Dear white people, your good intentions aren’t enough

Today, I continue in my grief. I wanted to write this Wednesday to be as timely as possible, but I was depleted and spent all my down time in tears. I tried again today and here’s what I was able to articulate.

It’s been wave after wave of sadness and heartbreak since hearing about Sarah Everard’s murder in London last week and then the mass shooting of Asian Americans in Atlanta this week. I don’t even have the energy to discuss the disparaging coverage in the media that falls so, so short. I feel frazzled, weary, exasperated, rage, unbridled rage, and I’m getting into shouting matches with people close to me about racism, sexism, microaggressions, and well-intentioned white people. I used this feelings chart to identify my emotions that are all over the place right now. I find it helps to label them. If I can name them, I can face them.

While the overall number of hate crimes fell in 2020, hate crimes against Asian Americans in major U.S. cities grew nearly 150%.

To my fellow Asian Americans, I hope you’re doing okay. I see you and I’m with you. Please take care of yourselves and exercise self-compassion in processing what happened this week and in the past year. Not to mention the memories it likely activated in you of other instances of microaggressions and racist experiences. We all have a version of these stories. I remember being told how good my English is (because I was born here), being asked where I am really from (here!), being told to go back to “where you came from” (again, I’m from here), and being asked if I can see when I smile. I can recall instances of being scolded by white women in public spaces—as recently as last year—maybe because I appear younger than I actually am (little did she know I would raise my voice and cuss at her), and of course, being fetishized by white men.

While we should absolutely take the time we need, it is crucial to remember that intersectionality is imperative in our efforts towards racial and social equity. Asian Americans need to stand in solidarity with Black people. Though our history is fraught, the “tension” as Aerica Shimizu Banks puts it, is white supremacy.

Dismantling systems of oppression is a marathon. Rest up.

To our allies, instead of getting overwhelmed and shutting down, try to channel those feelings into self-reflection, change, and action. If you find yourself checking in on your Asian American friends in the wake of Tuesday, first ask yourself why you’re doing it. If it’s for yourself—to alleviate your guilt, to remind us you’re not “one of them”, to have an outlet for your fear, frustration, and sadness, or as performative allyship—do us a favor and direct that energy elsewhere. If you think this is about you, it is.

A genuine check-in with someone you are close to can be thoughtful and well-received; an empty one puts the onus on the person, who is likely feeling similarly to me, to expend their precious emotional energy to soothe you. Obviously Asian Americans are not a homogenous group, so I can’t speak for everyone.

Yes, I actually do mind that we haven’t talked in nine months, and you sent me a text out of the blue that you’re thinking of me. Can I actually say that to her? Yes, but will I? I haven’t replied because I can’t deal with it right now. I don’t want to lie and say thanks for checking up on me because that’s not accurate. I want to say it feels like you went through the very short list of Asian Americans you know and reached out. Check. Now your job here is done and it’s back to life as usual. That’s your privilege. My response / non-response is also tied up in the model minority myth.

In this Guide to Allyship, created and curated by Amélie Lamont, allyship is defined as:

  • Taking on the struggle as your own
  • Standing up, even when you feel scared
  • Transferring the benefits of your privilege to those who lack it
  • Acknowledging that while you, too, feel pain, the conversation is not about you

If you don’t know what to do with your feelings, you can start by talking to your white friends and family members (it is not the job of your BIPOC friends and acquaintances to educate you). Or a therapist. You can also read this article, this one, or this resource page.

We are each either part of the problem or part of the solution. Which side do you want to be on? It’s entirely up to you.