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Solidarity Matters: Professor Celina Su Comments on the Anti-Asian Attacks

Celina Su

Last week, Graduate Center Professor Celina Su (GC/Brooklyn, Urban Education/Political Science) did an interview with the San Diego Union Tribune on the rising violence against Asians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders. In an in-depth conversation, Su discussed the history and roots of the racist attacks, why they are increasing, their effects on her and others, and how people can help. 

We share here some excerpts from the published interview, as well as outtakes that weren’t included in the newspaper story.

Asked what she made of the recent spike in racist attacks against the AAPI community, Su said she’s not surprised by it, noting it “possibly reflects very real pain and anger in the U.S. — at our loss of jobs and livelihoods, at the sickness and death around us, at a lack of affordable housing, child care, and health care. ... The pandemic has not created but revealed and widened so many fault lines in our social fabric. The spike in racist attacks should not be seen as an aberration but a crystallizing moment in our history of xenophobic and anti-Asian racism.” 

The latest attacks echo past ones, she pointed out, adding in a portion of her response that did not make the news story: 

“Neither scapegoating of folks of Asian descent, nor stigmatizing huge groups of people for infectious diseases any of us can contract, is anything new. For instance, employers first recruited Chinese workers to the U.S. in the mid-1800s (around the time of the California Gold Rush) to build the transcontinental railroad, but then blamed these workers for declining wages, partly to prevent white and Black American workers from banding together with Chinese ones in demanding higher wages. Instead, there were anti-Chinese mob lynchings and massacres, culminating in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the only American law to ban all members of a specific nationality from immigrating — until Trump’s so-called ‘Muslim ban.’”

At the end of the interview, Su was asked how she’d like to see people move from awareness to action, in support of the AAPI community.

She responded, “While I strongly believe that what we need are policy-level and collective changes, actions by individuals can still make a profound difference in the meantime. When I have been followed by men (the gender dimension is hard for me to ignore here) on the street, yelling at me to go back where I come from, for blocks on end, I would have been so grateful if passersby had taken the time to walk alongside me for a bit. When my family received anonymous hate mail telling us to go back to China (we immigrated from Brazil) when I was in middle school, I know that it meant a lot to my parents to know that our immediate neighbors welcomed us to the community.

"Solidarity matters. If folks feel safe enough to calmly object when a colleague makes a racist joke or perpetuates a stereotype, they can shift from being bystanders to upstanders. While supposed ‘jokes’ are by no means equivalent to acts of violence, they are connected. Namely, so-called ‘microaggressions’ set the stage for more overt violence with impunity. And countering them can make a difference in our everyday lives — an Asian American colleague might be more likely to get promoted to a managerial role if the boss rethinks stereotypes about Asians being nerdy losers and lacking people skills, for instance.”

Su shared a final thought that is not in the article: 

“Especially given our isolation during this pandemic, I would love to see people act in support of the AAPI community by reaching out to our neighbors and welcoming them, rather than waiting for Asian Americans to prove that they deserve the community’s acceptance. Who’s being left out of block associations, churches and mosques and synagogues and places of worship, PTAs, Facebook ‘buy nothing’ groups, mutual aid associations? Acknowledging and building upon histories of real solidarity, collective actions like mutual aid make all of our lives a little easier, and maybe get us talking about neighborhood matters and what we can do about them. They can be the basis for political action and a stronger community.”

Submitted on: MAR 18, 2021

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