Last week, 23-year-old freelance writer and activist Suey Park ignited a massive Twitter conversation on Asian-American feminism with the hashtag #NotYourAsianSidekick. The purpose of the hashtag, as Park explained, was to enable Asian-Americans to publicly share their stories.
Nobody will GIVE us a space. We need to MAKE a space to use our voices, build community, and be heard. #NotYourAsianSidekick— Suey Park (@suey_park) December 15, 2013
At first, the discussion focused on the oppressive patriarchy that exists in Asian-American communities, and the exclusive nature of white feminism.
#NotYourAsianSidekick because I'm tired of the patriarchy in Asian American spaces and sick of the racism in white feminism.— Suey Park (@suey_park) December 15, 2013
3) Our cultures are family centered & makes it difficult to have critical conversations about sexism #NotYourAsianSidekick— Juliet Shen (@Juliet_Shen) December 15, 2013
Soon, the hashtag spurred a broader talk about various Asian-American struggles.
#NotYourAsianSidekick because I don't co-sign the anti-blackness implied when we’re propped up as the "model minority"— pdxPinay (@pdxPinay) December 15, 2013
Asian representation in the mass media needs to catch up to the mass audiences of Asian personalities on YouTube #NotYourAsianSideKick— Mike Kwan (@mikekwan) December 16, 2013
Unfortunately, what began as a tool of empowerment for Asian-American feminists has since turned into what seems like an unnecessary blame-game.
@suey_park it's odd you are so against racism and you practice equality, when all you're doing is making generalizations towards whites.— Megan Talbott (@megannt7) December 16, 2013
In response, Park accused her critics of trying to derail the conversation.
Does it make you white folks happy that your ignorance derailed #NotYourAsianSidekick? Do you think you get a prize for white supremacy?— Suey Park (@suey_park) December 16, 2013
Before I continue, let me be clear. I am not giving a free pass to anyone who has antagonized or discriminated against Asian-Americans.
In the fight for racial equality, our voices often go unheard, in part because many believe that we all come from privileged backgrounds. What Park sparked with #NotYourAsianSidekick — a conversation
But the dialogue started by #NotYourAsianSidekick has, from time to time, taken what I call the "Louis Farrakhan approach." As the leader of the Nation of Islam, Farrakhan has drawn criticism from organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League for his seemingly anti-Semitic remarks; he frames the struggle for racial equality in terms of a common enemy.
Similarly, Park and some other activists have largely framed the Asian-American struggle as a byproduct of white privilege and white ignorance, without always providing historical or social context for these claims.
#NotYourAsianSidekick BECAUSE WE ARE MORE THAN A TREND FOR YOUR WHITE GAZE.— Suey Park (@suey_park) December 15, 2013
White folks see what they want and they take it, even though they already have every other space. #NotYourAsianSidekick— Suey Park (@suey_park) December 16, 2013
We don't exist to be wingmen for white people to enjoy more exciting lives than us #TheCarrieDiaries #NotYourAsianSidekick— goldfishcake (@goldfishcake) December 19, 2013
Using "white" as a blanket term is overly general, deliberately ignores the transgressions of members of other ethnic groups which may have also perpetuated Asian-American stereotypes, and overlooks the discrimination that Asian-Americans face in spaces that are not predominantly white, like professional basketball or mainstream hip-hop.
This tactic further fails to hold some members of the Asian-American community accountable for perpetuating (or being indifferent to) stereotypes that advocates like Park try to fight. Last week, for example, I came across Josh Kwon’s six-second Vine video mocking how Asian people wake up in the morning. Kwon squints and purposely runs into a door, suggesting that Asians cannot see properly due to the shape of their eyelids. And that's OK, somehow?
When I first raised this issue of wrongfully generalizing racial communities on Twitter with an anonymous user last week, I was told that Park and some other Asian-American advocates were right to speak in such broad terms.
Still, as Andrea Garcia-Vargas pointed out in another conversation last week, this approach can alienate those who don’t realize that these generalizations are not a condemnation of them specifically.
.@JChan1109 See, this is my opinion—correct me if I'm wrong—but I often think when activists say "white men" they're not talking about all— Andrea García-Vargas (@AndreaGarVar) December 16, 2013
.@JChan1109 Rather, they're talking about a trend they've seen among SOME men. For example, when I'm frustrated over street harassment, I'll— Andrea García-Vargas (@AndreaGarVar) December 16, 2013
.@JChan1109 say "Men on the streets: Leave me alone. Stop harassing me." It's not an indictment/condemnation of all men—rather, an— Andrea García-Vargas (@AndreaGarVar) December 16, 2013
.@JChan1109 observation that this street harassment mainly occurs with men.— Andrea García-Vargas (@AndreaGarVar) December 16, 2013
.@JChan1109 Of course, I think it's important to point out that there are lots of white allies. Because there are many.— Andrea García-Vargas (@AndreaGarVar) December 16, 2013
While I agree with her point here, to my mind racial generalizations can also deepen a set of divides that have, for so long, put Asian-Americans at a disadvantage in all facets of American society. Personally, I believe that any conversation about the Asian-American identity or Asian-American struggle should not be limited to the relationship between Asian-Americans and a particular race.
Park’s effort certainly deserves recognition, but attacking particular racial groups does little to build our collective understanding of Asian-American identities. Instead, I hope we choose to focus on telling stories that haven’t been heard yet. Only then will our voices be taken seriously.