Un-Containing Asian/Americanness: What is #StopAsianHate a Site Of and For?
This is part three in a collection of five imperfectly scribbled parts. For contextual grounding, please visit the landing page.
Parts one and two manifested my frustrations with #StopAsianHate, and I am not withholding that I’ve used this hashtag in desperation and grief, which speaks to my always present and ever-evolving tensions with the limitations of language. Do we use what’s available to us with its mainstream reach, knowing that large-scale impact costs us nuance and depths? Or do we create something different that may never trend?
Language, in many ways, is reductive in describing the vast and varied human experiences of identities bound by interlocking and intersecting forms of oppression, often conflating what feels so singular yet universal at any given moment in time. Hashtags, then, are near impossibilities. The unanswerable question (at least for now) is how to capture specificity without being reductionist; how to be an us/we without losing the you/me.
Given the limitations of language, I’ve been gentle and curious with my discomfort about this hashtag, which is perhaps the most significant hashtag dedicated to Asian/Americans in my generation and lifetime.
In both its naming and usage, #StopAsianHate, to me, feels inaccurate and inadequate because it reduces the Asian/American experience of racial violence and injustice into three categorical misunderstandings:
The first misunderstanding is that anti-Asian violence is an experience of interpersonal hate and individual acts, which abolitionist teacher and author Dylan Rodriguez pushes against by asking:
What if anti-Asian violence is not reducible to hate, and is in fact a persistent, unexceptional presence in the long historical, civilizational terror-making machine that is the United States?
The second misunderstanding is that anti-Asian violence and the misplaced calls for accountability rooted in anti-Blackness and policing can somehow be remedied by “unpacking” the Model Minority Myth (MMM), which becomes this essentializing explanation about and on behalf of the Asian/American racial experience (see part two).
And the third misunderstanding is that this “burgeoning” anti-Asian violence somehow justifies our self-righteous anger about being excluded as a racial outsider in the Black/White binary, in which I have to call us in on playing #OppressionOlympics and demanding #TransactionalAllyship (see part four soon). With all my love, please stop.
To expand, the organizing principle of #StopAsianHate compartmentalizes the racialization of Asian/Americans as outside of white supremacy, racial capitalism, and settler colonialism. This is dangerous. The hashtag — whether in its naming or usage — strips us of the nuance, complexities, and positionalities that mark our racialized bodies as literal dislocations of how and why we ended up in this country.
What then, becomes of our hopes and dreams and fears when we are reduced to foreign bodies that bear hate?
Ironically, in attempts to amplify the racial violence on Asian/American elders, women, and poorer communities, #StopAsianHate dilutes our enduring resistance into a one-dimensional story as outside of our ongoing collective struggle for liberation. There is no space in #StopAsianHate for excavating how deeply entrenched we all are in the anti-Blackness and anti-Indigeneity that laminates our tiered citizenship in this country.
Sociologist Tamara K. Nopper asks, “The hashtag itself — what is it mobilizing?” I’m not sure we, Asian/Americans, know the answer to this question. She goes on to ask: when hate looks so vast and vague, what “hate” are we stopping? And who or what are we stopping this hate from?
Without clear discernment about the systems and structures of violence, we’re left grappling with individual acts of hate through an interpersonal dynamic that is literally only skin-deep, reproducing the same anti-Blackness pervasive in Asian/American communities, though now dressed up as justice and accountability.
We perpetuate state violence by mistaking interpersonal relations as sites of accountability rather than looking at the violent conditions maintained by white supremacy and its army of associates. Making sense of individual “hate” at the interpersonal level hurts everyone in carelessly demanding accountability and justice through the enactment of carcerality, crime, and punishment. That’s neither justice nor accountability, and surely not the kind of movement I want to belong in.
I’ve been wondering about Nopper’s question in a more proximate frame:
What are we, Asian/Americans, mobilizing for?
To be honest, I’m resentful when I look around and see life just continuing on uninterrupted, especially through the eyes of other Asian/Americans. It’s almost as if I, alone, am grappling with Asian/Americanness — that it’s a me problem, that I don’t love us enough if I’m not satisfied with #StopAsianHate. But I also know this not to be true. There are countless people, organizations, and movements grappling similarly, intimately, and collectively.
These feelings of bitterness and perhaps, even jealousy speak more to my uncertainties in what I desire and dream of for Asian/Americans than to my actual resentment of us. And underneath this are my own insecurities and uneasiness with my relationship to Asian/Americanness. I’m not asking that we stop using the hashtag, but within or perhaps entangled with #StopAsianHate, I am asking that we dream up what it is that we, Asian/Americans, are mobilizing for.
My sense-making tells me that this larger tension is rooted in how young we are, how early we are in the formation of the Asian/American identity, and how developing we still are. It was only in 1968 that Yuji Ichioka birthed “Asian American” as a political identity distinct from an “oriental” or “yellow” racial identity of disjointed ethnic groups. The lexicon of Asian American has only existed for 53 years.
We are young, barely ripening.
Which is to say that we’re still maturing, still becoming, still figuring out what it means to be Asian/American as a vast and varied pan-Ethnic group living in the shadows of a nation-state that came to power through a spectacular type of structural violence shrouded in denial and lies of omission. As a still ripening Asian/American cluster, the urgency and reactionary speed of our many unprocessed, compounding traumas are outstripping our ability to respond with the kind of groundedness, clarity, and discernment that comes with maturity and practice.
What does aging into an Asian/American identity look like for us?
What do we envision as Asian/American elders and future ancestors in this country and across these oceans?
If we uncover deeper, I think we’re actually still trying to figure out how our distinct histories and complex traumas come together. As Asian/Americans, we are either oil touching water, or we are diluted paint bleeding inescapably and illegibly into each other. Where does one begin and the other end? As a 53 year young political identity, we’re not quite free of our internalized oppressions and intra-imperialist intrusions with or without the presence of these United States. We still don’t know how to be an us together.
Yet as we grapple with holding inter/intra-community nuance and complexities, our story is being written simultaneous to our struggle of finding our bearings in this long arc of the moral universe. We’ve crudely discovered that this bending of the moral universe does not center us, may never center us. Our growing pains, then, contort us incoherently around the lies that white supremacy feeds us about scarcity: if we’re not centered, we don’t matter and no one will show up for us. White supremacy croons endlessly into our ears, See? I told you no one loves you like I do.
The real reckoning we need to have is with ourselves.
I do not believe that we need to be at every center; liberation is not zero-sum, and often, we forget the privilege of loving and living in the margins. There is unfound safety in the margins, which, to be clear, is different from being marginalized. The margins can be both a privilege and a loneliness, a proximity and a distance that shields us. And —
For every margin, there are margins of that margin where we forget that the racial violence and injustice enacted on Asians are not always on this soil. There is, and will always be, dislocation in our racial experiences. If that is how our story is being written, our struggle, then, is to resist dislocation by situating ourselves and being proximate.
As Bryan Stevenson advises, being proximate is the only sure way to know and be known. We, Asian/Americans, are seeking to know and be known in our grief, and without proximity to the larger ongoing collective struggle for liberation, we are hurting others and ourselves. So let us be proximate to Black Liberation and Queer Black Feminism; to anti-colonial movements of the Third World Liberation Front; to the Zapatista and Land Back Movements; to confronting empire as our now and ever abolitionist project.
For some of us, we are growing up in #StopAsianHate, but I want to know if we can also grow old in #StopAsianHate.
We cannot only be fighting for ourselves. Individualism is how white supremacy rations momentary reprieve, forcing us to betray the collectivist roots that birthed and loved our ancestors into being. We’re still tenderly maturing as a political identity; our seeds for generative, abundant, and interdependent movements are taking root here.
As saplings, we must attend to being easily distracted and divided while being simultaneously erased and uprooted. This leaves me wondering if accusations of, No one shows up for us even after we showed up for Black Lives Matter are actually sheltering our aching insecurities and growing pains of being Asian/American. I wonder why accusations and demands are what we put our voice behind, instead of reaching out with invitations and reciprocity. Are we grasping desperately at everything and anything in this liminal space we occupy as “inconsequential” beings, lashing out in every direction, hoping someone, anyone will see us here, existing and aching?
We have to see ourselves here too, existing and aching.
Our origin stories are not our beginnings; they have never been our beginnings. We are historians of our intimate sites of struggle, alongside and inside of our collective sites for struggle. We carry creation stories and memories that will outlive our individual lifetimes here. We are that enduring.
So I ask again: what are we mobilizing for in these sites of creation, and more expansively, what do we envision as we age into Asian/American elderhood?
This is the invitation, the calling, the choice to tell our stories as more than bodies bearing hate and static myths, but as enduring sites of love, ripening through struggle.
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,