Un-Containing Asian/Americanness: A Word on “Allyship” When FAQs Keep Missing the Point
This is part four in a collection of five imperfectly scribbled parts. For contextual grounding, please visit the landing page.
FAQs these days are littered with: “How can people be allies to fill-in-the-blank-BIPOC community?” This question comes in every formulation, a barometer for the endless permutations of how white supremacist violence gets enacted on BIPOC communities here and by proxy. Because I am Asian American, these blanks are often filled with AAPI. My (often inner) response: Geez again? I don’t know. Ask someone else!
Talking about allyship is another tired American ritual that I, at this point in my life, no longer subscribe to. Let me explain.
My general (and blasphemous) belief is that allyship, by design, functions in performance and transactions. Because of this, I no longer conceive of allyship as the goal or “work.” Instead, I ask: what would it look like to strive and persist in the work of building and belonging within movements?
When we belong to something bigger than ourselves, we become interconnected entanglements, shifting into right relationships with each other. We become vested and invested in process, outcome, and personhood; we have personal stakes in what we belong to. As cultural theorist and Professor C. Riley Snorton offers:
Solidarity says that these are your issues and these are mine. What would entanglement look like instead?
The question for me, then, isn’t how to be better allies to fill-in-the-blank-BIPOC communities, but rather, how can we be entangled together?
The Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) is a powerful embodiment of this question. The M4BL organizes us to coalesce around all the ways we have and will always belong inside of the movement to dismantle white supremacy locally and globally. We are called to see ourselves as entangled bodies and communities inside of racial justice movements that confront every form and expression of injustice seeded by white supremacy, racial capitalism, and settler colonialism. We are all responsible for this dismantling. There is no room for doubt or bypassing when belonging to a movement; no room for the scarcity of my issues as distinct from yours.
In contrast, a tired example of allyship is the trend of #antiracist book clubs, where each season’s book is an urgent and self-centered projection of doing something to “be woke” for the latest slain and murdered fill-in-the-blank-BIPOC group. Every page and gathering is filled with doubt: what comes after the books are read and clubs are had? What identity-marginalized group will be transacted as next season’s book following another tragedy of white supremacist actors and systems having “a bad day.” And shit, sorry — we can only pick one each month.
What comes after this? Where do we go from here? I’m genuinely desperate to know because we are still dying.
And look, I love a good anti-racist book club but call it what it is instead of convincing yourself/ourselves/(who are we trying to convince?) that this is allyship. If the purpose is to learn and be in conversation, do that. And keep doing that. But don’t confuse that with allyship.
My cautionary tale here is that no matter how we redesign allyship, we won’t get very far together if the promise of allyship continues to catalog structural oppression into separated communities or disconnected moments in time. The day we all see and embody our positionalities as deeply interdependent and entangled is the day we no longer need allies because we’re already here. We’ve always belonged here. Let’s never forget that:
Belonging to ourselves and to each other is an entanglement that no one can take from us.
This collection of writings is a work in progress — open to your critiques, thoughts, feelings, wonderings, tensions, and tenderness. This collection, however, is not open to hateful comments or remarks that do not have the intention or invitation of trying to understand, connect, or “work out” conflict and differences.
Always and with immense gratitude,