As a late Asian Face Appreciation Day post, I’m sharing a speech I had to write for class:
There’s an author named Frank Wu who wrote about the triangularization of race and where Asian Americans fit into it exactly. Another author, Helen Zia, wrote about having to choose between “white” and “black” as a kid. Looking back on my life so far, I can only ask myself the same thing. During the first week of this class, we talked about whitesuasion and blacksuasion. As a young child and teenager in Arizona, I “chose whiteness” without a doubt, question, or hesitation. I embraced white supremacy and racist ideals like the very stereotypes that exist about my own identity because I thought that was what would help me fit in and make friends. My hometown is on a list of the least diverse places in America.
As an Asian American woman of color, I’ve spent the past three years exploring racial identity, power dynamics within racial hierarchies, and cycles of oppression that still exist in the crossroads of identity. There are certain things that I am dead certain of — I reject whiteness, or at least attempt to. I believe that community organizing is the key for real change to take place, as it heals not only the wounds in our individual hearts stemming from obstacles put in place by racist institutions, but also heals the larger wounds of our society by promoting unity and solidarity.
As Chris Ijima says, “The very birth of the term Asian American came from a rejection of white supremacy, institutional racism and in full support of Black Power. We stood together. Some of us still stand together. We must stand together again.
Asian American identity was originally meant to be a way to identify with each other and to share our experias to identify with the struggles of others, whether it was African Americans or Asians overseas, and it was less a marker of what one was and more a marker of what one believed. That it has now become synonymous with ‘pride in one’s ethnic heritage’ is a complete evisceration of what it was originally, and what it was meant to be.”
I am constantly reminded by society that to the average American I am not a person who has grown up here, I am always the invading foreign threat who speaks English so well. Where the phrase “me love you long time” becomes the bane of my existence, where I grew up making “sucky sucky 5 dolla” jokes because I was ingrained to think that it was normal and acceptable to mock my own culture in order to kiss the ass of the society that defines racism. I am reminded by everyone around me that as a woman of color, I am on the low rungs of the ladder of social hierarchies. The men in my own community will turn on me and call me a traitor if I date someone non-Asian. Domestic violence, sexual assault, patriarchal customs in our communities cannot be solely blamed on culture or tradition — white supremacy has poisoned the well that we drink from so deeply that I grew up with friends who looked like me and called themselves Twinkies or Bananas proudly because they thought that being white was an honor. I see activists pushing Asian women into domestic household roles as a servant and child-rearer, while not acknowledging the fact that men must fight along with women in the struggle for economic and social equality and must recognize that we make up over half of the movement. Hell, we are the sisters to the struggle and the mothers of the movement. Throughout the history of the Third World Liberation Front, the Black Panthers, and the Red Guard, women of color were neglected and taken credit from as we sat behind the scenes watching iconic moments take shape, watching our own blood sweat and tears flow into a river that washes away that which it flows from.
I think about the rampant anti-blackness and racism that exists in my own communities and families. I think about the way Asian and Black communities have waged war upon each other in LA, in Brooklyn, in D.C. and I believe that white supremacy succeeded in perpetuating a racist society by fooling all of us into thinking that racism is over. By turning it into a psychological war that takes roots in our own families and has us fighting over the shades of our melanin instead of banding together as yellow, black, red, and brown people fighting for and achieving equality in society. Their divide-and-conquer tactics turned us on each other and for that, my heart breaks. There is a lot of work to do but we have to start somewhere in order to bridge our divides and restitch our relationships.
Equality is marked in our society by our education and ability to gain access to education that is free and fair, and not only our education but our health, our food, our employment opportunities, and much more. Gentrification is a rolling plague that chokes our historic neighborhoods and resources to a quiet death while pushing all of us into more low-quality housing, more schools that have metal detectors that are on the to-be-shut-down list, more communities with highways as roofs, more blandness, and more cycles that keep us strangled by oppression.
Where we go from here determines the future of people of color in the United States. We can either work in our respective communities against racism towards each other and join forces to struggle against a common enemy, or we can sink into the apathy of staying in our own lanes and not seeing the potential that lies in collaboration.
Helen Zia, the author and activist I mentioned earlier, gave me a very important piece of advice when I met her. She said, “Juliet. Stop being so fucking polite!” and I hold that with me every day. It is not our jobs to debunk stereotypes and myths about our character other people have assigned to us because of our race, and it is not in the best interests of Asian Americans to stay quiet and obedient with our heads down accepting the discrimination we face daily. We must stand with our communities and with other communities as coalitions and brothers and sisters.
So like I said in the beginning, Helen Zia was asked by her friend if she was white or black. I still hear that question now, from my friends, my peers, and family. I can only answer by saying: Yellow Peril supports Black Power, Power to the oppressed peoples of the world and power to those who fight for freedom and equality. As Fred Hampton said, “We’re not gonna fight racism with racism, but with solidarity”. And as I say, I WILL NOT LOVE YOU LONG TIME.”