Opinion: Solidarity among minorities is largely performative, but it doesn’t have to be
“I’m glad to see a brother on this campus, I thought the Chinese were taking over.”
Those were the words spoken to me by my Uber driver around 3 a.m. on a Tuesday morning a few weeks ago. A St. Louis native previously involved in gangs—an experience that ended with him being shot and stabbed multiple times—he was making his way in the world by driving Washington University students to and from campus, a campus with a complicated history with his hometown. I’ll be brutally honest with you all: My first thought when I heard these words wasn’t shock or outrage, but happiness and relief. No, I don’t agree with the sentiment that foreigners are coming to America to take our jobs and livelihoods, or that letting more immigrants come to America is a bad thing, or his thinking that Chinese students are “taking over”. I was happy because someone acknowledged the tremendous struggle it is to be Black, whether it be as a student or just in general. I was relieved because I knew he was truly, unashamedly and happily an ally to me, something I have found lacking in other minority communities.
The various women’s marches around the country since the last presidential election were attended by people of all backgrounds, all vowing to unite and stand against all forms of hate. Their pink hats and hashtags serve as reminders of their right to protest injustice in America. But protests about the killings of unarmed Black people aren’t as popular outside of the Black community. Sure, there are activists of other identities that show up, but never in numbers that make the news and force the conversation. It seems that the fewer opportunities there are to show off your activism, the fewer times people show up. There are no hats for the ever-increasing number of Black people murdered by law enforcement. The feeling of support I felt from the driver was magnified because of the recent attacks on minorities in America. Lost in the pipe bombs sent to critics of that guy who lost the popular vote, or the terrorist attack (yes, it was) on a Jewish community in Pittsburgh, were two more Black Americans being gunned down while grocery shopping in Kentucky. So far, only one of these incidents received that all-too-important Facebook filter.
Whenever horrific acts of violence are committed against minority communities, there is usually an accompanying upswing in activism, mostly coming from the group that the violence was committed against. There’s usually a call for unity among all communities to stand up to hate and violence. But those same people calling for support in their time of need are largely absent whenever an equally terrible attack happens in a community different than their own. That’s why, as it currently stands, acts of solidarity among minority communities are worthless, empty self-indulgent displays of faux activism and empathy—but it doesn’t have to be that way. We can, as oppressed communities, support one another fully without ignoring our own groups.
Whenever a tragedy or racist incident that attracts a lot of attention occurs there seems to be a hierarchy of outrage. The closer the community is to the white ruling class, the more the more outrage they get from other groups. Focusing in on Wash. U., we see this play out in plain view. An example is the infamous GroupMe incident, in which first-year students let their opinions on Asian students be known. There were statements and occupations to protest the underlying racism against Asians and Asian-Americans on campus. But when there was a Snapchat of Asian students in black face masks with a caption insinuating that they wanted it to represent Blackface, there was fast response, but not of the same magnitude. This could be because of the respective populations of each minority group at our school, but it is also in part due to that hierarchy. If you were a part of those reactionary events, ask yourself this: If the GroupMe said racist things against a Latinx student, would you have cared? I ask to get you to think about how you and our society perceive injustices against different groups of people.
What about a Native student? Jewish? Muslim? I wouldn’t, and I didn’t care when it happened. It isn’t because I didn’t feel for the Asian community, and it isn’t because I have an “us vs. them” mentality concerning the fight for minority rights. It was because I was so tired of asking for help whenever the Black community was met with silence. It was because I have become hyper-protective of the Black community at Wash. U., and I don’t want any additional burdens placed on students who already have to deal with so much on a daily basis. I’m sure you have felt similar thoughts with your community in mind.
Do these thoughts make us bad people? No, it makes us human, and it’s hard to constantly expend so much emotional energy defending our own communities and still have enough left to defend others that you care about. As oppressed communities, there is only so much we can give before we reach our breaking point, and many of us have long passed it. These examples are not meant to serve as an attack, but as a harsh reality that we must face: Minority communities have not been there for each other in times of need, and the relationships between us need to be fixed immediately.
How do we fix these relationships that involve so much history and pain? How do Black Americans support other minority communities that have regularly stepped on them to improve their standing in life and be that model minority the white majority praises them to be? How can the Latinx community support others when the rich and beautiful history of their people is lumped into everyone being Mexican? How can Asians fulfill their version of the American dream without being seen as invaders? How the LGBTQIA* community fight for their civil rights when so many of the same people who fought in the ‘60s see them as unnatural or dangerous? These questions are daunting, overwhelming, depressing, maddening, scary and make even the strongest among us want to quit. But the solution is simple.
The histories of minority communities in America are convoluted and filled with anger. To move forward as a true collective of communities that support one another we must admit what we have done wrong to each other, forgive each other and have a fresh start in our relationships, a fresh start focused on the battles yet to come. Forgiving does not excuse or erase our complicated histories, but it builds on the positives of our shared past while using our similar goals and dreams to fuel our future together. Being able to admit our own wrongdoings while providing an open, welcoming and supportive space to other oppressed communities is how we can truly become allies in the never-ending fight for equality. I am sorry I haven’t cared about your struggles as much as I should have. I forgive you for doing the same.
Monumental changes in society cannot be done alone. We need each other more than ever.