Content warning (CW): Anti-Asian American violence, racism, sexism
Yong A. Yue
Hyun Jung Grant
Soon C. Park
Delaina Ashley Yaun
Paul Andre Michels
I look into their names and faces and see echoes of my own, and of my mom, aunts, cousins, grandmother, friends, and beloveds. It has been over a week since eight people – six of them Asian women – were murdered in an act of targeted, anti-Asian, racialized, classed, and gendered violence. I still don’t really know what to say. The grief and rage have been taking my breath away and I find myself blinking away tears at random and unexpected moments – scrolling through my Instagram, on a Zoom meeting, looking outside my window and seeing the first buds of spring.
Although in my role I am often called to write Resource Generation’s official organizational statements, this feels too personal for me to be writing from a distance. I encourage those who are looking for broader analysis and resources to check out Red Canary Song’s statement (which we’ve signed on to), this recent email from the Catalyst Project, and Justice Funder’s call to philanthropy to invest in a feminist economy.
I offer these reflections with vulnerability and humility, as a person of Chinese descent born in the U.S. with wealth and class privilege trying to live with integrity in this empire. I write this to reject the “inscrutable Asian” myth, and to personalize when so much of the discourse of the “Asian American experience” is woefully generalized.
As someone who was gendered as a woman for much of my life (I identify as nonbinary and use they/them pronouns), I know in my body what it means to have my Asian-ness inseparable from perceived woman-ness and have been the target of harassment, objectification, and fetishization from cis men. I know the mix of shame and anger that comes with this kind of simultaneous hypervisibility and erasure, when my existence is only acknowledged as a figment of someone else’s racist sexual fantasy. It’s enraging and dehumanizing, but I have survived it.
Yong A. Yue, Suncha Kim, Hyun Jung Grant, Soon C. Park, Xiaojie Tan, and Daoyou Feng did not. While I have experienced racism and misogyny, I don’t experience the classism of being required to work outside of my home during a pandemic. Of having my labor devalued and criminalized. Of being seen as less than human because of the kind of work I do.
My time at RG has called on me to continuously reflect on questions of safety, security, and risk and examine how much my answers are impacted by class privilege. Ultimately no one is safe in a world ruled by white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism and it is clear that there are so many people who are so much less safe than I am. I feel my heartbreak calling me into being more accountable and rigorous in my solidarity with poor and working class BIPOC women and femmes, migrants, undocumented people, sex workers, incarcerated people, disabled people – anyone I’ve been trained by racial capitalism to see as disposable. Invisible. Less than human.
Part of this accountability means being mindful of how I perpetuate erasing class experience through my language. For instance I have often spoken about how I have access to some safety as a light-skinned East Asian person who is granted a form of conditional “honorary whiteness”, and generalized my experience to apply to all light-skinned East Asians. But for migrant, working class East Asian women massage workers there is no safety generated by proximity to whiteness.
This is why my class-privileged immigrant parents emphasized assimilation and wealth accumulation as a survival strategy for me and my brothers when we were growing up – if we could distance ourselves from marginalized, racialized, gendered service work, we would be less other, more safe. We were told that white people would never accept us and yet we had to find a way to get rich and “succeed” in their rigged system. My parents – especially my mom – helped middle class Chinese immigrants get driver’s licenses and insurance so they could own cars and homes, and try to snatch that slippery rung of the elusive American dream. Fit in. Be more American (rich and white).
But assimilation always leaves people – especially poor and working class people – behind. And just as my experience of race and gender are inseparable from each other, so is my class. I am an upper class, masculine, white collar, college-educated, English-as-a-first-language Asian. These systems of privilege help me survive white supremacy and misogyny, at the cost of the lives of those who are systematically excluded from these categories. That cost is too steep a price to pay for the dubious privilege of “honorary whiteness”, which can be revoked by white supremacy at any time.
I commit to doing my part to centering poor and working class-led Asian American organizing, and amplifying their calls for decriminalizing sex work, ending deportation and detention, abolishing the police and prisons, supporting Native Hawai’an sovereignty and anti-colonial struggles, and fighting US imperialism. I’m encouraged by the multi-racial solidarity and connections being built between Black, Asian, Latinx, and Indigenous communities. I am particularly humbled by the Black women and femmes who were among the first in my community to express personal support and public solidarity after the attacks. I commit to showing up for you and your healing and freedom in kind.
I long for a world where safety isn’t tied to whiteness or wealth. Where the weight of surviving white supremacy and racial capitalism isn’t put on the marginalized to work harder, take more risks, make more sacrifices, assimilate, and be judged and held to a double standard the entire time. Where we invest in wellness and safety and healing as collective birthrights. Where the labor of all BIPOC women and femmes is cherished and respected. Where we are whole, complex, connected. Alive.