The foreseeable future is now

In addition to the recent police killings of Daunte Wright (20) in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, on April 11, 2021, just miles away from the Derek Chauvin trial taking place in downtown Minneapolis, and Adam Toledo (13) in Chicago on March 29, 2021, and the release of body cam footage on April 15, 2021, showing Toledo’s hands in the air before he is shot to death–we have now to contend with another mass shooting that took place in a Fed Ex facility in Indianapolis on April 15, 2021. Eight people–including four members of the local Sikh community–were shot and killed by a 19-year-old white man. At least seven more were injured.

References to the Oak Creek, Wisconsin, Gurdwara massacre on August 5, 2012, in which six Sikh worshipers were shot and killed by a 40-year-old avowed white supremacist, have already begun to appear in the reporting. When teaching this terrible event in my unit on post-9/11 racialization and violence, my students and I watch Valarie Kaur’s documentary Divided We Fall: Americans in the Aftermath (2008) about the murderous Islamophobic backlash that ended up “mistakenly” unleashing its fury on Sikhs across the country as well, while also reading Sunera Thobani’s article “Racial Violence and the Politics of National Belonging: The Wisconsin Shootings, Islamophobia and the War on Terrorized Bodies” (2012, full citation in the bibliography). Her incisive analysis of the foundational role that violence plays as a “race-making” practice and technology of the U.S. state and empire has always stuck with me: “it becomes impossible to think ‘race’ without simultaneously thinking of the violence that is the only condition of its possibility. In other words, ‘race’ is instantiated through violence, including its physical, sexual, psychic and epistemic forms” (282). The only. Opening fire at the Gurdwara becomes a spectacular display of the ways that “Such violence marks the Sikh body, and the larger Sikh community, as subject-able to such violence and, more importantly, to the racial subordination that such violence engenders, in the present moment, and hence, for the foreseeable future” (283).

The foreseen future is now. Again. This is not why I wanted to add a page on specific, high-profile incidents of anti-Asian violence to the Atlanta spa shootings section. There is a tremendous backlog of Asian American studies pages to complete. I do not need more acts of violence in the present to keep historicizing. Please stop.


What Does It Take?

The Atlanta area killings of Hyun Jung Grant (51), Paul Andre Michels (54), Xiaojie Tan (49), Delaina Ashley Yaun (33), Yong Ae Yue (63), and three other Asian American women on March 16, 2021, have thrust the question of anti-Asian racism into the spotlight in a way that the nearly four thousand incidents of verbal and online harassment, shunning (social avoidance), discrimination in the workplace and public spaces, and physical assaults reported to the Stop AAPI Hate website over the past year and disproportionately perpetrated against women did not and perhaps could not. In a country that clings so dearly to the “model minority” myth that it cannot imagine Asian Americans experiencing systemic and pervasive racial discrimination, is this kind of horrific violence what it takes to begin to recognize that anti-Asian racism in the United States—intersectionally mediated through gender, class, and other social differences—is not an open question, or a temporary aberration, but an ongoing condition? And if so, what will it take to contextualize and address this situation?

To say that anti-Asian racism is a structural condition is to complicate the well-meaning, but misleading, framing of the problem as “anti-Asian hate.” After a year of hearing (finally) anti-Black racism publicly discussed in structural and institutional terms—that is, as a legacy of slavery and segregation manifested in lethal policing, racialized incarceration, voter disenfranchisement, housing and health care disparities, the school to prison pipeline, etc.—it is jarringly problematic to hear anti-Asian racism reduced to “hate.” Hate talk individualizes the problem, places it within the domain of racial feelings, and implies that all that’s needed to remedy anti-Asian racism is a change of heart. Don’t hate us, be kind to us.

It has been heartening to me, therefore, to see so many of my Asian American studies colleagues and so many Asian American public intellectuals, artists, and activists from around the country drawing on the field’s vast interdisciplinary knowledge to situate the tragedy not only within the year-long spike in anti-Asian racism since the onset of the pandemic and the insidious associations made between COVID-19 and “China” by the former president and a multitude of other professional xenophobic scapegoatists, but within a centuries-long history of Euro-American colonialism, imperialism, global capitalism, and war that produced and depended on ideologies of racial difference and hierarchy. Those racialized systems of political, military, economic, and cultural domination in East, South, West, and Southeast Asia and their connections to U.S. contexts were and are mediated through exoticized notions of gender, sexuality, and kinship. Such orientalist projections of cultural difference are constituted by assigning gendered and sexualized attributes to racialized Asian bodies that mark them as deviant from the norm of white imperial patriarchal heteronormativity—and therefore colonizable, exploitable, consumable, and vulnerable to “elimination.”

The Atlanta area shooting shows that while it may take a terribly violent event to propel anti-Asian racism into public consciousness, it also takes a great deal of effort to counter that event’s singular spectacularization and to contextualize it within a much longer history and more complex set of dynamics. The resources that I’m assembling on this website attempt to acknowledge and document the immense time, energy, and labor that it takes (from so many of us) to historicize the present—both the interventions in public culture that are responding to this specific atrocity as well as the Asian American intellectual and activist histories which those responses draw on and contribute to.

Put more prosaically, writing for the digital public sphere means using the convention of the hyperlink to cite sources. Although I have seen some links to scholarly texts, most citations refer to non-academic news sites or public resources on the web—which is fine, of course, but inadvertently and inevitably obscures the wealth of knowledge that the field of Asian American studies has produced.

Put yet another way, several reading lists of Asian American literature and studies have, not surprisingly, appeared in the days following the shootings. Plenty of people have criticized the forms and functions of “the reading list” insofar as they are implicitly or explicitly addressed to external, uninformed audiences whose reading approach is then shaped by this need for insider information and affective righteousness (getting on “the right side of history”), which, in turn, can substitute for the daily grind of working toward social change. I, personally, have nothing against such reading recommendations since I don’t advocate willful ignorance or pretend to predict where reading can lead. And I actually like and teach a lot of the books on those lists. Nonetheless, they are necessarily limited and tend to be tilted toward the canonical, the very contemporary, and/or the non-academic. So, consider this website an unabashed supplement of scholarly resources to the reading lists curated for the general public.