The tragic deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice have ignited a multicultural national movement, exposing a deep-seated war of racial injustice towards the black community. Led by a new wave of black leaders, #BlackLivesMatter is truly taking form with no signs of stopping. We asked #BlackLivesMatter organizers Ellen Choy of #Asians4BlackLives Oakland and Chinyere Tutashinda of The BlackOUT Collective: Is #BlackLivesMatter the civil rights movement of our generation?
Amy Chen: How did you join #BlackLivesMatter and what does the movement mean to you?
Ellen Choy: #Asians4BlackLives was formed right after the Eric Garner non-indictment. Coming from a community that also experiences anti-black racism, as communities of color allies, I felt this huge responsibility to step up in a big way. So my friend and I decided to put a list together of people we trusted and go from there.
Chinyere Tutashinda: I was definitely deeply saddened by the death of Mike Brown and even before with the death of Trayvon Martin. That level of sadness pushed me to the brink and motivated me to organize around racial justice even more than before. I was also inspired by the people of Ferguson, how they were responding every day and demanding change. In October, I was given the opportunity by the Ruckus Society to go to Ferguson and that's where the BlackOUT collective began.
What issues matter most to you within #BlackLivesMatter?
EC: It’s really about ending the war on black people. Black communities are not interested in a war. The war is being waged on them, but not by choice. Valuing black lives starts with how we value our families and understanding where we come from. We’re fighting the domestic front of the war similar to the wars our families have fought in Korea, Vietnam, South Asia, Pakistan. The difference is that the black community is the one being targeted now. I feel part of our responsibility as Asian-Americans is to not only show solidarity through our actions but also to create a curriculum to help our families start talking about race relations in our schools, classes and kitchen tables.
Hella Organized Bay Area Koreans (HOBAK) made this 7 minute video - 5 scenarios that you might experience when talking to your families about anti-Black racism and the Black Lives matter movement.
Where do you see the opportunity for work across race and community on #BlackLivesMatter?
EC: It’s important for us as Asian-American allies and other non-black allies to center things around black leadership. As well as listen to the national call-out from Ferguson. We’ve been seeing a lot of white allies, especially with the Oakland Police Department action. They threw down a lot of resources. All of these other communities are starting to form, similar to #Asians4Blacklives, chicano and native groups are starting to form along their racial identities with the idea that no community of color is free until the black community is free.
CT: The opportunity to work across communities has been so vast. Having conversations about anti-black racism is difficult and has been in the past but #BlackLivesMatter has sparked the conversation and communities are starting to understand how black oppression affects the black community.
How do you view #BlackLivesMatter in connection to the Civil Rights movement?
EC: Thinking about MLK’s legacy, part of it is his commitment to civil disobedience and direct action. It’s a commitment to putting our bodies on the line. All of these actions to shut it down are just reminders of the civil rights movement- many people were inconvenienced. One powerful difference that I’ve been seeing though is — across the board leadership — leadership coming from queer, trans and women leaders. It’s a trend that’s been growing in grassroots organizing. The level of love and accountability — there’s a lot less ego and more trust.
CT: I feel strong connections to other black organizers, but not those necessarily from the civil rights movement. I feel connected to Marcus Garvey and the pan-Africanism movements. I think about the slave rebellions and the abolitionist movements. Also, coming from Oakland, I feel a connection to the Black Panthers.
Where do you see the opportunity to engage elected officials in the movement? Do you envision a political arm within your organization structure?
EC: The question right now is what side are you on? Silence is also taking a side. What people want to see is political leaders taking a stand for black lives. Some of the direct callouts have been defunding the police and setting accountability structures over the police.
CT: This is something that BlackOUT is not working on and we've been clear about supporting other organizations doing the political organizing work. I know that other groups have been able to take the momentum of #BlackLivesMatter and engage in important conversations with elected officials. So I'm excited for what's to come.
These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.