#NotYourMule race debate ignites on Twitter following Oscars

#OscarsSoWhite: How to fix the problem
#OscarsSoWhite: How to fix the problem

While Chris Rock was talking about the lack of black actors being recognized at the Oscars on Sunday, viewers of color were tweeting about how he neglected to mention that Latino, Asian and Native American actors had also been largely ignored.

The result was a deep, sometimes uncomfortable conversation about intra- and inter-racial relations using the hashtag #NotYourMule. With it, black Twitter users called out non-black people of color for failing to create their own social justice movements and expecting black activists to lay the groundwork for them.

"A lot of voices that had previously been silent, not just about diversity in media, were talking about how he wasn't speaking up about their community," said Mikki Kendall, a writer and active Twitter user who created the hashtag.

One such tweet by HP Latino Voices that quoted Rock's call for black actors to have the same opportunities as white actors. "But what ABOUT the Latinos? We want that too!" the tweet read.

Another tweet by the immigration activist and journalist Jose Antonio Vargas asked when Rock would "bring up Latino, Asian, Middle Eastern, Native American actors and opportunity," (Vargas, who is working on a new media venture that will focus on race and identity called #EmergingUS, later Tweeted that he was eager to address "anti-Blackness" in Asian and Latino communities. "CANNOT WAIT. It's gonna get uncomfortable," he tweeted.)

Other tweets were directed at April Reign, the woman who created the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite last year to reflect the lack of diversity in Hollywood. Reign said the tweets suggested that the campaign was not inclusive of non-black people of color in the industry. But she insists that the influential hashtag has always been "inclusive of marginalized communities,"

Reign, who did not watch the Oscars, said viewers "assumed that because Chris Rock is black that he was the spokesperson for a hashtag that a black woman made." (In a 2014 essay for The Hollywood Reporter, Rock slammed Hollywood for being "a white industry" and called Los Angeles a "slave state" for Mexicans. Rock has also cast Latina actresses in leading roles including Rosario Dawson in "Top Five.")

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Kendall said she used #NotYourMule to reflect the work that blacks have put into fighting for civil rights and the resulting visibility that issues affecting blacks have gotten compared to those affecting other communities of color. "You can't keep standing there and saying why aren't you doing this work for me, but you don't want to take any risks," Kendall said. "I don't believe solidarity can be a one-way street."

Rebecca Theodore-Vachon, a contributing writer for Vulture.com and RogerEbert.com described #NotYourMule as "a pushback" against non-black people of color who want to see change without doing the work. "You have a lot of black women that have really taken the reins and have been leaders in online social activism," she said. "It kind of feels like we are dong all the work and being attacked for it."

The use of #NotYourMule also went deeper than the Oscars to include discussions about prejudice against blacks within Latino and Asian communities.

Some of the frustrations, Kendall and Theodore-Vachon said, had been bubbling up in black communities for weeks after a visible lack of support from non-black communities of color for the victims in the Daniel Holtzclaw case, the Oklahoma City police officer who was convicted of raping multiple black women. Holtzclaw was sentenced to 263 years in prison in January.

More recently, Asian Americans around the country have rallied in defense of Peter Liang, a New York City police officer who was convicted of killing an unarmed black man in a stairwell in Brooklyn.

These protests, Theodore-Vachon said, have added to the feeling that blacks, who created the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter in response to the repeated police killings of unarmed blacks, are often alone in their fight for civil rights until those issues impact other communities. "We just didn't feel that support for #BlackLivesMatter and now you want to enter to conversation about police brutality when its now an Asian-American cop that's facing prison time," Theodore-Vachon said.

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Also prevalent in the discussion was the theme of anti-black sentiment within Latino communities. Some Twitter users criticized Spanish language media for excluding black Latinos, while others focused on the internal prejudices harbored against them by lighter skinned Latinos.

"Yes, its uncomfortable," said Daniel José Older, the author of Shadowshaper, a young adult novel whose lead character is an Afro Latina whose family does not approve of her dating a black man who is Haitian. "With social media we're now able to have a lot of conversations that we couldn't have because there were filters in the way," he said.

For Jaya Sundaresh, a writer and activist, the #NotYourMule Twitter storm was enough for her to create #OnlyOnePercent, a hashtag that focused on the lack of Asian American representation in media. So far, many of the conversations attached to her campaign have focused on why Asian parents don't support their child's pursuit of artistic careers and why Asians get stereotyped into certain roles.

'We need to stop asking black people to lift our voices for us," Sundaresh said. "We need to be doing the work for ourselves."

On Monday morning, Sundaresh got a Tweet of support from Reign, the creator of #OscarsSoWhite. It read: "I fully support #OnlyOnePercent & hope it gains enough traction as #OscarsSoWhite. Great work Jaya."


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