Why was it never the right time?

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Ann Friedman Weekly
A drawing of three women together in a bed with an orange duvet cover
Britina Cheng, homage to Liu Xiaodong's "Three girls watching TV"   

This week
"She was very invested in becoming an American," a friend of Xiaojie Tan's told the press. I hate that I can't quote Tan here in her own words. But the truth is this quote stopped me cold. I'm confronted, again and again, by the staggering cruelty that the dominant forces in this country exact on people who embody its supposed values. The gofundme page for Hyun Jung Grant's family, written by her son, also broke my heart into a thousand pieces. I'm thinking about "the vulnerability, the invisibility and the isolation of working-class Asian women in our country," to quote Georgia State Representative Bee Nguyen. Like New York State Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou, I'm thinking "about how these women worked so hard to bring comfort to someone else when they were probably so tired." And I'm thinking about what we—what I—owe them.

And so I find myself examining my own role in the silence around the reports of cresting anti-Asian violence over the past year. It's not like I didn't realize. I've been linking to articles that document and react to it. And I know enough about hate-crimes reports to understand that they represent just the tip of the iceberg. But I have not given this crisis top billing until today. Why was it never the right time?

I'm tempted to characterize this choice as a social equivalent of the frog-boiling effect, to say that I didn't realize quite how bad things had gotten until they resulted in an act of headline-dominating terrorism this week. But that's not honest. I think a truer explanation is that I have been observing this crisis from my cozy perch of whiteness. For me, it's been playing out in a few anecdotes shared by Asian American friends and in headlines and tweets I see online. It has not been a fear, anger, or frustration in my very veins, affecting my daily experiences

What are my words worth now to Xiaojie Tan, to Hyun Jung Grant, to everyone killed this week and to every person of Asian descent in the U.S. who has been unable to escape the cruelty of the past year? Very little, I'm afraid. To be in solidarity means not waiting to speak until the issue is dominating the headlines. 

I'm reading
Why this wave of anti-Asian racism feels different. "A cold, stark reminder of our tenuous place in the American racial hierarchy." "Anti-Asian immigrant sentiment is at the core of American xenophobia, and for Asian women, it’s long been rooted in associations with sex work." Hollywood is complicit. A warning against conflating massage parlors and sex workers without any nuance, and a call for solidarity. Cathy Park Hong in conversation with Alexander Chee about art, politics, anti-Asian violence, white supremacy, and hair metal. "What kinds of coalitions are possible in this protracted, still expanding historical moment of catastrophe?" On the fantasy of political unity. The pandemic changed our lives but not our societies. How it's hurt survivors of human trafficking. The race to collect COVID ephemera, and a beautiful meditation on cooking in the pandemic. How the Instacart ratings system hurts grocery workers. A terrifying story about our facial-recognition future. I love watching Rep. Katie Porter work. The workplace confessional as an emerging literary form. What does it accomplish to note that "women never feel safe"? The economics of greeting cards. Turning former malls into schools. Are millennials truly nonreligious, "or are our belief systems too bespoke to appear on a list of major religions?" On queerness in modern folk music. The racial divide in diabetes. Why YKK zippers are so good. Are humans wildlife?

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I’m looking & listening
Rep. Grace Meng's words on the House floor. Karen Chee's words on Late Night with Seth Meyers. Tamara K. Nopper is delivering a free lecture on anti-Asian violence and Asian-Black solidarity next week. Writers Randa Jarrar and Myriam Gurba in conversation. Kubra Khademi's paintings. A poetic ode to sweaty dance parties.

Inspired by Dr Marcia Chatelain's essay on the Shamrock Shake and McDonalds' philanthropic work.

I endorse
Knowing whether an anti-trans bill is on the legislative agenda in your state, and writing to your representatives if it is. Do it for trans youth like Chloe Clark, who knows that these lawmakers are debating her right to exist and "[can't] bring herself to read the news coverage or to speak out against the legislation." This is a matter of urgency, connected to trans people's very lives and safety: Murders of trans people have jumped 266 percent from last year.

Signing up for bystander intervention training. Donating to national and local AAPI organizations. Using this guide from the Asian American Journalists' Association, which is a good reference point for all of us in an era when everyone is sharing thoughts and resources. And asking better questions than "is the shooter racist?" or "was the crime 'racially motivated'?" 

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