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Part 1: Roger Sun, Asian Greek Life, and the Discomfort of Apologizing for Anti-Blackness

About the Author: Jamy Drapeza (they/siya/she) is a member of Kappa Phi Lambda Sorority, Inc. and a licensed therapist in the state of New York. The following is not a representation of Kappa Phi Lambda Sorority,  Inc. and are their own thoughts and opinions informed by their personal and professional experience. 

Jamy has over six years of experience as a case manager, social worker, and program director serving Black and Brown youth, adults, and families impacted by the criminal legal system and mass incarceration. They facilitated workshops on alternatives to incarceration, restorative practices, and ending racial and gender-based violence in spaces such as local government departments, juvenile detention centers, and criminal justice nonprofits. They also contribute over three years of experience organizing for pan-Asian civil rights, acknowledging the intersections of social justice needs demanded by both the Asian and Black communities. As a non-Black person of color, they contribute their experience as a healer, professional, and organizer in working to center marginalized communities and building a socially equitable future for all.

The Issue

On May 29th, the National Asian Pacific Islander Desi Panhellenic Association (NAPA) released a statement in light of recent killings and harms to the Black community, calling all members of Asian Greek life to stand in solidarity with the Black community and act against anti-Black racism. Among their 11-point list of actions non-Black members are encouraged to accomplish include:

“Validate the experiences and feelings of Black lives.”

On the same day, Roger Sun – a member of the New York University chapter of Lambda Phi Epsilon Fraternity, Inc. – posted two screenshots on Subtle Asian Greeks. The text was his apology to the Subtle Asian Greeks community after screenshots were shared of his anti-Black statements in a chat group with all the active members of his chapter.

Source: Roger Sun

Image Description:

“First and foremost, I want to apologize to the black community for the texts that were sent in the group chat. The texts clearly demonstrated my ignorance and lack of understanding for the African American community and the systemic struggles that are unique to them. Although it was not my intention to support and condone police brutality, my intentions do not matter. The fact of the matter is that my texts, whether intentional or not, demonstrated a misconstrued viewpoint that is deep rooted in my privilege and ignorance for the black community. I have no right to speak on behalf of life in Compton or Chicago or any black community because I will never experience the same struggles that they face on a day to day basis. I must do better in educating myself about black history in America, and understanding the implications of my own privilege.

I apologize to Lambda Phi Epsilon, NYU, and every student at NYU for the ignorant and bigoted things that I said. The text messages do not represent what Lambdas, NYU, and the student body stand for, and I am embarrassed to have tarnished their reputation.

This has been a learning experience for me. As a non-black POC, my opinions and what I think I know about the black community are wrong and irrelevant. I can only support their fight against the injustices they have faced for generations in this country. It is now my duty to share what I have learned with the rest of the Asian community. It is no secret that anti-Blackness is rampant within my own community, and it is time for us to take action.

Thank you to those who held me accountable for the things I said. I hope that one day I can earn your forgiveness and reconcile for my actions.”

 

The Responses

Responses to Roger’s post varied, though the majority of the sentiments can be categorized with the following paraphrased comments:

  • “People are going to clown you, you shouldn’t have made this a social media thing,” “I believe you’re a good person, you shouldn’t be attacked for having an opinion about Black people.”
  • “Thank you for your apology. I hope this is the start of you making real change.”
  • “As a [non-Black person] this is not an apology, you’re just embarrassed you got caught. Do better! We need to keep having these conversations!”
  • “As a Black person, I don’t accept your apology. We’re tired of people like you. Saying sorry isn’t enough.

I have questions for the people in the first reaction. First, who hurt you? Who told you that being a Brother means defending someone from a consequence they both need and deserve, instead of standing with him and learning together? Congratulations, you can recite “Invictus.” Spitting words and facts to a tempo isn’t what made you a member of your organization.

Being the captain of your soul demands responsibility as you learn how to navigate the challenges that live in a sea of systemic social issues that existed before you.   

Roger was wrong for what he said and what he believes to be true about Black people. He is not wrong in accepting criticism, being corrected, making his apology visible, and admitting he has not been challenged to think critically about Black people and their safety in society. This conversation is uncomfortable, not unnecessary.

SmartSelect_20200529-191105_Instagram

Source: @thebeardedsocialworker

Image Description: Black background with white text that says “It’s Black, not black.” Created by @thebeardedsocialworker.

First of all – it’s Black, not black.

“First and foremost, I want to apologize to the black community for the texts that were sent in the group chat. The texts clearly demonstrated my ignorance and lack of understanding for the African American community and the systemic struggles that are unique to them. Although it was not my intention to support and condone police brutality, my intentions do not matter.” – Roger Sun

Respect and validate the feelings and lived experiences of Black people, starting with how we talk about them and write about them as non-Black people, and how we consume Black culture responsibly and appropriately. Racism in the 21st century isn’t exclusively spray painting racial slurs, wearing blackface, parading with tiki torches, or lynching. Racism can look like non-Black people enjoying and participating in Black culture pieces like the stroll songs, the step routines, the probates — and then confidently producing statements like “There are many reasons as to why these things happen to African Americans more than any other demographic. When those communities are statistically more violent, then it’s only logical that police brutality is more common within those communities.”

The many reasons why Black communities are targeted with more police presence, never mind police brutality, are not because Black people are more violent than any other race. Enter, systemic racism and wh*te supremacy: the same system that built that bamboo ceiling over your career path, that has banned migrants and imprisoned U.S. citizens for just being Asian, and encourages the myth that all Asian men have small dicks.

What was said was racist because:

  1. Racism implies privilege and power over another race. Roger is aware that Asian communities are not portrayed as violent or over policed, and that an Asian man is less likely to be perceived as a threat to a police officer in comparison to a Black man.
  2. That being said, Asians are not seen as violent people, despite our rates of physical and sexual violence in our homes and communities. The crack in the model minority myth is that we don’t have our own problems and needs for intervention and healing.

So, why are so many cops in poor, predominantly Black communities that have reputations for violence? There is so much to speak on in terms of tracing the roots of the current incarceration and policing system to being an extension of slavery, to the cycle of violence, to continuing to keep marginalized communities underfunded and fractured; but you can just buy and read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow to start. To quote former law enforcement director Clarence Edwards:

“Some police forces in this nation have historically played critical roles in maintaining positional power for wh*tes. This has created a very difficult chasm to overcome when police departments attempt to implement community policing initiatives. Race continues to influence how people of African descent in the United States are treated by law enforcement.”

In short, even cops acknowledge that believing racism and protecting wh*te power has helped dig the hole we face today in terms of overpolicing in poor Black communities.

 

Take PArt

Source: Take Part

Image Description: A Black femme is sitting cross-legged on a grassy field. They are holding a black sign with “YOUNG,” “BLACK,” and “SAFE” painted in white lettering. Each word has a checkbox on their right. There is a red check mark next to YOUNG and BLACK. There is no red check mark next to SAFE.

Black people don’t “deserve” police brutality. No one does.

“I have no right to speak on behalf of life in Compton or Chicago or any black community because I will never experience the same struggles that they face on a day to day basis. I must do better in educating myself about black history in America, and understanding the implications of my own privilege.” – Roger Sun

  1. Statistically, wh*tes commit violent crimes at the highest rate, yet are the least likely to be arrested or sentenced to prison for the same crimes as Black people. Also, Black people are more likely to be arrested and sentenced for non-violent crimes.
  2. Also statistically, Black people are more likely to be victims of violent crimes than wh*te people.
  3. Black people are still 3.6 times more likely to be jailed nationally than wh*te people. Even though the wh*te jail population doubled nationally between 1990 and 2013.
  4. Hate crimes and risk of police brutality happens to Black people when they’re asleep in their own homes, jogging in their neighborhoods,cashing their own paychecks, napping in their college common room, or asking for directions.
  5. Hate crimes and risk of police brutality happens to Black people when they’re in their firefighter uniform, when they wear a bikini, when they’re trying on prom clothes, when they wear a backpack in public.

Even cops say police brutality is wrong

Since the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement upon the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, the advancement of social media has not only exposed certain police officers breaking protocols to actively kill people, it’s exposed both the existence of racist policies and lack of anti-racist policies that enable these tragedies to continue.

On May 25, 2020, George Floyd was a Black man who was wrongfully accused of possessing counterfeit money and was apprehended by four officers. He was killed as a police officer crushed his neck with his knee. Police commissioners, police union presidents, and fellow officers across the nation have condemned the unnecessary use of force and prejudice that led to his death. Police brutality is not necessary. Police brutality is not keeping the peace. Police brutality is wrong.

 

FB_IMG_1591100932711

Source: Unknown

Image Description: Photo of Asian American activist Grace Lee Boggs. Light blue texts that reads “It was only after the Black Power movement and the Black rebellions inspired a new pride in all people of color that we repudiated the stereotypes of ourselves as the “model minority” and created our new identity as Asian Americans to announce our refusal to accept the “divide and rule” policies of the power structure. The term “Asian American” bristled with the defiance inherent in rebellion” – Grace Lee Boggs

How are Asian Americans supposed to apologize for being anti-Black?

“I apologize to Lambda Phi Epsilon, NYU, and every student at NYU for the ignorant and bigoted things that I said. The text messages do not represent what Lambdas, NYU, and the student body stand for, and I am embarrassed to have tarnished their reputation. This has been a learning experience for me. As a non-black POC, my opinions and what I think I know about the black community are wrong and irrelevant.

I can only support their fight against the injustices they have faced for generations in this country. It is now my duty to share what I have learned with the rest of the Asian community. It is no secret that anti-Blackness is rampant within my own community, and it is time for us to take action.”  – Roger Sun

 

Cycles-of-change

Source: Recovery Plus Journal

Image Description: Cycle of Change wheel. Black arrow labeled “Enter” pointing at the Pre-Contemplation phase. That phase then points to the next cycle phases: Contemplation, Preparation, Action, Maintenance, Relapse, then Pre-Contemplation. There is a black arrow pointing outside the circle labeled “Lasting Exit” and is stemming from the Maintenance phase.

Saying Sorry vs. Making an Apology

Change takes time and, in a way, never stops. The Cycle of Change (pictured and described above) tells us that change starts when we are “pre-contemplation” or not really thinking about what it is we need to change at all. That is the state many Asian Americans are in when it comes to confronting our internalized colonization, wh*te supremacy, and anti-Blackness. Of course, that’s not how it’s packaged to us as we move in the world. It can look like body shaming, centralizing European wh*te ideals of beauty. It can look like racializing labor shaming: categorizing blue-collar workers like farmers, janitors, and fast-food workers as lazy; the a punishment if you don’t work get a college degree and middle-class job.

Between Contemplation/Preparation seems to be where this story with Roger Sun is at now. Him and probably many of the folks who commented on his apology with questions as to why he had to apologize publicly in the first place. There are several comments made by people who want to see harsher punishment or harm to Roger because he represents ignorant, anti-Black non-Black POCs in this moment. The best Action may seem to take guys like Roger down with vigor, and also, how does that build unity in our community? My suggestion is that Roger, his chapter, and his organization, consider an action plan that is focused on reparations.

Reparations

The United Nations outlined a detailed series of steps that define reparations, which include:

  1. Restitution
  2. Compensation
  3. Rehabilitation
  4. Guarantee for non-repeat

Restitution: Restoring our victims to their original situation before the violation

There is a wealth of information out there, created by both Asian and Black leaders in the current civil rights movement, that informs us how to unlearn our racism and stand in solidarity with the Black community. Yes, there will be challenges as well as opportunities, and the reward is the difficult but not impossible goal of every person, regardless of their race or identity, is entitled to safety and freedom to live.

It’s understandable that Black people hesitate to support the Asian community when we have a history of being anti-Black and forget our shared history of solidarity, led by the likes of Yuri Kochiyama, Grace Lee Boggs, and Richard Aoki. We only stand to gain when the enemy is not each other, but the systems that profit from our division.

“A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.” – James Keller

Compensation: Assess damage and contribute economically as able 

It’s fair to admit when we don’t have the answers to everything. And also, you don’t have to be the President of the Greek-Letter Asians for Racial Equality, Inc. to make sincere contributions that advance healing and social change. In my opinion, part of Roger’s retribution journey and that of his chapter and organization could look like raising funds and awareness for organizations that are already doing this work. My suggestions include:

The Audre Lorde Project

Black Lives Matter

CAAAV

Color of Change

Three Token Brown Girls

Rehabilitation: Intentionally building with Black community members and organizations

No, I’m not telling you to make a Black friend and all is forgiven. I am suggesting you consider all the ways you move in your day to day, and make different choices that benefit your unlearning of racism and growth as a leader in your community.

  • If you’re a student organization, especially a Greek-letter organization, consider partnering with a Black fraternity or sorority, or your school’s Black student association for a workshop, community service event, or social event. Use the time to focus on building solidarity and unity with each other and understanding each other. It’s harder to fear and easier to build when you have a relationship with someone of that identity/community.
  • Look into your own race or ethnicity’s struggle with the same issues as Black people. Immigration, domestic violence, poverty, barriers to leadership roles. Know your self, your history, and what your people are doing to change the status quo.
  • Stand up for Black people around you. You might not say the perfect thing. Your help may be declined. You probably will feel embarrassed. But stand up anyway. That can be as thankless as telling your non-Black friend in a space of non-Black people to stop saying the “N-word,” and idc if it’s in the song don’t sing it. That can be as small as crediting the original Black creator on your next TikTok. That can be as brave as admitting to an online platform of mostly Asian peers that you said something racist, and you’re going to figure out how to make it right for your self and for our community.

Guarantee for Non-Repeat: Avoid doing this again

In the case of Roger Sun, the specific thing he should be mindful to never do again is to voice an opinion that is negative/approving of violence on a group of people on the basis of their racial identity in a space where no people of that identity are present.

The hope with an apology including a guarantee of non-repeat is that the lesson goes deeper than one person thinking twice before they type something about violence towards the Black community. Here’s what I hope comes from this:

  • I hope we normalize failure, so that we can spend less time trying to hide evidence of our failures and spend more time healing, learning, and acting better as a result of our failures.
  • I hope our Asian Greek-letter organizations prioritize leadership development with a focus on inclusivity of all marginalized identities and unlearning oppressive thoughts, ideas, and behaviors.
  • I hope we hold each other more accountable, not only for anti-Blackness but for all the -isms and phobias like sexism, homophobia, and discrimination of the poor.
  • I hope valuing Black lives would teach us to raise awareness and fight for change among ourselves. Asian, Desi, Latinx, Middle Eastern, and Native communities need healing and protection too. Even wh*te communities struggle under wh*te supremacy.

Last Thoughts Before Part 2

I didn’t know anything about Roger Sun until I opened Facebook on that day and saw my Little’s comment on his apology post in Subtle Asian Greeks. To be very honest, as an Asian person and member of an Asian Greek organization, my first reaction was deep sadness. Not just for what was originally said, but how this apology sparked more cancel culture towards the one person — as if taking down Roger Sun would turn into a Facebook Badge for Black allyship — than building on his apology as a platform to end anti-Blackness in the Asian community and commit to solidarity with the Black community.

It is my opinion that Roger Sun can stand to take people being mad at him for what he said and what he believes. I think his apology post should not be considered as an excuse to not do the work, but to signal the start of his healing process for him self and our community. The inverse would be to ask our Black Brothers and Sisters to stay silent when we speak about their bodies, families, and communities in ignorance.

Two of my Littles are Black. NYU in 2008 – 2011 was a different time. I remember Black students organized a “100 Black Students” event, referring to the statistic myth/joke that there were only 100 Black students at NYU and focused on organizing for Black student issues. Looking back, I didn’t witness anti-Blackness towards my Little, nor did he disclose experiencing racism among his brothers and the Asian Greek community.

In 2017, I welcomed my second Little Sis into our family. Barely a few months as a neo, and she was already exhausted at the number of times she’s had to tell Asian Greeks to not say the N-word; especially in front of her. As her Big, I was angry. Which regional consultant did I need to contact? How does she get an apology? When was this ever okay? I applaud her chapter for standing by her, and that she was able to channel her rage at the rampant anti-Blackness in our community by organizing award-winning events on racism and educating the Asian community on anti-Blackness. And also… not everyone is my Little. Not every active house is willing to stand behind their Black Brothers and Sisters when they say they’ve been harmed. Not every campus is welcoming of pro-Black action. Still, doing something matters.

And so, I did this thing and created this article. I’m taking a break, and then creating Part 2 based on the screenshots of what was actually said, how they were problematic, and suggestions on how to move on from this as a community.

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