Centering Black Experiences & Leadership for Our Collective Liberation

By Tara Dowd, Deputy Director, JustLead Washington. Contributions by Omid Bagheri and Ada Shen-Jaffe.

Breathing. Its inarguably a right that belongs to every being on this planet, except for in the US where a Black man, not given due process, is murdered before our very eyes. George Floyd, posed no danger to you or to me or to democracy. He was doing his own thing, “legal” or not; it was not enough to mete out a death sentence, or call it what it is, state-sanctioned murder.

We, as non-Black people of color, must remember that when they come for our Black neighbors, loved ones, family, they are coming for ALL OF US. This does not mean, however, that we center ourselves in this moment. Today, here and now, we need to center the power, leadership, and love of Black folx. They are leading us to a new America. One we have dreamt about, and for which we yearn. If we stay unified, we CAN and WILL make changes.

Centering Black experiences and leadership right now does not take away our non-Black people of color story, our plight, our pain. Centering Black experiences is a radical, intentional act of expanding the Circle of Human Concern to reach true belongingness, and illuminating the truth and power of our interconnection. Because truly our stories are just one side to the dynamic helix that is woven into the fabric of White supremacy that exists across this world.

For Indigenous people, our unique history in America, that of enslavement and genocide, means that the Black and Indigenous people on Turtle Island, now known as North America, are some of the most powerful and inherently strong healers and changemakers in the world, because they had to be. The survivorship of people who have already been through so much over hundreds of years will no doubt be sorely tested by the battles we face today, but this is far from the worst we’ve had to endure and overcome.

Just as violence, rot, and pain are woven into the DNA of White supremacy, the humanity of Indigenous peoples is built on steel strength, inner power, and unconditional love. This is why I know we will be triumphant in the battles we must take on. This is why I know that Black, Indigenous, and People of Color are the answer to truly making America great for the first time in history.

Asian people, non-Indigenous and non-Black people of color from East Asia, SE Asia, South, and Western Asia (e.g. middle eastern), have suffered from structural racism through anti-immigration laws, imported slavery to build our railroad system, criminalization through the Chinese Exclusion Act, Japanese Internment, and other acts of targeting and othering based on White Supremacy. US imperialism has caused destruction and destabilization within the places of origin for Asians, who are forever seen as foreign through the lens of Orientalism.

While Asian communities are infinitely varied and distinct from one another, they are often lumped together for the comfort and convenience of white America. White Supremacy uses horizontal oppression dynamics to pit BIPOC against one another as a way of maintaining dominance. Asians have been “granted” greater proximity to whiteness and the conditional privilege that confers to break solidarity between BIPOC, allowing anti-Black racism to occur unchecked in ways that benefit Asian folks. Put plainly, if we resist the resurgence of anti-Asian sentiment that surfaced with COVID-19, if we are against the Muslim ban and perpetual war with countries in the Middle East, if we are against the harms of the ‘model minority’ myth, the Asian community must recognize the seductive power of being co-opted by “proximity to whiteness” and instead, respond with a total, proactive commitment to BIPOC solidarity and what must be a collective fight against anti-Black racism.

We must all be in support of Black leadership to truly become part of a Black-led multi-racial movement. Their battle is our battle and vice versa. Their struggle is our struggle. Their triumph is our triumph. We stand and will act at the great leadership and unconditional love of Black people to lead this fight, as they have had to do for generations, creating the path on which we all walk towards racial justice. We do this not because their story of struggle is worse or better than each of our own, but because our commitment to liberation is inextricably tied with theirs.

Let us seize the moment when Angela Davis says “We are in the midst of the most intense expression of anti-racist collective sentiment this country has ever seen.” Let us be emboldened to act when Michelle Alexander says “America, This Is Your Chance. Let us feel the flurry of possibility when Ta-Nehisi Coates expresses hope and that progress is finally being made.

Collective leadership is the vehicle that leads to collective love. So, let us move and act in community with our Black leaders so that, together, we can change the course of history.

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