This week’s Silence is Not an Option message is written by AFT Guild Executive Council Member Professor Julio Soto from Grossmont College.
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.
- If you are part of reading circles or if you are interested in forming one with us or other groups, I strongly recommend Professor Erika Lee’s America for Americans: The History of Xenophobia in the United States. Professor Lee is also the author of The Making of Asian America: A History, another book you may want to consider. Two additional books I recommend are Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans by the late Ronald Takaki, world renowned Asian American scholar and public intellectual and Yellow Peril! An Archive of Anti-Asian Fear, edited by Professor of Public History and Humanities at Rutgers University, John Kuo Wei Tchen with historian and archivist Dylan Yeats. One other book that I am yet to read, but that is on its way to me is From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: The Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial that Galvanized the Asian American Movement by award-winning book author, TV writer, and producer Paula Yoo. There’s a chance that a good number of us don’t know much about Vincent Chin, a Chinese American man brutally killed by two white men in 1982. I believe that his story may have plenty to teach us today (see attached short reading on Vincent Chin that you can share with students, colleagues, family members, and friends). You may also want to look up the documentary films Who Killed Vincent Chin? and Vincent Who?. The former is available on Kanopy. You may all have free access to Kanopy as District employees. Check here for more information.
- I also want to make a special invitation here to our white colleagues, but that I hope all of us consider. I believe it is crucial that we all carefully deconstruct what it means to be white in our society. I argue that examining whiteness should be a constant in our anti-racist efforts. While a social construct, whiteness has real meaning at the structural and micro level of our society, and receives most support of major social institutions, perpetuating its dominance, legitimacy, and alleged superiority. I believe we must all be courageous and spend some time interrogating what it means to be white in the United States. Some good sources I recommend include the documentary films White Like Me: Race Racism and White Privilege in America and The Great White Hoax: Donald Trump and the Politics of Race and Class in America, both featuring anti-racist scholars and educator Tim Wise. You will get a good sense of the backlash to the first Black president of the Unites States from both documentaries and answers to some common questions asked by white people with important historical and other research-based evidence and much more. The short lecture How Racism Harms White Americans by Historian John Bracey can also be very informative. For an analysis on white male grievances and rage, all of us should consider watching The Man Card: White Male Identity Politics from Nixon to Trump. Many answers to the storming of the U.S. Capital in early January can be found in this film. All these documentaries and lectures are available on Kanopy. In addition, the book White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson, Professor of African American Studies at Emory University, can provide you with additional historical and contemporary social policy context.
- 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,