Like many other Asian American teens living through this pivotal time in the Black Lives Matter movement, I found myself struggling to talk to my Asian immigrant parents about certain issues. It wasn’t the fear that they would angrily disagree with me, but rather the uncertainty of where to even start such a conversation.
There is no question about the deep, personal struggles both my parents faced from the moment they entered this country. They came in hopes of providing a better future for their children, but moving to a foreign country presents its obvious difficulties. There was this fine line between educating them on a topic they didn’t know much about, and carefully doing so in a way that would also acknowledge their past experiences with racism. But I also understood from the very beginning of these humanitarian issues coming to light, that this was a distinctly pressing situation that needed to be heard and addressed.
1. Get comfortable with the terms.
The first thing I did in preparation was familiarizing myself with some key terms in my parents’ native language. Having read a thread on Instagram titled “Important Korean Terms to Know when Addressing Anti-Blackness,” I was able to initiate a conversation about the BLM movement with my parents using the essential vocabulary. We talked broadly about systematic racism for all minority groups in America. I ended up learning that my parents supported the movement, but were alarmed by violent news coverage of the protests going on at the time.
2. Prepare to just sit and listen.
The initial step of bringing up this topic is always the hardest, but now I had somewhat of a broad gage on where everyone stood. After the first conversation, I decided to speak to my mom and dad individually and go more in depth about their personal stances on specific issues.
I approached the conversation with my dad by bringing up past instances of police brutality. When my dad learned about the shooting of Tamir Rice, he was both shocked and angry, knowing how different things would have been if Tamir was not the Black boy that society unconsciously labels as a “threat”. I then introduced my dad to the campaign of defunding the police, which he immediately was on board with. Because I didn’t come with fierce rebuttals ready to go, I was able to just sit and listen; and I ended up discovering how much compassion my dad already had for the Black community.
Getting through to my mom proved to be significantly more difficult. She told me that of course she supported the BLM movement, but she also was aware of the continuous prejudice against Asians. She couldn’t just forget how hard it was for her and her friends to settle down in this country. I am sure that all Asian Americans know how normalized racism is against each of our specific cultures, because we grew up with it too.
Conversing with my mom made me realize that many Asian parents struggle to show unwavering support for the BLM movement because they see it as discrediting their own battles with racial prejudice. This is, however, precisely why we need to be having these discussions with our parents- to reassure them that their hardships are completely seen and valid. While I do believe that this generation has a calling to focus on the Black community, I wanted to first create a safe environment free of judgement, making her feel like her struggles mattered and still do. There are things our Asian immigrant parents have gone through, that we may never have to experience ourselves. The least we can do is keep an open mind and hear them out.
3. Do your own research. And then some more.
After listening to everything my parents had to say, I decided to dig deeper into all the issues we talked about. I came across insightful information about the history of Asian-Black relations over the years, the fear of Black men, the impact of media’s representation of Black and Asian characters, and more. I try my best to continually feed my knowledge with relevant articles, documentaries, and occasional chats with my Black friends. And through these efforts, I was able to have stimulating conversations with my family and change even just a small part of my mom’s original worldview.
Finally, I want to emphasize how incredibly privileged I am to be having these conversations and not having to experience them first-hand. Doing your own research is one way we can all use our privilege in an impactful way. Research is not just a final step, but rather an ongoing process. No matter how much I think I know, or how much I think I can educate my parents on a subject, there will always be something new I can take in. This kind of research is a never ending process. But if we all put in the effort to educate ourselves and others on today’s affairs, we truly are getting closer to making our society a better place to live in.
Today, I am so confident and proud knowing that our family firmly believes that this is a humanitarian issue that deserves all the attention and help it can get.