Statement in Support of the Black Lives Matter Movement
The Department of East Asian Studies, University of Toronto
“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” — James Baldwin
- The Department of East Asian Studies (EAS) at the University of Toronto in Ontario, Canada, wishes to express our collective support of, and political solidarity with, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. EAS for BLM!
- The Black Lives Matter movement originally emerged in the U.S. in August 2014 to protest state-sanctioned violence and the racism endemic to police brutality, most clearly visible in the fatal killings by the police of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in New York City. Six years later, the Black Lives Matter movement today has re-emerged not only in the U.S., but also on a truly world-wide scale, to protest state-sanctioned violence and racist police brutality, symbolized by the ruthless murder, on May 25, 2020, of George Floyd, at the hands of a multi-racial squad of four Minnesota policemen. These state mercenaries kneeled on Mr. Floyd’s neck, pressing him into the ground for 8 minutes and 46 seconds until he died. “I can’t breathe”— Floyd’s last known utterance, which now stands in for his singular life itself— reverberates in a world-wide chorus demanding the end of the state racism and police violence against Black people and other racialized bodies and populations. EAS for BLM!
- What is the meaning of the Department of East Asian Studies supporting BLM? Why should members of our department care about and support BLM, which originally developed as a call to protest state-sanctioned violence and anti-Black racism? It means that we are recommitted to struggling together, in our immediate community, to create everyday spaces where collective life and cooperative work are free of anti-Blackness, and where every Black person has the social, economic and political power to thrive. This means that the spaces we need to build are ones where all Black lives are seen, heard from, and celebrated, regardless of the various intersections within Black identities, such as sexual and gender identity, gender expression, economic status, religious affiliation, ability, disability, or immigration status. Moreover, we must foster a community that is inclusive, diverse, and free of the assumptions of heteronormativity. EAS for BLM!
- As teachers and researchers of East Asian studies, we also support BLM by fortifying our critical awareness of how the academic field—one established during WWII and the Cold War, primarily to aid U.S. Far Eastern foreign policies and U.S. militarism—has never fully addressed the issues that BLM has been raising in North America. This is despite the history of how anti-Black racism and white supremacy have profoundly shaped capitalist modernity of East Asia, and how that history has been integral to the ongoing state and police violence fueling labour exploitation and social precarity, xenophobia, racism, sexism, homophobia and Islamophobia in East Asia, and in its diasporas. Moreover, South Korea, Japan and Okinawa cannot talk about their relation to Blackness (positively or negatively) without questioning the ubiquity of U.S. military presence. We support BLM based on this history. As several Asian-American activist groups have argued, white supremacy and the systematic violence against Black, brown, Indigenous, and queer people are intimately entangled with U.S. imperialism and militarism (for which Canada provides the primary humanitarian arm). These critical observations have led to positive changes in the methods and scholarship within East Asian studies itself in North America. For example, some parts of Korean studies developed out of a deep reflection of the 1992 civil unrest that defined the aftermath of the Rodney King verdict on April 29, 1992, which acquitted the police’s use of excessive force, and in which the U.S. white settler ruling classes pitted the Black community against Koreans while the state apparatuses protected transnational Japanese capital and private property. The current diversity of Southern California protests grew out of that history, and so did the transnationalization of some aspects of the study of East Asia itself. We thus support BLM by changing the many assumptions, methods, and pedagogies by which much of East Asian studies has been complicit with and the still dominant transpacific formation led by U.S. imperialism and militarism. We join in the renewed condemnation of their structural violence against Black people and other racialized bodies and populations. EAS for BLM!
- As the BLM movement has already clearly demonstrated around the world in just two weeks, state racism and police brutality against racialized populations, while currently so egregiously visible and tragic in American society, are not simply phenomena that are unique to the history of that particular country alone. The fact that the BLM movement has spread like wildfire around the world in just two weeks—amidst and despite the COVID-19 pandemic, and as a movement to protest state racism and police brutality in differing national contexts—shows that the historical and material conditions, out of which these cruel and sadistic symptoms of police brutality in America appear, are now simultaneously recognized in countless countries around the world, including Canada, and thus in differing contexts. Yet, despite these different national contexts, they inevitably produce the same universal result, namely: the inseparability of state racism and police brutality against Black people and racialized bodies and populations. This inseparability has proven, time and again, that it is just as virulent and deadly, if not more ruthless, than the COVID-19 virus. For it is not the virus itself that kills by discriminating according to race, it is the state-funded policing system—combined with the criminal justice system, semi-feudal remnants of slavery, the dispossession of Indigenous agricultural producers from their land, the commodification of labour power that propels the exploitation of workers of all races and inevitably produces capitalist crises, depressions, and state-led imperialist wars— that carries out this kind of racist killing. EAS for BLM!
- In the face of compulsively repeated and ubiquitous state racism and police brutality, it is right to rebel against these iniquitous problems in various ways publicly, and to collectively demand, for example, the public defunding of the police as an important political and economic element in the struggle to realize the eradication of state racism and police brutality from our societies, here, now and everywhere in the world. This demands collective action and inventive thinking, but first of all, more concretely, it demands from each and every one of us that we practice non-cooperation with racist discourse and the economic and political conditions that produce it, especially in our own field of East Asian studies, and simultaneously critique and historically analyze racist discourse and racist state acts in relation to—and as desperate reactions to—capitalist crises, which inevitably accompany capitalist development around the world, and which directly impact the social basis of society and its mode of (re)production. EAS for BLM!
- For all of these reasons, EAS must listen to, learn from, and support BLM. We must introduce BLM’s beliefs and principles into EAS itself, inevitably and out of necessity. Our solidarity with BLM recognizes how the long history of Black empowerment has influenced and inspired countless Asian and Asian-American struggles for justice and equality, especially in the post-WWII period. At the same time, we could also say that various struggles of East Asian countries in the 19th, 20th and now 21st centuries—for independence and liberation from semi-slave-like conditions, colonial oppression, military occupation, ideologies of white supremacy, and so on—have also inspired and shaped Black struggles.
EAS for BLM!
For more resources on anti-Black racism, please check out our Community Resources page.