In the days following the March 16, 2021 shootings in the Metro Atlanta Area I received texts and emails from several friends asking how I was doing and how I was feeling.
As an Asian-American elder, their support was a balm for a very painful week. Our family friends left a handwritten note of support on the front porch. One friend brought home-cooked food and another brought a bouquet of flowers from her garden. They were wonderful acts of love.
I spent time talking with Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) friends and family about what they were experiencing and trying to comfort them.
Toward the end of the week I noticed that most all the expressions of support came from my newer People of Color (POC) and White friends. From my oldest White friends: almost nothing. It made me wonder what prevented them from understanding what I was feeling. Perhaps it is a lack of information about my personal and family history, or an assumption that my experience is not so different from theirs. Or perhaps it’s because I have grown and will no longer settle for the damaging Model Minority narrative, and as a result my expectations of my friends has changed. I hope they will learn and grow in their understanding of (and outrage at) anti-AAPI racism.
It has been a year of increasing violence toward AAPI people and, as a result, fear of being attacked — even though many non-AAPI people are unaware of this. Every day includes a new report of AAPI people being harassed and assaulted.
I was chatting with a woman at the dog park soon after the shootings when she asked about the stick I was carrying. “My walking stick,” I said, then added to take advantage of the educational moment – “I’m carrying it in case I need to defend myself.”
Woman: But here, really?
Me: Elderly Asian people are being attacked every day. A woman was beaten and robbed in Daly City yesterday.
Woman: But was it in the daytime? (incredulously)
Me: Yes, in broad daylight.
I suppose the idea that only people walking at night are subject to attack is somehow psychologically protective, but it’s illogical to think that an elderly person would make a point of walking alone at night. And “that kind of violence can’t happen here” is easier to assume than “the person in front of me could easily become the victim of violence.”
The AAPI community is invisiblized by the dominant U.S. White Supremacist culture* and our issues are rarely covered in the media. We are not supposed to be seen or take up space. Have you ever had those assumptions about your AAPI friends or colleagues? Is it annoying if they ask for something you hadn’t anticipated? Do you think of them differently if they behave this way?
Over the past month I have been thrown back to traumatic memories of growing up in an all White Midwestern town. Walking to and from school young boys would regularly pelt me with racist catcalls: Ching Chong Chinaman! . . . Where are you from? . . . Why don’t you go back where you came from?
This last question made me perplexed and angry: I was in the town where I’d lived since age 2.
Even when I was older, perfect strangers would ask me, “Where are you from?” And when I told them where I lived, they would reply “But where are you really from?” Until I moved away from the Midwest, it seemed like someone was always reminding me that I was a perpetual foreigner – despite being a native, complete with a Midwestern accent.
In third grade I had a racist teacher who bullied and emotionally abused me every single day. She would criticize me in front of the whole class. She complained about the way I walked and the way my shoes looked. She made me cry nearly every day. Despite trying desperately to do what I thought she wanted, the racist tormenting continued for months and there was no way to escape.
We were memorizing the multiplication table and had a poster with all our names and stars indicating which parts of the table we had memorized. One day my teacher asked me to recite the table and when I stumbled under her intense gaze, she made me walk over and tear my stars off the poster. I was crying so hard I couldn’t barely see the poster. I was being tortured by an adult who had enormous power over me.
But racism doesn’t exist because of mean people. It exists because “race” as a designation, was created to systematically shut out and push down People of Color and build wealth for European-American people. The social construct of “race” carved us up so that some could be pushed down and others (White folx) could be lifted up. Remember that there is no significant biological difference between human beings.
All the news of the past month and the past year – being killed for being Black, Latino, Asian or Indigenous – has been going on for centuries and is, in fact, the norm in this country. It is what this country was founded upon and what continues to fuel our economy.
I hope that what I have written is profoundly disturbing – especially if you have been upset by recent acts of racial violence. You should not be surprised at all because our economic, military, workforce, policing and incarceration, and land “ownership” systems are all working precisely as designed: to extract as much money and control as possible from communities of color and the natural environment at whatever cost. This includes making food, medicine and clean water difficult or impossible to access – and outright killing people.
The panorama of visible and invisible violence in this country hurts me, hurts my family and hurts millions upon millions of people who are survivors of racist violence spawned by the society that we live and breathe.
My hope is that even if you have not experienced racist violence yourself, you will be moved to action.
The White Supremacist system was created to enslave people kidnapped from various countries in Africa by turning them into property so they could build the U.S. economy with unpaid labor. It was created to try to obliterate Indigenous People from their own Turtle Island in the quest for land, to steal the labor of Asian immigrants to build railroads, farms and then entire industries, and to demonize people from Central and South America, the Caribbean, Africa and beyond to take advantage of their labor to fuel the U.S. construction, agriculture and service industries.
Part 2 of this blog post continues here: https://theshoreline.net/2021/04/17/digging-out-after-atlanta-part-2