Afro-Asian solidarity: Building the multinational unity needed for liberation

Nov 15, 2021

Photo: Quench Your Eyes

Editor’s note: The article was originally published in the Winter ’21-’22 issue of Breaking the Chains magazine.

During the summer of 2020, tens of millions of people took to the streets to participate in the largest uprising in this country’s history. From the smallest towns to the biggest cities, working people across races, genders and ages joined together to demand justice for all victims of police terror.

The national spotlight was primarily on Black victims of police terror like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and many more. But the righteous anger did not only stem from Black people. The rebellion of Black people brought millions of working class people from every racial background in the streets, shaking the racist foundation of this country. And when a racist, sexist, anti-Asian massacre in Atlanta took the lives of 8 of our working-class siblings, it wasn’t just Asian people in the streets. The crowds, standing shoulder to shoulder with each other in the face of racist hate were multinational.

The solidarity demonstrated throughout the summer of 2020 and beyond remains an undeniably powerful force, that achieved concessions previously thought to be impossible. For many, the heated struggle in the streets demonstrated not only the possibility, but the necessity of solidarity in fighting for our liberation. For the ruling class — which benefits from keeping our class divided — that solidarity was a threat to the status quo. The ruling class has long attempted to thwart working-class solidarity by pitting racial groups against one another, a history that includes dividing Black and Asian people.

A history of false division

Racism is a most powerful tool in the hands of the U.S. ruling class to keep the multinational working class divided. Racist tropes have been exploited to seemingly uplift one racial group while damning others, overall pitting people of different backgrounds against one another, rather than against our common enemy — the ruling class.

The contemporary “Model Minority Myth,” seemingly props up Asians in the United States as having persisted and succeeded in the face of hardship, while pointing a finger at Black Americans and various immigrant groups, as simply incapable of doing the same. Sweeping falsities have proclaimed all Asians, devoid of national and cultural distinctions, as “book intelligent,” while at the same time promoting all Black Americans as ignorant, lazy and dangerous.

This myth is insulting toward both Asian and Black communities. It ignores the institutionalized racism that has deeply impacted both communities, past and present. Black people today continue to suffer from the decades of racial segregation in housing, staggering rates of incarceration and underfunded schools and social programming. These cannot be divorced from centuries of slavery and decades of Jim Crow. The discrimination and hate crimes Asians of all nationalities experience today are rooted in the Chinese Exclusion Act, Japanese internment camps, decades of racist exploitation and decades-long aggression toward China and other Asian countries that fought for and won independence. The racist stereotypes and myth-making obscure, and attempt to bury, the history of racist oppression and exploitation of Black and Asian communities.

In reality, the “Model Minority Myth” was created as an attempt to sow division and distrust with the Black Power movement and other anti-racist movements during the 1960s and 1970s. The Model Minority Myth was revisited when hate crimes targeting Asian Americans recently increased. Some pointed to Black Americans as a source of anti-Asian racism, and stronger policing as the solution. Ultimately, harsher policing only serves to enforce white supremacy and disrupt both communities.

These attempts to divide oppressed communities have not been unsuccessful. Tension and mistrust between Black and Asian people and, at times, between large portions of each community exists. It would be naive to ignore that reality. But the tensions are a result of the deeply racist and negligent structures of capitalist society that leave people to bear the individual burden of social problems and pit people against each other.

While Black and Asian communities have unique experiences with racism in the United States, our struggles mirror each other. From housing discrimination and anti-immigrant policies, to the underfunding of our schools and rampant police brutality, white supremacy is a festering disease targeting and killing all of us. Black and Asian histories have always been intertwined, and we’ve been strongest when we view our struggles as intertwined, too. There is a proud history of Afro-Asian solidarity creating a powerful weapon against white supremacy that demonstrates just how critical our ongoing unity is.

Afro-Asian solidarity against racism and imperialism

Throughout the 20th century, Black and Asian communities joined forces to fight exploitation and racism at home, and war and imperialist destruction abroad. Grace Lee Boggs, a Chinese-American labor organizer fought alongside Black autoworkers in Detroit to denounce World War II. She stressed the importance of bridging solidarity across people of different backgrounds and across issues, connecting the labor movement to the anti-war movement. Yuri Kochiyama was a Japanese-American civil rights activist engaged in the fight for Black and Puerto Rican self-determination, and a fierce anti-imperialist. She fought for the freedom of political prisoners unjustly targeted for their organizing, and co-founded Asians for Mumia to fight for the release of Mumia Abu-Jamal.

In the 1930s, the movement for Chinese independence began to gain support among Black communities because it reflected the struggle for Black self-determination. The newly formed Communist Government of China in 1949 immediately initiated solidarity with the anti-colonial and national independence struggles across the world. By contrast, the capitalist superpowers of the world sought to crush the same movements, including that in China. However, Black people in the United States saw through the fault lines, showing solidarity in return against the Cold War in China, drawing connections between their own experiences with Jim Crow, economic exploitation, and a lack of public resources.

Similarly, in the 1950s, the Black community became a strong opponent to the continued U.S. bombing and destruction of Vietnam. In the same way racism permeated every aspect of life in the United States in the 1950s, Black people recognized the racist ideology that motivated the war on Vietnam. Both with racist histories shaped by white supremacy, Vietnamese and Black people understood that they had more to gain by joining together against white supremacy, rather than fighting each other.

A common enemy

The history of solidarity between Black and Asian communities is not new, and in the wake of the increasing wars on Black America and China, it is as important as ever to continue to strengthen our unity against white supremacy. Of course, there will be bumps in the road as we work to build the level of solidarity we need; nothing about organizing to defeat white supremacy is easy. But we don’t build solidarity because it’s easy; we build it because it’s necessary. Solidarity is the strongest tool we have in the fight against racism and imperialism today, and it is imperative that Black and Asian communities unite across differences and recognize our similarities. We can’t and won’t stop until we build a world free of hate crimes, free of white supremacy, and free of imperialism!

The colonial roots of Zionism

The colonial roots of Zionism

The following two-part series of The Socialist Program with Brian Becker delves into the real history of the Israeli state. Both episodes feature Richard Becker, author of Palestine, Israel and the U.S. Empire—a book for which Liberation School has a study and...

The colonial roots of Zionism

The colonial roots of Zionism

The following two-part series of The Socialist Program with Brian Becker delves into the real history of the Israeli state. Both episodes feature Richard Becker, author of Palestine, Israel and the U.S. Empire—a book for which Liberation School has a study and...