Exemplifying the power and positive potential behind social media, last week’s #NotYourAsianSidekick Twitter conversation offered a fantastic opportunity for the Internet to discuss stereotypes and political challenges facing Asian-American-Pacific-Islanders (or AAPI). Originated by Suey Park, a freelance writer and organizer, #NotYourAsianSidekick quickly trended on Twitter and its energy immediately flowed over to the rest of the Internet, prompting relevant thought-pieces and segments.
#NotYourAsianSidekick demonstrated how young people and the Internet have the power to create significant opportunities for civil rights discourse. What I really enjoyed about #NotYourAsianSidekick was how it offered an opportunity for individuals to chime with their personal experiences of racism (and often with sexism woven in) while also creating a space for progressive organizations to publically discuss how they view the AAPI movement. In fact, 18 Million Rising has announced that it is helping #NotYourSidekick gain sustainability as a movement. We are really excited to see where this momentum is headed so we were thrilled to snag Suey and check in on how things are going.
And so, without further ado, the Feministing Five with Suey Park.
Suzanna Bobadilla: What was your most surprising moment that came out of the #NotYourAsianSidekick Twitter conversation?
Suey Park: I think the most surprising part was how much mainstream media took off with it, especially because a lot of my critiques is of the media and how it represents us. The attention is really surprising because I really thought it would be of an underground, grassroots thing.
SB: You recently announced that you’re looking forward to transforming this conversation into a movement. Could you describe for us what’s coming down the pipeline?
SP: In the coming months, I’m really hoping to start shifting our collective consciousness. That means disseminating information that I have been able to get a hold of, sharing the work of ethnic studies scholars above before me, like Asian-American feminists that have been doing this work for quite a while, and finding a way for our generation to build off the generation before us. We can use our unique skills, like our social media power, to enact real tangible change.
SB: Building off on that, how do you think online-based activism could work with place-based activism?
SP: They really should go hand in hand, but both can be limited in their capacity. I think Twitter is great, especially for people outside of the institution to get involved in these conversations and to have a holding space for them that’s not white feminism or in Asian-American nonprofits, but really a third space for us to start having these conversations.
I also think that on the ground activism is very important. One thing I’d like to emphasize about on the ground organizing is that while it seems like it’s having these great effects, a lot of things have become a façade of progress. With our nonprofits that are heavily corporatized, I’ve been a part of protests that have completely been spectacles to the media. I might say, like how even this week has been for #NotYourAsianSidekick. In that sense, I really feel like we are playing into the system and looking for their approval. We need to start being creative in our interventions and not just what I call “compulsory organizing” which is that something happens, we react to it, and it’s this stop-and-go effect. But what would happen if we came in with intention and started thinking outside the typical rules of organizing?
Also, our movements have left a lot of people behind. Especially people with disabilities, queer people, South Asian people, Muslim people. There are a lot of people that aren’t being represented in even in the most progressive Asian American spaces. We’re actually replicating an oppressive structure because even if it is a space for Asian Americans, we recreate oppression within it. I’m wondering what it looks like to have a movement that’s led and moved by those who are most marginalized.
What would it look like to be a part of a movement that gives life and not death? What would it look like to not be sleep deprived? What would it look like to undermine capitalism by not having these compulsory pieces of writing, action steps to just pause and realize that what we have been doing isn’t working in its entirety? Maybe it’s okay to stop, rethink, and have a bigger base for rebuilding in the future.
SB: This question comes from my good friend and great organizer, Carolyn Chou of the Asian American Resource Workshop in Boston. She’d like to know if you see the #NotYourAsianSidekick conversation fitting into a large discussion about different perspectives like ethnicity, nationality, language, sexuality, class, within the Asian-American-Pacific-Islander space.
SP: I definitely do. I intentionally made it #NotYourAsianSidekick to bring people into the conversation and to make it accessible, especially as I am someone who comes from a more academic background. I saw the situation and thought if I put AAPI in the hashtag people won’t even know what I’m talking about.
At the same time, I think in even these more progressive spaces we have the compulsory “PI” after the “AA,” when really we have no understanding how to actually be in solidarity without having, again perhaps a PI sidekick within AA spaces. How insane is it that we always have just that one PI person on the board or that one person in leadership, and we continue to replicate these oppressive structures. I think though that there is potential for us to improve.
As I’ve been saying with the larger purpose of this conversation, Asian Americans make up the majority of the population. If we activate Asian Americans, rather than having us seek a seat at the table of white capitalist America and fight for their approval, what would happen if we found solidarity with other people of color? And then came the question, what would happen if we looked internally at even our own barriers to solidarity?
I was also thinking about who is an Asian-American? On the one hand, the US lumps us together and erases any of our struggles that are often individualized per ethnic group, erases immigration stories like undocumented immigrants, and erases many other stories. At the same time there is the potential for bigger numbers to be in solidarity if we reclaim that homogenized title as a political identity. For me, Asian American (without the hyphen of course) is a political identity.
SB You’re stranded on a desert island. You get to bring one drink, one food, one feminist. What do you choose?
SP: Drink—water. Food—fried rice. I used to make my mom make it for me for breakfast everyday. I can’t eat soggy flakes in sugared cow excretion. We need as many people as possible for a movement, but I’d pick Mari Matsuda, so we could talk about how to build an intergenerational movement. I have so much I can learn from women like Matsuda who have been doing this work, which is not the easiest work, for far longer than I have. I would also ask to take a feminist selfie with her to add to my impressive collection. Then I would ask that we return from the island with fury and intent!
Suzanna Bobadilla is y’alls Feministing Five contributor and would like to wish you happy Mariah Carey Listening this holiday season.