Feature photo courtesy of eater.com
How to have uncomfortable conversations and move past “agree to disagree”
Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.
First and foremost, I would like to formally recognize how appreciative I am of my immediate family: my parents, my brother and my sister-in-law are woke. They are aware of the discourse on racial and social justice, and are open to having necessary, uncomfortable conversations about these issues. I have learned a lot from them and through their point of view; our dialogue has definitely shaped how I viewed my relationship with race and culture, and helped me distinguish the line between appreciation and appropriation.
But the rest of my circle isn’t necessarily so open-minded.
While I do not want to put my extended family members on blast, this conversation has already been memorialized on all participating members’ Facebook timelines and it is a tale worth retelling.
It was 4am on a rainy Friday night. I had just gotten back from my friend’s house after celebrating our final assignment submission of the school year. I was sitting on my bedroom floor, doing a casual Facebook scroll, making sure I hadn’t missed anyone’s birthday.
Then there it was: the Facebook post that started it all. My 21-years-old cousin Margaret had reposted an untrue and manipulative article that was demeaning and degrading towards the Black Lives Matter movement and George Floyd’s unfortunate death. The original post shifts the blame of George Floyd’s death from the police officers to George Floyd himself, depicting Black communities in the United States as inherently criminal. On top of it all, she supported the biased and false narrative with her own commentary: “People should have [the] ability to think for themselves. At the end of the day, (Western) news and media outlets are all about making money. George Floyd’s family is abusing societal resources [...] they did nothing yet they get all of the donations. Do other lives not matter?”.
You could see why I was riled up. The blatant ignorance of the article, compounded by Margaret’s own commentary, spread a false narrative. On social media platforms, credentialed research carries pretty much equal weight to fallacy-ridden opinions like hers. While I could recognize her commentary as deeply problematic, a handful of friends and family egged her on, crowning her philanthropic act of sharing this Facebook post, praising her commentary as being intelligent, thoughtful, and well-spoken.
These comments had me at a loss for words. But I held my composure and did my best to civilly comment, “It’s interesting that you could say that without an understanding of American history and racial relations. Solely basing your ideology and spreading misinformation based on a Facebook post is alarmist. You’re right, people should have the ability to think for themselves.”
Following my comment, I added three links that provided additional information and resources on the Black Lives Matter movement, all in Traditional Chinese (In case you are curious, it is a translation of the original Black Lives Matter Caard, an Op-Ed on the subject matter that debunks common misconceptions and contextualizes the movement to provide a better understanding for an overseas audience and an open letter on anti-blackness).
It’s not a big surprise to hear that she has trouble grasping the concept of racism in Taiwan. After all, it is a fairly homogeneous country, with 98% of the population being ethnically Chinese. Many are oblivious to the threat and consequences of racism. While most Taiwanese people will tell you how much they love foreigners (and honestly, they do), sometimes that love is ignorant, and manifests in appropriation more than appreciation.
In a recent incident, three prominent YouTube influencers (who call themselves ‘Wackyboys’), performed the Ghana Coffin dance in blackface. While some news media outlets and netizens were not shy to call Wackyboys out for their action, noting how inappropriate it was, to this day, Wackyboys has still not removed the offending video from their social media platforms, even after a Black member of the Taiwanese community stepped in to facilitate a learning session with them. Though Wackyboys showed some remorse, many still came to their defense, claiming that racism and blackfaces were American problems, and that, as such, Wackyboys need not be held accountable. If anything, their actions could be heralded, claimed some, as a form of flattery.
I love my homeland, Taiwan, and am so proud of its culture and people. But I am willing to recognize that, as a community, we are far from being politically correct. When we collectively normalize and desensitize our outrage towards problematic or insensitive behavior, we are allowing more and more people to act out of line and out of hate. We can hold each other accountable out of love and a shared desire to improve our society, not divide it into the “haves” and “have nots,” those who know better and those who are allowed to act as if they don’t. Racism is taught and enforced through everyday behavior; similarly, it can be resisted in everyday occurrences. We become better as a community when we allow people to face the consequences of their actions. We learn to grow.
When I woke up a few hours later, I saw a single text from my father that read “she is my sister.” Unsure of what had happened, I soon realized that my aunt Jade had hopped on the thread, taking my defense of the Black Lives Matter movement as a targeted personal attack towards her daughter, and dismissing my attempt of starting an uncomfortable conversation as a clamor for conflict.
Before I could respond to her, my brother had stood up in my defense and clarified that this is not a personal issue, but rather a larger issue of systemic racism that is deeply rooted in people’s lives. No one ever said blue or other lives don’t matter, but when all evidence points to a lack of basic respect for Black existence -- we need to push for radical, long-overdue change.
Do I regret calling out my cousin? No, not at all. In fact, I think it was necessary (even though she doesn’t agree with me, and saw it as a personal attack and sought help from her mother to defend her). Our exchange opened up the conversation on why some people struggle to grasp an understanding of the Black Lives Matter movement. In Taiwan, people have the luxury of feeling isolated from issues like racism and police brutality. I’d argue that this luxury is a false one; every globalized nation should be held accountable to a global consciousness.
I hope any of her friends or our shared extended family members will take time out of their days to put themselves in someone else’s shoes when they’re looking at the Black Lives Matter movement, or at least taking a second to research and fact-check what they’re reading before blindly broadcasting it.
At the end of the day, if we can’t even hold the people we care about deeply accountable, who are we to hold others - strangers, mere acquaintances - accountable?
By leaving things unsaid, keeping uncomfortable conversations at bay, and complying with an “agree to disagree” fallacy, we are enabling ignorance and allowing hate to brew. All of these conversations train us to value growth over comfort, justice over temporary mollification. In other words, we are learning to practice a more effective kind of love.
If you are looking to have a candid conversation about race with your family, I strongly suggest sharing the Black Lives Matter Caard, which centralizes a lot of crucial ideas and talking points, with other translations available if needed. I also found Letter for Black Lives to be a good starting point to ease your family into having these conversations; additional translations are also available on the website. There is also a frequently-updated masterlist of Taiwanese-focused resources put together by the TaiwaneseAmerican.org non-profit.
A quote by Angela Davis summarizes the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement best: “'In a racist society it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist”.
If you want to be a part of the Black Lives Matter movement, don’t stop educating yourself. Don’t let the conversation die down. You should continue to have these uncomfortable conversations, text and call your local government, sign petitions for change, and donate to the victims, protestors, and Black-owned businesses.
I have compiled a few initiatives close to my heart that I have been actively keeping up with: At the time of writing, the cops who murdered Breonna Taylor still haven’t been arrested; the cops who murdered Ahmaud Marquez Arbery still haven’t been arrested; the cops who murdered Tony McDade still haven’t been arrested.
If you can’t protest, donate to your local community bail fund. If you can’t donate, get out on the streets and continue to protest. Even when Black Lives Matter stops trending, black lives still matter.