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Episode 59 | How Do We Ally? Talk with Ed Pokropski and Galen Reeves-Darby


Black Lives Matter


Below is an abridged audio transcript of Episode 59 from Season 4 of Rock The Boat: Making Waves, edited for clarity.


We at Rock the Boat are unequivocally in support of Black Lives Matter. We've been deeply contemplating the terms allyship and solidarity. We've been reading up on various articles about the history of Asian and Black allyship and also internal struggles that we face with anti-blackness within our own community.


Over the last few months there have been plenty of posts on social media about how to be a good ally, solidarity around a Black Lives Matter, and the call outs from within our own communities on how to combat anti-blackness. Lucia wanted to get more questions answered and was aware that there are people who are in the Asian American community who are still torn about the issue or who don't think that it affects them.


On this episode of the podcast, Ed Pokropski and Galen Reeves-Darby join Lucia for a conversation about allyship. Ed is a Korean American adoptee who works at NBC. Galen works as legal counsel at the Black Entertainment Television Network.


The following is an abridged transcript of the episode. To listen to the full episode, find us on Anchor, iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts!


I. Telling our stories


Lucia: I want to really just dive right in. I think something that has been missing from this dialogue around allyship and around solidarity is personal stories and sharing personal stories of about identity and how that really relates to other races. I feel like it can get kind of deep.


So, I'm happy to start and kick things off. I think what really triggered this idea of having more conversations is personally this past Sunday after the first, protest, my parents called me from Shanghai, and they asked, "Hey, how are you doing? Are you doing a right?" And I was like, you know, yeah, I've been doing all right. We haven't really gone outside. We see the protest from windows.


And my mom specifically said, "Hey, you should be careful because. A lot of these, African Americans and black people are targeting Asians. And so, you should, you know, stay vigilant and protect yourself." And I think she's seeing a lot of media around just, Asians being attacked across the world due to COVID.


And so that was something that I felt an emotional reaction to, and also just like a curiosity towards, like, why would you think that they are specifically targeting us? So that kind of just got me to a point where, you know, I started reading a ton of articles, like both in Chinese and English, to just kind of unpack like what's happening and truly understand what's going on.


And then, at the same time, everything kind of blew up where, I just started seeing a lot of posts on like, you know, here are the five steps to like true allyship and here are the five things that you can do. Personally, I've lived in seven different States. and I look back at like my elementary school and middle school photos and like my best friends were so diverse.


There were Black, Latinx, And all sorts of, different types of people. But after moving back to Shanghai for high school, everybody looked like me. But then after coming back, I felt so comfortable with my Asian roots that I like kind of look around and I'm like, you know what, like honestly, most of the Black people that I know are acquaintances and I figured, you know, there's some work that I personally needed to do, but also there's a lot of things I don't understand.


And so I feel like it's important to reach out and try to understand.


Galen: There's obviously a lot to unpack there. I guess I can. Start by giving, you know, my own personal background and my exposure to racism. And I'll try and hone it in to how it's been affected or at least its relationship to the Asian community.


I was born in Houston, Texas, grew up or at least up until second grade, was in a nice middle class, suburban neighborhood, had friends of all different, cultures and races, and really didn't even think about it that heavily. To be honest, I kind of describe it as race blind when I look back, and, going into third grade, I moved to Mississippi where both of my parents are originally from. And I mean, even though I was in a, in a big city, in the biggest city in Mississippi, it was quite the cultural shift just to say the least. And you know, for a lot of the same reasons I think, come to people's mind when they think of Mississippi.


Ed: For me, my upbringing, being a Korean American adoptee, it's always complicated because you're in one of those groups that kind of, it's always straddling the line between different groups. You don't feel any connection to the motherland, so to speak and, you're not being perceived as fully on there again, and whatever that means.


I grew up in a predominantly white, blue collar community in Philadelphia. And my parents are white and a lot of my friends growing up until eighth grade, all my circle was white and, and like, Galen was sort of saying like my, grade school from like first to eighth grade was a similar thing where there was like one or two black kids and one or two Asian kids.


And then when I got to high school, I went to public high school and it was much more diverse. and that really, I think is where it opened up to more, to hearing more experiences and seeing more things.


And when you get into those types of environments, you can sort of get into that bubble where you think like, "Oh, everyone's cool with everyone." And it's fine in certain cases when it's like all, you know, clicking and working out well. When I started getting into boxing at that same time, that threw me into a different, shift of communities for most of the people in the boxing gym were Black or Latinx.


Especially now the idea of allyship, I think always goes back to the idea of where do Asians, where do they consider themselves?


I think a lot of the times, especially being a Korean adoptee and having white parents, there's and I've been seeing a lot of Korean adoptees talk about this right now and share with stories about how their family and friends will say things to like, to them, "Oh, well, you're basically white" or they'll even say, "Oh, you're not a person of color" or you're not this you're, you're one of us. And they say those things in words and in private and in certain ways, and it's almost like a throwaway comment and almost like a given for them, but they don't understand how that can shift and hurt someone's identity.


Then trying to like, understand what that means, especially then when they're bullied by the same white friends or white people in the neighborhood, it's like, well, if we were one of you, why is this happening?


Lucia: I think instances add that kind of, "This isn't how I feel."


Ed: The hardest story that I've shared and tried to talk about more is about my father, who I don't really talk to anymore, but for a million different reasons.


But my father who's white, and I won't say his name, he's the first person that I ever heard use the N word. and I was like about10 years old. And it was in regards to my favorite baseball player, who was Ken Griffey, Jr.


And it's a story that like, he said it, he knew that I liked him and he was my favorite player and he used it in regards to him. And, for all those reasons that we're talking about, yeah. I never felt like I belonged and his treatment of someone I idolized in that way, put the nail in the coffin, the stamp and the thing to say this isn't right.


Lucia: I think it's very courageous of you to be able to share that story. And I think being vulnerable is part of the way that we can really truly communicate with each other.


II. Talking about race and identity


Ed: I think one of the questions that I was curious of, and again, we can't always speak for the whole of our communities, but, when it comes to whenever I'm in the Asian American hive mind, that model minority thing comes up as like one of the main things that everyone is trying to hide or fight against or go against the grain on and try to dispel that myth.


But my curiosity is from the Black community is like, is, do you guys perceive us as that way as being like the model minority as in a way that is detrimental and seeing how it sort of plays into all these institutional things that can hurt.


Galen: That's a great question and, obviously, like you said, I wouldn't ever even pretend to speak for all Black people.


I can only speak to what I've seen and what I've experienced. But, I guess there's really no one size fits all when it comes to that question. Like whether Asians are viewed as allies or supporters of the quote unquote good fight, but I think there is kind of a notion, or at least a feeling maybe even subconsciously amongst the Black community that our Asian brothers and sisters in a lot of instances are silent bystanders.


And as we've all seen a million times on social media these days, a lot of us view silence as compliance, and that makes you tacitly compliant. And I think that kind of positioning of, of kind of being on the sideline or at least not clearly being one way or the other breeds a lot of that distrust and mistrust, inability to come together. The model minority myth also plays into that in a really real way.


Lucia: Galen, have you ever personally felt like there were times that you wish somebody spoke up, but they didn't.


Galen: Absolutely. I mean every day, like the first time that I really noticed it and, with everything that's like happening right now just felt so markedly different is with Mike Brown's killing, those first rounds of murders of black people.


When I was, a law student active in my Black law students association out marching, making protest at campus, there was radio silence on social media from white people, Asian people, a lot of people. And at least back then, I guess a lot of the attitude was, "No, it's not my fight. It's not my battle."


Personally, I let a lot of people slide in my own circle in life back then as a result of that. But you know, now somewhat six, seven years later here we are again. I think a lot of people or I have noticed that difference and have made an effort to come out and speak up.


III. Allyship in our communities


Lucia: I think prior to COVID nobody wanted to talk about anti-Asian sentiment. The last article that was published about anti-Asian sentiment was 2016. And the hashtag that it started was #Thisis2016.


So I think the thing is like, yes, Asian Americans experience microaggressions, and yes, we have our own deep rooted issues, but I also think that there's a sentiment that we keep to ourselves. We try our best to like move up economically. something Andrew Yang said is that we as Asian Americans have internalized, the meritocracy and the American dream and the idea that if you work hard, you can get somewhere.


We've internalized that capitalistic perspective so much that we forgotten that systematically there's unfairness.


Ed: I mean, I think it goes back to the idea that, we think we can fix it with money. So I think there needs to be more accountability for people to do stuff without the need for monetary gain or the need for, how's it going to benefit me, if that changed people's mindset towards giving other people opportunities.


Lucia: I think it needs to be a number of different shifts. I think there are absolutely people who are just doing it out of the goodness of their hearts, like I think there are people who like truly believe that this is humanitarian. I don't doubt that.


That's not what I'm saying. Those aren't the people that I need to talk to. Those are the people who are already out there who are ready to speaking up, who are already saying something. I'm talking about the people who don't realize and isn't that where we're trying to move the needle.


I don't know if the message of, "Hey, you need to think about this. Do this out of the goodness of your heart," it's going to change the minds of those people who are already thinking like, "Hey, what's in it for me."


Galen: I think getting people out here and realizing this isn't going to change without some meaningful conversations on both sides is necessary, but also I'm down for whatever the whole works. We've seen what does it, and, it's gotten us here, so, you know, let's try something, anything that'll get us in there.


Lucia: In closing, I do strongly want to fight for the idea that we need to be supportive of people who are trying, just trying. I don't think it's helpful for members of our own community to be shutting down other people who might not be trying in the same way that you are, or who might not believe that the same way that you're doing it is the best way to do it.


Ed: Yes, I admittedly sometimes I've probably curved my message to make it a little bit softer. In some situations, I ask those people then who say they don't know what to do for people like me who like speak up and say, this is you missed the mark, we can curve one way.


And those people that are on the other end, who then I asked them to be stronger, to allow for criticism, to take a moment and understand where it's coming from, and then welcome back to the table.

Show Notes


Black Lives Matter.


This was an edited version of the podcast. Lucia, Ed, and Galen go into other questions and topics, so listen to the episode to hear the full conversation.


Support your local Black Lives Matter chapter or other Black-led community and organizing groups.


Keep an open mind. Read up on what you don't know so that you do know.


Listen to the full episode, find us on Anchor, iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts!

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Rock The Boat is a podcast elevating the stories of Asian leaders, founders, and pioneers in their fields. Through candid and thoughtful conversation, the host Lucia Liu uncover stories of their upbringing, Asian identity, and the movements they've built. 

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