We are the Majority: Remembering Grace in these times
Posted on April 19, 2020
With COVID19 and the rise of xenophobia, it has been hard to write and focus. I’m definitely angered by all the incidents of hate against Chinese and Asian people but I’m also moved by all the important reporting and response efforts to #AntiAsianRacism. And, like many I’m also very saddened by the Black and Chinese tensions in the US (and the anti-Blackness in China). The actions of both governments and elites have fueled the xenophobia, fear and hate in our communities. We need to keep our eyes on the prize and build ‘people to people’ at the local to global level. The real enemy is global capitalism, nationalism and white supremacy and we need to make these connections stronger and more explicit. Toby Chow from Justice is Global said, “Xenophobic reactions to #Covid19 are widespread. In the US and elsewhere it’s mainly anti-Asian, in China anti-African, in India Islamophobic, etc. To fight this properly we need to understand the parallels between all these instances. This is a global, structural problem.”
With over 300 anti-China bills and resolutions pending and both parties attacking China and Chinese people in the US, it is our time to step up. This is what Grace Lee Boggs taught me in 2012 when she predicted the important role of Chinese and Asian American in the United States in fighting global capitalism, environmental degradation, and xenophobia in the belly of the beast in the 21st Century.
I’ve been stewing on this and feeling some kind of way about how we talk about xenophobia in the US. It seems like we (including myself) are afraid to or don’t know how to talk about China, the Chinese government and Chinese people. Second, our language can unintentionally invisibilize the experiences and challenges within the Pan Asian identity (ie the struggles of Southeast Asians, Arab and Muslims and Pacific Islanders), not to mention, the extreme disparities within the disabled, elderly, unhoused, poor and working class communities of color, especially during COVID19. Southern states, for example, now have the highest hospitalization rates of COVID19, and, in New Mexico, Native Americans make up nearly 30% of the cases. At the end of the day, I keep coming back to the wisdom of our elder Grace, who told us in 2012 that we (Chinese and Asian Americans) need to stop acting like victims and minorities. Instead, we need to ACT like and BE the majority and put forward solutions on how to unify with others and build power in this moment.
Most of our language around fighting xenophobia is very US centric and there is also some unhealthy disassociation. I’ve heard, “We have nothing to do with China” “We are not even Chinese!”. Although most people are not saying what Andrew Yang is saying like, “embrace your American-ness,” It feels like folks are saying, “Don’t lump us into your issues with China. We are Chinese/Asian American and have nothing to do with your issues.” Truth be told, some people saying this literally are NOT from China nor have ties to China (like other Asian Americans or American born Chinese). I’ll admit it is complicated but there are also a LOT of good people (hundreds of millions, in fact), including reformers, leftists and radicals, in China.
Criticism of the Chinese government are valid but not in a vacuum. We need to hold the US government and corporate elites accountable to their failings and of course imperialist wars based on lies. The US government also waited 70 days after initial warnings and targeted Chinese in New York when the majority of cases came from Europe.
Can we fight xenophobia in the US and stand in solidarity with people in China? Also, can we call out the Chinese government without falling into the right wing narrative traps?
This next point is a bit more nuanced. We are in a different political moment than the 1980s; the Pan-Asian identity served a very important and unifying purpose. Now, we have actual infrastructure, more people, and even more diversity of immigrants and refugees that came after the American War(s) in Southeast Asia. I have no doubt that we can be more powerful in our response now; we also need to be mindful how we use the Pan-Asian identity while not invisiblizing the experiences of Southeast Asians, Arab and Muslims, and Pacific Islanders, for instance.
It is entirely true many of us are all being lumped together but there are dangers to flattening the conversation. We need to remember that on top of being attacked for looking Chinese, Southeast Asians and Pacific islanders have had the worst health disparities and will probably have higher rates of COVID-19 infection and deaths among other long term economic impacts like job loss, etc. So it is not just being “invisible”; it is another level of attack. In fact, we should keep our eye on disaggregating data of the impact and keep reaching out to other communities to understand better what we’re all going through collectively.
Anti-Asian racism is inexcusable but we should remember that under global capitalism and white supremacy, we’re all taking turns getting attacked or worse some are propped up only to be pitted against each other. In fact, queer and trans communities have historically faced the most violence and hate. There has also been an increase in incidents of domestic violence rising across the globe in these times.
Finally, and most importantly, we need to channel this agitation to building power together in these times. This is a time where there is more awareness across the world and the contradictions are very stark. How do we organize people towards a vision for versus vengeance and hate against, a vision that is both local and global at the same time? I’ve got a lot of love for folks on the streets and frontlines dealing with the trauma inflicted by global capitalism and white supremacy. This makes all of us fight over crumbs and it can be very demoralizing. We need to keep upsetting the setup until the right opening. As we become the more visible target, we need to keep lifting up others who are invisible and unseen yet also heavily impacted. This is how we change the game and build a new kind of solidarity.
Before the 2012 Tribute of Grace Lee Boggs in San Francisco, I still remember what Grace said to us that one summer in Detroit in 2010 on her 95th birthday. It was a room full of young Asians reflecting on their experience at the US Social Forum and in the movement. We were talking about how hard it was being a “minority within a minority” and often felt powerless. After the cake came out and we sang the birthday song, she blew out the candles and took the mic and said in a loud and clear (and in a semi-scolding) voice —
“You need to stop being the victim and stop acting like the minority! We Asian Americans are in fact part of the global majority and we need to start acting like it! What are YOU going to do about global oppression?!”
Boom. mic drop. That was it for me and changed my entire orientation and trajectory. She made it plain that as Chinese and Asian Americans we have a VERY important and critical role in the 21st century and need to step up our leadership. We not only can stand up against xenophobia and white supremacy in the US but we can also lead the way in fighting global capitalism and prepare to govern in a new way.
Sometimes I wonder what Grace would say or do and I think she would actually ask me, “What are YOU going to do??” SO… with that, here are some things I believe we can and should do.
1. Strengthen solidarity within the Asian American community and other poor and working class communities of color (to defeat Trump and Trumpism!). We need to spread solidarity not blame, fear and hate. It is not just about Asians being attacked but we’re just taking turns on Trump’s xenophobic agenda against all our communities.
2. Use this moment to expose and neutralize the Chinese right wing (aka the Chinese Tea Party). They are weakening right now because they are still defending Trump. However, if we do not intervene, I fear we will lose our people to fear and hate and a whole lot more anti-blackness in our community. There is also the Chinese government blaming Africans, the Hindu right who are blaming Muslims for the coronavirus, and of course the white nationalists, who are blaming Chinese/Asians and Jews for the coronavirus. We need to thread a new kind of solidarity that is local and global.
3. Assert a new kind of progressive internationalism that fights global capitalism and white supremacy. We need an approach that is people to people, worker to worker and based on global cooperation towards a just and interdependent society and planet we need and deserve.
“It is through broadening and building with others, practicing and preparing to govern locally and globally in new ways beyond what we have seen in these times.”
Acting like and being the majority will not be a simple task. Forging this path is somewhat unclear. And who is the new “we”? Many are already doing this in our own ways. It is through broadening and building with others, practicing and preparing to govern locally and globally in new ways beyond what we have seen in these times. The contradictions will be immense and the struggles will be intense but I know what is at stake for me. In 38 years, Collin, my son, will be my age. I want to be able to say we stood up and fought our asses off to leave a better world than today. What is at stake for you?
For the sake of humanity and the planet, it is time for us to be the majority.
(Note: These views represented are my views alone not the Chinese Progressive Association.)