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Disclaimer: The discussion of inclusivity and solidarity is relevant to many constituencies in different ways; this is my unique take as an Asian, female-identified individual.

I’ve come to a curious, heightened recognition these past few weeks: my ethnicity is something to laugh at. When an Asian woman is denigrated and exoticized by a group of white men in an offensive video entitled “Asian Girlz”, I am told I shouldn’t be so upset because the woman clearly enjoyed it and the video was clearly just a joke. When the lone Asian character in the critically acclaimed Netflix series “Orange is the New Black” perpetuates negative racial tropes through easy, cheap humor that capitalizes off of her awkward silences and accented, broken English, I’m supposed to double back in laughter, shake my head, and say “Well, at least they have Laverne Cox!” When I express my anger at careless, racist reporting of an Asiana Airlines crash that killed two teenage girls--KTVU fired a producer after the network broadcast the pilots’ names as “Sum Ting Wong,” “Wi Tu Lo,” “Ho Lee Fuk,” and “Bang Ding Ow”--the immediate reaction I get is a giggle and a laugh. 

 #SolidarityisforWhiteWomen was a worldwide trending hashtag originally created to expose the tendency of feminism to exclude the experiences and narratives of women of color. The hashtag led to robust and much-needed discussions that unmasked the tendency of all progressive circles to work in silos instead of calling for true solidarity across multiple race and gender identities. Filthy Freedom founder Bea Hinton and I both participated in the discussions and watched as they yielded hashtags such as #blackpowerisforblackmen, which highlighted the privileging of black male voices in discussions on black empowerment, and #fuckcispeople, which called out the tendency of all social justice narratives to focus solely on cisgender struggles. Through the steady stream of well-formulated tweets (and angry trolls), I kept wondering: Is my voice, as an Asian, female-identified individual, relevant at all?

In Matthew Salesses’ “How the Rules of Racism are Different for Asian Americans,” Matthew recounts how he came to realize that Asians seem to have no place in discussions about racial hierarchies:
For my day job, I organize a seminar at Harvard on the topic of Inequality. I attend these talks both out of responsibility and out of interest. But after two and a half years, I can only remember Asians being mentioned twice, once in direct response to a question by an Asian student. I remember sitting beside another Asian American student and listening to a lecture earlier this year. He said something like, “Nobody ever talks about Asians,” and I said, “Asians don’t exist in Sociology.” We both laughed. It was a joke, but it stung with a certain truth.
I also learned that Asian-Americans occupy a very limited niche in conversations about social justice. In my sophomore year in college, after I learned of Japanese-American activist Yuri Kochiyama’s role in the civil rights movement and asked a sociology professor why none of our classroom discussions included any mention of her role, she told me that “bringing an Asian into the discussion on civil rights would just confuse people.” When I pointed out to another sociology professor that the statistics we were studying that day, on the parenting styles of black and Hispanic parents versus white parents, did not take into account the unique perspective of Asians, she told me bluntly that “the Asian perspective can be found in the stats on white people.” 

I recognize that the Asian American experience in this country is not punctuated in the same way black narratives are by stories of enslavement, the insidiousness of Jim Crow, the myth of the rampant black male rapist, and the re-manifestation of Jim Crow through abysmal incarceration rates. I will never understand or have to live out that particular level of systematic, institutionalized, and brutal oppression. I also recognize that our socio-economic realities are often miles apart from others--some of us do have it better, and we certainly enjoy some privileges that others do not have. Additionally, anti-black racism, as I suspect it is with many other non-black communities, is an ongoing problem within the Asian community and needs to be rectified in order for true solidarity to exist.

But I’ve experienced firsthand how the “model minority” narrative, this strange tendency to assume that Asians are simply a quiet, high-achieving community tagging along with our white brethren into a melting pot of joy, effectively de-legitimizes our voices in conversations about promoting racial justice. Leaving our voices and experiences out of the fight for racial justice erases our long, often tragic history in this country and homogenizes all Asians into one, high-achieving blob. Leaving us out means turning a blind eye to the fact that 1 in 6 Filipino-Americans and 1 in 4 Korean-Americans are undocumented, that Southeast Asians have the highest high school dropout rates in the country, that Asian American students are the most bullied ethnic group in classrooms, and that Asian women are consistently hypersexualized, objectified, and orientalized via widespread media representations. If you choose not to include us in discussions on racial justice, you are telling us that our struggles don’t matter. 

The most alarming thing about racism against Asian Americans is that, for me, it is often perpetuated casually by friends, family, and supposed allies in the fight for racial justice. Those comments to my reactions to “Asian Girlz,” “Orange is the New Black,” and KTVU’s racist on-air gaffe, for instance, were all made by my friends, people whom I respect and adore. While, in our supposedly “post-racial” atmosphere, blatant and explicit racism has moved underground and has morphed into implicit, hidden mechanisms, above-ground racism against Asians is condoned, and Asians are still considered fair game for outright misogynistic, racist humor. 

The call for true, multi-racial and multi-gender solidarity is about recognizing that privilege and oppression exist even within progressive circles, and that they manifest themselves differently in certain spaces and forums. I want my voice as an Asian woman to not be labeled as some fringe, niche topic, but to be considered an integral part of a larger discussion. That starts with understanding that, yes, you are being racist when you call me “China” or yell “ching-chong!” at me in the streets, that you are being racist when you ask me what my “real” name is or ask me where I’m “originally” from, and that you are being racist when you laugh at caricaturized portrayals of people who look like me on television. You can show your affirmation of solidarity and appreciation for varying struggles and experiences of different constituencies by refusing to be complicit in casual racism. Sometimes, all it takes is a simple “No, that’s not funny.” 

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Lindsey Yoo is a Korean-American social media aficionado interested in racial justice, community engagement, pop culture, and all things Asian-American.  She coordinates social media for The Filthy Freedom Project, where she dishes about culture, religion and sexuality every other week on "Love, Lindsey." You can tweet with her at @LindseyYoo.

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Comments

Alison
08/26/2013 8:04pm

Ooh girl, you hit this issue right on the head.

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Lindsey Yoo
08/27/2013 6:01pm

Thanks!

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Ashley
08/28/2013 9:59am

Definitely good points raised! However, although I've often contemplated many of the same things, as a non-Asian woman of color, I have almost never had a conversation with an Asian POC on their perspective in regards to being included in social justice politics. When I was in undergrad, often times when seeking solidarity with Asian American POC, I was met with disinterest or distrust. I think the divide (definitely caused by history and the model minority construct) have prevented present day Asian American POC and non-Asian POC from truly coming together and attempting to bridge the gap.

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Jaron
09/21/2013 3:46pm

While I think this post addresses issues/topics that need to be addressed. It certainly leaves out the context of historical prejudices between Asian POC and non-Asian POC that go back generations. Additionally, it fails to address Affirmative Action/Prop 209 (one of the largest issues re: racial justice over the past 60 yrs) and its effect on the lack of inclusion/collaboration on racial justice issues between Asian POC and non-Asian POC. Further exploration needed by the author...

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09/10/2013 11:45am

ahh, loved this article, which i found through racialicious. checking out your past articles, i really appreciated your post on interracial relationships and wrote something very related, on the objectification of asian women and how it relates to asian men http://stabra.tumblr.com/post/58147163832/ending-white-supremacy-does-not-begin-with-controlling anyways, thanks for this article and saying things that are so true but expressed way too little. i am guilty of just trying to ignore the portrayal of asian women in orange is the new black... sigh, how little we've come to expect. what i am realizing more and more is that while the asian american population may be small, and our history in the us much shorter for the most part, that doesn't mean our history of exploitation by white supremacy is shorter... it just happened elsewhere.. and that makes anti-asian racism central to constructs of white supremacy and it needs to be challenged as much as anything else. much love from another angry korean american woman :]

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Kit Myers
09/13/2013 2:44pm

Really appreciate your article. Excellent piece. Will definitely use it for my Introduction to Asian American Studies course!

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Alberta Daw
09/16/2013 7:45pm

What this planet needs is a good alien invasion. Then we will see who is us and who isn't.
In case the meaning of this silliness isn't apparent; then we will see that ALL of US are US.

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No Racist Anthropology
09/17/2013 5:02pm

Can you put Lindsey in touch with me? I have some information I think she would be interested in relative to this article and lack of post-Prop 209 solidarity at Berkeley.

Really appreciated the article.

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Deedee Smith in NYC
11/27/2013 11:20pm

I agree with the points raised in your article, but I wonder how is someone supposed to see all if that glowing pride when Asian women are chasing white men, completely disrespecting their Asian men and making mega efforts to marry out of their race by the millions. They appear to try for any White man, no matter how damaged, as long as he is White. It is sad to see and looks as though maybe addressing Asian racism begins in the Asian home.

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08/27/2014 2:21pm

I think it's important to highlight the insights Lindsey Yoo wrote about. I also think it is equally important to highlight some other insights she may have not known about.

What I appreciate is she re-claimed the Asian American voice by dispelling myths and misconceptions. As a self-identified Southeast Asian American, I recognize first-hand the disparity in education for Southeast Asian youth. Southeast Asians.

It should be recognized that across the general label of Asian American, there is an array of variety amongst Asian Americans. Some varying categories include: limited English proficiency learners; foreign born immigrants, refugees and asylees (sought asylum); populations in poverty; among many other socio-economic and political differences.

Many people are disillusioned by misconceptions as Linsdey said by the “model minority myth” and subconsciously perpetuate that myth.

My critique is specifically on the word-choice of "racism". Though very subtle throughout the article, there are large and impacting implications. In my academic and personal experience, I believe that to be racist means you have the "power" and "privilege" to "oppress"*. In other terms, people of color can not be racist as they can not systematically oppress other people of color (poc) or non-poc. Just like females can not be sexist and systematically oppress males, and how LBGTQ populations can not be "sexualist" and systematically oppress heterosexual populations.

However it is also important to say that racial prejudice, gender prejudice, sexual prejudice, and other pre-judgements made upon other identities occurs by all types of identity groups.

That is the subtle yet key difference. Words are tricky, words can be deceiving and manipulated; therefore it is important to recognize the implications of one's words.

Thanks for your insights and opinions Lindsey!

*Note: these are politically and academically charged terms and for me that is another issue that requires attention: The exclusion of disenfranchised people from academic vernacular and concepts across different racial, socioeconomic and political backgrounds.

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