Asians for Black Lives trying to build bridges across communities and generations

Following on a movement that started in the United States, some Asian Torontonians are standing with Black Lives Matters, and have launched a campaign targeting racism within the Asian community.

'There's not a lot of interaction between Asians and blacks and that perpetuates this fear,' says supporter

A sign at a Black Lives Matter Toronto protest on March 26. (Pacinthe Mattar/Twitter)

Following on a movement that started in the United States, some Asian Torontonians are showing their support for Black Lives Matter, and have launched a campaign targeting racism within the Asian community.

Asians for Black Lives is a letter and Twitter campaign that helps young people talk to their elders about fighting anti-black racism.

Vivian Lui is a second-generation Chinese Canadian who shared this letter, in part because of its personal resonance: she is dating a Jamaican man, and in the course of their relationship has noticed "subtle ways that I think the Asian community has fear towards the black community." 

She told CBC Here and Now's Gill Deacon that "I think that one of the biggest difficulties is that there's not a lot of interaction between Asians and blacks and I think that perpetuates this whole fear." 

The letter, she went on to say, can help to build bridges between these communities because it discusses shared experiences, such as fighting for rights, recognition and success in Canada. 

She is also keen to see it shared via more traditional outlets, like community newspapers, so that older generations who may not be active on social media can read it as well.

The letter has been translated into 15 languages.

Reaching those older generations is key, she says, in order to shift attitudes within the community. "Asians really value being collective and communal and I think we tend to stay within our own communities ... and so what makes this powerful is realizing that these issues affect all of us."

Dear Mom, Dad, Uncle, Auntie, Grandfather, Grandmother:

There's something I've wanted to talk with you about. Black people are a part of my life in important ways: they're my friends, my classmates, my partners, and my family. Today, I'm scared for them.

Last week in the United States, police killed a Black man named Alton Sterling while he was selling CDs in front of a store. The next day, police killed another Black man, Philando Castile, after pulling him over for a broken tail light while his girlfriend and four-year-old daughter were in the car.

This year, of the more than 500 people already killed by U.S. police, 25 per cent were Black, even though Black people make up 13 per cent of the population. In Canada, Black people are also negatively stereotyped, targeted and treated violently by the police, and are over-represented in prisons. Canadian police have recently claimed the lives of Andrew Loku, Jermaine Carby, Abdi Hirsi, Bony Jean-Pierre and many other Black people. Overwhelmingly, police do not face any consequences for ending these lives.

This is a terrifying reality that many of my Black friends live with every day.

Even as we hear about the dangers that Black people face, our instinct is sometimes to point at the ways we're different from them, and to shield ourselves from their reality instead of empathizing.- Asians for Black Lives letter

Even as we hear about the dangers that Black people face, our instinct is sometimes to point at the ways we're different from them, and to shield ourselves from their reality instead of empathizing. When a police officer shoots a Black person, it's easy to think it's the victim's fault, because we hear so many negative stereotypes about them in the media, and at our own dinner tables.

I want to share with you how I've come to see things. I think you might see things similarly.

We face discrimination for being Asian in this country. Sometimes people judge us negatively because of our different accents, or deny us opportunities because they don't think of us as "leadership material." Many of our elders have not been able to practice their chosen professions because their education from home was seen as inadequate. Some of us struggle with poverty. Some of us are told we're terrorists, and made to feel unwelcome.

But the police don't regularly gun down our children and parents for simply existing to the same extent that they do with Black and Indigenous peoples. Employers, landlords and institutions also often treat us better than Black and Indigenous peoples.

There are reasons why our Black friends experience things differently. As you may already know, Europeans colonized this continent, stole land and resources from Indigenous peoples and forcibly brought Black people from Africa as slaves. For centuries, their descendants, communities, families and bodies were ripped apart for profit. Even after slavery, they continued to be treated as less than human and were given very little support to rebuild their lives. Black people had to fight for the right to vote or own homes, and faced constant threats of violence, which continue to this day.

In fighting for their own rights, Black activists have led the movement for equality not just for themselves, but for us as well. They've been beaten, jailed, and even killed, fighting for many of the rights that Asians in Canada 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. Many Black people come to Canada as immigrants or refugees, looking for a better life and safety for themselves and their families, just like many of you have. Our struggles, while not all the same, are interconnected.

For all of these reasons, I support Black Lives Matter and other movements for Black liberation. Part of that means speaking up when I see people in my community  —  or my own family  —  say or do things that diminish the humanity of Black people. I am telling you out of love, because I don't want this issue to divide us.

I hope you join me in empathizing with the anger and grief of the parents, siblings, partners and children who have lost their loved ones to police violence. I hope you empathize with my anger and grief, and support me if I choose to be vocal or protest. I ask that you share this letter with your friends, and encourage them to be empathetic and vocal too. I know that it can feel scary to speak up. However, we cannot in good conscience stay silent while fellow human beings' lives are endangered every day, especially by the very system that supposedly protects us.

We are all fighting against the same unfair system that prefers we compete against each other ... Our struggles, while not all the same, are interconnected.- Asians for Black Lives letter

As your child, I am proud and eternally grateful for your long, hard journey here, and that you've worked hard and lived in a place that hasn't always been kind to you. You've never wished your struggles upon me. Instead, you've suffered through a prejudiced Canada to give me a better life than the one you had. We're all in this together, and we cannot feel safe until ALL of our friends, loved ones, and neighbours are safe. We seek a place where everyone in Canada can live without fear of police violence, racism, and discrimination. This is the future that I want  —  I hope you do too.

With love and hope,

Your children

With files from Here and Now