As of this writing in June of 2020, a social movement named Black Lives Matter (BLM) has been at the center of a collection of social justice movements that have intensified and become global. In Japan, South Korea, Australia, the UK, and other nations, the impact of these protests has done an important thing, as far as I am concerned: inserting into everyday conversation—the possibilities to confront racism and anti-blackness in ourselves, the systems and communities we live in, and in our relations with others. Although BLM had its beginnings in 2013, the killing of George Floyd being watched by millions on screens, precipitated a very different response than the usual response (ignoring) to the report of black men dying by white people’s hands in the U.S. As a note, this essay is not about having a “complete” overview. I present some touchstones for thinking.
The connection to oppression and police brutality in relation to Black folks everywhere, seemed clearer than before. In Hapa and Hāfu communities online, and in conversations I have observed and been a part of, I wanted to touch upon some of my thoughts on how this is affecting biracial/multiracial Japanese and Asian people. What is clear is how all of the differences in ethnicity, community, political groups, amount of privilege in race and class/caste, and proximity to our upbringing in Asian nations in relation to our present realities, and issues of power, and other factors, have introduced more tensions and solidarities.
For many younger hapa who identify with a Pan-Asian social community or political group, whose mother or father are from a non-Japan Asian nation, tensions may arise if the Asian parent is from a nation that has a long memory of World War II and the brutality of Japanese soldiers in their respective country. Contrarily, I have noted some hapa of Japanese-American heritage born in the United States or Canada (not Japan), whose parents have a memory of internment, there is a bit more complexity. Some parents were active and became more vocal in relation to unjust policies by the U.S. government and are more hyper-aware. Other parents would demand, still, that the children must bare “suffering” and to not be vocal—criticizing the BLM movement for disrupting the status quo. Still, for other hapa in North America, there is not much conversation with parents about important things. They may join Asians for BLM and other such groups on their own with no knowledge of what their parent think about it. Often, perhaps, the parents either don’t allow conversations about it or stay quiet about their thoughts and may gloss over or invent stories that do not include painful moments.
It was interesting when I had brief conversations with two hapa with mothers who were Japanese but raised in Taiwan. Their stances and situations were complex. These Hapa who had conversations with their parents, were often likely to have capacities for more complex thoughts in relation to colonization and oppression. But on the idea of blackness, their perspectives were very different in relation to their white-American neighborhood communities and exposure to black people of different class levels or activist thinking (or lack of thinking).
Some parents’ prejudices are a mix of class, race, and factors of survival and assimilation. If “blacks would act normal” or “if blacks would not cause trouble” is a common phrase with older generations. When it comes to hapa, it almost always came down to three things: 1) Contact with black folks of various classes or not; 2) Amount of contact with mostly white people; and 3) knowledge of social justice and anti-oppression. In these three categories, there are broad angles and I don’t have enough room here to go into any in detail. In most cases, it is a combination of these three that affect people’s individual views. Our individual views, then, come up alongside other people’s views. With family and close friends, workplaces and communities, we might be surprised when we encounter their thoughts about race and racism and find out their views were not what we may have thought they would be. Since intimacy and knowledge of others in most modern societies, are based on sharing pleasures and very little time with each other (including our parents and friends), the lack of knowledge of political views is a given. But for those who hang out and spend most of their time with friends, not much may change, or they become very big bones of contention and separation (since the intimacy runs deep). Again, all of this depends on how much is being shown or talked about.
In my own conversations and observations, it has also been one of mixed emotions with those hapa who are “all lives matter” folks who complain about blacks and BLM, and those hapa who are on the front lines or near them, pushing the need for our systems to begin to be accountable to its own racisms and oppressions. Often thinking about race may obscure or minimize anti- LGBTQ, Jewish, and Immigrant prejudices who have seen dramatic increases in hate crimes. Although many hapa and mixed-race folks have much to say in these regards, most nations tend to ignore mixed-race folks as anomalies and therefore not taken seriously in relation to race and racism conversations. What intensifies this problem, I feel, is that mixed-race communities also have the oppressions and historical relations between nations and groups within themselves to contend with.
What intensifies this problem, I feel, is that mixed-race communities also have the oppressions and historical relations between nations and groups within themselves to contend with.
But it does not need to be pure and perfect. The fear of conflict also keeps mixed-race folks apart. While there are those who have assimilated into the “old” dominant mainstream of not understanding the multiple forms of oppression in our systems— the history of the exclusion and demotions which are naturalized in the dominant categories of difference within nation-states, including mixed-race folk, one would think we would invest in more work together to begin lessening the normalization of oppressions. It remains to be seen.