Sometimes, believe it or not, the internet works together for good. That's what happened this week in the wake of news that yet another Black man, Philando Castile, had been killed by police during a traffic stop in Minnesota, following the fatal shooting of Alton Sterling by police officers in Louisiana.
On Thursday, hundreds of Asian American internet users came together and organized via Google Docs -- YES, GOOGLE DOCS -- to draft a crowdsourced open letter to our own Asian American families addressing the shootings Castile and Sterling and the urgent issues of the Black Lives Matter movement.
It can be difficult to find the words and contexts to talk about these issues with our Asian parents and relatives. Sometimes there are language barriers. Sometimes it's hard to explain the common ground in our struggles. Too often there's simply the impulse to ignore another community's struggles and look the other way.
The letter aims to help start that conversation. It began as a series of tweets from Christina Xu, who'd seen how Asian Americans had reacted negatively to previous police shootings of black Americans -- particularly, the shooting of Akai Gurley in New York City -- and wanted to do something proactive to change their perspectives.
Asian-Americans who support BLM, we need to get ahead of our community organizing another pro-Liang rally. Talk to your families today.— Christina Xu (@xuhulk) July 7, 2016
In fact, let’s draft letters in our native languages to our parents and our communities. Get it passed around WhatsApp, WeChat, LINE, etc.— Christina Xu (@xuhulk) July 7, 2016
I’m on very spotty train wi-fi, but if you want to help me draft this BLM letter to our parents (in English first!): https://t.co/VnBwncNaLP— Christina Xu (@xuhulk) July 7, 2016
Also, if any other AsAms out there are writing pro-BLM letters, send them my way—I’d love to help translate them into Chinese.— Christina Xu (@xuhulk) July 7, 2016
Xu started the Google Doc late Thursday morning. In a matter of hours, the crowd-sourced letter had dozens of contributors -- including the editing assistance of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas -- and has now been translated into multiple languages, with the work ongoing.
Here is the final draft of the letter in English:
Dear Mom, Dad, Uncle, Auntie: Black Lives Matter to Us, Too
Mom, Dad, Uncle, Auntie, Grandfather, Grandmother:
We need to talk.
You may not have grown up around people who are Black, but I have. Black people are a fundamental part of my life: they are my friends, my classmates and teammates, my roommates, my family. Today, I'm scared for them.
This year, the American police have already killed more than 500 people. Of those, 25% have been Black, even though Black people make up only 13% of the population. Earlier this week in Louisiana, two White police officers killed a Black man named Alton Sterling while he sold CDs on the street. The very next day in Minnesota, a police officer shot and killed a Black man named Philando Castile in his car during a routine traffic stop while his girlfriend and her four-year-old daughter looked on. Overwhelmingly, the police do not face any consequences for ending these lives.
This is a terrifying reality that some of my closest friends live with every day.
Even as we hear about the dangers Black Americans face, our instinct is sometimes to point at all the ways we are different from them. To shield ourselves from their reality instead of empathizing. When a policeman shoots a Black person, you might think it's the victim's fault because you see so many images of them in the media as thugs and criminals. After all, you might say, we managed to come to America with nothing and build good lives for ourselves despite discrimination, so why can't they?
I want to share with you how I see things.
It's true that we face discrimination for being Asian in this country. Sometimes people are rude to us about our accents, or withhold promotions because they don't think of us as “leadership material.” Some of us are told we're terrorists. But for the most part, nobody thinks “dangerous criminal” when we are walking down the street. The police do not gun down our children and parents for simply existing.
This is not the case for our Black friends. Many Black people were brought to America as slaves against their will. For centuries, their communities, families, and bodies were ripped apart for profit. Even after slavery, they had to build back their lives by themselves, with no institutional support -- not allowed to vote or own homes, and constantly under threat of violence that continues to this day.
In fighting for their own rights, Black activists have led the movement for opportunities not just for themselves, but for us as well. Many of our friends and relatives are only able to be in this country because Black activists fought to open up immigration for Asians in the 1960s. Black people have been beaten, jailed, even killed fighting for many of the rights that Asian Americans enjoy today. We owe them so much in return. We are all fighting against the same unfair system that prefers we compete against each other.
When someone is walking home and gets shot by a sworn protector of the peace -- even if that officer's last name is Liang -- that is an assault on all of us, and on all of our hopes for equality and fairness under the law.
For all of these reasons, I support the Black Lives Matter movement. Part of that support means speaking up when I see people in my community -- or even my own family -- say or do things that diminish the humanity of Black Americans in this country. I am telling you this out of love, because I don't want this issue to divide us. I'm asking that you try to empathize with the anger and grief of the fathers, mothers, and children who have lost their loved ones to police violence. To empathize with my anger and grief, and support me if I choose to be vocal, to protest. To share this letter with your friends, and encourage them to be empathetic, too.
As your child, I am proud and eternally grateful that you made the long, hard journey to this country, that you've lived decades in a place that has not always been kind to you. You've never wished your struggles upon me. Instead, you've suffered through a prejudiced America, to bring me closer to the American Dream.
But I hope you can consider this: the American Dream cannot exist for only your children. We are all in this together, and we cannot feel safe until ALL our friends, loved ones, and neighbors are safe. The American Dream that we seek is a place where all Americans can live without fear of police violence. This is the future that I want -- and one that I hope you want, too.
With love and hope,
The letter will be available in over a dozen languages, including Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Hmong, Hindi, Bengali and Japanese. The Google Doc also includes additional information and resources for talking to your loved ones, and other insights that didn't quite make the final version of the letter. The great thing about it is that you can see the many voices that came together to make this all happen.
More here: The inspiring way hundreds of Asian Americans are teaching their families about Black Lives Matter