Racism as a Covid-19 Side-effect, Part I: Bao Phi on Sustaining Community

The pandemic has unfortunately caused hate incidents against Asian Americans to rise across the United States. Asian Canadians too report incidents of abuse. I asked spoken word artist and writer Bao Phi: How are you sustaining yourself in these circumstances?

He writes:

I alternate between being enraged and being depressed. Of course, this is nothing new – the color of my skin and the shape of my features has marked me as an enemy my entire life. Racist xenophobia, informed by militaristic, colonialist imperialism, is nothing new to Asians. But it is certainly magnified now. My former partner once observed that Asian Americans are positioned to be victims of vigilante violence – we saw this after 9-11, towards Arabs, South Asians, and anyone who presented as Middle Eastern – and of course Japanese Americans were wrongly incarcerated after Pearl Harbor. It’s happening again now.

How do you maintain stability yourself?

To be honest, I am unwell, and when I am unwell, I find it very difficult to concentrate on my own craft. I am constantly alternating between rage, to being on edge, to fear, to sadness. I should also mention that I am a single co-parent, and doing my best to be honest with my child about the happenings in the world without filling her full of despair and fear. She already has a heightened sensitivity to danger. It takes all my energy and will to hold things together while I’m with her. 

Bao’s efforts are leaning toward sustaining community.

Instead of focusing on my own craft, I am trying to encourage other Asian Americans to share their stories at the collective Asian American social justice website, www.unmargin.org. I am also doing a lot of reading. And for my work at the Loft, I am working both behind the desk and in front of it as we pivot towards online events. 

If humankind could only take this as a point of reflection and not an opportunity to turn on one another….but I think Bao’s right, this is nothing new.

More on this subject soon from writer Paula Yoo.

Thinking about My Own Glares of Disdain

I can’t even begin to tally the many ways this NYT piece by US Children’s Literature Ambassador Gene Luen Yang speaks the truth to me. It’s about books as windows. You’d think, how could anyone say anything fresh and new about that old trope? Well, here we go. To start with Gene puts himself at the center of the anecdote:

glareofdisdain1Then he takes me into a scenario filled with the small, incidental meannesses of  childhood that we all know about. Only he’s culpable as well, so I am immediately committed to this journey, uncomfortable as it is. And it is, especially as he has happened to name his antagonist after (gulp) my only child. Point taken. We’re all part of the journey.

Snippet of banner text:

“When our class visited the school library, Nikhil and I were surrounded by windows into the lives of our other classmates, but never each other’s.”

glareofdisdain2And then, just when  I think I know what’s going on, I get hit with this! No, really? My book and Mike Jung’s? I was a fan already and now I am committed.

Gandhi, the movie, seals the deal for me.

What a powerful piece this is! It carries so much weight in each small choice that Yang has made. The local theater. The school library. We’re all in the same tangled webs of relationships and rough edges and glares of disdain. The solutions have to come from all of us.