The construction of binaries in our everyday lives in order to better comprehend the problems that plague our society occurs far too often for it not to be human tendency. We see it everywhere – man vs. woman, baby boomer vs. millennial, black vs. white.
But the reality often is that the underlying social problem is far more nuanced than most people can perceive at first glance.
Many people can understand that a white police officer killing an unarmed black person with impunity points to larger institutional problems. Many people can also understand that white people have constructed a racial hierarchy in which they are at the top.
But what if non-white people – these very people of color who are oppressed by white supremacy – become enablers of white supremacy?
What if, in order to further their own social status, they seek to uphold racial hierarchy by co-opting whiteness and its benefits – at the expense of those who have similar racial experiences to them?
In 2012, neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman shot and killed a Florida high-schooler named Trayvon Martin.
He was acquitted the following year.
In 2014, NYPD officer Peter Liang shot and killed a Brooklyn man named Akai Gurley. While he was convicted of second-degree manslaughter, he was ultimately acquitted of all charges.
Earlier in 2018, Memphis store clerk Anwar Ghazali shot and killed a teen named Dorian Harris, whom Ghazali thought had been stealing. Harris’ body was found two days later – Ghazali was charged with first-degree murder.
These are just a few instances in which people of color have been the facilitators of white supremacy.
To non-black people of color, it is easy to dismiss institutionalized police violence against black people.
It is also easy to argue that police officers of color, or even citizens, who commit the same actions as their white counterparts, have harsher judgments meted against them.
It doesn’t involve us, we think. We think, we suffer racism, too. We deal with our own problems.
Don’t you remember the Chinese Exclusion Act?
Don’t you remember the internment camps?
Aren’t you tired of being told you’re good at math and made fun of for your eyes, food and language?
“Why do you care so much about other people?”
But then, why were there droves of Chinese people coming to support Liang when there was compelling evidence he was guilty?
We have sympathy – empathy, even – for those who look like us. We have compassion where we think it counts.
The question is – why can we not find it when it comes to people with whom we have little in common?
Or, why is there so much hatred in Asian communities for their black counterparts?
Though we aren’t a monolith, I’m suggesting most people of color believe the only thing that ties us together is experiencing racism.
But the United States, whether one would like to think of it as a multicultural melting pot or a mixed salad, is fraught with tension across all racial groups. But it prizes whiteness above all else – and the closer you get to it, the more rewarded you are.
That also means co-opting everything that whiteness stands for and all its history – including institutionalized racism stemming from centuries of chattel slavery of Africans and their descendants, Native American genocide and countless other acts of enacting human suffering.
When we prioritize the status of our own in-groups above the eradication of all white supremacy, we become culpable.
So, let’s not act like people of color are exempt from criticism.