Over the past few years, Instagram has become a hub for a new generation of BIPOC activists who are shining a light on systemic racism, structural barriers and racial equity. However, what's less talked about is the tremendous impact mixed creators, particularly non-white ones, have had on the multifaceted discussions being held on the platform, and needless to say, it's a complex and nuanced conversation that's long overdue.
At a time when discourse surrounding Black Lives Matter and #StopAAPIHate has become even more visible, Blasian activists have become an essential voice on Instagram. Providing perspective from both sides and forming a bridge between these communities stratified by white supremacy, they're at the forefront of a cross-BIPOC unification effort based on intersectionality, allyship and solidarity.
As such, we wanted to spotlight three prominent Blasian creators helming this endeavor, including Megan Thomas (@MegScoop), Ryan Alexander Holmes (@RyanAlexH) and Johnathan Gibbs (@BlasianFMA) — who also notably runs a mutual aid coalition and Facebook group called the Black & Asian Alliance Network — to talk about their personal experiences with racism and erasure, the importance of knowing our history and the forces that keep us divided, as well as what we can do to fight against all of these things.
See our roundtable conversation with them, below.
For starters, can you all tell me a little bit about yourselves, your background and how that's informed your activism?
Johnathan Gibbs: Growing up as a Black and Asian person... I never saw things in a binary. [But when] I moved to the south, it was just Black and white with some Latinx people. So going to college and having people be like, "Oh, you must be mixed with something. What is it? Are you Latino?," and having to be like, "No, I'm Filipino," just saying that over and over again made me realize, "I'm always getting these questions asked." So I guess the activism was birthed from answering questions about "What are you?" all the time.
"So from a young age, it was almost like choosing social isolation or choosing friends in that the consequences of choosing friends was cultural erasure for me." —Ryan Alexander Holmes
Later, that would inform me being aware of the things that have been happening to the Asian community and Black Lives Matter, especially having been there when Trayvon Martin happened and being alive during Rodney King. Seeing that and just knowing the history, [you see there's] so much stuff that people don't realize is real. Like when Watchmen happened on HBO, they were like, "What? The Tulsa, Oklahoma [massacre] was real?" And I'm like, "Girl, yes." So my identity informs my activism just because I am, and it is something in my being that is important to me and, naturally, I'm going to pay attention to it.
Ryan Alexander Holmes: It's sort of a similar experience to Johnathan. I think the demographics of where you grow up as a Blasian also factors into how you view your identity. I grew up around primarily Asians and white people, and they thought that they could teach me how to be Black. Like in their mind, that's who they saw me as — Black. They didn't see me as Chinese. From how they were conditioned, they would say, "That's how Black people act. You need to act like this, you need to listen to this music, you need to do that." So from a young age, it was almost like choosing social isolation or choosing friends in that the consequences of choosing friends was cultural erasure for me.
When I got older and I started to be around Black people, I was like, "Oh, they just accept me for who I am. Okay, that's awesome." I didn't face any kind of backlash from the Black community for being Chinese. But at the same time, my upbringing was primarily culturally Chinese, because I grew up with my Chinese side of the family. So it was this weird mixture of being completely loved and accepted in my full humanity by my Chinese family, but not having that be reciprocated in the Chinese community. And then, after finally joining a Black track club in the black part of my city, I had to learn that part of culture too. But I started to understand that the way my community — the Asian and white community — was treating me as a Black person and telling me that I need to act like that was social conditioning that had been programmed from TV. Not actually seeing Black humans, right? So when I had the experience with Black humans in the Black community, I started to realize Black people as humans, and I started to realize myself as human.
Now that we're talking about #StopAsianHate, I see being both Black and Asian — the bridge between both of these communities and how similar they are. And sometimes I just get frustrated, because we're both not seeing each other's humanity and unifying as much as we should.
Megan Thomas: I'm the opposite of him, because I grew up with my Black side. My Korean side, I would see them like three, four times a year, because they lived in New York and I grew up in Kentucky as an army brat. But I was actually born in Seoul, South Korea on an army base, and I've lived in Thailand and we moved around a bit — Kentucky, Atlanta, LA — and in all of these places I've had to walk the line, especially because some of them are Asian countries.
A lot of times people are like, "What are you?," and I've noticed in America that Black people don't really ask that. I think because we've just had to deal with being mixed and accepting and loving. You go back historically and see that families were separated, that there's a lot of mixed children because of slaves that were raped by white slavemasters, so we're used to a lot of cultural mixing in the Black community. That's not the same for Asians. Usually, whatever country you're from, everybody is from that country, so everybody looks the same. So I think my Black side has always just been a little more accepting because it's like, "Hey, we see a little kink in your hair."
Then growing up in Kentucky, it was Black, white or "other," and I definitely wasn't white and I didn't feel like I was "other." The closest thing I could be was Black. I'll never forget my Black father and my Korean mom telling me at five years old that, "You're Black." I didn't understand the concept of race at the time though, so I looked at my skin and I'm like, "No, this brown. Like the crayon is brown. It matches my skin. I'm not Black."... For me though, it was paramount, and I'm so grateful that my Korean mom agreed and said, "Yes, you are Black," because in America when you walk down the street, white people and Asian people won't look at you and go, "Oh, that's a little mixed Black and Asian girl." They're gonna look at me and say, "You're Black," and that helped define my identity so much... And if my parents hadn't set me up for that, I would have been very confused.
As far as my activism goes, I've been using my platform for any Black Lives Matter situation. I got my start in entertainment in syndicated radio doing the news back when the whole Trayvon Martin situation was happening, so even though I'm not 100% Black, I do understand my perception in this country, which helps me to live as a Black person fully. But then, also being Asian, having Asian family, understanding what it means to be fully Korean and dealing with all of the racism that has been going on since the beginning of this country towards Asians, I've always tried to speak out about that too. Recently, I've obviously put up tons of posts about Black Lives Matter, because this is a problem that is wrong with this country that we need to fix this ASAP, but also being in Atlanta when Asian people are being killed for being Asian, and it's down the street from where I live, it hits home — especially because these women look like my mom or my aunt.
Speaking of this historic "Othering" that's happened amongst Asian Americans, what you think about the yellow peril narrative recently replacing the "model minority" myth, especially given all of these racially motivated attacks.
Johnathan: I'm Filipino, so we don't typically get classified as part of the "model minority," because we're like the brown Asians or the Southeast Asians... [Generally speaking though], as someone once said, "If we don't learn our history, then we're doomed to repeat it," and it looks like it's being repeated with the former administration and what they were pushing with the "China virus" and "Kung-Flu." First of all, it's like 2020, 2021. How is anybody getting away with doing that? But as a result, all of this stuff is happening, right? Or rather, it's being exacerbated and magnified. Because as everyone has said so far, we've seen this type of thing happening throughout our lives. I've seen Asians getting bullied, belittled, replaced and erased all my life, and I'm 36-years-old. It just goes to show though that [Trump] said those things, and now all of this stuff is cropping up.
Ryan: There's just such high expectations and unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, there's this one-track mind in terms of what success means within this "model minority" [concept]. And I followed that shit to a tee, but I still didn't get the benefits because the world sees me as Black. So there's that dichotomy too.
I'm Black and I'm Asian, but I grew up with Asians and my first experiences with racism were from my own community... There are racist Asians out there, and I felt a lot of that is silence. I am fluent in the different kinds of silence, I can interpret them. My family speaks that kind of silence. What's funny though is that people will see me and then think I don't understand what they're saying culturally, because they don't think I'm one of them, so it's like a slap in the face.
"Asian people have the responsibility to stick up for Black people and vice versa, because we both face the same evil of racism." —Megan Thomas
When it comes to the model minority myth, I see it exactly for what it is. It's just a myth that's not true and to buy into that is to buy into the conditioning [that comes with] the social construct of race and the hierarchy of race... It's a myth created by white supremacy and [it's also me] kind of calling out the Asian community for their anti-Blackness... Of buying into that thinking that you are superior, right? The Asians that are vehemently against affirmative action, you think you're superior. They're buying into that, because Asians got to where they are through affirmative action. But now, since it doesn't benefit them, they want to take it away from benefiting Black people, and we need it. We do, just like they needed it when they got here... Like the Asian community benefited from affirmative action, to a degree where now it's like you have this strong sense of education in your community, and you're getting the representation that you need in the educational system because of affirmative action. Don't forget that. Don't throw the people under the bus to help you get there.
When Johnathan talks about history repeating itself, it does because they don't teach us our history in the educational system. How could I grow up with Asians, and not learn Asian American history? We learned about the Chinese railroad workers, but only in the sense that it contributed to white excellence, and we didn't learn about these railroad workers from a human perspective.
Megan: I didn't even learn about it. I watched Warrior on HBO Max, and that was just fictitious but that tells me right there. Like, I don't even know what a coolie is.
Ryan: And we don't even learn about the Filipino farm workers that came here in the 1700s. We don't know, and we didn't even know about Japanese internment. We didn't learn that in school, and this is intentional. But we need to call it out for what it is, because it is absolutely intentional that we don't know our own history, so that history can repeat itself. And not just repeat itself, but continue to benefit the people that are already on the top.
Johnathan: The stuff that the former administration was doing with "China virus kung-flu," copy-paste it 100 years back and it was Chinese Exclusion Act. This is why they didn't want Asians to come in, and it was Black folks like Frederick Douglass who were like, "No, stop that." But nobody knows that history of a Black person standing up for Asian folks in the 1800s.
Ryan: It's interesting too, because people are taught that Abraham Lincoln ended slavery, but you learn the truth that if there was no Frederick Douglass, it would not have happened the way it did... But in school, we learned that Abraham Lincoln freed us — he was our white Savior. But we saved us. When I think about it, it comes down to education because if people actually were educated, they wouldn't be so susceptible to what Johnathan was saying. With the administration saying these things, they'd be like, "No, I'm gonna call bullshit on that."
Megan: Now that yellow peril has reared its ugly head again, here's the thing. Being half Black, the way people look at Asians is always how you're viewed as Black in this country, right? So imagine Asian people dealing with yellow peril — this stereotype they never get out of — and that's the Black experience, right? So at least for Asians, you get to go yellow peril and then the model minority.
These are tough pills to swallow. Asians, you don't always get stereotyped into the negative, but as Black people we know what those stereotypes tend to be: Lazy, angry, loud, not in two-parent households, whatever. Then the Asian side is opposite, which is so funny, because I grew up in a two-parent home and my Asian cousin didn't. It was a single mom raising them, but that wasn't the perception because of the benefit of a stereotype that's positive. That's to say that it sucks that that yellow peril has reared its ugly head again, however, I do think sometimes it's necessary for our Asian brothers and sisters to understand that you're in this with us.
It's so easy for Asian people to go, "Hey, culturally, we keep our head down. We do our work, we don't rock the boat. We just stay focused, and we don't speak out," but you have to. It doesn't matter what culture you are, because at any moment, white supremacy can decide to turn its ugly head on you as it as it's doing right now. And don't you want someone to speak out for you and support you because they should and it's wrong to be treated unfairly because of the color of your skin? So Asian people have the responsibility to stick up for Black people and vice versa, because we both face the same evil of racism. And I say that because I have people I know, including family who are like, "I don't really get like Black Lives Matter. Like that guy should have just complied," and I'll just be sitting there like, "You mean like how the people [in Atlanta] complied? When they were working at the massage parlor and they got killed and shot by this racist?" They didn't do anything to deserve that, just like [Ahmaud Arbery]. He didn't deserve that. He was just running. So we have to start taking away everything — all the stereotypes that we've been taught about each other, about Blacks and Asians, and go, "Okay, what is the real threat here? What is the real problem here? And how can I be an ally and help someone who doesn't look like me, but understand and see why and what they're dealing with?"
"Sometimes I just get frustrated, because we're both not seeing each other's humanity and unifying as much as we should." —Ryan Alexander Holmes
Johnathan: Yes, in some Asian cultures it's like, "Oh yeah, keep your head down, don't rock the boat and blah, blah, blah," and [even now] as we are having these conversations — especially from where I sit with the Black & Asian Alliance Network — hella Asians are coming on and they understand. They're like, "Black Lives Matter and yes, this is happening to us too, but the root is white supremacy. But then you have this sector of the population... that are like, "Well, they don't understand that Black people have been going through this," and then they'll say, "Well, Asian people have gone through the Chinese Exclusion Act." But girl, slavery happened. Then you get into what everybody labels as the "oppression Olympics," and I don't do the oppression Olympics because there's no comparison. I say this as an Asian person, there is no comparison to what Black people have gone through in the United States of America since 1619. Yes, there was legislation and it was institutional racism against Asians, but when Black people were freed in 1866, that ghost of slavery immediately reared its ugly head in the form of other things: Jim Crow laws, poll taxes, educational test to even vote. And even after they got rid of that bullshit, it was like, "Okay, how are we going to do it?" With the Nixon administration, [it was] the crack cocaine epidemic. The War on Drugs was a government-led effort to try to destroy the Black family. After that, it's incarceration, and after that, we're just gonna kill them on the streets. Like certain Asians get that they can draw that line from the 1600s to the present and say, "You know what, there's no comparison." Now, doesn't mean that we should be hitting grandmas and grandpas in the street, but somebody tried to post a podcast in my group the other day. I guess it was talking to Black people from an Asian person, but they said, "If we don't start paying attention to this, it's going to happen to your neighborhood next." And I'm like, "It's been happening to us. What do you mean? Just because it's happening to y'all now?"
We, as Black people, been knowing and those of us who have the emotional capacity and mental fortitude and ability to do the labor, we could show you the way to make it not happen, which basically means fix all the shit that's been happening with Black people. Because as soon as you fix that stuff, that white supremacy and everything that's been happening for 400 years or however long, it'll be good for everyone else.
Megan: I always say that when you fix the problems of Black people in America, everybody else benefits. If we all stick up and say, "No, we need to reform this whole policing situation," if everyone joins hands and says that, well guess what? We ain't gonna have a problem anymore. Not for Black people, Asian, Hispanic, nobody.
We've already briefly touched on the subject of racist online commenters and trolls, but I think one of the most insidious things we've seen so far are the people on both sides who are really trying to feed into the division between these two communities. For example, a lot of Black people have been, rightfully, pointing out that there's been a historic lack of support from the Asian community, while others are trying to frame Black people as the "main perpetrators" of anti-Asian attacks. So how exactly do you address these types of comments popping up on your Instagram posts?
Megan: I understand Black people being mad and saying, "Well, why are we helping them? They didn't help us." I do think that's wrong, because I think we all should be helping each other, but I understand that sentiment. I understand the feeling of like, "Oh well, now the government wants to do something and help Asians, but they won't help Black people." Because why wouldn't you help Black people? We've been here and oppressed for 400 years, so why wouldn't you help Black people first before you help Asians when it comes to racism? But I also understand the Asian side, which is seeing these videos of Black people hitting grandmas or hurting them. Though that's not the majority by the way, it's just some of the videos we've seen and there's been a lot more racism that's happened with other ethnic groups that have caused it. It's not just Black people.
I say that to say, we should all be helping each other, and I put this post up that shows the melting pot of my family — my Asian side with my Black side with my white sister and two white nephews — and was just like, "Look, I get it. I get both sides. I understand completely what everyone is saying. However, we need to be helping each other." No good can come of us going, "Well, what about me in a situation like this?" That's equivalent to saying "All Lives Matter" when someone's saying "Black Lives Matter," because that statement's just saying "Black Live Matter too," not that Black Lives are the only ones that matter. So when you come on here on a post talking about, "Don't hit no old, Asian grandmas," and you're coming on here as a Black person and saying, "Well, what about us?," you're essentially doing the same thing. I'm trying to tell people like, "Don't do that either, because that's not gonna help us. It doesn't help anybody. Instead, we need to be joining forces. So let's talk about it."
It's not our responsibility to educate anybody, right? It's everyone's responsibility to do their own research and their own work. However, I've allowed people to DM me, and I have conversations with them through DMs. Or I will just leave those hateful comments and allow other people to have that conversation with them. I do want to see people engage in this kind of topic.
Ryan: I feel the same way with those kinds of comments. I mean, it depends on how I'm feeling that day, because they come in weekly, sometimes daily, and honestly the block button has been my best friend. I'll just block them, but also leave them there sometimes, and the clapbacks from my followers, it's like I'm getting educated.
But yeah, Black people also coming in and sort of doing the same thing that the Asian antagonists have done, I'm always like, "Okay, this is a jerk." However, I have to really, really see myself as a bridge and be like, "Yeah, we don't want to go into oppression Olympics, and the Black thing is different, but you also can't do that to them either." We're up against this idea of being culturally exclusionary, and separatists and putting down people that are trying to lift themselves up because they're not like you or they don't experience the same oppression as you, but that's not going to help because we're up against something that is way bigger than us that we need unity to defeat.
When I think about anything I'm posting, I'm like, "How can I be the bridge because I am Black, I am Asian, but also me too?," and I have to look out for myself as well. When we all saw George Floyd get murdered in high definition for nine minutes, I watched that whole thing, and it hit me in a way that nothing has ever hit me before. It took me down this very, very dark hole of Black militancy in a way that I've never experienced before, and it was detrimental to me. I was not seeing clearly and that's something that, if you're not careful, can turn you into something that you are not down the road. It can turn you away from not just your own humanity, but seeing the humanity of other people. So knowing that and feeling like I can understand the Asians that are coming from that same perspective I felt while seeing George Floyd be murdered, I know they're seeing their Asian grandmas and grandpas being murdered and beaten in the streets senselessly for no reason. I can understand why they're coming with that energy. I can have an understanding of that and I can have an empathy for that, right? And my content can reflect that understanding, of all that pain, hurt and suffering, and direct it towards something that is conducive. It's not bad to feel those feelings, but if you're directing it in a way that causes more pain and suffering, you've become your own worst enemy. You're in a cycle that you will never escape. It's not for the benefit of literally anybody, including yourself.
Johnathan: On Instagram, I've stopped getting into these arguments, and I'm glad that over the past year, I've been able to see both Black and Asian people calling that BS out and being like, "No, stop that." Like if there's a post where it just happens to be a Black person attacking someone — or if it's not a Black person and just a troll, you never know — I see a bunch of Black and Asian people calling it out and working to move forward. And I'm happy to see that in the comments. It's still a toxic wasteland for some of these outlets, but within that toxic wasteland, there are more and more people that are saying we need to stop looking at each other as tit-for-tat. That we need to move forward.
My motto now is that there's so much hate in the world, but "doing the work" in this case is finding the people that are here for you and being there for those people. There's always going to be haters, but... the work is looking for the people who want to hold your hand and move forward. And it's able to be done on Instagram because it's a great platform and people are speaking up on it.
With that said, as big Instagram creators, I'm also curious to hear about your thoughts on the argument that social media has helped "water down" activism to some extent.
Megan: The people who are 60 aren't really on these platforms, but this is for people who are young. Social media is where they live and so, to me, we each have to do our part reaching people where we can. There's older Blasians who should be doing what they're supposed to do to reach people in their sphere, right? They're not going to be the ones that are on Instagram, putting up posts because that's not their era or what they're used to. But I think for us, this generation who lives on social media, this is actually where activism starts and where it lives and where it can grow.
Johnathan: Instagram is a wonderful place to share information. It's a cornerstone of social media, and there are people doing the work on it. But because Black Lives Matter became so popular and everybody jumped on that bandwagon after George Floyd, I'm calling what it is: Performative activism. We're talking about that black square trend which actually disrupted Black Lives Matter and the spreading of information, so when people started posting the yellow squares, everyone was like, "No, no, no, we're not doing that." Unfortunately though, it's easy to do that, but we've got real ones calling it out. The real ones are out here saying "no" so, ultimately, the message can get through.
Ryan: I have faith, man. I have so much more faith than I did as a kid especially, and so much more faith than I had like a few years ago. When I see something that's performative, and I see someone's just saying something to get some clout or fans or look like a good person, ust go into that comment section and they're just being demolished. So I'm like, "Okay, I don't even need to say anything." I don't want to say anything really, because I already see it for what it is and I don't want to associate with that. But I'm also happy that it's getting called out left and right.
With performativity, if it's not always detrimental... For me, it can be more like they don't really know and they're at the beginning of their journey, but they're trying. But if they're like telling other people how to feel, and telling other people that they shouldn't feel this or they shouldn't feel that — and they don't even know what they're talking about — that's different. I feel like there's a spectrum of performative activism.
"My motto now is that there's so much hate in the world, but "doing the work" in this case is finding the people that are here for you and being there for those people. There's always going to be haters, but... the work is looking for the people who want to hold your hand and move forward." —Johnathan Gibbs
Johnathan: I agree, and it's interesting that you mentioned that because I used to see a lot of people trying to gate keep Blackness who are not even Black. They were trying to tell other people within their community, "This is how you should act. This is how you should think," and I'm like, "Wait, there are no Black people in this room except for me." Now in the present day, some of us are understanding like, "Okay, we should not speak for Black people. We need to fight for them and understand that they are not a monolith." And I would hope that they think the same about us Asians, so again, lots of work and lots of untangling to do. But yes, nobody should be acting like they know everything.
Ultimately, if you want to boil it down, none of us are a monolith. Going back to the model minority, it says, "Oh, Asians are educated. They're crazy, rich." There are some like that, but I think Chinese people have the highest poverty rate in New York. I know a lot of underprivileged, Chinese people and Filipino people — they're Asians that live in poverty who are not good at math. But some Asians buy into that white supremacist model and strive to get into these circles of whiteness to look down on everybody else. It's like, "No, you're also looking down on other Asians."
Most definitely. So final question, what are some tangible ways people can continue helping to foster Black and Asian solidarity in the fight against white supremacy?
Johnathan: My advice is going to be: Look for the ones that want to be there and ignore the ones that don't.
Ryan: Watch all the documentaries that are out there. Watch Ava DuVernay, watch Will Smith's documentary on Netflix that came out recently that talks about the 14th Amendment. It's all about the oppression of, not just Black people, but minorities in America. It's about how we've been uniting with each other over and over again only for it to be erased and for us to repeat history. That's very important in the fight for solidarity that we're fighting for right now. We've done this many times, so how can we educate ourselves and implement that in a way where it doesn't get erased again and we find ourselves battling each other? So educate yourself and find people who want to uplift you and not erase you.
Megan: Definitely put yourself in someone else's shoes. It's a very simple, kindergarten thing to say, like do unto others as you would have them do unto you. But when you think about it seriously, would you be okay? If you saw your son, your cousin, your brother, your sister, your father with their face down, handcuffed, with their knee a cop's knee on their neck? You wouldn't be okay with that. It would hit you in a way that you're like, "That's not right." That's what you need to take with you, especially when you see somebody else going through something — no matter the race. You should always be like, "I don't want that to happen to me, or anyone I love. So let me stand up for them. Let me stick up for them." And on top of that, get you a friend of a different race, because a lot of people tend to stick with the people they know and look like. But the truth is we have more in common than you think.
Welcome to "Internet Explorer," a column by Sandra Song about everything Internet. From meme histories to joke format explainers to collections of some of Twitter's finest roasts, "Internet Explorer" is here to keep you up-to-date with the web's current obsessions — no matter how nonsensical or nihilistic.
Photo via Getty/ Additional photos courtesy of Megan Thomas, Ryan Alexander Holmes and Johnathan Gibbs
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