I stand in solidarity with my AAPI friends
Disclaimer: This is a long and messy post.
I've started and restarted this blog post so many times. I still don't feel like I'm doing this right, but I decided to hit publish anyway because this isn't about me.
By now I'm sure most of you know what is happening (and has been) to our friends who are a part of the AAPI community in this country. I'm not here to lecture anyone on what's going on, why they should care, etc. I'm here to share what is on my heart, what I'm doing, and a book I think is really important for everyone to read.
What we're witnessing in the United States right now is reminiscent of what we saw last summer after the murder of George Floyd: social media posts inundating our feeds and stories, calling for people to mobilize, to be allies, to donate, to post stacks of books they're reading, to call out racism when they hear/see it.
It might seem performative. And in some cases, it is. It's not enough to post a stack of books and call it a day. But I've struggled with these feelings because as a white woman, who am I to say what's enough? I've been trying to amplify my AAPI friends' voices—listening to what's on their hearts, researching where I can donate that I feel will effect the most change.
And reminding myself that I must call out racism when I hear/witness it.
Something I think is important to discuss first and foremost is the idea of the "microaggression."
I first heard this term in a book I read a few years ago, and at first, it made sense: microaggressions are harmful stereotypes disguised as either compliments or "barely harmful" comments by colorful or softer language.
But then I read a book that argued we should erase the word microaggression from our vocabulary because that term eliminates the idea that these comments can be harmful. The prefix micro literally means "extremely small." But I want to share a "microaggression" story that I witnessed in my classroom a few years ago involving one of my male Asian students that feels anything but small.
At one of my previous schools, my students had complete choice in what they read (and it was glorious). Some units were more structured—we engaged in Socratic seminars in which we discussed various elements of their books and how they were all similar/different. We always ended with theme: what theme topics did your author explore and what was the lesson learned through those explorations?
I'll never forget when in my fourth period one year, one of my students (who is Asian) brought up the model minority myth during one of our Socratic seminars. Many of his classmates had never heard of this before. He explained what it means (if you're unfamiliar with Socratic seminars, as the teacher I aimed to remove myself from the discussion unless I needed to step in, so in this situation, I let him do the explaining) and then shared his own experiences with the expectation that because he is Asian, he must be good at math.
There were some slight giggles from his peers at first, but after he didn't laugh (and after I gave them a very strong side-eye), they stopped, and they listened. He explained that this might seem like a compliment, but in reality, it's not. He told his peers, "I suck at math." And from there, he explained that it makes him feel inferior, lesser than, because the expectation is that he should be a math genius. It results in him feeling, in his words, "like a bad Asian."
How sad is that? This is a 14-year-old boy who struggled to internalize who he is, his identity, because of social constructs that he has absolutely no control over. And this is just one of the many. There are so many more instances in which these "micro" comments actually amass to something that is so harmful on a collective, societal scale.
And this is just one story. This is just one account. I would be remiss to not bring up the overt, nasty racism the AAPI community has experienced over the past year during the pandemic. I won't even use the words that simple-minded people have resorted to as they seek to blame and belittle this community.
And now, this brings me to a mini review of one of my favorite books: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee.
I read this book in early 2019, and I remember being completely transformed by the story, the characters, and the writing. Here is a link to the synopsis if you want to check it out.
What I loved most about Pachinko is how much I learned. I learn something new from pretty much every book I read, but this was a whole new world for me. Before I read this masterpiece, I knew next to nothing about Korean-Japanese relations spanning the 20th century. Min Jin Lee's work opened my eyes to how relevant theme topics we experience every day in our own lives (as perpetrators, bystanders, or victims) and through the books we read come to fruition in such a new (to us) way.
Pachinko is not an easy or peaceful read, but it's an important one. And I share it here not only because I've read it, but because Min Jin Lee does a spectacular job portraying how racism and social constructs tear down people collectively and as individuals. How hatred and ignorance plague society. And outside of that, it's simply a fantastic book that opened my eyes to a world I will never experience.
I know there are a ton of stacks all over bookstagram right now, so if you want to see some of those posts, check the #StopAsianHateStack hashtag. I have a few on my list that I want to get to (Parachutes, Everything I Never Told You, Do Not Say We Have Nothing, When We Were Infinite), but instead of sharing that stack, I wanted to draw your attention to this book I have read (but I did link to all of those books if you want to check them out).
And to reiterate: I am sharing this because I cannot be silent and I must stand in solidarity with the AAPI community, but it's their voices that matter. Please seek out own voices posts, influencers, authors, etc. not only today or this week or next week, but always.
This was really long-winded and disorganized, but here we are. Again, my voice here doesn't matter, but standing with the AAPI community does matter. Committing to calling out racism does matter. Putting my money where my mouth is does matter. And I'm committed to doing all of this.
// If you have the means and feel called to donate, I donated to Asian Americans Advancing Justice, a group that fights for Asian Americans' civil rights and empowers communities through litigation, education, and public policy advocacy.