By Uzma Chowdhury
Note: This is Part 2 of Uzma’s The Silence Between: an Asian-American in an Anti-Black World
Around this time last year, I was thinking about Ahmaud Arbery, being an Asian-American, and struggling with my own identity — being silent about it, or others’ silence about it.
I published that piece 10 days before the murder of George Floyd. I had no idea then, what the world would become. In a few months, I would be protesting police brutality in front of the White House. Soon the former President’s hateful words would play a role in sparking a violent uprisal of White Supremacists on the capital. Even as I grappled with anti-Blackness, police brutality (since the murder of George Floyd, police have killed 967 people) a few months after writing that piece, there would be a mass shooting in my home town of Atlanta murdering Asian American women, Korean women, working class women, sex workers. There would be airstrikes murdering over 200 Palestinians in Israel. India’s death toll from COVID would top 300,000. And so much more pain and violence that isn’t covered by mainstream media.
It’s Asian American/Pacific Islander Heritage month again. I wish I could celebrate it. Instead, I’m grieving. I’m grieving for George Floyd and his family, for Black people who feel unsafe at work, in the streets, at home. I’m grieving for Ma’Khia Bryant. For Adam Toledo. For Sheik Jarrah. For Palestine. For my family members who have lost family to COVID in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan. For Myanmar. For Colombia. For Tigray. Grief is a way to care. Grief is a way to re-connect to the humanity that binds us, and our mutual liberation.
Over the course of this year, I have wondered what it means to care. Last May, I was wondering how to care about myself, how to define myself, as an Asian American in the context of an Anti-Black world. Care, today is defined so reductively in the mainstream language. To ‘care’ about an issue might mean ‘to consider’ or ‘to be aware of.’ I “care” about Black Lives Matter, I might say. I care about “Stop Asian Hate.” But what would it mean to care? About each and every human being simply because they exist? Of course, I thought to myself: “I care.” But the events of this past year have taught me that care isn’t a feeling that I have, it is an action, it is a lifestyle, it is a commitment. The absence of care is the existence of harm. The absence of care is harm:
- The absence of care is settler colonialism that allows us to disregard the way the land we live on is stolen by genocide. That the buildings we occupy were built from enslavement.
- The absence of care is the ability to be imperialist, White Supremacist, racist, sexist, heterosexist, ableist.
- The absence of care is…in many ways, why the world we live in causes so much harm to so many.
Caring means everything from the micro-actions and thoughts I have about other people,( and my ability to take their power and agency from them or not), to fighting the systems with the commitment to stay focused. To not detour. To not let beef or confusion or miscommunication distract me from the end goal of community care for all and of liberation.
- Loving the humanity of every single person, and recognizing how much work I have to do to be able to begin to do that authentically.
- Taking the time to hold myself accountable for the deeply entrenched White Supremacy within me, the colonialism, the imperialism I have internalized to survive.
- Taking time, every day, to learn more, and then to apply those learnings in a loving way to everyone I interact with.
Caring is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
These days, when I think about what I care about, I try to center the “who.” I try to ask myself why I care about certain issues and not others, I try to reckon with the fact that I care about certain people and not others. I’ve been trying to get less of my news from mainstream media, and more from local organizers. I’ve been trying to understand my context with a more global perspective, because America is made up, so why am I centering it?
At the same time, I am trying to honor the fact that made up constructs have very real impacts. I am trying to honor that when it comes to operationalizing how I care, donating my money and time, my social and emotional energy, I am going to start with the most marginalized people first. That means those at the risk of the most immediate harm and pain — QTBIPOC, especially Black trans women, and the rights of colonized indigenous people, here and abroad. It means caring for those who lack the most access to rights and economic opportunity, like sex workers, and immigrant workers. It means, for me, fighting for abolition, and a future world rooted in transformative justice.
It’s AAPI Heritage month again. And I’m struggling to celebrate. I love being an Asian American, and one day, hopefully I will have the space to revisit the unique joys that being an Asian American brings me. But today, if I’m being honest, this month is just reminding me of Palestine, India, and all of the ways that settler colonialism killed so many of our ancestors years ago, and continues to kill us today. I’m thinking of why I’m an Asian American at all — why my family was forced to come to the United States; why so many Asian Americans are being hurt and killed today on the American soil that was supposed to help them; why and how colonialism has controlled so much of my ancestors’ autonomy. I’m thinking about how all of our liberation is bound together. And I’m trying to remember that I have to care about that fact, actively, every single day.
Caring is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And it’s the most important.