Let me first begin this by laying down some facts:
I am a twenty three year old Asian American womxn. I am the daughter of Cambodian refugees and they have pushed me to grow as an activist and feminist. I discovered the saliency of my identities as an Asian American activist/feminist when I reached college (just like many of my peers) and since then, have been heavily involved in A/PIA student organizing in Colorado and across the United States. In many ways, the oppressive nature of our society and our institutions has made me angry… or better yet, more comfortable with my anger. And that’s not to say that anger is destructive, but it must be used in ways that transform—I was eager to build community.
As a young Asian American womxn, it was no surprise that my path has collided numerous times with activist of the moment, Suey Park. We met for the first time in March of 2013 at a Higher Education and Student Affairs (HESA) conference. We shared stories, bonded over the fact that neither of us could consume alcoholic beverages (and therefore enjoyed our yummy smoothies), and began to organize. We were both aspiring HESA professionals, excited to begin our new programs and inspired by our commitment to the Asian American community. We both were involved or seeking to be involved in a Midwest regional Asian American organization and I was energized by her passion, her knowledge, and her vision. We even wrote a blog together in response to the “Why I’d Hate to be Asian” video! She is fierce, she is critical, and she has mobilized countless many. When I was terminated this summer from an internship program, she reached out and provided support. Unfortunately, due to a number of events, our tactics collided and our relationship came to a halt.
Since then, I have continued to push for coalition building within the A/PIA community and have had the fortune of attending and speaking at multiple A/PIA student conferences… but never had a chance to really share what activism meant to me as an Asian American womxn. You can imagine the excitement I felt when I was invited to speak on a panel about resistance in the A/PIA community at a university. Yet… I soon realized I would be sharing the stage with Suey. After much reflection and debate, I withdrew. Now I worry that this may be misconstrued, but let me tell you why I did it: it’s because I am scared. I have witness over and over again how she has gaslighted individuals and psychologically/emotionally/mentally tormented fellow A/PIA men/womxn/organizations/etc. for just simply asking her to take a breath and reflect.
I share these stories because they are crucial in understanding the conflict and anxiety that I have had circulating around #NotYourAsianSidekick, #CancelColbert, and the co-opting of #BuildDontBurn. The invitation to speak on this panel coincided with the same timeline as the last two hashtag movements. Let me be honest… I have no idea how to use Twitter. I don’t even try to actively engage in trending hashtags. It scares me and I am pressured by the need to create a perfect 140 character statement for each tweet (ugh). My follower count is minimal and oftentimes, I forget I even have an account. I believe social media is a fantastic, and for the most part, accessible space to begin new dialogues. It is a space for those who are not typically heard to share their platform.
Yet, it can also become a very hostile and toxic environment, as evidenced by the conversations that took place surrounding #CancelColbert and #BuildDontBurn. And yes, in my opinion, much of the toxicity stemmed from Suey’s tweets. For those of us who may not have the relationships, may not know all the fancy *~whitecishetereopatriarchy~* terminology, may not know how to navigate twitter, it is a very scary place. Now, I’m not even going to go into a conversation about the meanings/nuances/racism/sexism/etc. that has been embedded into these movements because PLENTY has already been done on that. Yes, it was racist. Yes, it was in bad taste. Yes, it was sexist. Yes, I agree fully that NO ONE should be threatened with messages of threat, rape, and other violence. Shame on you for anyone who did so. Trust me, I’ve had my fair share as a womxn of color.
One particular tweet stood out to me this past weekend:
I am not the most articulate writer, nor the most well read feminist/activist… I am struggling to survive graduate school and struggling to understand my role as a community organizer/academic… I make mistakes, and quite frankly, this blog even looks like a jumbled mess of thoughts to me, but I am LEARNING. I was so moved by the coming together of so many A/PIA activists, bloggers, youth, etc. to begin the #BuildDontBurn discussion… because I witnessed solidarity beyond retweets. At some point in our lives, we all make mistakes and we all need to be called out on our privilege. We all engage in oppressive behavior, but we must also be given the capacity to learn from it. Sometimes, we’re so eager to burn that we do not even consider what happens afterwards. Congratulations, you’ve successfully destroyed something… now what? Yes, awesome, you’re empowering individuals… but how can you use that power to create something that EVERYONE can engage in at all levels and with all identities? I’m not saying we should be equal… but we should at least be attempting to create a space that is equitable.
Social media activism is great, but not when it transforms into entertainment. When we turn people into celebrities, we forget to be critical of them. And isn’t it our responsibility to nurture one another by challenging each other to be better? The dialogue that has come from these hashtags are needed, but the issues we truly need to face have been overshadowed by their virality. It has become more and more common to attack each other via mentions and question each others character. That’s easy to do. What is difficult is looking beyond that and realizing that these issues affect all of us. I am tired of all this centering/decentering bullshit, because you cannot address one issue without realizing how it intersects with another (not to mention all the academic elitism that comes with using terminology like that). I want to build environments that allow for individuals like myself who want to be a part of the movement to feel SAFE to grow… to create relationships without having to worry about automatically being labeled as us vs. them.
All I ask is that we remember again.