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Standing Together: MSNBC’s Joy Reid, ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ Director Jon Chu, and Other Panelists Discuss Asian-Black Relations

Jon Chu and the cast of Crazy Rich Asians join the team from The Black Panther in a joint celebration at the 2018 Academy Awards

By Louis Chan, AsAmNews National Correspondent

Crazy Rich Asians’ director Jon Chu joined a host of other celebrities Tuesday night for a candid conversation about the sometimes tense relations between Blacks and Asian Americans.

The webinar produced by Jose Antonio Vargas’s Define American took place Tuesday evening on Facebook and other social media. MSNBC’s Joy Reid moderated the one hour discussion.

“There’s no solidarity without healing and no two communities need healing and solidarity in the era of coronavirus more than Black and Asian communities. So, what does it look like when Asians and Black people show up for each other,” Reid asked.

“Covid 19 or the coronavirus is a racial justice issue,” she continued. “The pandemic has exponentially amplified the injustice faced by Black people in America resulting in an alarmingly high death rates and economic strain. Asian folks have been the targets in surges in hate crimes, racist rhetoric and economic hardships. While our experiences may not be exactly the same, we recognize marginalized communities coming together with one another improves all of our chances of achieving equality.”

-Joy Reid, News Anchor, MSNBC

Joining Chu and Reid on the virtual panel were designer to the stars Prabal Gurung, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah Jones and film executive Franklin Leonard. Gurung is a Nepalese American fashion designer and founder of Shikshya Foundation Nepal.

“There is a divide, there’s a division no doubt about it,” Gurung said about Asian-Black relations. “You hear your aunts and uncles talk about it. It’s important that we acknowledge that it (racism) exists. The racism within each community especially the Asian community, it exists and that we all participate in it consciously or unconsciously. We have to acknowledge and try to unlearn these things. We have to question it. How do we deal with it? How do we have this conversation? Change is not going to happen overnight.”

Jones works with the 1619 Project, a program organized by the New York Times to examine the impact of slavery in the United States. She said both Blacks and Asians have been considered unassimilable by White Americans. Where there have been anti-Black laws passed, if there were Asians in the area, anti-Asian laws were passed as well.

“Only Asian American men could come here initially, then you would come back home (to China) because they wouldn’t let you bring over women to be your wives,” she said referring to the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. “The Chinese Exclusion Act was very effective, followed by racist immigration quotas.”

Blacks, on the other hand, are the products of “forced migration.”

Both Jones and Chu agreed Asian Americans have been taught a “put your head down and work hard” mentality. It’s the same mentality, Jones said, that Blacks have had when immigrating to other countries. That ethic teaches people to keep quiet when something bad happens. Chu even wondered who would speak up when a hate crime happens.

“I’m scared as sh*t to be that person,”Chu said while describing himself as a “baby activist.” He said he made a movie that connected with people and now he’s been appointed a spokesperson, a position that makes him feel uncomfortable. “To hear other people, it gives me more courage to say those things. I think it’s important to be that person.  We’re at a learning point of learning to have that courage.”

Leonard praised Crazy Rich Asians and said films like it and Black Panther are reasons for optimism. He’s seen the reaction to both films from Asians around the world. He said he will never forget comments from Asians about Black Panther who said, ‘”It was amazing. We have never seen Blacks in this way. Usually, when we see Blacks on the screen, they’re criminals or hip hop artists.'”

“A good storytelling has never had a racial border,” Leonard explained. “A good story well told is one way we humanize ourselves to each other. Hollywood bears a great deal of responsibility for the reality we live in where there are assumptions made by other communities.”

Gurung praised the way Crazy Rich Asians helped him understand his worth.

“I understand my worth but the world didn’t see it until Crazy Rich Asians happened,” said Gurung who said he left the theater crying. “Finally someone sees me as a living individual. I have to tell myself constantly I am worthy of every single space. I needed a movie to tell me my worth. I didn’t realize it.”

One of Chu’s best memories is after the 2018 Oscars when the casts of both Crazy Rich Asians and Black Panther celebrated together.

“We held each other. We held each other tight,” he emphasized. “We got to first base. Here we are.”

All the panelists agreed the model minority myth has been used against both Blacks and Asian Americans.

“It’s a classic dog whistle,” said Jones. “This idea that Asian Americans would ever be considered a model minority is actually a tool of White supremacy. It comes in direct opposition to the civil rights movement when Black people are demanding their rights. Here we have this group of hard-working intelligent folks who put their head down and do work.  If you don’t know your history you don’t understand the ability to just do your work, put your head down comes on the backs of the bloody civil rights movement where all kinds of legal barriers in doing have been collapsed because of what Black Americans have done.”

She said a lot of Asian Americans who came to this country after the Civil Rights Movement don’t realize that. Gurung added that it was important to emphasize that only White supremacy benefits from a fight between two oppressed groups

“We have to be very clear about who’s benefiting from two communities fighting against each other, said Gurung. “The division of the two minorities always benefits the majority. “

He says he’s put his faith in the younger generation which has learned to see race differently than the generations that preceded it.

Chu said the topics discussed during the webinar must continue.

“This is not an event. This is life,” he said.

Sponsors for the webinar included MACRO, Gold House, Color Of Change, CAPE, and the UTA Foundation.

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