Read opinion pieces from the President of APIA Scholars.

A Spirit of Unity as We Celebrate Black History Month

On this cold and snowy February, I opened our front door to retrieve a package and found an Ancestry DNA kit on the ground addressed to my husband. I found it fitting that it arrived on the first day of the month we honor as Black History Month in the United States.

Ronnie is three generations removed from West Virginia slaves and I find it genuinely startling that our daughter is only four generations removed. Moreover, all three of us carry a name that we assume belonged to a white slave owner. We have started conversations with our seven-year-old daughter about slavery, racial identity, and inequality, because we think there is no time to lose. Ava is Black and Asian we must prepare her to claim her identity proudly and within a historical context.

In many instances, Asian Americans are simply written out of history, their contributions remain a footnote or are left out of the narrative completely. Many are unaware of the emergence of the “Yellow Power Movement in the 1960s occurring somewhat in parallel to “Black Power”. Nadra Nittle in 2019 for ThoughtCo. writes that Black activism played a fundamental role in the launch of the Asian American civil rights movement, but Asians and Asian Americans influenced Black activists as well. When not only Blacks but also Latinos and Asian Americans from various ethnic groups began to share their experiences of oppression, indignation replaced fear about the ramifications of speaking out.

Activist Gordon Lee, in a 2003 Hyphen magazine piece called “The Forgotten Revolution,” explained, “The more we examined our collective histories, the more we began to find a rich and complex past. And we became outraged at the depths of the economic, racial and gender exploitation that had forced our families into roles as subservient cooks, servants or coolies, garment workers and prostitutes, and which also improperly labeled us as the ‘model minority’ comprised of ‘successful’ businessmen, merchants or professionals.”

We enter 2021’s Black History Month at a time when our nation is grappling with how to come together again, and for many communities of color, how to effectively advocate for ourselves, let alone how to be effective advocates and allies for others. But we have a long history of doing just that, and as the saying goes, we are always more powerful together.

Legendary Chinese social activist and self-proclaimed revolutionary Grace Lee Boggs life’s work was spent thinking about what it means for us to be people inhabiting this world collectively. In her 1998 book “Living for Change”, she reflects on questions of accountability to one another as a collective society: What are our commitments to one another? What is our responsibility? And, how are we accountable to each other? She shared that she and her husband, James Boggs, who was a Black political activist reconciled that there are no perfect answers to these questions. Boggs wrote, “I am often asked what keeps me going after all of these years. I think it is the realization that there is no final struggle. Whether you win or lose each struggle brings forth new contradictions, new and more challenging questions.” In her time, Boggs was able to lay down the groundwork for how to engage people in collective struggles. Her contributions proved that no act of service, particularly made in faith of uplifting one another, goes unseen.

Black History Month provides all of us the opportunity to collectively uplift, celebrate, advocate, and — Yes! — continue to struggle and be allies with the Black Community. APIA Scholars is proud to honor our friends, colleagues, and partners in the Black Community throughout this month and every month. We see you. We hear you. We are with you.

Noel Harmon
February 2, 2021