Emil Guillermo: Justin Jones is still black. . . and Asian American Filipino
Jesus was resurrected in three days; Justin Jones needed five.
And then the newly minted voice of the voiceless, an advocate for an assault weapons ban and an overall generational change for a more inclusive democracy in America, was not just back in the Tennessee state house–to all the world, he was also Black.
The Associated Press headline was pretty unequivocal.
“Black lawmaker who was expelled reinstated to Tennessee seat,” blared the online Yahoo news site.
The lede was even clearer.
“One of two Black Democrats who were expelled last week from the GOP-led Tennessee House was reinstated Monday after Nashville’s governing council voted to send him straight back to the legislature.”
Great, but only partially right.
Lester Holt on NBC Nightly News gave it a crack, but alas, he fell short too.
In “that political drama in Tennessee late today,” the anchor declared on the network’s evening news: “The Nashville Council voted to reinstate one of the Black state lawmakers expelled last week over protests….”
All that was great. But when it comes to Jones’ race, Lester was only half correct.
If you read my column from last week, Jones isn’t just Black.
He’s also Filipino by his mother’s side. He’s Justin Shea Bautista Jones, who grew up in Oakland and in the East Bay of Northern California.
And he fully embraces his Filipinoness. As mentioned in his campaign collateral, Jones is as proud of his Filipino heritage as he is of his African side.
He’s a mixed race Asian American.
No big deal? I’m making it one. We all should see Jones’ Asian American Filipino side.
If Jones and his fellow expelled legislator, Justin Pearson, are all about inclusion, youth, and bringing in all the people to the table, why just outright ignore the Filipino/Asian American side? Why not mention that Jones represents even more cultural diversity than anyone thinks?
The Washington Post got it right last Thursday when in one of the first stories about the Tennessee expulsions, the paper referred to Jones as being of Black and Filipino heritage. Even on MSNBC, Alex Wagner, herself part Burmese descent, acknowledged Jones as Black and Filipino on her evening show. Other media outlets, not so much. Unless you were the Asian/Filipino media.
Most of us knew.
Acknowledging Jones’ mixed race specifically was 100 percent correct, culturally and journalistically.
It was accurate. I praised both instances I saw in the mainstream. But through the weekend I was disappointed when the backslide occurred everywhere else.
By Monday of this week, when Jones was reinstated, well, you saw. AP and others just forgot about Jones’ mother’s blood and dropped any reflection of diversity.
We’ve seen it before. Tiger Wood’s mom is Thai, and he made a big deal about his Asian side when he first came into the public eye. But “Cablanasian” didn’t stick, and most everyone just found it easier to backslide to Black. This past week when he withdrew in the final round of The Masters, Woods was just the failed champion.
Kamala Harris, the vice president has always seemed more partial to her African American side. During her run for president, it was like she kept her Asianness (her mother is an Indian immigrant) as a handy aside. It wasn’t fully embraced until after the Biden/Harris victory, and then it was clear. She was Black and South Asian, a Black Asian American woman, the highest ranking person of either race in our diverse country’s history.
History made it more than mentionable. Still, most media references to Harris lazily backslide to “Black.” Or perhaps it’s assumed everyone knows Harris is of mixed race, or editors feel when it comes to Harris, her race is so obvious now to make it irrelevant.
But it’s not irrelevant. It defines the ongoing battle in our country over racial identity.
With the GOP waging a culture war on denying our country’s racial past, I feel it’s become imperative for the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) community to proudly declare our heritage and race, especially when it comes to newsmakers whose cultural backgrounds are factual identifiers that help people understand the news.
A name and an age are usually the two most important facts about a person journalistically. But race should be right up there too, like when a local Tennessee lawmaker puts his job on the line to battle for inclusive voices on important issues at the state house.
Jones can’t just be Black. Not when his physical presence (his hair, skin, size) clues us in that he’s also representing another ethnic minority as well, Asian American Filipinos.
One’s race should be as important as people boldly declaring their pronouns. (Yes, I’m a he/him, though I feel solidarity with the they/thems.)
But that’s gender grammar. Race is about blood, fluid and undeniable.
I’ve always said when we have a love interest in one another, maybe we’ll see an end to the racism. A naïve take? It’s slowly happening ,according to the numbers.
In 2020, the percentage of mixed race people was up from 2.9 percent of the population or 9 million people in 2010, to nearly four times that at 10.2 percent or 33.8 million people.
With so many mixed race American people according to the last Census, we have to stop being lazy, as in defaulting to Black when someone is really Black with Asian, or Latinx, or Caucasian, or whatever.
Perhaps I’m sensitive too because my mixed race White and Filipino kids always get confused for something they’re not.
I tell them to be proud of all of what they are. Blood doesn’t have to get messy.
Just get it right, as in the case Justin Jones.
Make his Lola Harriet from the Philippines happy.
Don’t ignore his Asian American Filipino side. And don’t let the news media get away with saying, “the Black lawmaker.”
Make them say it. Jones is a Black Asian American Filipino. Use the overt language of diversity.
If you’re slinging pronouns, why not show off your race too?
America in 2023 isn’t just Black or White anymore. And the firebrands of the future like Justin Jones want to represent all of us.
NOTE: I will talk about this column and other matters on “Emil Amok’s Takeout,” my AAPI micro-talk show. Live @2p Pacific. Livestream on Facebook; my YouTube channel; and Twitter. Catch the recordings on www.amok.com.