more sustained thoughts on
January 18, 2014
A lot of people (esp. on twitter) know about the #NotYourAsianSidekick hashtag started by Suey Park which got big and is hoping to sustain itself into a movement.
I have complex feelings about this because, in many ways, #NotYourAsianSidekick isn”t a space for me:
On December 15, 2013, Suey Park, a freelance writer and organizer, launched the hashtag #NotYourAsianSidekick on Twitter, which started as a conversation between a group of friends who had often found it difficult to find a place and a voice in existing conversations about justice in the Asian American community.
I”m not american. So. And (while it doesn”t say so here) there is also a strong feminist-centric focus to the whole thing.
To be clear: this isn”t a criticism. I don”t necessarily think it is a problem for a group/movement to be aware and sensitive to both its geographical and historical context and to be clear about the ways that these contexts limit its applicability in other contexts. As in, I really don”t expect a movement started by a cis Asian american feminist to include me.1
I did watch and listen to most of the first forum and in doing a bit of reading about it and learning more… i”m noticing certain themes emerge:
1) Despite some occassional slippage with language, this movement really is for americans. Asian americans.
The notion of “Asian American” is (unsurprisingly) a uniquely american fiction, largely created out of historical Asian activism within the states.
As noted above, I don”t necessarily think this is a problem…. but problems emerge both in the ways that the leaders are attempting to address criticism from older generation activists and in the ways that this focus on Asian american (or AAPI or whatever) causes some… questionable positioning.
In my previous post I discussed the ways that attempting to pay tribute to the historical asian american activism was a little… silly. In part because of this insistence that having asian american studies departments in white supremacist post secondary education is somehow critical for freedom.
The coining and emphasis on ~Asian American~ is relatedly a problem. This identity is fundamentally one that seeks legitimacy from a white supremacist settler state. While I can”t really talk about the american identity from experience, I do know that (being canadian) the canadian identity is one that is necessarily steeped in violence and is a mark of complicity in ongoing Indigenous genocides.
Seeking validation as a pinay canadian (if i were to do so) necessarily involves seeking validation from a settler state. this requires recognizing and reifying the lie that this settler state has rightful sovereignty on these lands, such that it and only it is able to confer the coveted ‘citizenship” that immigrants and migrants often desire.
However, it does make sense to situate a movement in both its relative historical context (Asian Americans absolutely must address and deal with earlier assimilationalist organizing from their forebears and the ways that this has contributed to the oppression of Black americans and the Indigenous peoples). This is necessary so that they do not continue on the same path.
2) Who is ‘Asian” and other ‘divisive” issues
While watching the forum it didn”t escape my notice that 5 of the six participants were East Asian and only one was South Asian. No southeast Asians (although we were briefly mentioned), no Pacific Islanders, no central Asians, and no West Indians. This is obviously a problem, since it has long been the case that East Asians dominate, lead, and erase the existence of other Asians communities, despite claims to represent all asians.
In any case, my point here is actually the lack of any real analysis or attention paid to ~Asian~ as a racial identity and category. There is, of course, much understanding about the ways that white supremacy has created this category and oppresses all peoples it decides are a part of this.
but we cannot and absolutely should not understand ~Asian~ as a stable racial category. It isn”t real, in the sense that no races are real but social constructions designed for oppressing those who aren”t white. no racial categories are stable.
we can see from american history that some white ethnicities were once not white. we can also see from world history that peoples once considered Asian aren”t really thought to be so anymore. when you look at a world map of the continents one can”t but help notice that, according to these white drawn boundaries, Saudi Arabia,Armenia, Iran, Afghanistan, Turkey, etc etc are all ‘Asian” countries. Of course, the US census actually classifies these peoples as ‘white” nowadays, but this is (frankly) ridiculous.
when we look at the seminal Orientalism by Said, it is important to note that at the early stages of colonialism the Orient was definitely what we call the ‘middle east” or ‘near east” nowadays.
I point this out to partially talk about the ways that it is absolutely critical that no one follows the US census for classifying who is or isn”t asian. similarly, there is some contestation that ‘AAPI” erases the specific identities of Pacific Islanders. I don”t have much to say, again, about this because I”m neither Asian american nor a Pacific Islander. All I mean to demonstrate is that we make a sincere and serious error whenever we treat ‘Asian” as a stable category that has any real coherence outside of white supremacy. It isn”t stable and it does depend on whiteness2.
3) Anti-blackness and Indigenous genocide
I know that Suey Park recently was criticized for tweeting an anti-Black hashtag towards Don Lemon. Anti-Blackness was also mentioned during the first forum (as well as being a topic in Park”s post here).
The above section is important because while i do think working towards solidarity is important, i also refuse to subscribe to an ~Asian~ identity that structures itself as exclusive to both Blackness and Indigeneity. Asian anti-Blackness needs to be examined not only for how it manifests but also in the ways that this anti-Blackness fundamentally involves the many ways we continue to disavow and separate ourselves from the parts of our communities that overlap with Blackness.
the most insidious way that anti-Blackness manifests in our communities is via this subtle but pervasive understanding that Black people are not us.
I think that this will seriously undermine any meaningful movements towards solidarity because solidarity with Black people who aren”t Asian and with Asian people who aren”t Black necessarily must look vastly different from solidarity between Asians and Black people. And, yes, the onus is absolutely on us because we have, for a long time now, been more than happy to buy into this white supremacist lie that we are superior because we aren”t Black and mobilizing this as a means to advance ourselves not only at the expense of non-Asian Black people but by literally cutting out Asian Black people and pretending they have nothing to do with us.
similarly, in the first point i mentioned the way that seeking to have a legitimate identity as Asian american or Asian canadian necessarily results in complicity with ongoing Indigenous genocides, ~Asian~ as category and race necessarily involves a disavowal of our own Indigenous peoples (while generally asserting sovereignty at their expense).
so it is no wonder that asian organizing in settler states has been more than happy to take advantage of being non-indigenous and attempting to seek legitimacy from the very states grounded in their genocide.
note: it would also be a very serious mistake to conceptualize Indigeneity and Blackness as distinct realities and identities. i mean, i can think of a few different ethnicities that are incontestably sitting at this nexus of indentities, who are at the same time Asian, Black, and Indigenous.
while i understand why #NotYourAsianSidekick is oriented around a kind of feminism… i also just wish that it were more apparent/clear on the website. like you want to do a feminism thing, sure, okay, no problem.
but this is the sort of thing that needs to be front and centre. needs to be clear.
because i know i was more interested in #NotYourAsianSidekick before I realized that it was an implicitely feminist thing.
feminism isn”t and has never really been all that kind to #girlslikeus. and when I peeked around on the websites of some of the Asian woman/feminist organizations of the other people involved in the forum, not a single word was breathed or spared to discuss the ways that these organizations were helping Asian trans women, which all says to me that they do nothing.
and it is a shame because it isn”t like issues of human trafficking, sex work, exploitation, and other examples of gender based disparities and/or oppression aren”t a deep and continuing issue for the trans women of asia, for the ladyboys, the bakla, the waria, the kathoey, etc and so on.
white feminism has had pretty much either nothing to do for trans women or, in many cases, has actively targetted and worked against us. i”ve seen nothing to suggest that Asian feminists are any different3.
All in all…
is #NotYourAsianSidekick about cis Asian americans? Probably. Is this necessarily a problem… maybe, but that is for another post.
I lay all of this out just to… idk, contribute something to what is being hoped will turn into a proper movement. as a way for the organizers and leaders to, yes, be intentional about what they are doing and why. about the ways that they delineate the boundaries of this movement and the people they aim to help.4