In the wake of yet another Black American’s death at the hands of the police, the United States has been struck by protests demanding an end to racism and police brutality. As the video surfaced, the inaction of a then-Minneapolis officer, Tou Thao, a Hmong-American who stood with his back turned as his white colleague knelt on George Floyd’s neck, has become an important symbol of why Asian Americans cannot afford to be silent watchers with hands in their pockets.

The racist legacy of slavery and segregation still impacts the life chances that Black Americans struggle for, contributing to lasting racial disparities. Due to centuries-long employment of exclusionary strategies, black people were not able to benefit from wealth-generating policies as much as their white counterparts did.

Today, the median household income for an American white middle class family is $171,000 while blacks stagger behind with a median income of only $17,600. This stark difference drives the vicious cycle of wealth inequality that translates in financial insecurity and fewer opportunities to reach upward mobility. Due to a lack of wealth, historically, banks were reluctant to issue mortgage loans to black people which prevented them from acquiring house ownership. Today, just 41 percent of black households are homeowners, compared with 73 percent of white households. Besides this, research shows resumes with white sounding names are 50 percent more likely to get a call-back than black sounding names. This exhibits that the labour market systematically oppresses black Americans.

Additionally, black neighbourhoods are poorly funded and neglected by the state. The healthcare provided is pervaded with inequities; during childbirth, black women lose their lives at unacceptable rates, highlighting the lack of resources available. Another immense problem is these neighbourhoods are excessively policed and face police brutality at alarming rates. Witnessing or experiencing police violence can leave their community with elevated anxiety and mental health issues.

Despite of all these incessant plights encountered by black people, Asian Americans continue to remain ignorant to these pressing concerns and their contribution in furthering anti-blackness in their own communities.

Asian Americans and Black Americans have suffered from strained relations, consequent on information fed by white supremacists against black people, setting us in opposition to each other. Following the Vietnam war, America resettled Southeast Asian refugees in under-funded urban areas, such as Bronx, New York and Long Beach, where black and brown communities already resided. The tension originated when all these communities, who were never sufficiently introduced to each other, had to fight for the same sparse resources.

Another example can be found in the Los Angeles riots, which ensued after the acquittal of four officers affiliated with the Los Angeles Police Department for the severe beating of a black motorist, Rodney King in 1991. This resulted in around $1 billion dollars’ worth of damage, half of it sustained by Korean-owned businesses, further widening racial division.

Our community has gained significantly from the ‘model minority myth’, driving a racial wedge between Asians and black people. It was initiated by white supremacists to suppress black movements, using Asian Americans as ‘evidence’ of equal opportunities. The reason why Asians Americans became accomplished was because they were given access to resources that were otherwise denied to Black Americans who were still struggling against bigotry and segregation. Many South Asians have historically benefitted from their diversity of colour line. People who are lighter skinned have gained from the existing racial hierarchy by enjoying a closer proximity to whiteness and the benefits that come with it. Those who have a darker skin tone are thought to belong to a ‘lower caste’ and are excluded from participating in the community, skin colour being considered a social marker of socioeconomic class allegiance. This issue is further amplified by skin whitening creams, a massively profitable industry in South Asia, which capitalise on the colonial notion of fairness being linked to beauty and superiority.

Colourism plagues lives regularly whether through employment possibilities, marriage proposals, or simply derogatory remarks by family members. Black people continue to be targeted with racial and comedic slurs, with nobody ever questioning the racist connotations behind the language used.

As South Asians, we should be cognisant of the fact that major barriers of racial discrimination, which impeded the well-being of minority communities, were subsided in their pursuit of justice by black activists. Hence, we owe a lot to these champions of humanity: Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr, who called out injustices against Asians and condemned the Vietnam War, Reverend Jesse Jackson who took time to pledge support to the campaign seeking answers to the racist murder of Vincent Chin in 1982, to those who fought to end the racial quota system and passed the Immigration Act of 1965, removing limitations to Asian immigration, who were previously excluded. And so many more.

In fact, the term Asian American was first coined during the inception of the Asian American Political Alliance, which was involved in the Black Power Movement and marched against the incarceration of Huey P Newton, the founder of Black Panther.

Clearly, our identity is intertwined with the black history.

It is imperative for us to recognise that our suffering will never come close to that of the Black Americans who have endured systematic dehumanisation historically and continue to face it today.

To help the cause of the blacks, we must donate to fundraisers and organisations that raise their voices to combat racism. South Asian diaspora should support local black-owned businesses by purchasing their products. We should also give black people the space to grieve by not sharing videos or images of them being harassed or ridiculed. But keep in mind to reach out to your black friends and community members: reassure them of your support and commit to listening to their concerns.

It is also a high time we protest corporate exploitation of skin colour perceptions and boycott skin whitening products. As we actively engage and stand in solidarity with the black community, we must dismantle our privileges and educate ourselves and others about the persisting anti blackness. We must engage in the prolonged, but much needed, difficult conversations in our community.

It is time to transfer our activism to the physical world.

We must turn our historic segregation into collective liberation.

Black Lives Matter.