When We Talk About Peter Liang

Black lives matter. Black lives have always mattered—even as society refuses to recognize them—black lives will always matter no matter what era we live in, and black lives matter unconditionally, without consequence or footnote.

I have been deeply disappointed with those that participated in last weekend's protests in support of the #FreePeterLiang / #Justice4Liang movement, and I am profoundly troubled by these community members that fail to recognize Liang's complicit role in a system where black death is no surprise or tragedy.

I have also been incredibly frustrated with the way dialogue on such important issues have taken place within our broader Chinese American or Asian American communities.

Powerful pieces seeking justice for Akai Gurley and supporting the conviction of Liang have spread across the internet this past week, and though I value and am moved by the power of these words, I see a gaping void between the criticism and those that are being criticized.

Yes—as Asian Americans, we must never support a system of police brutality, we must support the fight to seek justice for Gurley and countless other murdered black Americans, and we must not rally around a convicted cop that killed a man.

But we have to recognize the deep nuance, patience, and attentiveness necessary within our communities to have the important discussions to move in the direction of justice, and not slam other community members in the face of such challenges.

Article after article that has come out has slammed Asian Americans supporting Liang, pushed Chinese Americans to support the conviction, investigated the space in the racial system Asian Americans hold, and put recent events into historical context.

Here's the thing: I agree with what everyone is saying (except for the NYTimes Magazine article claiming Asian Americans have been politically silent and out of the social justice movement). I second their calls for justice, I appreciate their powerful words supporting black lives, and I wholeheartedly stand behind them in their sentiments of frustration and disappointment towards other Asian Americans. Their strong words are, in part, why I have not written such an essay myself.

Yet what I'm failing to find in most of these pieces, in the conversations that have rocked our communities, in the countless debates on social media and elsewhere, is any attempt to find a space for constructive dialogue.

There is confusion abound. There are missing words or ideas that are translatable to explain race and police brutality, there lacks any infrastructure to bring people together in a meaningful way to attempt any form of education or—at the very least—understanding.

And this is where we (as Asian Americans) have to do better.

I have seen such (rightful) anger come from my friends on Twitter and Facebook, yet many of them forget it took a privileged, $63k/year college education for them to be woke. I have read so many think pieces slamming Chinese Americans for rallying around Liang, but few constructive pieces seeking to bring people together.

It should be evidently clear that the burden of such discourse and education falls upon us, other Asian Americans, and not anyone else. It should be understood that in moments like these, we cannot be silent. It should be demonstrated that we remain with and for black lives unconditionally.

We must find ways to bridge this generational chasm that engulfs any meaningful progress in Asian America. We must be able to have the difficult conversations with our parents, our family members, and our neighbors—and not criticize them before we even try.

It is absolutely a form of remarkable privilege to not have to consider the burdens and dangers of race and racism, of inequality and systemic prejudice, but for those of us that understand these social injustices, we must step up to bridge this lack of awareness.

I think of how much difficulty I have myself in translating these concepts in to Mandarin Chinese: racism, police brutality, and social justice. I think about how broken my father's English is, and how he struggles to understand why I would stand on the street protesting for black lives instead of staying at home.

How do we speak to our communities in a way that they can understand? How can we bridge the linguistic barriers that divide us? How do we, as my friend Jenn at Reappropriate puts it, stop the "Balkanization" of our community?

I'm not entirely sure. It definitely won't be easy. I know I'm going to start by sitting down with my parents, and speak to them the only way I know how—honestly and from a place of good intent.

Then, we must continue to seek justice for those killed and rejected by an unjust system.

Photo: Craig Ruttle / Associated Press