I’m always at least a little hesitant when I buy a flight home to Virginia. The shitty weather, the old friends who won’t stop talking about high school, and the boring, suburban sprawl of shopping malls and “McMansions” all serve as reminders of why I go to a school on the other side of the country.
But the real, inescapable reason for why I dislike going home is because I find it hard to communicate with my conservative, non-English speaking parents who have very racist views.
Growing up, I learned of my parent’s racial biases through their experiences at work. Their Chinese take-out restaurant was in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Washington, D.C., and whenever their store was robbed or broken into, they would condemn the Black community and attribute the crimes to their race.
From jokes that insulted the appearance of Black women to generalizing all Black people as criminals and thugs, my dad, in particular, wasn’t shy about his racist opinions.
Usually, I ignore my dad’s outwardly prejudiced comments, shrugging off his narrow-minded views as just a Chinese immigrant thing, but this time, when I came home to the horrifying news of once again, police brutality against Black lives, I realized that I couldn’t be complicit to my dad’s anti-Blackness any longer.
When I found the right moment to approach my dad, I asked him if he had been keeping up with the media. I asked him if he had read about the brutal shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille.
He nonchalantly told me he did see the news report, just a couple days ago.
Irritated by his monotonous tone, I spoke intently and said, “I wanted to talk to you. What’s been happening in America is terrifying. Black people are dying and no one cares.”
I asked my dad to explain his anti-Blackness, and unlike his usual candidness, he actually answered quite carefully. He said that his view of Black people was imbalanced because of his limited experiences. He said that he knew there were good Black people out there — living in rich neighborhoods, but he had only engaged with those who lived in conditions of homelessness and poverty.
Speaking slowly and with determination, I reminded my dad that colonialism, slavery, race-based legislation, and the sustained ideals of white supremacy and anti-Blackness all contributed to the cyclical impoverishment, criminalization, and mass incarceration of Black lives.
My dad’s response was a momentary relief: He agreed that Black people had been oppressed for centuries. But my dad began to furrow his eyebrows when I insisted that everyone is responsible for ending systemic inequality and racism.
He responded “aiya” and he shook his head, repeating, “It’s too hard.”
He began to lecture me and told me to be careful and to protect myself, reinforcing the Asian stereotype that we needed to be passive in order to survive.
I needed for him to understand that complicity means upholding white supremacy. I needed for him to understand that in a system of injustice, Asian oppression is tied to Black oppression.
I reminded him that Asian American activists worked alongside Black activists during the Civil Rights movement, and that we were indebted to those who fought to lift the ban on immigration rights, voting rights, and interracial marriage rights. We wouldn’t enjoy our lives so freely if it weren’t for the bravery of those who came before us.
In order for society to progress, we need to hold ourselves responsible for change. This means educating ourselves and challenging those within our community about their racist tendencies.
I urged my dad to bring this discussion to our relatives, and I invited him to the logic that if we began to see ourselves as part of a global community instead of a racially divided one, we would all rush to gain justice for the Black lives lost.
Conversations like the one I had with my dad aren’t all it takes to end racism but it’s an effective and important start. My advice is to start with people who will listen: family members, friends, and then to one’s best judgement, “good white people”.
We can’t afford to be silent any longer. We can’t let racist views slip by us while innocent lives are continuously being lost. We can’t stop the conversation until everyone starts to unlearn their own racism, and until no one forgets that Black Lives Matter.