The Atlanta Shootings & Hong Kong: Loving Women the Entire Way

I would like to start by making three simple points about how the Atlanta shootings can (and should) be translated to the context of Hong Kong. I will follow by sharing thoughts on why feminist solidarity is the main lens through which I view the topic.

To explain something about how I am entering into this conversation, while I am Taiwanese American and identify as Asian American, much of my life has been spent in East Asia. “Asian American” often does not work to describe my particular positionality in Taiwan, Japan, or Hong Kong; as a scholar of Asian studies, I also observe how conversations in Asian American studies and Asian studies often pass each other by.

In short, I do not take it for granted that people in Hong Kong have the time or capacity to always be thinking about problems of racial/ethnic minorities in the U.S. Thus, my first argument is that this panel is the most meaningful if it helps you look with greater clarity at the situation of Hong Kong. To some extent, the same can be said for attendees from other countries outside of the U.S. as well.

First, in the aftermath of the Atlanta shootings, there has been an outpouring of grief and stories from Asian American women, most often women of East Asian descent. These are first-person accounts of street harassment and other microaggressions and discrimination, from many women who have simply felt compelled to speak. This is the pain and trauma not only of living in fear of physical violence right now, but of a culture in which the sexualization of East and Southeast Asian women — also non-white women more broadly — has long been trivialized. It is the trauma of being told that you should feel grateful, that being sexualized or infantilized is not a problem, of feeling that you will never be believed. So, I want to acknowledge that misogyny is not only real when women are shot; it appears in our lives, everyday.

Second, it is clear that what was at play with the Atlanta shootings was misogyny specifically targeting racial minorities. And so, in Hong Kong, if you are a local Chinese woman who knows what misogyny feels like, please let that lead you towards greater empathy and solidarity with ethnic minority women, non-Chinese women, migrant workers, and mainland women who deal not only with misogyny, but also racism and xenophobia.

Third, from the Atlanta shootings and other events, we can see that white supremacy is and has been a serious threat in the U.S. Accordingly, it’s necessary to recognize that it is not only Han Chinese privilege that exists in Hong Kong, but also white supremacy. In particular, Asian women are not only objectified through white supremacy in the U.S., but in Asian countries; on a broader level, white male privilege is a constant throughout Asia. White supremacy is not defined only by physical violence: it is a belief in the superiority of white people and exists across society in institutions that shape our everyday lives. We can find it not only in the U.S., but also in Hong Kong.

To some extent, though, it might be unclear why my remarks provide little new information about Asian American women, and instead make these general statements trying to relate the Atlanta shootings to Hong Kong.

Over the past month, I have been reflecting on how difficult it is to pin down the nature of “Asian American” identity, and thinking about possible parallels with Hong Kong identity. As an Asian American, I’ve been hopeful about increased momentum, but I’ve also despaired while observing the limitations of Asian American communities and activism.

But nonetheless, I still believe in identifying as Asian American, because this is an identity tied to solidarity. Importantly, being an Asian American woman means, to some extent, being a woman of color in the U.S. And women of color feminisms in the U.S. have been defined by solidarity between Black, Latinx, indigenous, and Asian women, which also forms a foundation for queer of color theory. These feminisms involve crucial lessons about how to make sense of multiple narratives of injustice, and how to reach out to people across difference. For young feminists in East Asia, for others interested in solidarity and coalition-building, powerful models exist in theory, criticism, personal narratives, and other writing by non-white women in the U.S.

My endorsement needs to be prefaced by a statement that none of this is easy. In particular, the model minority myth in the U.S. means that it can feel that Asian American women, and Asian American feminism, only have tentative belonging under “women of color.” Even within the identity of “Asian American,” there are erasures and fractures in solidarity. “Asian American” originated in the 1960’s as a political identity centered on East Asians; I myself struggle to succinctly discuss “Asian” or “Asian American” women while not erasing the many identities within these terms. Because “Asia” itself is a colonial construct, it is laden with confusing, conflicting narratives and trauma. “Asian” is not a flattening label only used by those in the West; I’ve observed how, in Japan, “Asian” refers to all the other Asians seen as inferior, including those belonging to former colonies of Japan.

But ultimately, I believe in solidarity that makes room for conversations between marginalized people, across and through difference. What is meaningful for me about “Asian American woman” or “woman of color” is how these terms bring me together with other marginalized women. They point to the flimsiness of racial and ethnic identity in how we might separate ourselves from others. What matters is precisely the fact that these identities do not only involve those “like” me: they are precarious, they must be fought for; even wanting to be together (or come together) involves immense pain and labor.

This semester, I taught excerpts from a now canonical feminist text titled This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, published in 1981. In the preface, in a poetic stream-of-consciousness style, Chicana lesbian feminist Cherríe Moraga narrates her trip through the city of Boston: light-skinned, she safely rides the bus; she recalls her Black female friend relating how she was stopped; she sees and remembers Black boys being arrested and shot by white cops.

She says: “I hear there are some women in this town plotting a lesbian revolution. What does this mean about the boy shot in the head is what I want to know. I am a lesbian. I want a movement that helps me make some sense of the trip from Watertown to Roxbury, from white to Black. I love women the entire way, beyond a doubt.” This essay is about feminist love with a vision of solidarity between the marginalized. When there are incommensurable, uneven, unequal experiences of loss and violence, how do we care for one another? What is the work involved in this care, and how might it result in powerful forms of hope?

As a feminist, I also want a movement that helps me make sense. In Moraga’s narrative, this is a journey in Boston; from my position in Asia, this is about finding connections between places scattered across the world. Places such as the U.S., Japan, and Hong Kong display contrasting models of race and ethnicity, but they are also marked by a sort of sameness in terms of racism, imperialism, and misogyny.

Moving across the U.S. and East Asia as a non-white feminist has taught me that “belonging” is less about ethnicity or race than one might imagine. It is more about consciousness and agency — who or what one chooses to be a part of. The solidarity that matters most is that which is freely given, that one chooses to give. The women of color feminisms of This Bridge Called My Back might seem strange and unnatural to a Hong Kong audience, but they might have important lessons for Hong Kong nonetheless.

I first read Bridge in a class taught by a South Asian feminist at Yale; now, I teach it to my own students in Hong Kong. As I told my students, through me, they are connected to many forms of feminist love, generosity, and solidarity. This explains why — when talking about the Atlanta shootings — I choose to grieve not only for the deaths of these working-class women, but also for Sikh Americans killed in Indianapolis, Black Americans dying from police brutality, for deaths happening in Myanmar and India. Finally, I am speaking on this panel in solidarity with women and others in Hong Kong who are traumatized by misogyny, sexual harassment and violence, racism and xenophobia. As an Asian American woman, I want to tell you: It’s not right, what you feel is valid, you are loved.

In a world in which there is too much injustice, having empathy for others “outside” of your group is difficult. The vision of feminism that I have described involves a commitment to an ethical position rejecting all forms of social injustice. But what this has also meant is that my community exists in many places; I always have faith that someone will hear. After the Atlanta shootings, I was able to speak in genuine ways about this tragedy to students in my gender studies class because I trusted that they would listen. While speaking, and giving, is not easy, I also understand that solidarity can never be transactional; I acknowledge my incalculable debt to other feminists who have brought about the context in which I give to others. So, as a queer and feminist studies scholar, as an Asian American woman, this is what I wanted to share with you in Hong Kong today.

Assistant Professor of Gender Studies at the University of Hong Kong. Japan, literature, queerness, transnational feminisms.