Say Their Names

protestors marching down a brooklyn avenue

Like so many others, I’ve spent much of the last week sitting with sadness, anger, anxiety, and great discomfort, catalyzed by the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police.

This moment in my country’s history feels both unprecedented yet so familiar. Set against the backdrop of a pandemic that is having an outsized impact on communities of color, I’m bearing witness to the pain and suffering of African Americans. Across the country, people are gathering in protest to demand justice and systematic change.

Over the weekend, I watched, read, donated, and spoke with friends, attempting to process what’s going on and how to respond. At a certain point, I could no longer sit still with the feelings. I felt that my actions online weren’t enough to express the pain and frustration that I feel towards the way this country treats its black citizens, so I joined the protests and marches happening across Brooklyn and Manhattan.

I’m one person and this is another chapter in a long struggle of racial injustice. Still, I want to name my reasons for showing up (beyond the self-evident ones). Given the added risk of spreading coronavirus, joining a mass public gathering ought to be a measured, intentional, and meaningful decision. My intentions at this time can be summarized threefold:

1. Listening and Amplifying

I believe allyship is crucial to social change. As a non-black POC, listening to the voices of the oppressed is foundational. Walking side-by-side, hearing their perspectives and pain, but mostly supporting through my physical presence, my body, my voice. And beyond listening, I can do more to amplify black voices in their struggle for justice, on social media and through protest.

2. Challenging Asian-American Complicity

I’m a first generation Asian-American. Historically, our silence as a community and complicity in matters of racial injustice and white privilege is a source of deep shame and disappointment for me. I’m sitting with these thoughts and feelings afresh from learning the circumstances of George Floyd’s killing. From my perspective, I watched an Asian-American police officer, stand by and let George Floyd die. The myth of the model minority and white-adjacent privilege are narratives that must be reckoned with in these events and the subsequent period of response.

3. Holding onto Hope

I want future generations of this country to not know the savagery, injustice, and inequality that African Americans continue to face at the hands of the police. Protesting and marching with others gives voice and face to a message heard directly by those who are responsible for it, and it gives me hope that there can be change.

What I Heard, Witnessed, Experienced

At the Barclays Center, a peaceful protest included a many people sharing not only their outrage, but also some powerful and practical messages. Some that stood out to me included (paraphrasing):

“Activism takes many forms. The work of combating racial injustice does not start and end with this protest.”

“Abstain from spending on the capitalist of the 4th of July.”

“Do not buy from large corporations as they reinforce white privilege and instead direct your dollar to black-owned businesses.”

“The U.S. spends $100B+ on law enforcement annually, largely by local governments. Defund the police.”

“If you are here, you are an activist.”

#BLM speaker

Not all of what I heard was encouraging. After seeing that protests were peaceful, a group of fully-armored and weaponed NYPD walked away. I overheard one cop smile and say to the group, “No fun today!” — my assumption was that, at best he has a poor sense of humor, and at worst, he finds the idea of forcefully breaking up protests to be “fun”.

“No fun today!”

Fully-geared NYPD officer upon witnessing a peaceful protest

Later, a two-mile person long march ensued across Brooklyn, going down Atlantic Avenue, snaking back through Prospect Heights, onto Flatbush and ultimately crossing the Manhattan bridge — halting traffic and shutting the bridge down. This was a powerful experience.

Marching through Brooklyn

Upon reaching Manhattan, the protest was ultimately cut off and diverted by the cops at Canal Street. As we neared Union Square, it quickly turned violent, the details and aftermath of which were detailed in the news.

What’s Next

Continue to protest and resist.

More reading, self-education and reflection on white supremacy and privilege.

Organize around how to activate Jewish community response.

Research and identify Asian-American partnerships focused on combating systemic racism and building communal trust.

Published by Jeff Ong

I'm a designer, programmer, and artist based in Brooklyn, New York. I work at Automattic as a design director, using code to push and scale design.

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