“All of the things we were told to never talk about” #NotYourAsianSidekick

Writer and activist Suey Park has sparked a cluster of conversations, first on Twitter and now moving to more longform platforms, about race, stereotypes, feminism, privilege, intersectionality and more with the #NotYourAsianSidekick hashtag which trended globally for over 24 hours.

In an email quoted by Buzzfeed, Park writes:

My dear friends and I have had growing critiques of how patriarchy in Asian American spaces hurts, while white feminism leaves much to be desired, so we created this space instead. We talked about queerness, disability, immigration, multiracial/biracial issues, compulsory coalitions, challenging anti-blackness, mental health, body image, and all things feminism. It was all of the things we were told to never talk about.

There are also articles on Salon, BlogHer, the BBC and Al Jazeera right now, and no doubt that will only be the start, because Park is determined that these conversations centering Asian American and Pacific Islander women will become much more than just a Twitter trend, and more than just an American conversation too.

Grace Hwang Lynch on BlogHer:

Like the #solidarityisforwhitewomen conversation earlier this fall, this discussion revealed a lot of ways that even feminist or progressive communities don’t acknowledge the issues of Asian American women. #NotYourAsianSidekick also raised awareness of the unique and particularly tense place that AAPI activists often find themselves in: caught in the push-pull between black and white. Even when advocating for people of color, our own presence and histories have often been erased. […]

The longer #NotYourAsianSidekick stayed on the Twitter trends, the more angry commenters started posting with the hashtag. But I’m encouraged the the outpouring and also to see non-Asian feminists such as Mikki Kendall, Liza Sabater and Lauren Chief Elk joining in the conversation this time. I hope this is a discussion we’ll continue to have.

Inevitably the trolls have found the hashtag, as have the defensive ‘post-racial’ talking points bleaters, and some of the discussions linked above are as a result moving into “don’t read the comments” territory. Let’s see if we can do better here; as a start I urge readers to be vigilant in alerting the Moderator Team any time the conversation moves away from centering the voices of AAPI women.


UPDATE: a couple more reading links – will add more as I come across them.

When #NotYourAsianSidekick took over Twitter

On Asian-Americans and why we are #NotYourAsianSidekick


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About tigtog

tigtog blogs a lot elsewhere, but here on Feministe she mostly does the tech support and feeds the giraffe. tigtog tweets in irregular flurries @vivsmythe.
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64 Responses to “All of the things we were told to never talk about” #NotYourAsianSidekick

  1. ARIADNE says:

    2013 was a big year for feminism, but the movement still alienates minorities.From Wendy Davis to Malala, women made a mark this year. But there’s a lot more work to be done to include women of colour

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/dec/16/feminism-minority-voices-2013-inclusion

  2. Li says:

    I’m finding usage of the term AAPI to describe this discussion kind of.. weird. While it’s definitely popping up in the discussion, I kind of feel like Suey Park and a whole lot of other tweeters have been pretty specific in using the terms “Asian American” and “Asian”, not AAPI, and yet AAPI is turning up very frequently in articles summarising the discussion instead of the terms used by Suey Park.

    I mean, partly it’s standing out to me because I’m in Australia, and the grouping of Asian and Pacific Islander people together is a very USian practice.

    • Li says:

      Possibly this has already been hashed out in the twitter discussion; I haven’t had time to go through all of it yet.

    • Li says:

      Also, given how very very specific Suey Park is about not hyphenating “Asian American” the BBC coverage is highly grating to say the least.

      • Tyris says:

        Is this just a lack of respect thing (ie not making the effort to use someone’s terminology exactly instead of twisting it to fit your style guide), or is there also some meaningful difference you get by adding a hyphen?

        • Tyris says:

          Mnh. Bad word choice again. Substitute “just” for “purely.” We don’t mean to belittle the lack of respect.

        • Tyris says:

          And then substitute “belittle” with “diminish” and we’re going back to bed because thinking clearly isn’t working out for us right now.

    • tigtog says:

      Li, I saw AAPI being used by quite a few self-identified Asian feminists in the conversation, so I included it at the end of the OP because (a) it seemed like a term folks might search on (I make a habit of including variations on terms for search engines), and (b) it seemed more inclusive. If I’ve inadvertently screwed up, I’ll edit the post accordingly.

      • Li says:

        I don’t think it’s a screw-up per se, it just seemed like a bit of an odd pattern to me if that makes sense? I mean I don’t really want to get bogged down in terminology, except to note that inclusive terminology can sometimes elide the specificity of certain discussions.

        • tigtog says:

          I see what you mean, Li. Another reason I went with using multiple terms was that part of the conversation was about the policing of Asian-ness, and who is considered Asian when. There’s many South Asians noting that tweets curated by the various web articles under-represented Desi contributions to the discussion, for instance.

        • tigtog says:

          Took me a while to find this tweet from Park again, which sums up the reason I went with multiple variations of inclusive terminology:

    • Hugh says:

      I had this discussion too, from a similar perspective. There may be good reasons for grouping Asian and Pacific Islander together in the US census, and of course there are people who are very definitively both, but it seems that the issues affecting Korean Americans and Samoan Americans are very different.

      • Moz says:

        I wondered this too. Especially from Australia where pacific islanders are seen as very different to even south-east asians, let alone Indians and Japanese. It feels like a “miscellaneous” category, but I trust that in context there is a lot of common ground.

      • Clytemnestra's Sister says:

        This.

        Even if you take Hawaii, which has the largest number of pacific islanders of any state, and compare the lives and needs of ethnic Hawaiians to those of Hawaiian Japanese, it’s like chalk and cheese. In Nebraska, which will have comparatively few of either group, lumping them together doesn’t have as great an impact on society as a whole.

        • Kia says:

          It might not have a great impact on society as a whole it has an impact on pacific islanders when we are lumped into a category with people we have nothing in common with. There aren’t many native Americans in some states so society as a whole won’t be impacted if they’re erased & tacked on to some other category of people who are racist against them & ignore their issues!

    • Kia says:

      Thank you! It’s fucking racist & I’ve seen pacific islanders “call them out” on twitter she just ignores them & keeps saying API like she has any right to speak for us! If she were calling herself Asian-Native-American or Asian-African-American talking only about Asians ignoring Asian racism against the people she claims to represent. It’s bullshit.

      Sorry if I’m inarticulate I’m really mad she gets away with it & other WOC don’t challenge her they cheer on her racism… & you know Pacific Islanders aren’t fit to speak for ourselves according to the founders of this hash tag

      • Donna L says:

        Are there any Pacific Islanders involved in the hashtag?

        I’m not suggesting that the issues are substantively analogous in any meaningful way, but your comments do remind me a little of how I feel when gay and lesbian people purport to speak about “LGBT” issues while completely ignoring trans issues — especially when they’re among the many LG people who seem to despise trans people. But relative numbers don’t leave trans people much ability to act on their own, and I wonder if that’s the reasoning of those who favor the “API” term, at least within the continental US.

        • Kia says:

          Nope nobody I follow on twitter commented, coz it’s an Asian tag it has nothing to do with us. There was no need for them to add the letters PI when they weren’t talking about us.

          I don’t know about trans issues but that is the same thing Asian & white states say to justify colonisation in the pacific. We’re too small/too primitive to administer ourselves colonisation is doing us a favour.

          Asian states & corporations are literally still colonising the pacific. it’s not just that we’re different it’s that our interests are in competition & lumping us in with our colonisers covers up colonisation happening right now.

      • trees says:

        If she were calling herself Asian-Native-American or Asian-African-American talking only about Asians ignoring Asian racism against the people she claims to represent.

        Please, please, just leave us out of it.

        • Kia says:

          Lmfao solidarity eh? Leave US out of it.

        • Kia says:

          If you think it acceptable to call me Asian-Pacific-Islander it is acceptable for me to call you European-whatever & I will.

        • trees says:

          Don’t co-opt the supposed experiences of NDN and black Americans in order to make your point. This is just as full of shit as Americans of East Asian ancestry claiming the label API.

        • ldouglas says:

          Please, please, just leave us out of it.

          It was an analogy that made sense to me, at least- sorry if I’m missing something?

          I think Kia’s points have a lot of resonance. Suey Park obviously is doing some really cool things, but it wouldn’t be the first time a self-proclaimed movement for social justice ended up prioritizing it’s political goals over actually respecting the marginalized members of its supposed constituency.

        • trees says:

          If you think it acceptable to call me Asian-Pacific-Islander it is acceptable for me to call you European-whatever & I will.

          Why would I call you API? I’ll refer to you by the label of your choosing.

        • pheenobarbidoll says:

          Ha! If she were calling herself Asian Native American, only NDNS would notice or care. Everyone else would assume she has a great great great Cherokee princess ancestor.

        • trees says:

          Ha! If she were calling herself Asian Native American, only NDNS would notice or care. Everyone else would assume she has a great great great Cherokee princess ancestor.

          Shaking my head. Sad, but so fucking true. I just so happen to be currently acquainted with someone who makes this very claim, and I don’t have the heart to challenge the absurdity of the notion. (side-note on a side-note: they always claim Cherokee, why is it always Cherokee?, it’s as if they believe it’s the only nation to ever grace the shores of Turtle Island)

        • pheenobarbidoll says:

          Because we’re awesome? ( UKB are at any rate lol)

        • trees says:

          Ha! If she were calling herself Asian Native American, only NDNS would notice or care. Everyone else would assume she has a great great great Cherokee princess ancestor.

          Okay, I recognize the awesome (LOL), but I doubt the descendants of made up Indian royalty know the first damn thing about the Cherokee nations, or even that there is more than one.

        • pheenobarbidoll says:

          Indeed, trees. Indeed. And thank you Mac :)

        • Kia says:

          I’m not co-opting anything. I’m attempting to explain it in terms you will understand because Americans apparently don’t know the pacific ocean is not Asia. Nobody is trying to steal your precious oppression when Indonesians are committing genocide, Asian & American corporations are destroying our ocean, we’re still suffering the effects of American&European nuclear explosions on our islands while climate change, caused by you, destroys our homes. Americans dont know or care anything about any of this so i tried to make it easier for you to understand. Didnt mean to threaten your oppression sorry we have our own oppression, much of it caused by your country, thanks. btw Hawaiians & other Pacific Islanders are Indigenous people colonised by America & that is not a metaphor. but whatever yeah it’s all always about you.

          Remembering why I quit reading this website.

        • Donna L says:

          why is it always Cherokee?

          Always. I wonder why that is, too.

        • trees says:

          I’m not co-opting anything…but whatever yeah it’s all always about you.

          If it’s all about me, why do you demand the right to use my experiences for your own ends?

        • ldouglas says:

          If it’s all about me, why do you demand the right to use my experiences for your own ends?

          Which specific experience(s) have you had that were co-opted by an analogy? By what mechanism does saying “this example of racism X is similar to this other example of racism Y” devalue/discredit/co-opt example Y?

        • trees says:

          Which specific experience(s) have you had that were co-opted by an analogy? By what mechanism does saying “this example of racism X is similar to this other example of racism Y” devalue/discredit/co-opt example Y?

          Le sigh. Are you a POC? This comparison happens all the damn time with NDN and black American experiences, and it never actually makes an sense. Like pheeno said, we ain’t your teaching tool.

        • ldouglas says:

          Biracial, yes. I won’t speak to specific NDN experiences because that would be co-opting, but I have no problem with a Pacific Islander saying to me “this form of racism I experience is a lot like this form of racism you experience.” Why? Because the fact that I experience racial oppression doesn’t make me an expert on everyone else’s brand of racial oppression that they face, and if they can bring me a little closer to understanding their struggle I count that as a win.

          I really, really don’t get how saying “calling yourself API when you’re not a Pacific Islander is co-option, just like calling yourself Asian-African-American would be co-option if you’re not African-American” does anything negative to anyone. And I say this as someone with a pretty finely tuned sense for racial microaggressions.

          Seriously, if you want to feel free to use small words and treat me like I’m very, very stupid, but this just doesn’t make any sense to me.

        • trees says:

          Biracial, yes.

          So you’re saying you are neither indigenous nor black, and thus completely unaffected by this issue? Yet this doesn’t hamper you in speaking with authority on my experiences.

          Seriously, if you want to feel free to use small words and treat me like I’m very, very stupid, but this just doesn’t make any sense to me.

          That’s pretty rich coming from you.

        • @ldouglas it’s the same as “well if he were BLACK people would see it was racist!” (i.e. assuming that oppression is more clearly perceived when it is directed at black/indigenous people when this is anything but true).

        • ldouglas says:

          That’s pretty rich coming from you.

          I meant it seriously. As in, if you have the spoons to break it down to a really basic level, I wouldn’t feel insulted condescended too, but I’d actually listen to what you had to say. And if you don’t, it’s obviously not your job to educate me, and we can leave it at then.

          Yet this doesn’t hamper you in speaking with authority on my experiences.

          Point me to where I spoke authoritatively on anything, please. I notice in my post a lot of questions, admissions that I don’t fully understand things, statements about how I personally react to similar statements, etc. And while I get why that may come across as offensive in a context where you think the thing I’m not getting is racism, to frame it as ‘speaking authoritatively’ is… well, flatly wrong?

        • pheenobarbidoll says:

          Idouglas- your racial sensitivity needs retuning. You’ve got 2 NDNS here flat out telling you we don’t appreciate it so stop telling us what you don’t have a problem with. I don’t care what you don’t have a problem with, it’s not about you. NDNS don’t need to be used as a teaching tool, and shockingly we’re not so thick that we have to have colonization explained to us in this way. Had she bothered to look, she would have discovered all sorts of NDN sites that discuss, highlight and show solidarity to other colonized people all over this globe. Perhaps we’re not the ones who needed teaching.

        • TimmyTwinkles says:

          Trees and Pheeno, quick sensitivity question, if you dont mind. My great x 3 grandmother was a full-blooded (is this an offensive term?)Cherokee. It’s well-documented, and certainly no bullshit about her being a princess or anything like that. I would never refer to myself as Native American, and I can’t stress enough that I’m laying no claim to oppression or the experience of being colonized. However, this has always been an important part of our family’s history, not in a “hey we’re oppressed too guys” way, but simply because it was something the subsequent generations felt was worth impressing upon their children. Is this just something I should keep to myself, since I experience life as an Anglo-white?

        • pheenobarbidoll says:

          How is it any different than having a non NDN ancestor? It’s not. So perhaps look closer in regards to why it’s so notable. Also keep in mind that many marriages were made because colonizers wanted NDN land and could only get it by marrying an NDN woman. And keep in mind that determining who was counted as an Indian was based on crap like head shape and nose size, so you could have a sister registered as an Indian while the parents or other siblings were not. So don’t assume that documentation is gospel.

        • TimmyTwinkles says:

          Thanks for your response Pheeno.

          How is it any different than having a non NDN ancestor?

          Never thought about this (obviously), but so true. I always assumed it was a matter of pride, but I need to go back and re-think that.

          And keep in mind that determining who was counted as an Indian was based on crap like head shape and nose size, so you could have a sister registered as an Indian while the parents or other siblings were not.

          I had no idea about this. I’ve read some about how they determined who made it onto the rolls, but clearly I haven’t read enough.

      • Speaking as a desi, I definitely agree that Asians have no business glomming onto Pacific Islander identity considering our collective shady-as-fuck history in the region (and as a Tamilian I freely admit my history is shadier than many, though not as much as some).

        That said, PLEASE leave the NDN folks out of this. They get dragged into way too much shit they had nothing to do with as it is.

        • pheenobarbidoll says:

          Whoops! Thought my post would nest under this. Thank you Mac

        • Kia says:

          My point was that different groups with conflicting interests should not be categorised together. God forbid exceptional Americans should be compared with anything or that Indigenous people in America should care about Indigenous people colonised by America, I would never expect that.

        • God forbid exceptional Americans should be compared with anything or that Indigenous people in America should care about Indigenous people colonised by America, I would never expect that.

          I’m not American. Read gooder.

        • ldouglas says:

          Indigenous people in America should care about Indigenous people colonised by America, I would never expect that.

          Who are these indigenous people in America who weren’t colonized? I mean, I guess you could argue the British did the original colonizing, if you’re being particularly persnickety, but… really?

          I don’t think there’s any particular problem with your original use of analogy, but this is statement is awfully close to denying that NDN/First Nations people in the US experience oppression. Which is fucked up.

        • Donna L says:

          Is NDN now considered a preferred term to use — should I be using it instead of NA?

        • trees says:

          Who are these indigenous people in America who weren’t colonized?

          She’s talking about the colonization of peoples indigenous to the Pacific Islands who were colonized by the States. She’s not suggesting that some NA weren’t colonized in North America.

        • trees says:

          @Donna L

          Is NDN now considered a preferred term to use — should I be using it instead of NA?

          Response posted @Spillover

      • Kia says:

        Not going to comment any more. Sincerely regret visiting this website, I apologise, it won’t happen again.

        • Donna L says:

          I don’t think anyone actually disagreed with anything (substantive) that you had to say.

        • pheenobarbidoll says:

          Yeah, it’s always about the NDNS. I mean, I can’t open my browser without seeing a story about us. I’m just a stoopid American and “my country” colonized….um.. US. Sorry, us Indians are just too dumb to understand that Hawaiians are indigenous too. We’re also so uneducated about the history that we believe Captain Cook was an American, not British. Screw the fact we agreed with you but refused to be your teaching tool.

        • Safiya Outlines says:

          Kia – I’m really sorry you feel this way. You took the time to answer a question that had been asked on this thread and you’ve made to feel unwelcome. That is not cool.

          I’ve seen plenty of more dodgy comparisons/metaphors get made around here, but it seems to be that certain people get more leeway then others.

          Yay! The Feministe comment section strikes again! Who needs diversity of opinion when we can have a fight club instead?

          But as long as someone gets told, who cares?

        • trees says:

          I’ve seen plenty of more dodgy comparisons/metaphors get made around here, but it seems to be that certain people get more leeway then others.

          Are you either indigenous or black American, if not what gives you the confidence to make such a claim? Do you value the issues of some marginalized people more than others?

          Please, please, just leave us out of it.

          This is my initial comment which inspired Kia’s diatribe. This is not proportional but yet you say I started the “fight club”. Did you notice that there was no disagreement on her main point?

          Your comment reads to me like you consider my concerns simply unimportant.

  3. Leah says:

    Thank you for the post and the links!

  4. Ally S says:

    I can kind of relate to the tweet about names being called “exotic”, people being weird with nicknames, etc.

    [Content note: dysphoria]

    Almost every single time I tell someone that my first name is Aaliyah, they say “That’s a beautiful name!” I know they’re being nice, but I can’t help but wonder if that’s partly because people think my name is “exotic.” I mean, when people hear my male name they already get this impression that I’m some “exotic” Middle Eastern “guy.” And my male name is almost as common among Arabic-speakers as the name Steve is among English speakers, so I’m willing to believe that people think my female name sounds even more “exotic.”

    That’s one of the reasons I often just introduce myself as Ally, besides the fact that most people can’t pronounce my full first name easily and the fact that hearing my first name in my deep masculine voice makes me feel dysphoric.

    Also, when I recently joined an anarchist organization in Santa Cruz, I asked fellow members to just call me Alex, which is convenient because it’s technically gender-neutral and because it’s an easily pronounced, typical English name. The group consists almost entirely of middle-age white cis people (most of them male) from whom I have never noticed any awareness of intersectionality or even their own privilege, so I joined with the assumption that they would likely mispronounce my name constantly and think less of me for having that name (or even my nickname Ally, since I look masculine). Perhaps once I get to know them better I’ll see if it’ll be worth it to ask them to call me by my first name or nickname. At least they seem nice and open so far.

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  6. Aisha says:

    Thank you for including my post in your discussion on this topic. I have to say that as a South Asian I was so glad to see how inclusive this discussion was. So many times when the topic of Asian Americans comes up I feel like I can’t participate because I’m in the offshoot “South Asian” category, but the truth is all Asian groups feel marginalized to a certain extent and face the burdens of the “model minority” perspective and we can all benefit from being more inclusive of all in the debate. I appreciate the creator of the hashtag for helping to ensure all could participate in the conversation.

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