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6 Historical Instances Of Asian-Black Solidarity That Are Relevant Every Day

Celebrating moments in history when solidarity meant more than a retweet.

In the last decade, solidarity has become a dirty word, often connoting misunderstood fears, cultural pandering, and detraction from specific issues. Once a powerful, subversive symbol uniting downtrodden groups in radical protests, solidarity used to drive movements like the Yellow Peril protests for the Black Panthers or UC Berkeley's civil rights movement, during which Vice President Kamala Harris’s Indian mother and Jamaican father found kinship.

Now the term “solidarity” is perhaps best illustrated by the confusion over the widely misappropriated “blackout” “protest” (note the quotation marks on “protest”), wherein people scared of stating their opinion on Black Lives Matter could simultaneously pander and safely say nothing by posting a black square in a “brave” act of defiance toward our internet overlords.

illustration of a book
Kathy Hoang / BuzzFeed

Solidarity shouldn’t be about taking away from Black issues. It’s about putting more numbers, power, and votes behind issues that disproportionately harm Black people but ultimately impact all people of color. Without Black protesters, non-Black people of color would not have today’s (more) “equal” employment rights. Without Black protesters, POC wouldn’t have been able to marry interracially. Without Black protesters, POC wouldn’t have Latinx or Asian American studies in universities.

Black History Month is about celebrating Black history and the positive things that spring from the Black community. History is constantly being written. Black support for Asian American causes, and vice versa, has been largely written out.

In our current maelstrom of constant cultural criticism and negativity, let’s take a moment to celebrate moments in history when solidarity meant more than a retweet:

1. The UT 10

illustration of students protesting
Kathy Hoang / BuzzFeed

In May 1999, 10 student protesters were arrested after a five-hour sit-in supporting the creation of an Asian American studies program at the University of Texas in Austin. Students had been going back and forth with the university since 1995 trying to institute an Asian American studies program, culminating in the arrests.

Among the protesters arrested was student Shomial Ahmad, who stood in solidarity with the multicultural group — which became known on campus as the UT 10. Similar stories played out at UC Berkeley and UCLA in the ‘60s and ‘70s as other Black academics and protesters supported the creation of sister ethnic studies programs.

2. Grace Lee Boggs

image of grace lee boggs
Courtesy Everett Collection

Activist and philosopher Grace Lee Boggs spent more than 70 years supporting the Black freedom movement. She was best known for her political collaboration with renowned activists C.L.R. James and Raya Dunayevskaya in the 1940s and 1950s. Grace, along with her husband, James Earl Boggs, devoted herself to rebuilding Detroit until her death in 2015.

Grace embraced the central philosophy that positive social change happens by working together in small groups, where people “emancipate themselves,” rather than in large revolutions, where power is simply transferred, Animal Farm–style, to the group that comes out on top.

3. Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay

illustration of kamaladevi chattopadhyay
Kathy Hoang / BuzzFeed

Before Kamala Harris became the first South Asian woman elected to the US Senate and later to the position of vice president, there was another famous Kamala: anti-colonial activist and feminist Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay. (Fun fact: Did you know that our VP’s middle name is also "Devi"?) Kamaladevi spread Gandhi’s message of nonviolent protest among prominent Southern Black civil rights activists like Martin Luther King Jr. and Booker T. Washington.

When Chattopadhyay was asked to leave a “whites only” train car in 1941, she refused. “I am a colored woman, obviously, and it is unnecessary for you to disturb me, for I have no intention of moving from here,” she said when questioned about her race.

4. Jesse Jackson Supporting Vincent Chin Protests

jesse jackson with fellow supporters at a rally in portsmouth square
Unity Newspaper / Unity Archives Project / Via eastwindezine.com

In 1982, Vincent Chin was celebrating his bachelor party at a Detroit strip club with his friends. Everybody was drunk and in a good mood; their best buddy was getting married in eight days! Recently laid off from their jobs at the Chrysler factory, Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz were bubbling with resentment at Japanese people allegedly coming to take their jobs. Following some rude comments questioning Asian masculinity, a bar fight ensued and escalated. Chin had his skull caved in with a baseball and died four days later. The killers walked free with a $3,000 fine and no jail time.

Black community leaders rallied behind the Asian American community, most notably the Rev. Jesse Jackson (who, like the late, great Shirley Chisholm, tried to be the first Black president of the United States).

“You really gain character when you fight. If I was just fighting for Vincent Chin, that’s one thing. But this is another dimension. We must have the capacity to fight for others than ourselves. That’s where our strength really is,” said Jackson in an interview with veteran Asian activists May Louie, Mike Murase, Cindy Ng, Mabel Teng, and Butch Wing.

5. Toni Morrison’s Friendship With Maxine Hong Kingston

illustration of toni morrison and maxine hong kingston
Kathy Hoang / BuzzFeed

In 1985, three seminal American authors boarded a plane to China. Sponsored by the Chinese Writers Association and the University of California, Los Angeles, Toni Morrison, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Leslie Marmon Silko, among other celebrated writers, went up the Li River in a boat.

Morrison and Kingston re-created ghost worlds in their writing, blurring the lines of time and reality to seize power and identity. During a reunion at the 92nd Street YMCA in 2012, Morrison and Kingston discussed shared struggles as POC women and the inspiration they found in China.

6. Donald Harris and Shyamala Gopalan

For more of BuzzFeed's Black History Month content, click here.

Brooke Greenberg / BuzzFeed

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