Silence is NOT an option – (3/25/2021)

This weeks Silence is Not an Option message is written by AFT Guild Executive Council Member Professor Julio Soto from Grossmont College.

Dear Colleagues,

I would like to offer an invitation for us all to engage in further learning and self-analysis regarding the history of anti-Asian violence and discrimination.  As Elie Mystal from The Nation magazine fittingly points out, the massacre at Atlanta was a predictable as white supremacy.

Some points to consider:

  • To know how we arrived at this point as a nation, we must courageously acknowledge our starting point. The work and analysis of Evelyn Nakano Glenn, Professor of Gender and Women Studies and Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley, offers a good framework for a historical understanding of race and gender formation.  Her highly cited 2015 article, Settler Colonialism as Structure is attached to this message for your consideration. In addition, the work of Jennifer Ho, Professor of Ethnic Studies at University of Colorado Boulder, offers additional analysis on the spread of anti-Asian racism and xenophobia during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the intersection of racism, gender inequality and sexualization of Asian women.  Her recent op-ed for CNN on being an Asian women in America and her interview for the podcast It’s Been a Minute are worth checking out. Professor Ho also discusses how the term model minority (coined in 1966 by sociologist William Peterson, a white man), was not truly written with the intent to praise Japanese Americans. Rather, it was a strategy to condemn Black Americans activism for social justice and civil rights and used as a racial wedge between Asians and Blacks in the United States. This may be worth discussing in the future in the interest of strengthening our solidarity across racial groups.
  • I also invite you to listen to this Code Switch podcast episode, featuring Erika Lee, Professor of Immigration History at University of Minnesota. The episode is from March 3, 2020 and Professor Lee has a lot to say about how we arrived at this violent moment from the early signs of xenophobia that Asian Americans experienced at the start of the pandemic.  Professor Lee also explains how the weaponization of xenophobia has a much deeper history.
  • It is also likely that some have heard or have read the work of Robin DiAngelo in White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism.  It’s been my experience that some white colleagues and friends, even some that may have read DiAngelo’s work, may not fully recognize their own white fragility.  Consequently, many of us folks of color spend a good amount of time and energy educating our white colleagues and friends, exacerbating our racial battle fatigue and making our collective anti-racist efforts more challenging. White fragility must be unpacked by us all, but I argue that especially by our white colleagues and friends. It is not a weakness.  Rather, it is the “reduced psychosocial stamina that racial insulation inculcates” (p.56 on source attached).  White fragility in the United States emerges from the social environment that protects and insulates white people from race-based stress, building white expectations for racial comfort (p.54).  Examining the historical record of our society that has led to white people’s racial insulation, is part of the uncomfortable work I invite us all to do (e.g. settler colonialism, slavery, slave patrols deputizing all white men with the obligation to police the every movement of enslaved Blacks, the Naturalization Act of 1790, Jim Crow, racialized discrimination in the Social Security Act of 1935, including FHA low interest home loans made almost exclusively available to white Americans for the first 30 years of the program, purposeful racialized exclusion of farm workers and domestic workers from receiving Job Insurance benefits, the GI Bill not protecting Black veterans from racial discrimination in their ability to use their benefits for home ownership and college education, redlining and housing segregation, white flight, racialized policing and the “war on drugs”, tough on crime rhetoric, mass incarceration, meritocracy, predominantly white institutions-PWI-of higher learning and much more). The most common representative moves of white fragility include anger, fear, guilt, argumentation, silence or leaving the stress inducing situation; all functioning to reinstate white racial equilibrium and comfort (p.54). I believe a clear understanding of white fragility makes us better equipped to recognize it, interrupt it, and correct it when necessary as we engage in our anti-racist efforts. For more on white fragility, I encourage you to read the attached journal article by Robin DiAngelo, the first time she presented her academic analysis of this concept in 2011. For white colleagues that may feel a little more seasoned in their anti-racist work, I encourage you to continue challenging yourself and your awareness of your whiteness by reading the work of Shannon Sullivan, Professor of Philosophy and Health Psychology at UNC Charlotte. I especially recommend her book Good White People: The Problem with Middle-Class White Anti-Racism (2014), but also recommend Revealing Whiteness: The Unconscious Habits of Racial Privilege (2006) and her most recent work, White Privilege (2019). The podcast Scene on Radio has a powerful historical and cultural analysis on whiteness in Season 2: Seeing White.  Season 3: Men and Season 4: The Land that Never Has Been Yet are also highly recommended if you all want to get a more intersectional perspective.

These suggestions and resources in one form or another are being shared with my students, some colleagues, community members, friends, and loved ones. I share them with you from a place of love and a deep sense of responsibility I embrace as an educator and as your colleague.  It is in this spirit that I hope you receive them.

Finally, I want to own up to something. Last year, in the wake of the police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many others (may all rest in power), rage, frustration, and disillusionment with our collective response and a mixture of other emotions invaded me. It became very hard for me to be involved in the anti-racist efforts at our district. I continued to follow your work and the work of others at our campus, but I admit that I turned cynical and gave in to some self-righteousness. I decided to step back, regroup, and reassess my approach. While some of these feelings still linger and revisit me from time to time, I am being more mindful about keeping them in check; knowing that in the absence of our collective efforts to combat white supremacy and dismantle structural racism, something very ugly can fill the void. As Roxane Gay reminded us just a few days ago, “If we do not hold this line, if we do not take this stand, we will lose more ground to white supremacy than we already have.” During this period of reflection about my role in these challenging times, I reunited with the wisdom of James Baldwin thanks to the work of Eddie Glaude Jr, Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University. In his book, Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and its Urgent Lessons for Our Own, Professor Glaude Jr. got me out of my self-absorbed funk with this quote from Baldwin:;

“Not everything is lost. Responsibility cannot be lost, it can only be abdicated. If one refuses abdication, one begins again.”   

Let us recognize that we are all work in progress and fully complicated human beings.  Still, I believe that so long as we engage in never-ending self-analysis and we collectively challenge each other in the interest of the social justice cultural shift we seek, we strengthen our possibilities to begin again.

In solidarity, with love and respect,
Julio Soto

Settler Colonialism as Structure-A Framework for Copmarative Studies of U.S. Race and Gender Formation
Vincent Chin’s Story-Lily Chin-The Courage to Speak Out
White Fragility