Open letter to Chinese American moms #blacklivesmatter

betty ming liu Inspiration, Relationships 19 Comments

If you’re reading this and you’re not Chinese, American or Mom, please stay — and welcome! You are essential to the conversation too. It’s just that I feel a need to talk directly with a group that looks most like me, to reassure us that we are not alone.

I have also added a Chinese translation of this blog post. You can find it by clicking HERE.

Dear Chinese American Moms,

I am reaching out to you because we are in danger of losing our kids and all that we love. Every day brings news of violent and deadly conflicts between police and Black men. Everyone is grieving and talking about a new civil war, a country in crisis.

It is time for Chinese American mothers to take charge of our destiny and protect our families. We possess too much power and personal vision to sit this one out.

Look at us. We are first-class influencers. With our legendary and notorious talents for mothering, we send so many of our kids to college. They are part of the remarkable wave of Asian Americans, multiracials and biracials who will someday lead this nation. We are also economic forces in our own right. Most of us work outside the home or own businesses.

We do so much, know so much, feel so much. And now, we need to throw our support behind #BlackLivesMatter.

If you think that issues between the police and Black folks is “their” problem, you have a point. Cops are most likely to stop someone who is Black. Cops are also most likely to use force in dealing with Black people, according to a new study, which reviewed 19,000 cases across nearly a dozen cities.

But remember, the police kill Asians too. It has happened before and can happen again. Next time, it could be one of us, or one of our kids:

  • In 1997, Sonoma County police fatally shot engineer Kuanchung Kao, 33, as he stood on his front lawn, drunk. An officer said he feared Kao, who was 5’7″ would attack him with martial arts.
  • In 2003, San Jose police fatally shot Cau Bich Tran, 25. The emotionally troubled, 4′ 9″, 98-pound Vietnamese immigrant mom went down as she held a vegetable peeler in her kitchen.
  • In 2006, Minneapolis police fatally shot bicyclist Fong Lee. When cops questioned if he had a gun, the scared son of Laotian immigrants fled empty handed — while eight bullets pierced his body.

Escalating tensions between cops and civilians verge on hysteria throughout the country. And, this stuff is not happening in Black neighborhoods where it would be “their” problem.

Going forward, we live and die together. We’ve seen assault weapons fire from every direction. They can kill or injure us or the ones we love any time, anywhere.  All it takes to die is wrong place, wrong time.


Are Asian Americans anti-Black?

Chinese American moms can instantly help make America a safer place by uniting with the Black community. This is a radical thought because everyone is also talking about Asian Americans being anti-Black, especially immigrants.

As people who suffered from anti-Chinese racism that banned us from immigrating for decades, any form of anti-Blackness from us is hypocritical. Besides, our kids who are born and raised in the U.S. embrace Blackness as part of their American heritage.

American-born Chinese kids like me grew up admiring the political and artistic achievements of African Americans, and making friends. It might be a cliché to mention rap music and basketball but Black American heroes has always inspired those of us who are ABC.

You know the names. Jeremy Lin, who is of Chinese heritage and the son of Taiwanese immigrants. Eddie Huang, another one with similar roots, who is story behind the NBC’s “Fresh Off the Boat.” The hit TV show stars Chinese American wonder boy, Hudson Yang.


Our sons done good by chillin’ with the brothers. But of course, there is the unspoken fear about girls.

Back in 2012, a very funny, 2-minute YouTube video went viral. “Sh*t Asian Moms Say” spoke to the deepest anti-Black fear — that good Asian girls would sleep with Blackness.

In the video, the Asian mom tells her daughter, “I know you try to sex every day! So embarrass me! Don’t forget your culture! Confucius say!”

The mom also questions: “Why you so dark? Is he the Black guy? Why you like the Black guy? Is he your boyfriend? I tell you, no boyfriend!” The mom jabs her finger at the poster in the daughter’s room, which features rapper Lil Wayne, who writes the most awful, anti-woman lyrics.


Time to look in the mirror

Which brings us to serious girl talk among us Chinese American moms.

FT_15.06.12.InterracialAsian women — including tons of immigrants — are marrying outside the race. In 2013, among newlyweds alone, 37% of all Asian women intermarried, according to a PEW study. The most common mix is White-Asian.

In 1983, I was the rare Asian American to choose a Black husband (we divorced in 2001). Today is different. Black-Asian is on the rise too, leading to an abundance of beautiful Blasian babies. Why we’re intermarrying is a whole ‘nother discussion, for another time.

The point is, we and our children no longer fit the stereotype that paints us as anti-Black. Now, we must use our power and love to bring perception in line with reality.

While I personally detest Confucius, he is my ally on this next point: Chinese tradition makes women, especially mothers, the culture transmitters. We are the ones who give the kids the values and courage to live good, moral lives. So let’s do it.

Moms need to stick together

Now we get to the core issue: Can you believe in #blacklivesmatter?

#Blacklivesmatter is a movement sweeping through Black America and activist America, pulling in young people everywhere. It began in 2012 after Trayvon Martin, an innocent black teenager, was murdered by a neighborhood security guy, George Zimmerman. By using the Internet and social media to fight for justice, #blacklivesmatter took a 21st century approach to civil rights.

This new movement builds on the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, when Black folks famously fought, protested, went to jail and died. Until their ongoing struggle changed the laws, it was illegal for people of different races to marry, use the same public toilets as White people, or sit anywhere they wanted on the bus. Affirmation Action also opened doors to jobs and educational opportunities for us and our kids.

Today’s African Americans include recent immigrants from around the world and their children. They join the descendants of the only group forced to come to this country as slaves. The entire community, because of their skin color, is on the front lines of the ongoing race war with bad police procedures.

As Black dads and their sons die, Black moms and their daughters are left to battle alone. They are living out our worst nightmares about losing our men and boys. Chinese American moms, we cannot leave weeping Black moms to mourn and struggle alone.

Whether or not your kids have spoken to you about #blacklivesmatter, it is definitely on their brain. If they have friends of other races or care about politics, they are probably already out there fighting for Black justice. Maybe they’ve even emailed you an open letter to Asian American families that is going crazy all over Facebook.

What should you do? Prepare yourself. Your capacity for love is about to be tested.

Protecting my future

Whether I’m in a dialogue with my daughter or college students in my classes, the toughest thing for me to do is shut up. Just listen. Let them talk without correcting them or challenging them or making “helpful” suggestions and clarifications.

If you’re like me, sitting quietly goes against my genes as a Chinese American mom. My parents believed a good daughter was seen and not heard. Then, motherhood rewarded me with control as the culture transmitter.

For many years, I maintained the all-important appearance of harmony by smoothing over conflicts. Anyone who disagreed with me got shot down and shut down. I am an expert at dominating discussions and changing the subject to suit my comfort level.

But after years of therapy, I’ve realized that this behavior puts me at risk. Muzzling dissent leads to resentment from others and walls me in isolation. Hey, there’s a reason that women of Asian heritage, ages 65-to-84, have the highest suicide rate for females in their age bracket.

We can guard against this kind of future despair by staying loved and relevant. To maintain communication and hopefully bond, we MUST sit and truly listen. Try it. The results are worth the torture because we’re sending the message it’s safe for the kids to be their true selves in front of us. It means that we embrace change.

Declaring support for #blacklivesmatter might even shock and amaze our kids. They will see us as cool moms.

Asian faces: good, bad, ugly

But of course, our support goes far beyond acting cool. We want to take our seats at the table. In the past, the national debate on police brutality and misconduct focused on Black-versus-White, with occasional mention of Latinos. Today, Asian Americans are definitely a factor, for better and for worse.

As an example of the worst, we have the New York City controversy following the 2014 fatal shooting of Akai Gurley. A bullet from the gun of Chinese American cop Peter Liang ricocheted off a wall and killed Gurley, an unarmed Black man who was simply standing in a stairwell. Instead of trying to save Gurley or calling for help, Liang argued with his partner over whether to call a supervisor. During the trial, Lee said he “panicked.”

Asian Americans protested, passionately split between two opposite, generational views of justice. On the TV news, Chinese immigrant parents charged racism against Liang. Meanwhile, college students and activists turned to the Internet, calling out anti-Blackness in the Asian American community. In April 2016, Liang, poster boy for a complex set of issues, got off with no jail time.

The judge in the case was Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun, a Chinese American. Which brings us to this past week’s headlines and a chance do to better.Judges

If you want a direct Asian connection to the latest fatal police shootings of Black men, we have it in the Minnesota case of Philando Castile. We watched him die on Facebook as his girlfriend calmly livestreamed the horror on her cell phone while a police officer pointed a gun in her face and her four-year-old daughter watched.

In the video, she mistakenly thinks the cop is Chinese and says so, which had some of us worrying about a backlash. (The police officer, Jeronimo Yanez, has been identified as Latino in some reports.)

But going forward, there is an Asian American face to watch. He is John Choi, the nation’s first Korean American chief prosecutor. As Ramsey County’s chief attorney, he is the law, with a staff of 325 and a $39 million budget at his disposal. It’s his job to take Yanez to court. Let’s see how he does.

Do the math: Population = Power

FT_16.05.11_AsianAmer_diversitySo let’s embrace #blacklivesmatter as yet another chance to show how far we’ve come.

We have the authority to lead this country because Asian Americans are the fastest growing race in the U.S. — 21 million strong, accounting for 6.4% of the entire population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 population estimates.

Asians are also the largest group of new immigrants, with nearly 74% of all Asian American adults flying here from dozens and dozens of countries.

Chinese American moms have an important place in these numbers. Among the top 10 largest Asian groups, nearly one quarter are Chinese Americans, which means a lot of Chinese moms.

We are mighty and many. But even with this proof of our power, you might still be like me. I often waffle between hiding within the routine of life’s familiar cocoon and busting out to take on an evil world.

Moms with superpower

First steps can be the hardest because they can be awkward. So let’s get out there, little by little.

  • Listen to our kids and friends talk about #blacklivesmatter without interrupting them or changing the subject. Tough but you can do it, girl!
  • Experiment with sharing your feelings publicly. Try posting something on Facebook or sending an email to friends. I would be honored if you shared the link to this blog post:

The goal is to join the conversation instead of letting everyone else do the talking. You can succeed because you are a Chinese American mom. In the end, what makes us special is our intense love and guts. We got this one. We can do it. xo


Comments 19

  1. I remember back in the 80s when I was young, there was a problem on the west coast with gangs and I (from the east coast) was glad it wasn’t where I was and dismissed it as their problem. Now it’s everyone’s problem and I learned what affects some of us will eventually affect all of us.
    I’m a black mom and aunt and when I saw the title of your blog I smiled and thought, “I knew I was right for admiring this woman”.
    Thank you so much for sharing your insight and spreading a message of enlightenment and unity at a time when it is so desperately needed.
    God bless you and keep it coming!

    1. Post

      Paris, well said and thank you sharing your thoughts. It’s always hard to find the first person willing to comment. You are getting the conversation started! I appreciate that so much. :)

  2. As an African American Mom, I say, “Thank you Betty for bringing up some important points and uncovering the elephant in many rooms.” Listen, talk, and then listen some more when your teen & young adult 20-something kids,& their friends speak about how they see the world.

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      Leslie, thanks for understanding. As a mom, you know how it is. The kids are so far ahead of us — but it takes an open mind and heart to let in what they say. Half the time, I’m so busy controlling things that I miss out on the good stuff. Thanks for the reminder!

  3. Pingback: Asians #BlackLivesMatter

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  5. Hi Betty, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I came across your blog from the “Angry Asian Man” blog. I am neither a mom nor an American, but I am a millennial Chinese-Canadian with similarly strict immigrant parents. I agree that Chinese parents and specifically mothers can play a big role in bridging the gap between the Asian community and other minority communities. In Canada, Asians are the most numerous visible minority, and we are actually more numerous than blacks or Hispanics. Especially in my hometown of Vancouver, I almost never interacted with people who were not Chinese or white; to the best of my knowledge my parents have never had any non-Asian friends. So our worldview and our culture was very limited to that of our own community, and we felt very neutral or indifferent when we heard about racial tensions in other countries. This is not to say that people who do not have black or Hispanic friends cannot understand or empathize with the legitimate concerns of their communities, but I think an important first step for the Asian community is just to start making friends with other minorities rather than just secluding ourselves within our own ethnic communities. It is much easier to care about an issue when you can actually put a human face on it rather than just approaching it from a theoretical standpoint. For better or worse, this is why Peter Liang attracted support from many Chinese people- they could see him as a son, a friend, or a relative. Once we have formed stronger connections with other communities, I think it is more feasible to begin talking about building alliances with movements like BLM.

    1. Post

      Justin, welcome to our blog community! And thank you for sharing what’s going on in Canada. I totally second your heartfelt call for building one-on-one relationships. Your insight about the Peter Liang case is on the money.

      It’s so important for us to get out there and socialize. Diverse friendships enrich our lives and show us new ways to be creative, increase our understanding and expand the support we get from a larger community. I learn so much from non-Chinese friends and non-Asian friends. Thank you thank you thank you for making this point.

  6. Betty: I had to take a few moments to get control before replying because this post brought to the fore some of my worst fears. Our “son” Noel, who came into our gay family as a teen and is now an amazing, professionally, peer reviewed, published young man with 2 MAs, a position as a clinical therapist with a major health care system as well as a private practice and teaching positions with both Westchester University and Columbia, is of Asian descent. His wonderful boyfriend, who finally moved in with him after a 4 year courtship, is a well educated professional with most of an MBA completed and is a very handsome and completely delightful black young man (also a talented singer with Gay Men’s Chorus) All of this sounds like a parent’s dream except I know in my heart that when they aren’t wearing their Brooks Bros. suits and ties, to a panic prone cop with too much time in the ghetto, they just look like a couple of too-cool-to-touch punks who probably have a nice car because of drug money. I recall the words of the late Justice Thurgood Marshall who said “by me, I’m a justice of the US Supreme Court. By you I’m a justice of the US Supreme Court, but by a fat bellied Southern sheriff I’m just another uppity (N word)” And time and again we have seen it is not just Southern sheriffs we have to worry about. There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t worry about them. I don’t harp on the subject because I don’t want to add to the fear level, and they’ve never brought the subject up – though Noel has talked about anti-Asian prejudice he has encountered (which shocked and educated me.) But when something like the events of this past week happens – and it happens so often – my first thought is always “it could have been them – it could yet be them.” It makes me so afraid and I don’t really know what to do about it.

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      Toby, I think the worrying stays with us as long as we breathe. I can barely read articles and social media posted by parents of dark-complexioned sons because the pain is so raw. Every day, their boys are at risk.

      As a daughter of a beige/brown girl, I also worry. Our daughters face racial profiling that’s so unfair. I hate the word “minority” but our population status is still a reality. Blessings to you and your wonderful children!

  7. Hi Betty,

    I’m a new admirer of your blog. I’m a 28 year-old Chinese-American. My thoughts regarding #BlackLivesMatter have been rattling around in my head for a long time. I think I’m finally able to see things clearly after reading the crowdsourced letter for Asian parents and this blog post. For the first time, I felt like my thoughts were finally being echoed.

    I was born in San Francisco to immigrant parents who were originally from Hong Kong. I lived in Hong Kong for a couple years before coming back to the SF Bay Area after kindergarten. I’ve bounced around the Bay and got to know and befriend classmates of all different ethnicities, religious affiliations, sexual orientation, etc. I’d like to think I have a pretty open mind.

    Being raised by immigrants definitely had its unsavory moments. I am ashamed of the racist remarks I have heard from my own family members over the years. I’ve tried arguing with them about how the color of a person’s skin is not indicative of what’s on the inside and not every single Black person is a criminal. It felt like I was wasting my breath on a pointless battle. I concluded that my parents’ generation was helpless and that nothing can change until they die off. I wasn’t very hopeful that they could ever change for the better in this life. It’s embarrassing to talk about with others about my family’s occasional racist remarks. I’ve only ever spoken about this with my husband.

    I’m realizing now that, we along with so many other Asian-Americans growing up here, have been fed the same drivel since we were young about Black people being born criminals and thugs and that they should be feared. I personally did not take that to heart because I was exposed to my fellow Black classmates in elementary school, high school, college, and eventually co-workers. I have gotten to know some wonderful people of color over the years. And you know what they care about? Family, friends, making a good name for themselves, and peace. Aren’t those universal desires? Instead of pointing out all the differences between our groups, we should highlight our similarities. I think a large contributing factor to anti-Blackness is ignorance. Fear of the unknown. It didn’t occur to me until I read the crowdsourced letter that immigrants don’t have the knowledge of the US’ ugly past with slavery, continued institutionalized segregation, and how descendants never received reparations to rebuild their lives. Education about this is more important than ever.

    The Asian community is receiving a very biased view of the Black community and there is a huge disconnect in being able to relate to its members. It breaks my heart when I hear about yet another innocent Black person gunned down. I get a burning feeling in the pit of my stomach. I think about that person’s family, friends, and life that they no longer get to live. They become yet another awful statistic. I empathize with the victims and their families. I wish more people can feel this way. I think my own relatives can only count interactions with Black people on a single hand. It’s so easy to “stick to your own kind”. Not everyone has the privilege of growing up in a true melting pot and interacting with multiple ethnicities often.

    I know a lot of Asian immigrant families are thinking that the Black Lives Matter movement is not their problem. The attitude is, “Those guys are criminals anyway, they deserved it.” That as long as we keep quiet, keep plugging away at school or work, we won’t hear the noise and won’t be dragged in. That’s the advice I always heard from my mom about being in school and at work, but thank goodness I was able to make up my own mind about society. Just mind your own business, keep your head down, and collect your paycheck. Basically being the perfect model minority–it’s not a compliment to be called one. We are all pawns in the game run by White supremacy trying to pit us all against each other. Having your own thoughts about it is one thing, but actually having the guts to speak out? That’s a whole other story. Like you said in a previous blog post, a good Chinese daughter is only to be seen, not heard.

    I think our elders in the Asian community have a tough time acknowledging that some sworn uniformed protectors of peace have the capacity to kill innocent people. After all, aren’t police officers supposed to PROTECT civilians? When that ideal is threatened, people get scared and refuse to acknowledge the awful reality. It’s easier to make excuses for those cops and put all the blame on the victim/”supposed” criminal. Like you mentioned in this post, our own community members were on the other end of the gun barrel. Certainly, we can understand the pain.

    At first, it’s a little daunting to count yourself as a supporter of an entirely different group of people from the one you grew up with. That apprehension is mostly superficial. Beyond different skin colors and cultures, I think we all share the same love and the hope for a better place for our children and the future. My husband and I may have children one day and they’ll be biracial (he’s Brazilian). For the showing of support to really take off, we need to band together instead of remaining apart. It’s easier for the system to manipulate and control us we are enemies of one another.

    This is the first time I’ve ever written about this topic and I’m glad there’s a platform here to express my thoughts. I tried to be as articulate as I could but my head is still spinning–there’s so much I want to say! Just wanted to get this out there! Thank you for calling attention to such an important cause. It’s a long and tough fight, but like a fellow Chinese-American, I’m here to support my Black brothers and sisters.

    All the best,

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      Go, Jennifer! Thank you for taking the time to share so thoughtfully and in such detail. I’m honored that you chose this space to write for the first time on this critical topic. Feel free to write more. Just keep adding it to the thread you have here by hitting “reply.” The more you write, the more you’ll work thru your thoughts and feelings. You’re into the writing process, which is magic.

      My parents said the same thing about Black folks. But friendship with people who are different opens up our minds and hearts. And over time, I was amazed to see my mom change. My dad was long dead by the time I married. But my mom eventually considered my husband her son. She got beyond their racial differences to embrace a kindred soul. When we divorced, oh how she cried! So it’s worth having hope — to keep from stereotyping our parents. :)

  8. Thank you for what you do!
    It would be amazing to get this translated into Asian languages (Chinese for me) to share with our non-English fluent moms.

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