Confronting Anti-Asian Racism as BIPOC

In Ask SGO, Blog, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion by Felicia Jadczak

She+ Geeks Out’s Felicia Jadczak, Co-CEO and Head of Training and Fatima Dainkeh, Learning and Development Manager, discuss the recent increase in anti-Asian hate crimes happening in the US. They also discuss what it means to support BIPOC people overall, Asian Americans and Asians as a specific group, and how that all connects when we’re talking about the complexity of allyship among BIPOC.

View the full video transcript below.

Felicia: I just wanted to take a couple minutes to chat about something that’s been really prevalent, especially in the last few weeks and couple months, where we’ve been seeing a dramatic- I don’t know if it’s dramatic necessarily, but definitely a marked increase, in how many incidents of violence and anti-asian hate are happening here in the US.

A lot of the time that we at SGO, and myself personally, spent over the course of 2020 and into 2021 around thinking on topics like anti-racism, hate, and how do we support marginalized groups, was quite frankly and and meaningfully, focused on the Black population and African American population. And so as we’re sitting here, it’s February. It’s Black History Month. I also wanted to just talk a little bit about, what does it mean to support BIPOC people overall, Asian Americans and Asians as a specific group, and how does that all connect when we’re talking about relations between different marginalized groups?

When we’re talking about the fact that in the Asian community, there can still be quite a lot of anti-Blackness and we’re layering all this with the idea of Asians as the model minority, and I think you can tell that even from those couple points alone, it’s really complicated. I’ve been wrestling with this myself personally because, of course, I absolutely denounce any kind of violence against any group. I am half-Asian myself and so I have a personal connection from that standpoint, but I also struggle in the sense of how does this fit into the work that I’m doing, in the anti-racist work? I want to make sure that I’m not focusing efforts on just one group, but on the flip side, I think this is a common problem that not just facilitators or activists encounter, but everyday people encounter, is how do we support the entire world when everything is burning around us? So these are just a few thoughts that I’ve been wrestling with, and Fatima. I’d love you to maybe jump in and share anything that you’d like to add into that, because I know this is a topic we ourselves have been discussing quite a bit over the last couple months, if not few years, around how do we support each other in terms of marginalized groups? How do we act as allies? How do we practice what we preach? And how do we be anti-racist when it’s not just one person or one group?

Fatima: Thanks so much for sharing that. There’s so much that you said that we can unpack, and as you were talking I was just thinking about the idea of race in how racism has been created. And when we think about the work of being anti-racist, we have to really be intentional about what that means, to your point, but also recognizing the hierarchy that was created to think about who’s part of dominant groups and who is part of subordinate groups. And yes, people of Asian backgrounds are not considered white. I think there’s that there’s a tension around that because there are conversations within communities of color where we might feel like, okay, this person has more privilege than me and so therefore they have it better. And so therefore I need to focus on the issues that are happening to me because if I don’t do it then who else will? 

And a lot of times when we’re thinking about racial allyship, to your point, we are focusing on Black and sometimes Indigenous folks in these conversations, but a lot of it is based off of the history of this country in the US. I think if we are talking about race and racism, or even tribalism and different communities and cultures, that conversation will look different.

But what I’ve been thinking about is how do we talk about allyship without centering pain or centering horror that’s happening in the black community. To say, “hey, Black people- you all know how it feels so like why aren’t we doing X, Y, and Z?” And instead saying well regardless, or in honor, of whatever we’re going through, how do we just show support and solidarity without doing this oppression Olympics? But I also think what helps us have these conversations is to be honest about the nuances and I think you mentioned it earlier when we were talking about anti-Blackness within other communities of color and what that messaging is. 

And then like what’s the history around Asian people? Specifically Asian Americans and Black Americans or Black people in the diaspora. What’s that relationship? And oftentimes we talk about how we’re butting heads or the tension that exists, but we don’t always always talk about how we’ve come together many times and done a lot of social activism together and created a lot of language and work to think about. Honestly a lot of our communities, even if it might not be the same exact experiences, are going through similar things because the very foundation of racism is based on making you and I feel like we’re not important or we’re not centered. Sometimes there’s not enough conversations to be had. Or when the hurt is there, it’s harder to hear someone else’s story, because emotionally we’re sort of tied up with whatever is happening within our communities and a lot of us are segregated. 

When we think about, even me growing up thinking about Asian Americans who were in my Black- mostly Black community, the only time I was interacting with Asian Americans was through shops and stores and even though it was the community that I lived in, no one who looked like me owned any of the shops in the community. And so I didn’t know what that history was about because my parents are recent immigrants from West Africa. When I started learning about that tension that existed in some communities, not all, a lot of it had to do with historical aspects around Black people’s businesses no longer being there and how a lot of white people who were in power were sort of strategizing, “well who? Which immigrant gets the best opportunity?” Which then makes us feel like, “oh, well, there’s something going on here.” 

I do think there’s opportunity for more conversations to see more similarities than differences and to also name those differences and be okay with saying, okay, how do we help each other out? What do you need from me? What do I need from you? And recognizing that there is some privilege that’s still happening within some of these communities. I know, Felicia, you and I at some point talked about even the gender pay gap. As we talked about women of color who aren’t paid as much, and when you look at that break down, a lot of times people argue and they say “hey, well, actually Asian women are making more money, so they’re more privileged, and so we shouldn’t care.” But a lot of the research shows that that doesn’t mean that people of Asian descent are absolved from discrimination or prejudices or stereotypes. So it’s almost like a game where if you don’t really take your time to get into the work or understand even the Asian American experience within this country, if you just look at it from a surface level, it might be very individualistic. We just say okay, that’s just one case. That’s just two cases. Those are just two cases, but what we know through history and even in the research is that people of Asian American descent are being discriminated against and these ideologies are coming out through hate crimes, are coming out through, unfortunately, some of the events that recently happened. 

So yeah, I’ve been trying to think about what it is that we can do within the black community while also hearing some of those narratives of hurt. And saying, okay, how do we hold both of these truths to say, “Yes, I hear you and that doesn’t make it okay with what’s happening to our Asian family.” Right, we say family, cousins, whatever you might say. To really think about what’s our role in this. And part of activism, or part of anti-racist work, is being able to look at someone else and hear them out and say, “Okay. Here’s what I can do. Here is my role and in dismantling racism.”

Felicia: Yeah, I think as you were talking, I was just thinking how deep the roots of white supremacy go because this is what we see. Like the fact that we’re even talking like this right now is because we had been taught and conditioned and have fit ourselves into trying to like, please this this wider thing, right? And that has been what pitted these groups against each other. And then, of course, you know, we’re not even talking about other groups that are also experiencing hate crimes, and violence, and oppression. I think it’s just so telling how difficult it still is to be able to say no one should be killed because of who they are. I’m not excusing anything or not saying that one group is better, or one group is worse, or that even one group is more deserving of our attention. But like you said, it’s really about saying, “yes, and-” which I know is that it is a phrase you love to go back to. I agree with that, but it’s saying yes, we can acknowledge painful histories and centuries of oppression and horrible things that have happened and we can still be there to support our family in this fight.

In terms of what’s happening right now, one thing that really was just very much in my mind as you were talking, Fatima, was how it can be so tiring sometimes to do the work. Some of us might have been thinking like, “oh, I like I did it already,” right? Like, I already marched, I already protested. I already did something on social media or shared the voice or did whatever and so, I’m not saying that’s how I feel or how you feel. But that’s a thing that I think is very common. This is that moment where you have to decide. Do you say I’m too tired and not do anything further? Or do you say I’m really tired and a lot of people are even more tired than I am. And this is when I tighten up the shoe laces on my running shoes. From my standpoint, the work is never done and we have to just keep doing this, because until we can get to that point, where this is not a topic of conversation the work isn’t done.


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