I became interested in making art about belonging in 2016, coinciding with the beginning of this Presidential administration and its policies which told Muslims, Mexican and Central American migrants, and trans people: “You don’t belong here.”
Over the past few years, the importance of belonging has been continually affirmed by the way othering characterizes American society now: political divisiveness, racism, xenophobia, the increased visibility of white supremacist groups, the murders of Black Americans by police and vigilantes, and the failure of the justice system to value Black lives.
Whenever I hear of a “___ while black” incident, I see it through a lens of belonging: white privilege allows a white person to feel entitled to police another’s belonging. It’s on the same spectrum of othering with victims in the movement for Black lives. Ahmaud Arbery’s murderers didn’t have to say, “Go back to where you came from” or “You don’t belong here” because that’s implicit in the decision to follow him while carrying a loaded firearm. When no one is charged for murdering Breonna Taylor, it communicates that being Black entails an exemption from belonging in a civil society where citizens can expect to be safe in their homes and live free from senseless state violence. When the justice system fails Black victims of police misconduct, it says that Black people don’t belong to the privileged class for whom justice will be served.
This spring, fear of the coronavirus triggered latent Sinophobia to become explicit in a wave of anti-Asian incidents. Art institutions posted pledges to speak up if they witness anti-Asian hate. (While I appreciate the allyship, I resent the necessity of promising to do the right thing. Decency should be enough, but othering robs us of our humanity, so we have to reiterate that we deserve basic civility.)
Yuanyuan Zhu—who works at Chinese Culture Center and has been an enthusiastic, crucial collaborator of my belonging projects—experienced a hate incident in San Francisco in March. In my Hopes for Chinatown project—bridging Art, Culture, and Belonging and 100 Days Action’s Art for Essential Workers—YY shared her hope for Chinatown:
“Less discrimination. More understanding.”
Christine Wong Yap, “Hopes for Chinatown,” 2020, site-specific public art: participation, hand-lettering, digital print, 80 x 148 inches and 96 x 48 inches. Commissioned and installed by 100 Days Action for Art for Essential Workers. Photo by Jeremiah Barber.
In the past 10 days, despite the ongoing pandemic, American uprisings have sprung up in all 50 states to insist that the police misconduct and anti-Black state violence will no longer be tolerated.
I am hopeful that this is an inflection point in history towards social change. As individuals and communities facing reckonings, the time is ripe for Asian Americans to confront our anti-blackness and white supremacy. In fact, coronavirus-related anti-Asian sentiment provides an opportunity to develop our understanding of systemic racism and the need for Black solidarity.
We APAs want to stop anti-Asian hate. We want people to know: We are not the virus. We want to not be perpetual outsiders. We want our belonging to not be conditional.
If we truly want less discrimination and more understanding, we have to do our part: to recognize that we have benefitted from advancements in civil rights won through Black struggle, to acknowledge that the model minority myth has been used to invalidate systemic oppression faced by Black people, and to address and rectify anti-Blackness pervasive in our communities. We have to stop othering Black people so we can see our struggles for justice and belonging in America are connected and intertwined.
- Ibram X. Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist.
- Michelle Kim, “20+ Allyship Actions for Asians to Show Up for the Black Community Right Now”, Medium, May 6, 2020.
- Michelle Kim, “30+ Ways Asians Perpetuate Anti-Black Racism Everyday”, Medium, May 28, 2020.
- Letters for Black Lives: A letter in support of Black lives translated into many APA languages, including Chinese.
- How to Talk to Your Family about Racism: A Guide for White People by Jen Winston. Though this is for white people, the tips’ compassion and forgiveness seems helpful in non-confrontational Asian family dynamics, too.
- CAAAV is an APA org in NYC that has been doing the work of cross-racial organizing for years:
- I am proud to be affiliated with the Chinese Culture Center, and the staff who signed a statement of solidarity with the movement for Black lives, which includes a link to the Asian American Racial Justice Toolkit.
Black Lives Matter Solidarity Statement and Phrases in Chinese
As a public service in language accessibility, I asked the Chinese Culture Center to share the text of their solidarity statement with me so I can post it here. You are welcome to copy and paste the Chinese phrases for use in activism supporting Black lives and justice.
Chinatown in Solidarity with Black Lives Matter
CCC adds our voice in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and all people who are committed to justice and equity.
We are deeply saddened and outraged by the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and the countless other lives lost to state-sanctioned violence. We send our heartfelt condolences to the families, hold space for your pain and rage, and share in a feeling of loss for those who are mourning loved ones taken from their communities.
Chinatown and Asian Americans across the country are deeply committed to equity and empowerment. We honor and acknowledge the leadership of the black community during the Civil Rights Movement that paved the way for many Asian American organizations to rise up and serve our communities. Institutional racism and violence against black lives must end.
Black Lives Matter.
No justice, no peace. 沒有正義就沒有和平。
CCC Team- Hoi, Jenny, Jia, Sheng, Weiying, Yuanyuan
中華文化中心團隊: 梁凱瑤, 梁凱欣, 柳嘉潔, Sheng, 于濰穎, 朱媛媛
For our AAPI community members looking for a place to work on personal development and learn more about solidarity, check out Chinese Progressive Association’s Asian American Racial Justice Toolkit at www.asianamtoolkit.org/.