This video contains graphic images, an unflinching look at the present violence against Asian Americans.
The song “Strange Fruit” was chosen for this video because of its history of courage, truth, and allyship. It was written by Abel Meeropol—a white man—after he saw a photograph of the 1930 lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith in Marion, Indiana. The song—written in response to the pervasive horrific lack of humanity in this country—became a vehicle for Billie Holiday to expose the truth of violence against Black Americans. Holiday was persecuted for singing “Strange Fruit” not only because of its graphic depiction of lynching, but because it revealed painful truths. The history of this song—its creation in an empathic space, its unflinching honesty, and the courage and defiance of Holiday to continue to perform it at great personal cost to herself—is a testament to the capacity of art and music to give space for humanity. For this video, I believed it was important to include photographs of current violence against Asian Americans because of the urgency to tell and show the truth, a way to truly honor the history of this song.
It is the commonality of racism in this country that is most disturbing. An image of the largest mass lynching in the United States is included in this video. That lynching was of Chinese men in 1871 in Los Angeles. Also included are the historic images of caricatures of Asians that validated the mass killings, violence, exclusion, and internment that has plagued Asian Americans from their first influx into this country in the 1850s. This history is often ignored because of the current designation of Asians as the successful “model minority.” This myth weaponizes Asian Americans against Black and Brown people, hiding the white-supremacist belief that there are inherent deficits in Black and Brown people. It also disguises current truths. Presently in New York City, the largest ethnic group living below the poverty line is Asian American.
This video also shows current Black and Asian activists, paying homage to a long history of Afro Asian alliance and activism in this country. As early as the 1800s, Frederick Douglass exposed the mistreatment of Asian Americans. The alliances between Black and Asian activists continued with Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, and the Third World Liberation Army, as well as through the present day. It is this shared humanity that brings us here today—I, myself, would not be here without the Black Civil Rights Movement. Their sacrifices enabled the change in immigration policy in 1965, finally allowing immigrants like my parents—people born without European blood—to become citizens of this country.
In the end, this work is about creating empathic space for all of us. In an act of true humanity and solidarity, my co-creator Davóne Tines gave me and the Asian American community this space and platform to urgently reveal the truth of the violence targeted against us and the genuine fear with which we presently live. We both believe that “Strange Fruit” is a bridge between our lineages of oppression. We invite you to see and share this truth, and actuate true solidarity.