Wanna-be Allies Reading List

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Asian American organized, Black led, rally in support of Black Lives Matter, in Cupertino, CA

I compiled this for a short talk I gave as an ally after a rally in Cupertino in support of BlackLivesMatter and calling to DefundThe Police. Cupertino is heavily East- and South- Asian American, and in the 10 years I’ve lived here has never been the site of any kind of political act — not for Occupy, nor for the Women’s March, let alone any kind of immigration or racial solidarity. People don’t even put campaign signs in their yards or windows. So I am thankful to the organizers, mostly college-age and recent college-grad young people who organized this protest. It is an informal group called South Bay Allies for Black Lives Matter.

Though the organizers and the majority of attendees were Asians, all the pre-march speakers were Black identifying. Allies had the opportunity to address the crowd after the march, through an open-mic system that went for longer than an hour with more than half the ~300+ attendees staying on and listening attentively.

One of the Black folks who spoke before the rally talked about stepping outside your bubble, meeting with people who don’t look like you. The large attendance at the rally showed that there is a great desire on the part of young Asian Americans to be allies with the Movement for Black Lives, and to understand the current system and the history of racism in the US. I’m learning my way to doing this, specially with Black folks who have not been allowed -due to systemic embedded racism- to be a large part of the white-dominated circles that I as a non-Black immigrant have privileged access to.

I will share some things I’ve learned from talking to Black folks and listening to and reading their thinking.

First, they may or may not want to be your friend. So don’t expect that and don’t place a social burden on them. You can be an ally without being a friend, and from the many stories of disappointment we’ve heard from Black folks, vice versa.

You will make mistakes, oftentimes you won’t even know what they are. Just be prepared to receive feedback, and if that is not forthcoming but you notice some indication that you put your foot in your mouth, acknowledge that you might have fcuked up and ask to learn what it was and how to avoid it.

You may not feel comfortable at first. Not their job. Check beforehand that your presence is okay, be quiet, listen, learn and talk to people in private. Under no circumstances should you mistake your feelings of discomfort for “unsafe”, if that is you, walk, and keep walking. I’ve seen it happen, from WMISAs, and will give an example in another post. It is true that you can’t learn when you are unsafe, it is also true that you can’t learn when you feel safe. Maximum learning occurs in your ZPD (from Learning Science) which I will repurpose as Zone of Personal Discomfort.

You are interested in learning. Great! Do not put the emotional and cognitive burden of educating us on Black folks. They have expressed themselves in print and in speech multiple times, with a wide range of personal and academic experience. Yes, there are the classic Black writers — just go look at the texts assigned for courses offered by the African American Studies Departments, and buy them from university bookstores. This is already curated stuff!

Educate yourself before you walk into Black people’s spaces. Start with White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, this is the only white writer I will mention. Yes it is a problem, as many of the people I refer to below point out, that White people have difficulty listening to a Black person on racism. In fact they have difficulty reading anything with “White people” in the title, it is like the ice-cream brain freeze. They prefer to hear it from a fellow White person, which is why most corporate bias and anti-racism and equity training workshops are lead by White Women, or at best by non Black Women of Color. And it is not because “there aren’t enough Black Organizations”.

Why am I talking about White fragility to a bunch of Asians? Because White Fragility, like anti-Black racism, is a cancer. Through the channel of privilege, it has metastasized into the brains and bodies of non-Black POC, which means us. “We weren’t even here during slavery!” Yup, thank you for just demonstrating the need for us to start small, just understand what White Fragility is, then apply it to oneself and one’s own ethnic/racial community.

Okay, here is a list of some of the stuff I’ve read and the people I follow:

Don’t stop with MLK’s I have a dream. This is the white-acceptable mid-stage Kumbaya MLK that White people love — Dream, Hope, Change. And they can misuse the concepts of non-violence and civil disobedience to vilify and invalidate street protests. Do read MLK’s Letter From A Birmingham Jail.

Then there are 40 years of writers. You can get into them. I’m not well-read enough nor qualified.

On Medium, I follow:

Ezinne Ukoha

Lecia Michelle

Beatrice Phi

Marley K and A primer for White People

In Marley K.’s words:”John Gorman wrote a phenomenal piece that I can’t stop browsing titled, “90 days, 400 years, The Multiple Organ Failure of the American Experiment.” … Read it more than once. Then meditate on his words … It’s not for the faint of heart.” (This is on my reading list.)

Other texts etc.

Jennifer Eberhardt Biased. Her research on how to find it and how to reduce it is extremely insightful. Her personal experience makes you awestruck that she fights on. She works with the OPD on anti-bias training. I was tempted to ask one of the momentarily kneeling OPD cops if they had undergone this training and how it had changed them. But before I could work up my courage they started kettling us.

bell hooks (on inequity in education)

Campaign Zero, plenty of other reading on defunding the police and why. Basically, racist police brutality in the US is not a bug, it is a feature.

The Root (Black society, culture and politics, as well as White society culture and politics through a Black lens and LMAO humor!)

Rucker Johnson Children of the Dream, on what demonstrably works to reduce inequity in education — Early childhood programs, equitable state funding and school desegregation (Hello Biden!)

Rachel Cargle (podcasts and on Instagram)

Arwa Mahdawi Guardian columnist writing mostly on feminism, anti-racism and intersectional issues.

Lots of community organizations, listed here.

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