Though the news about the spike in violence against Asian, Asian diasporic, and Asian American people has faded from the front page, the structural violence against them still happens. I want to highlight two friends who wrote amazing articles this month. This post features excerpts from them, and links to the originals as well as resources.
Tony Butterfly Pham and Tomi Nagai-Rothe wrote pieces a couple weeks after eight people, including six Asian women, were shot and killed near Atlanta. Butterfly asked, “Why do the most vulnerable among us have to die before we see them?”
Say their names: Daoyou Feng, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Soon Chung Park, Xiaojie Tan, and Young Ae Yue.
Butterfly reflects on his upbringing: “Don’t rock the boat” is an English cultural warning against saying something that may upset people…I can feel the force of intergenerational trauma and cultural conditioning of “politeness” pressuring me towards silence, not wanting to “rock the boat.” I feel my own woundings getting triggered, and to the six Asian women who were gunned down, I see you. And as part of seeing you, my intention is to practice right speech and right view to honor your lives, even if it causes discomfort to myself and others. Discomfort is not much to ask of those of us that can still breathe. The six Asian women who are dead can no longer speak.
In the remainder of the article Butterfly speaks to the broader system of patriarchy and racism that enabled a 21-year-old white Evangelical to commit murder. He connects it to the governmental history of violence against Asian people (Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, the colonialist wars in East and Southeast Asia, the harassment of citizens descended from the Middle East and South Asia after 9/11, and the former president racializing the COVID-19 virus with names like “kung flu.”) Throughout dealing with these abuses, many in the various targeted communities kept quiet out of fear and passed on the tradition of not speaking out to their children. Butterfly concludes by sharing his experience, and reason for breaking with that tradition to speak out:
My experience of getting raised in an Asian household meant being socialized to “save face,”
which often meant not “making trouble.” As I feel the anger, despair, frustration, rage, and
sadness in my body at the murder of six Asian women,
I cannot ethically keep quiet.
While white supremacy has exploited certain Asian social norms
by “rewarding” silence with assimilation,
I believe that Asian Americans can apply our location at the crossroads of multiple cultures as a tool for social justice.
Being Asian and being American are not exclusive to one another.
We can take pride in weaving our heritage into identity, and exercise
a fundamental right of the United States: freedom of speech.
May we use it wisely.
Please read the full article here on Lion’s Roar.
Tomi shares memories of racism from childhood and carries questions about the silence of other baby boomer white folks in the face of increasing vulnerability that she faces as she heads into elderhood.
“All the news of the past month and the past year – being killed for being Black, Latino, Asian or Indigenous – has been going on for centuries and is, in fact, the norm in this country. It is what this country was founded upon and what continues to fuel our economy.” And so when our blood, sweat, and tears are the fuel, no wonder it’s hard for people accustomed to using the fuel for decades to truly be bewildered as to the recent violence. In her next paragraphs, Tomi invites us to act, even if we are bewildered.
“I hope that what I have written is profoundly disturbing – especially if you have been upset by recent acts of racial violence. You should not be surprised at all because our economic, military, workforce, policing and incarceration, and land “ownership” systems are all working precisely as designed: to extract as much money and control as possible from communities of color and the natural environment at whatever cost. This includes making food, medicine and clean water difficult or impossible to access – and outright killing people.
The panorama of visible and invisible violence in this country hurts me, hurts my family and hurts millions upon millions of people who are survivors of racist violence spawned by the society that we live and breathe.”
I join Tomi in her hope is that even if you have not experienced racist violence yourself, you will be moved to action. It’s urgent, as she says pointedly “I have heard from White friends that they don’t have enough time to become informed or get involved. So my question is, What is the threshold at which this crisis of racist violence becomes both urgent and important enough to take action?”
She continues” This is not a rhetorical question. This is a real question aimed at saving lives. When does inaction stop and outrage and engagement begin? For people of faith the bar is higher because every major wisdom tradition centers the Golden Rule: Treat others as you would have others treat you.”
Part 1 and Part 2 are here in full, and they have links to resources where you can learn more and take action, from a 5 minute action to a deep dive!! It’s an amazing list ranging from addressing the Doctrine of Discovery to doing trauma-informed care.
I continue to be so grateful for Tomi and Butterfly’s words and inspirational presence in my life and the world. Even as we change months, let us deepen our commitment to protecting, truly appreciating, and building together with Asian folx.