i woke up yesterday morning to another painful news story published by the NYTimes about an elderly Asian woman getting beaten up in Midtown Manhattan. she was on her way to church.
the man who attacked her told her that she “does not belong here.” he kicked her in the torso then stomped on her body and head which caused a massive contusion and broke her pelvis.
there is a CCTV screenshot of the man who attacked her. he is bald, wearing a white/blush pink jacket, a red scarf, blue pants, black shoes, and his skin color is black/brown.
this is the discomfort i feel that i want to address right now.
the same NYTimes article has a link to an extremely disturbing video of a fight between two young men. a young Black man is punching a young Asian man on the J train in NY. people are watching. people are filming. nobody is intervening. the Asian man was choked until he lost consciousness.
this is the discomfort that i feel which my other AAPI community members feel, and i want to address it right now.
the same NYTimes article states that the security guards who witnessed this attack right in front of them which took place a few feet away–the same security guards who did not stop the attacker or help the woman up, but instead closed the door on her–have been “suspended.”
i couldn’t tell the identities of these security guards but i do want to know if they are Black/Brown men. if they are, then what are we to make of these men whose jobs were to secure the building, and if they did that, then what do we make of their firings, and if they are Black/Brown men, what do we make of the fact that they are now jobless for doing their jobs by catching the ricochet of these anti-Asian hate crimes conducted by other Black/Brown men?
this is the discomfort that i am seeing and feeling, and i want to address it right now.
i attended a teach-in hosted by Florida International University led by Philip Carter in the English Department.
The panelists who presented at this teach-in include some remarkable thinkers. I want to highlight some of their insights today right now, which were helpful to me in giving me productive ways of thinking and offering me a sense of relief in these troubling times where my white community members (in academia and comedy) are still silent in.
Cyra Choudhury said, “We do not need to do the work of white supremacy.”
Mia Charlene White said, “The face of anti-Asian racism is not Black people. It’s white supremacy.”
Mitzi Carter mentioned that through militarized spaces in Okinawa, Japanese women were classified as either “mama-sans” if they were elderly and just objectified/fetishized Asian women if they were younger. A cruel binary to force Asian women into.
Sean Metzger mentioned the importance of recognizing intra-Asian violence wherein Asians are anti-Asian towards one another within ethnic differences and class differences.
Jack Tchen asked, “What makes America ‘great’?” then went into the most amazing breakdown of how colonial ships play a large role in the concept of racialization that occurs in America.
Tchen said that the Racialization of Asians (the formulation of Asia as a continent) despite its great diversity which took place in different ways in different points in time through trade, immigration policy, foreign relation and wars.
Trade has been the dominant force in which Asian bodies were racialized.
White coloniality wanted ASIAN THINGS (exotic, prized, beautifully-made) but also “cheap” things. Things that could be produced in mass quantities for the American middle class so that they can buy and own products that reaffirm the “American dream” for them via Asian-labor. The very fact that Asians are racialized through trade suggests that Asians (Asia) may be possessed but also discarded/disposed when they become useless.
Tchen continued that the thingification/commodification of materials is the way in which Asians were racialized in America.
Choudhury then reminded us of how “cotton” conjures the same notions.
Carter then reminded us of the same concepts tied to “sugar.”
(This gives me a whole new way to understand “cotton candy.”)
Metzger was the first academic panelist to speak right after Margaret Cho. Because he was the first to speak, I typed in my question in the Q&A box on Zoom addressed to him but it was really a question that was posed for all the panelists, and could’ve been answered anyone.
This was my question posed yesterday: “Question for Prof. Sean Metzger. Thank you for this insightful presentation. My question is one to address the uncomfortable reality that some of these hate crimes are being committed by Black men against Asian elders (the latest in NY Midtown being one example). How can we make sense of this or address this? When structural racism and white supremacy cause Black Americans to be violent towards Asian Americans? I see socio-cultural disadvantages in both Black men in America and Asian elders in America. But a younger man attacking an elderly woman is wrong in my view. How can we understand this PRODUCTIVELY? Any ideas would be most appreciated. Thank you.”
The moderator–Philip Carter–read all the questions at the end of this great talk except for mine.
I found this decision to pick and choose which questions to ask the panelists and which to ignore–a decision I believe he made based on his white comfort level with the question–to be counterproductive. In fact, it caused damage. Because it forced me to question and doubt myself while this panel promised the opposite. (Instead, Philip Carter did thank Wells Fargo 3 times, and he promoted FIU’s twitter handle numerous times. Was I sitting in a panel for productive thinking or corporate PR?) Philip Carter did not trust that his panelists could answer this question, while I fully had trust that this panel could absolutely address this question. I had trust. Why didn’t Philip Carter?
Their fears are what perpetuate white supremacy. Their fears are what perpetuate white silence around the insidious harms caused by white supremacy. By the end of this teach-in, while I had more tools to use, I also walked away with burns caused by this moderator’s ignorance and neglect.
A study that was mentioned several times in the panel today is related to the uncomfortable question I posed; the title of that criminal justice study is entitled, “Hate Crimes against Asian Americans,” and it is written by Yan Zhang, Lening Zhang and Francis Benton.
What that study finds is that anti-Asian hate crimes are conducted mostly by non-white Americans–meaning Black and Brown people as well as other Asian members of the AAPI community (intra-Asian violence). Anti-Asian hate crimes are unique in that way–that although white supremacy is at the root of it, the contributors of that violence are by Black and Brown bodies.
I was so let down by Philip Carter’s blatant decision to overlook my uncomfortable question. It is one that I asked seeking a productive means to dissipate and dissolve the boundaries that are held up in front of us, pitting “us” against “them” or “me” against “them.” It’s a question that I asked seeking concrete methods of considering how power inequities and structural racism caused by white supremacy lead to disempowerment of Black/Brown men which may cause them to seek empowerment by enacting violence towards other vulnerable identities like elderly Asian women. My question was seeking for panelists to shed light on socio-economic and socio-cultural realities that show the commonalities between the AAPI elderly demographic and younger Black/Brown men in America. It was a question that gave opportunity for us to look at further uncomfortable histories tied to white colonization/imperialism which forced Black/Brown Americans to serve in war causes that brought them to Asian countries where they did a lot of killing in the name of white nationalism/imperialism/supremacy/colonization–the same violence as their own past. how do we make sense of this chaos that subsists via the longue duree of white supremacy/patriarchy/capitalism that ravaged nations that belong to Black and Brown bodies, and i include AAPIs in the “Brown” category in this particular context.
Philip Carter exercised his privilege by picking and choosing which questions to engage with today. i found his decision to do this similar to the decision of those security guards to decided to close the door on the elderly woman who was beaten right in front of them. those security guards probably felt like they were doing their job (in a detached sense, they were doing that); P Carter probably felt similarly when he decided to keep the gates closed on my question and not address it but ignore it even though the question was posted and there in plain sight for everyone to see. he closed the gates on me because he decided it was in his best interest to not engage with that right now but to instead promote Wells Fargo and his school’s Twitter handle.
in my field when we say does it matter that diversity representation is visually seen in front of the camera we say yes but we also say that it matters WHO is BEHIND the camera. the same applies for moderating/hosting panels. it matters WHO is given the power to host/moderate panels about BIPOC issues.
i posed this same question to my AAPI friends who are not academics but just people i have a relationship with, and their insights gave me so much uplift and productive modes of thinking so that i can get a grip in this tumult of chaos that white supremacy has hurled the BIPOC communities in America into.
This is what they had to offer:
One friend said: “It’s so difficult bc we have to leave space for Black pain but we must also require Black allies to condemn their own. Everyone wants to be separated from hate but the separation just makes it grow.” They shared this TikTok video.
Another friend said that ignoring this question is more a testament to how little progress the US made in terms of race. It also reminds her of the Black/Brown soldiers who were sent to kill people in Asia–people who enlisted just so they could live the “American dream”–meaning acceptance, respect and money. She also mentioned how “fucking insane” it is that even though WWII started in Europe, it was the Americans who decided to drop the nuclear bomb in Asia, and continued to do so thereafter during the “cold” war years.
Another friend writes: “He probably felt uncomfortable which is ironic because Margaret [Cho] explicitly said we have to have these uncomfortable conversations. Idk if anyone wanted to get into the deep root of it.” She said that she “feels” my question and is disappointed that it went ignored. That she feels like her brain “gets it” but she is struggling to get there emotionally. “It would’ve been helpful or that to be more directly discussed.”
I find insight and uplift from my AAPI community members/friends who give me helpful reminders for making sense of this chaos. They are all truth-tellers, just as today’s panelists were sans the mild distortion and white gatekeeping that I experienced on a personal level.
Ignoring complex questions that challenge white comfort zones is a part of white supremacy. Removing opportunities for such discussion prevents us from formulating language and modes of thinking to lift us up out of the chaos inflicted onto us by white supremacy. Ignoring these complexities while thanking big corporate America instead is part of the chaos inflicted onto us by white supremacy (capitalist patriarchy).
how do we get out of these places of pain that cause myopia and tunnel vision?
a recognition of the longue duree, a reminder of who i am, reassurance from fellow AAPI members, good books written by great minds, greater intellectual insight to forge new pathways of thinking (learning, action, growth), and a necessary reminder of mindfulness and love. the final point is far more difficult for me right now because all of it is difficult right now, but love is especially hard right now. that doesn’t mean i don’t have it. i feel it. i offer it. i receive it. but it is hard right now.
another resource that was mentioned in the chat that might be helpful for “growing our souls” (as Grace Lee Boggs advised us to in the face of ineffective activism) is this book by fred moten and stefano harney: The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study.
Metzger, in a way, did answer my question albeit indirectly. In a way, all of the panelists have. But Metzger placed an emphasis on the importance of “study.” That there is a lot to learn from texts and documents that show us the non-newness of these “recent” upticks in anti-Asian hate crimes. That AAPIs are not alone in their sense of racial injustice. that these are all connected to one another in complex and at some points inexplicable ways. this is why study is necessary–in order to make sense of the chaos we live in, and be able to see with clarity at the eye of the chaos however temporary and momentary they may be.
Now, as of today (Mar. 31, 2021), there is more information. The man who attacked the Asian woman in Midtown was caught. He is a homeless man who served 16 years in prison for stabbing and killing his own mother in front of his younger sister when he was 19. He was supposed to serve a life sentence but was released on lifetime parole. He is mentally ill. He did not get the support that his conditions needed. Not from his family, community, city, state, and country. Now then. The moral question of what he did as a younger man to an elderly woman becomes hazy. It’s no longer just “right” or “wrong.” It’s no longer a question of racially motivated hate. It’s one of structural racism failing him as a human (him having his human rights ignored). And an AAPI elderly woman had to face the consequences of a system in which she does not hold power in.
White mentioned in the teach-in yesterday that if we’re talking about hate crimes, we could potentially extend or reimagine what constitutes a hate crime onto concepts like deportation, which affects AAPI community members. We can then extend that to mass incarceration of Black bodies, especially Black bodies that require medical attention and support. Especially people who grew up without necessary support as children.
We can then say that structural and systemic forces that racialize and disenfranchise Black and Brown communities of their basic socio-economic needs are then motivated by racialized hate. Then I see what these individuals taking out their feelings of disempowerment, anger, or ire towards AAPI members, I’m left with a mind of chaos. I want to say, “Your anger is being misplaced here,” but to say that would be as pointless as telling an undocumented working class immigrant of color, “I don’t understand how you’re a Trump supporter.”
White said, “The face of anti-Asian racism is not Black people. It’s white supremacy.”
I add, “The face of anti-Black racism is not Asian people. It’s white supremacy.”
I add that the anti-Asian racist attacks conducted by Black and Brown people are caused by the socio-economic disenfranchisement of Black and Brown bodies caused by the systemic and structural racism stemming from white supremacy in this country which lead to greater numbers of homelessness, mental illness, and mass incarceration rather than safe homes, healthcare, and government funded community support and education. What’s the point of hearing government leaders say that they denounce these hate crimes when they are part of the hate crime? What’s the point of arresting a mentally ill person and having angry people on the sidelines picketing and shaming him when he probably doesn’t understand what he did as necessarily racially motivated but just a reaction based on whatever absurd reaction his mind led him to commit?
The “trickle down” effect of elitist white supremacy from the top (big government and big corporation owned by white people) comes down to the bottom, and at the bottom, there is chaos among Black and Brown people.
Part of the reason why Hollaback’s video experiment in 2014 with a white woman walking around NY was called out for its white blindspot is precisely because most of the people catcalling were Black and Brown men.
Feministing warns against oversimplifying Black and Brown experiences based on white feminist terms.
Then are we oversimplifying anti-Asian hate crimes as anti-Asian hate crimes when they are being conducted by some people who happen to be Black but also mentally ill and homeless?
Can discussions of just race possibly resolve this extremely complicated issue?
There are more complicated dialogues being raised in the NY Times but they need to go further. GO FURTHER.
Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality” to examine precisely such issues. But even with that, we need to go further. GO FURTHER.
I wish that time and space was given to us yesterday to have these discussions examining the fine points rather than put broad strokes over these stories with just big theory. But as long as white people are uncomfortable with such discussions, they will be limited to the comfort zones of white people. As long as white people remain limited to their white comfort zones, the BIPOC communities’ works will seem limited (when they are not; they’ve GONE FURTHER; the white gaze needs to CATCH UP).
A part of the face of white supremacy is the white comfort zone.
I emailed Philip Carter and asked why he ignored my question. So far, he has not responded. White ignorance is willful, and it comes with the limitations of white comfort zones.
The face of racism is not Black and Brown people. It is white supremacy. The people who can change white supremacy are white people. Until that day comes, I will continuously stare up from this whirling tornado of chaos and do what I can to look at the sky whenever I catch a glimpse of the eye.