Board Member Message
by Sachi Kaneko
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
This is a call to action. In an article for the Washington Post, Dr. Obasogie recently characterized the death of George Floyd as the spread of the “police violence pandemic.” This combined with the effects of the novel Coronavirus are two massive problems within our country that disproportionately affect Black people.
Black men in America are 3.5 times more likely to be killed by law enforcement than their White counterparts (Obasogie, 2020). Available data about the Coronavirus show that counties that are primarily Black have “three times the rate of infections and almost six times the rate of deaths as counties where white residents are the majority” (Thebault, Tran, and Williams, 2020). This is the current climate of being Black in America- it is not chance or happenstance or a series of isolated incidents, it’s systemic.
Systemic racism is a pivotal piece to the founding of our country. Our economy was built on the cheap or free labor of non Whites- a system that continues to persist today. The implicit biases that were fostered by that system to enforce racial hierarchies are long standing and deep.
“The very serious function of racism… is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and so you spend 20 years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is….” -Toni Morrison, Writer and Speaker
As a member of the Japanese American community I know that the real tragedy of our experience was not isolated to the concentration camps, but radiated out from the larger problem of systemic racism- which continued long after the camps were dismantled. We as the Japanese American community should know that you don’t have to build fences and walls to trap a person from their full potential.
So where do we start? Tackling a system that has been present long before we were born can feel overwhelming, but it is imperative that we do the work to be self critical and actively anti-racist. Here is a list of suggestions:
- Question everything- even your own beliefs. Feeling uncomfortable about the violence published by the media in relationship to the protests? Read articles that shed light on the fact that African Americans are more often characterized as violent in the media than Whites (suggested read: The Double Standard of the American Riot by Kellie Carter Jackson in the Atlantic, available online). Remember the words of Ruhel, an immigrant from Bangladesh whose livelihood burned down in Minneapolis from the protests: “’Life is more valuable than anything else,’ he said, hours after his restaurant had burned. ‘We can rebuild a building. But we cannot give this man back to his family’ (Hensley-Clancy, 2020).”
- Listen and trust– what Black community members are saying. If you are not Black, you cannot understand the experience of someone who is. Listen to them. They are doing you a favor. However, keep in mind that it is not the responsibility of the Black community to teach or talk about their experiences. Avoid tokenizing behavior. Additionally, there is a lot of material available online- take the lead on your own education on anti-Black racism.
- Talk with non-Black community members- investigate the biases present within yourself and within your community without making it the work of a community that is already suffering from so much. Take the time to teach your elders and your children about the ways that racial injustice functions in this country. I’m happy to speak with anyone that has any questions: email@example.com. There is also a wonderful google docs online that was constructed for Asian Americans who are looking to be anti-racist by Ellie Yang Camp. The document takes the reader through a series of self-reflective questions and can be a great start to having a dialogue with others (https://www.ellieyangcamp.com/new-blog/anti-racism-for-asian-americans).
- Educate yourself- on the nuances behind racism in the US. Dr. Camara Phyliss Jones provides a theoretical framework to describe the levels of racism: institutionalized, personally mediated and internalized. I highly suggest reading her paper Levels of Racism: A Theoretic Framework and a Gardener’s Tale (https://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/pdf/10.2105/AJPH.90.8.1212).
Also, educate yourself on the ways that the US prison system overwhelmingly affects Black and Brown people. Due to the systemic quality of racism, the checks and balances that were designed to safeguard the rights and liberties of citizens in this country aren’t working; African Americans are disproportionately affected by police violence and incarceration (Suggested read: The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander). Former officer Derek Chauvin, who murdered George Floyd, was the senior officer in the area and in the process of training two new cadets just days on the job, demonstrating how police brutality is taught, and therefore perpetuated, within police forces. Investigate what we can do to help keep our law enforcement accountable.
- Donate: to Black run organizations and charities. See our suggested list.
- Support Black owned businesses! In case you’re hungry here’s a directory of Black owned restaurants in Portland: https://iloveblackfood.com, but there’s a lot of other products besides food that you can buy to help support these businesses.
Speaking on behalf of all our board members: we at the JACL commit to using our position as community leaders to engage our people in conversation. We commit to doing the necessary work of dismantling anti-Blackness within ourselves and confronting how we have benefited from the “model minority” myth that contributes to anti-Black racism. We stand for Black Lives Matter. Join us.
Many thanks to Hiroshi Kaneko, Marilou Carrera and the rest of the board for their meticulous editing skills.
Obasogie, O. K., Dr. (2020, June 05). Perspective | Police killing black people is a pandemic, too. Retrieved June 13, 2020, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/police-violence-pandemic/2020/06/05/e1a2a1b0-a669-11ea-b619-3f9133bbb482_story.html
McPhillips, D. (2020, June 3). Data Show Deaths From Police Violence Disproportionately Affect People of Color. Retrieved June 13, 2020, from https://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2020-06-03/data-show-deaths-from-police-violence-disproportionately-affect-people-of-color
Thebault, R., Tran, A., & Williams, V. (2020, April 07). The coronavirus is infecting and killing black Americans at an alarmingly high rate. Retrieved June 13, 2020, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/04/07/coronavirus-is-infecting-killing-black-americans-an-alarmingly-high-rate-post-analysis-shows/?arc404=true
Taylor, D. B. (2020, May 30). George Floyd Protests: A Timeline. Retrieved June 13, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/article/george-floyd-protests-timeline.html
BBC. (2020, June 08). George Floyd: What we know about the officers charged over his death. Retrieved June 13, 2020, from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-52969205
Hensley-Clancy, M. (2020, May 29). Their Restaurant Burned Down In The Minneapolis Protests. They Just Want Justice For George Floyd. Retrieved June 13, 2020, from https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/mollyhensleyclancy/minneapolis-protest-george-floyd-gandhi-mahal
Jones, C. (2000). Levels of racism: A theoretic framework and a gardener’s tale. American Journal of Public Health,90(8), 1212-1215. doi:10.2105/ajph.90.8.1212
Yang Camp, E. (2020). Anti-Racism for Asian Americans. Retrieved from https://docs.google.com/document/d/1fgWyOsA4ardbMxcivlK1UNYG6GxNOYeU88RUdj2kBGI/edit