I Don't Want to Have to Talk About This Again
So, yes, I have been thinking about anti-Asian violence. I’ve been thinking about it all year, and after the shooting in Atlanta, I am sad and scared and so, so tired. It’s on my mind, of course. But I haven’t been talking about it much online.
Partly, I rankle at the idea that I as an Asian American need to talk about anti-Asian violence in America. I’ve talked about racism a lot over the course of my lifetime, and I’ve talked about it a lot more as an activist over the past few years. I think it’s important to talk about. And certainly I know that waiting around for white people to fix racism is untenable. But I still feel that the time it’s most important for me to speak up is when my own communities are the ones perpetrating or benefiting from injustice. It shouldn’t need to be Asian people speaking out about anti-Asian racism, just like it shouldn’t need to be women speaking out about misogyny or queer people speaking out about homophobia.
But also, I find myself just getting tired of yelling about things online, and wondering how much it ends up mattering in the first place. There’s a conversation to be had about bearing witness, I think. And I think that there are ways that increasing awareness can affect the world in more material ways. But shouting on Twitter isn’t the same as organizing or activism, and at least for me it’s not even particularly cathartic anymore.
What I want to know is what can we do on a practical level to actually make things better? Donating to a GoFundMe for a victim’s family or to a grassroots organization working in vulnerable communities is a good thing to do, surely, but I’m thinking about how often small orgs end up being overwhelmed by donations after a tragedy, and, even more, how many people let a small donation be the end of their involvement. What’s the amount of money you can donate before it’s okay to stop thinking about an issue? And is it okay to just throw money at a problem and hope that someone else will do the work? My point here isn’t to shame anyone else or discourage you from donating, these are questions I’m trying to ask myself, too.
I’m skeptical of calls for more policing or hate crime enforcement, not only because of the ways that our law enforcement and criminal justice systems so often treat white suspects so differently from BIPOC suspects, but also because of the ways that our criminal justice and immigration systems are often the sources of violence against marginalized communities to begin with.
I’m skeptical, too, that just talking to our racist uncles is going to stop racist violence. It’s not to say that we shouldn’t talk to our parents or uncles or spouses or kids—I think we should have those conversations, assuming we can do so without putting ourselves or others in danger. It’s just that I don’t think the people who most need to hear these messages are likely to be open enough to receive them. Maybe I’m wrong about this, and I’m glad people want to try, but I just don’t have it in me most of the time to be the one to try to educate people about why racism is bad, or what racism even is.
Maybe it’s just because my activism focuses on legislation and public policy, but more and more I find myself thinking that the best thing we can do is make policy changes that materially help marginalized communities. And not through things like hate crime laws or increasing police presence, but rather things like immigration reform or healthcare reform or policy to address wealth inequality. In California right now there are, for example, bills to provide universal healthcare regardless of immigration status, and to establish a pilot program for community-based alternatives to policing. There is a bill to provide food assistance to all residents, regardless of immigration status. There are a number of bills to try to provide affordable housing. Those are all things we could advocate for to our elected officials—and I plan to do so. It’s not that immigrant and BIPOC communities having access to housing and healthcare and education and other resources will stop a racist gunman from opening fire. But it makes more and more sense to me that racist attitudes change after material conditions change for marginalized races, not before. That racism is not the cause of inequality but a tool invented to justify inequality, and so by addressing the inequality first, we provide a path to addressing attitudes.
But, look, I am tired of having to talk about racism and injustice. I want to talk about art and books and podcasting and interviewing. I want to talk about nostalgia and longing and the bittersweetness of watching my children grow up. I want there to be a good time to talk about things that aren’t dire and global. Maybe it’s a selfish desire to have and insensitive to admit it out loud—probably it is, I don’t know—but I am just worn out. The world goes on being awful no matter what I want, of course, but sometimes I need to look away for a while.
And I think that maybe what drives my feeling of resentment is that even still, the people who should be taking responsibility and should be the ones looking and speaking up, many of them aren’t. It’s not to say that none are—indeed, I’ve been glad to see lots of white and other non-Asian people speaking out over the past few days. But as heartening as it is to see non-Asian allies stepping up, I still have to know and even see that there are so many people who think America doesn’t have a racism problem, who throw around the model minority myth, who are just shut into their little bubbles and refusing to see what they don’t want to see.
I don’t have a big conclusion to wrap all this up. I’m tired and angry and sad and scared. I’m heartbroken for the victims and their families. I want people to be better. I’m trying my best.