming — the spitefulness of the Minneapolis police union demands it — and we’d do well to prepare for it.
Stop Weaponizing Your Whiteness
Rachel: One thing that’s become grimly clear over years of reading and writing reporting on anti-Black violence is that documentation has pretty limited utility; the stories that white people in the US tell ourselves about race and about our own actions run deep, and in the past five years we’ve seen countless incontrovertible recordings of intentional, premeditated violence that white people have still found a way to rationalize. I know all this, and yet it’s still pretty amazing to have such incredibly literal video evidence of the specific violence of white women. I’m thinking of Amy Coopers’ petulant insistence that “I’m not a racist,” and how removed from meaningful definitions of language that idea is — the risk to Christian Cooper’s life is so evident here, what would it matter if Amy Cooper personally considers herself to have had racist motivations or not? Amy Cooper could have been — and is, every day! — so many white women in so many communities across the US; especially this week, it seems like a clear message to me that for white people, sending NYT links and books about unconscious bias to our family is not close to enough; it was up to the other white people in Amy Cooper’s life to make sure she didn’t dare pick up that phone, not to commiserate with her over her donation to Obama’s campaign.
Himani: Just using this as one more opportunity to point out – Asians, we’re guilty of this too, because we like to pretend to be white by proximity when it’s convenient. This has to stop.
We Must Support Hong Kong. I Have No Idea What That Looks Like.
Himani: I’m not going to try to summarize all the background for this because where would I even begin? In 1841 when the British colonized Hong Kong? In 1949 when the Communist Revolution started and people fled the mainland? In 1997 when the British “returned” the colony to the People’s Republic? With the Umbrella movement in 2014? With the Fugitive Offenders bill that led to protests in 2019? Last Friday when the Chinese government put forward the security law? Or yesterday when the security law passed? And I know there are so, so many things I’m skipping in between that I don’t even know about.
The first article linked above provides a good overview of what the security law is about and its ramifications. The US is already talking about removing Hong Kong’s special status as an attempt to apply pressure on China. From my read on the situation (and I’m curious to hear other perspectives), it seems like America is going in the direction of using its second favored tool (after drones): sanctions. But as we’ve seen from Iran to Venezuela to North Korea, sanctions only end up hurting everyday people. On the other hand, I’m aware of the fact that protesters in Hong Kong have been asking for other countries to apply pressure on China from the outside as they apply pressure from the inside.
Honestly, I’m not sure what the best course of action is here. To sit by and do nothing is irresponsible – that much was already clear last year as the world watched idly while China escalated the violence it doled out on protesters in Hong Kong. But, truly, I don’t know what, if anything, sanctions will accomplish. Feel free to share your thoughts on this in the comments.
Decriminalization of Sex Work Takes A Step Back In Queens
As futile as it feels to yell about voting at a moment like this, Melinda Katz’s actions in Queens and Mike Freeman’s inaction in Minneapolis reminds me of how important the franchise — and the protection of that franchise — truly is. Vote…from president down to DA….just vote.
Trump’s Threatening To Cut Immigration. Again.
Rachel: I honestly thought I didn’t have more room inside me to be gutted this week but my heart dropped into my stomach reading this. For context, H1B has been one of the only viable avenues for nonresident alien status — not even permanent residence — into the US for many years now from most countries, with the other main options being asylum (a long process that Trump and Sessions also effectively ground to a halt) and family or spousal sponsorship, with the rest being regional-specific visa programs, like the Temporary Protected Status designation given to countries like El Salvador (conditionally, temporarily, at the government’s whim). Even when functioning “normally,” H1B was an arbitrary and exacting system wherein your employer has to submit arduous paperwork proving that a US resident can’t do your job, and even after that you’re subject to a lottery system, which even if you’re selected from only grants you status in the US for a few years before it needs to be re-approved. Trump’s administration has already whittled away at H1B for years, raising its standards, narrowing its lottery system, and making re-approvals less likely. If the system is paused completely, for many (most?) people globally there will be virtually no legal avenue into the US other than having a current US citizen sponsor you either by blood relation or marriage. It’s devastating. The context for this makes it even more upsetting – it’s Trump’s attempt to address the unemployment rate, threatening to pause H1B and the Optional Practical Training program “for a year or until the unemployment rate, which has reached almost 15 percent, returns to a normal level.” It’s the same thing he’s done his entire tenure: promise jobs and abundance to working-class Americans, do nothing to manifest them, and then publicly lash out at immigrant populations instead.
Natalie: Rachel’s done a great job summing up the realities of this situation but I’d add one thing, from a political perspective. The Republican Party has, over the last decade or so, started to skew increasingly anti-immigrant — that’s undeniable — but even as GOP leaders urge Democrats to support militarizing our borders and deporting undocumented people, they’ve been fervent in their support of H1B.They covet this program because big business covets this program. In fact, just two years ago, then Sens. Orrin Hatch and Jeff Flake sponsored legislation to increase the quota of these visas.
The administration’s plan is every bit as awful as Rachel explained but I’ll be watching how Republican lawmakers respond… if they let go of yet another of their convictions to give the president red meat for his bigoted base ahead of the 2020 elections.
Himani: I could not agree more with what Rachel and Natalie have written here. Coming from a family that relied on this pathway to citizenship and having personally benefited from it, this news cuts so, so deep. And yet, here again, I have to check my privilege because, as Natalie rightly points out, H1B is often protected at the expense of other visa programs and pathways to citizenship. Because some immigrants are the “good” kind of immigrants. I’m so tired of all of this.
And In Case Anyone Forgot, This Is What Happens When You Block Immigration
China and India Are Fighting About Their Border And So Much More
Himani: All I have to say about this is that I don’t much care about this fight between two racist colonizers, but I am deeply concerned for all the communities that will be caught in the crossfire.
Also, fuck British colonialism and all of the people today who continue to romanticize the Empire. This article makes passing mention of how the British are the root of this border dispute. For an even more searing examination of how the British literally destroyed millions of lives in their hastily drawn borders on the South Asian subcontinent, I highly recommend Yasmin Khan’s The Great Partition.
Your Climate Change Food For Thought
Himani: The headline is sensational, but the article is solid. The problem is that all the tree-planting initiatives are either straight up scams or focused on monoculture, which does nothing to restore ecosystems. (As Ted Williams writes, “You can’t plant a forest; you can only plant a plantation.”) Also, all those companies that are buying carbon offsets – yep, that’s all a load of shit.
Here Are Some Glimmers In This Grim Week
Natalie: This news was, absolutely, the highlight of my week.