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Before I Was Silent

“But where does the silence that neglects her end, and where does the silence that respects her begin? The problem with silence is that it can’t speak up and say why it’s silent. And so silence collects, becomes amplified, takes on a life outside our intentions, in that silence can get misread as indifference, or avoidance, or even shame, and eventually this silence passes over into forgetting.” ― Cathy Park Hong, Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning

Before I sat down to write this, I was crying. Before I was crying, though, I was numb. I had heard about the murders of the Asian women and two others in Georgia, but I hadn't wanted to read more about what happened. I had read the headlines, felt the discouragement and despair, and then decided not to read more. I didn't want to picture the women in their workplace getting killed. I didn't want to feel the anger and grief that I knew I would feel. I wanted to be numb. I wanted to forget. Before the Georgia Cherokee County Sheriff put white privilege on display this week by claiming that the murders had nothing to do with race and rather that the white man who went on a killing rampage of Asian women had a sex addiction and "a really bad day," that same Sheriff had posted on his Facebook "Covid 19 IMPORTED VIRUS FROM CHY-NA." The spelling is a reference to the way in which former president, Donald Trump, would demean and degrade the people and nation of China. The Sheriff had already shown his support for white supremacy and his anti-Asian racism. Further, I believe that if that hateful white man had been a Black man, he would have been killed by the law enforcement. Instead, he was brought in for questioning, his story believed, and he received empathy for his really bad day. The people who had a really bad day that day are either dead or are grieving the loss of their loved ones -- an Aunt, a cousin, a daughter, a sister, a mom. Before Donald Trump gave Americans full permission and invitation to act violently towards Asians by dehumanizing them and blaming them for the Coronavirus pandemic, US politicians had long been trying to use Asian people to maintain white supremacy in the US. The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 was planned and passed as a way to preserve the racial hierarchy in the US. White people could keep justifying anti-Blackness by using Asian people as a "model minority" and claiming that the American dream is alive for anyone who can "pull themselves up by their bootstraps." The Asian immigrants, though, who were welcome to the US were not the "tired and hungry" that our Statue of Liberty invites, but rather those with advanced degrees and skills needed in the US. All the while, Black people were still being kept out of many schools and colleges across the US. There was no parity. There was no equity. Rather, two groups, both oppressed and marginalized, pitted against each other for the economic gain of rich white people. Before the Coronavirus pandemic reignited old anti-Asian stereotypes, Americans had long seen Asians as less human and less cultured. When we discuss Asian stereotypes during workshops before Covid-19, people would only put up “positive” stereotypes – smart, driven, quiet. They would forget about the jokes that are told about Asian food and Asian eating establishments. We have all forgotten the history of Asian stereotypes—the propaganda that was spread to discourage Asian immigration—that they are lazy, hyper-sexual, unclean, impure. It doesn’t take much of a leap to see how these ideas, some laying dormant in our culture, were reactivated. It only takes one man who blames Asian women for his own struggles to turn those ideas into death. Before I personally knew a damn thing about racism, I had a friend who told me about his "Asian fetish." I told him that I thought that was weird. He wasn't ashamed of it. He spoke freely of it. He told me how he thought all Asian women were the most attractive women. I realized that he was objectifying and sexualizing Asian women in a way that made me uncomfortable. I didn't realize until this week how dangerous the objectification and hyper-sexualization could be. Through our American media, we are taught to see Asian women as submissive and "cute." When that idea is mixed with men being taught to want dominance over women and sexual control, it is a recipe for abuse and violence. Before these murders even happened, my friend told me how worried she was about her Chinese mother in New York City. There has been a huge rise Asian hate crimes, and the majority of those have been directed at Asian women. Racism plus sexism is literally killing Black and Brown people. And my friend is now even more afraid though there is nothing she can do to keep her mom safe. Her mom still has to leave her home to get groceries and even though she is an elder, her mother's age won't protect her. The oldest victim of the Georgia shooter was 74. Seventy-Four. In February, an 84 year old Asian man in San Francisco was killed after being slammed to the ground. Eighty-Four. My Nana lived to 87 before succumbing to cancer. Not once did I worry that someone would kill her. My friend shouldn’t have to worry about that either. Before I was able to cry about the deaths of the Asian women, I had to get past being numb. I chose to talk to a friend who listens well and ended up sharing about the Asian women that I know and care about; that I worry about. Racism, and in a particular way, anti-Asian racism, can make us forget. Forget the history that has led to such horrors, and even forget the people that we know and love that matter to us. My cousins with Korean heritage, my friend with Chinese heritage, my former co-worker with Filipino heritage. More co-workers, students I’ve taught, friends that have moved, extended family, and neighbors. Only as I talked and cried did the memories and connections come back. The people I know and care about. Targeted by violence for being themselves. For being people who are hypersexualized because of their race and gender. Before I shared about my fears and grief, I wanted to forget. I wanted to forget that this had even happened. We invite you to join us in remembering. Talk about your rage and anger or numbness or fear or grief or despair. But do not stop there. Write something. Say something. Organize something at your workplace, or church, or in your neighborhood that says, "we are not okay with this." We are them, they are us, we are us, and we are not okay with being killed. Together, James Meinert


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