Dear Asian whānau,
TW: white supremacy, racism, sexual and gender-based violence.
My heart goes out to everyone impacted by the Atlanta shootings, in which a white supremacist killed 8 people, 6 of which were Asian women massage parlour workers.
Despite the distance, I felt the heaviness, grief and fear reverberate and instigated by my own past experiences of racial and gender-based violence. I write this as a survivor, a diasporic feminist, an artist, community organiser and the daughter of Hong Kong-Chinese migrants.
First and foremost, I’d like to acknowledge that this has been an ongoing fight for feminists of colour, survivors, sex workers, queer, disabled, working class women and non-men activists who have been calling out injustices and violence.
I first began my work in feminist activism and community organising over half a decade ago. While this work continues to be rewarding, half the time it feels as though I’m screaming into a void.
The emotional labour that goes into the fight for liberation or even getting others to listen is intensive, taxing, isolating, and myself and others alike are constantly prone to burnout.
On Saturday, my feed was flooded with Asian folk in the Tāmaki Makaurau creative arts industries, social justice and leftist circles posting on their Instagram stories condemning racism and Asian hate crimes which have taken place in the US.
I felt uneasy, angry and triggered that amongst the people now speaking on violence against Asian women, these were the exact people who continue to uphold and encourage a culture of silence for survivors in our own communities.
I deeply resonated with disability rights activist Lydia X. Z. Brown’s words, that our movements centred on liberation, justice and healing are fraught with internal dangers of abuse, gatekeeping, intra-community oppression, and silo-ing (a fixation on single-issue politics).
While this is a time to form solidarities, this fight isn’t just against white supremacy (and white men) or how Asian women are portrayed by mainstream media. The fight also lies within our own communities against forms of patriarchal violence, misogyny and sexism which have manifested in insidious ways.
This isn’t the first time myself and many others have called out gender-based violence towards Asian women within an Aotearoa context. In 2017, I spoke up about a Facebook page called “Aesthetically Pleasing Asian Girls” in which white supremacists affiliated with the local hardcore/punk scene, were liking and sharing the posts.
As a result, I was threatened and verbally harassed online for nearly a year. But there was also silence from Asian cis men around me, perhaps because the same kind of misogynistic violence continues to be instigated within our own communities.
As a survivor, I am outraged at gendered-racialised hate crimes, but simultaneously at the amount of violence and harm Asian women experience from Asian cis men in our own communities.
These are Asian cis men you run into on K Road, organisers, tattoo artists, chefs, filmmakers, the list goes on and on.
Amongst the predominantly East Asian cis men and women who have been most vocal about the Atlanta shooting and ending Asian hate; there are abusers, enablers, apologists, and those who have sidelined, dismissed and gaslighted Asian women and non-men survivors of intimate partner violence and sexual violence. These are organisers, creatives, artists, people with a platform. People who have flagged our stories as singular occurrences while today, have posted about the dire need to dismantle oppressive systems.
The majority of us understand that Asian migrant women face a long history of violence due to imperialism, militarism and conquest in the Asia-Pacific, which makes men feel entitled to our bodies.
The fetishisation, exoticisation and objectification of Asian women’s bodies, which in turn subjects us to intimate partner violence, domestic abuse, gender-based violence and exploitation, is also deeply interlinked to Asian patriarchy and purity culture.
That is deeply ingrained in our own Asian communities and family structures through victim-blaming and slut-shaming women for experiences of sexual (and racialised) harassment, for not being the “ideal” submissive woman and deserving abuse, and shaming women who actively speak about sexuality.
The number of Asian women who have reached out to me over the years to share their stories of survivorship is appalling.
There are Asian women and non-men survivors around us who have been sidelined and ostracised by our communities for simply speaking up on experiences of abuse. It takes real courage and bravery for survivors to speak out, but all too often we are framed as needy, disruptive, annoying, as troublemakers, as a burden within our social circles.
We are sent messages that articulate support and utilise all the politically correct terms, but we are then met with broken promises, and finally outcast from our networks.
In many ways, abuse and the marginalisation of survivors mirrors the same patterns as colonisation, the same systemic violence in which white settler colonial nation states such as Aotearoa are founded on. Stolen land from Indigenous peoples, white supremacy, gender-based violence, ableism and laws and beliefs eradicating those who don’t fit the mould and deeming them as inferior, undesirable and disruptive.
Abolishing and dismantling violence is not selective. How can we show genuine solidarity and care when our own communities are built on foundations of violence? Asian communities need to be better at supporting each other to be part of the larger fight.
In an event such as this one, it seems like the first solution is to band together under the guise of solidarity, to paint our communities as an unproblematic utopia under umbrella terms of “Asians” or hashtags such as #StopAsianHate.
But we need a more nuanced and intersectional feminist understanding to hold space for each other with care, compassion and accountability.
Before re-sharing more on your stories, how are you practically addressing violence or harm in your interpersonal relationships (particularly in East Asian and Chinese centred social circles)? Is this really collective, or is this performative?
In the age of social media, identities have been commodified and appropriated to the point in which it becomes difficult to determine who truly stands in solidarity.
We witness people co-opting progressive and social justice-oriented language to appear radical, when in fact they are utilising their social capital to perpetuate more harm.
We can better show up for women and non-men survivors who speak up about violence in multiple ways:
- Always respect boundaries and what the survivor is requesting. Many survivors are already dealing with the impact of leaving an abusive situation. Not all survivors have the time, energy or labour to out their abusers, not all survivors are looking for the same solutions.
- Recognise your own capacity, and let them know what you can offer beforehand instead of making promises that cannot be kept. You may choose to listen or simply offer to do a relaxing activity together.
- Offer to unfollow, delete or mute the account of their abuser on social media. Commit to not giving their abuser an online platform.
- Follow, read and educate yourself through Instagram accounts on trauma-informed perspectives, anti-violence and survivorship.
I will be co-hosting a conversation circle centring Asian women, queer and trans folk to hold space for Asian communities to process their grief, trauma and have conversations around the Atlanta shootings and wider issues of anti-Asian and systemic violence which have surfaced due to Covid-19.
Myself and other Migrant Zine Collective organisers hope to create a space for us to feel heard, for affirmation of our lived experiences, for tears and rage, and anything we could do to collectively heal. Sign up via the link here.
Finally, I send strength to all the survivors who are re-traumatised, triggered, and finding it especially difficult to cope or consume the information coming up on their feeds.
Let your body rest and process this trauma. We need to protect each other in times where we have been left to tend to the wounds caused by those closest to us. I will always stand with you.
Where to get help:
Rape Crisis: 0800 88 33 00
Women’s Refuge: 0800 733 843
Shine domestic abuse services free call: 0508 744 633 (9am and 11pm)
Hey Bro helpline supporting men to be free from violence: 0800 HeyBro (439 276)
Family violence information line to find out about local services or how to help someone else: 0800 456 450
Shakti – for migrant and refugee women – 0800 742 584, 24 hours