Sisters and Siblings in the Struggle
How can Black and Asian American feminists engage in a critical dialogue on the impacts of COVID-19 in their respective communities? What can we learn from the long history of solidarity between our communities?
How can Black and Asian American feminists engage in a critical dialogue on the impacts of COVID-19 in their respective communities? What can we learn from the long history of solidarity between our communities? More importantly, how can we continue to build Black and Asian feminist solidarity in this moment?
On April 30, Jaimee Swift of Black Women Radicals and Asian American Feminist Collective (Rachel Kuo, Tiffany Diane Tso, Salonee Bhaman, Julie Ae Kim and Senti Sojwal) had a critical discussion that attempted to answer some of these questions. Here, we offer the conversation transcript in full (edited for clarity and flow) as a timestamp for the beginning of our journey together in building solidarity with one another. We hope that it serves as an entrypoint for others to begin to think about and analyze historic and present-day cross-racial solidarities—and how we can show up for one another.
ON RADICAL FEMINIST PERSPECTIVES | ON ANTI-BLACKNESS AND BLACK-ASIAN CONFLICT | ON FEMINIST CONTEXTUALIZATIONS OF COVID-19 | ON COVID-19 RACIAL DISPARITIES | ON FUTURES FOR SOLIDARITY
ON RADICAL FEMINIST PERSPECTIVES
Jaimee A. Swift: Thank you for joining us! I’m really thrilled to have this event and partner with an amazing organization, the Asian American Feminist Collective, who do such dope work in uplifting a radical Asian American feminist perspective. I’m Jaimee Swift and I’m the Executive Director of Black Woman Radicals, a Black feminist organization dedicated to uplifting Black women, non-binary and gender non-conforming folks.
There’s been activism around the world with everything going on with COVID-19. We see the ravages of white capitalist supremacy and patriarchy and how they’ve divided communities—Black communities, communities across the diaspora, and communities of color. I think it’s important to have conversations about what’s been going on and most importantly, how we can build solidarities together.
I’ve been thinking about radical Black feminist and womanist perspectives on COVID-19, and in terms of Black and Asian solidarities, there has been a growth of anti-Asian sentiments and also anti-Black sentiments and violence in terms of health access. We should be able to talk about historical tensions that still manifest in our communities.
Before we get started, I would like to set some ground rules. This is a safe space. We do not accept any racism, homophobia, sexism, transphobia, and xenophobia…and sort of -isms that take away from the sanctity of this conversation. As radicals, we need to address certain issues and we have to build community; that’s definitely a Black feminist practice.
I’m super excited to have Rachel be the first participant that we have. Do you mind telling everyone a little bit about yourself and what gives you joy right now?
Rachel Kuo: Thank you also for having us today Jaimee! I’m Rachel, one of the co-leaders of the Asian American Feminist Collective. What’s giving me joy right now is this little puppy friend Kirby [picks up a small, black and white dog].
Jaimee: So cute, so adorable. What’s giving me joy is reading a lot. I love to read. Also, it’s not as cute as what you have, but another joy is talking to my family even though we’re apart.
I would like to really get into talking about radical feminist perspectives.
Rachel: I’m excited to have this conversation with you and think about the kind of feminist world building that we can do together. The pandemic has revealed the ways that our society is broken. People are asking how we can build something new. This pathway to how we build anew is something we have to do together and looking to our histories is a way into that future.
I’m reflecting on our first zine as the Asian American Feminist Collective and writing about how we came together as a collective. We were indebted to Black feminist thought and Third World feminist movements, and we thought a lot about the groundwork that was laid by the Combahee River Collective in 1977. Someone who resonated with me, as one of Combahee’s original members, was Margo Okazawa-Rey. She talks about how her family history emerges from U.S. occupation in Japan and how this personal history is connected to her activist work on both transnational and domestic struggles against militarism and imperialism. We bring our histories to our feminist work and world building
Dr. Margo Okazawa-Rey. Photo by Aadele
Jaimee: I actually had an interview with Dr. Margo Okazawa Rey, and she’s absolutely brilliant in talking about her identities being Black and Asian and her formidable activism in the Combahee River Collective. It’s elder Black feminists like her who pushed me to even have an event like this. I was speaking with Ericka Huggins (Black Panther Party) and Barbara Smith (Combahee River Collective), and we were talking about cross-racial solidarities. With both Ericka and Barbara, you can see and you can read how they organized and did coalition building across race, but with like-minded radical feminists! I think that’s important to talk about, that it’s not some willy-nilly progressivism or liberalism–and I hate to be like that but it’s true! It’s about how we as radicals (if we say we’re radicals) really address the issues that are between us but also discuss the ways that white supremacy has ravaged our communities.
Rachel: I love that reflection because you’re helping me reflect on this long-term radical movement work. And so yes, we’re in this moment of crisis and things feel so urgent and this conversation feels urgent, but that there’s also this longer past. As we’re creating a radical future and developing relationships and politics around coalition, we have to think about building slowly as we build together in order to sustain solidarities moving forward.
Jaimee: Definitely! I would like to emphasize your point and build off on some Black feminist histories and solidarities. Many people don’t know this, but Audre Lorde went to Auckland, New Zealand and wanted to organize with Maori women who were also oppressed. People forget that about her Pan-Africanism and her commitment to radical Black feminist movement building across races, across genders, and across all sorts of identities. I think we really need to start reading a lot more, because the information is out there. As feminists representative of Black Women Radicals and representatives of the Asian American Feminist Collective, I know that you have great resources and books if you wanted to plug any of those.
Rachel: Sure, I’d love to expand on Audre Lorde, who I love. Her essay “Learning from the 60’s” is really close to home for me. What she’s really talking about is coalition-building across differences and how we move away from letting some people go in service of individual liberation. Audre Lorde shows us we have to think about the ways that different issues are interlocked. That essay holds a lot of depth and meaning for me.
I’d also love to point people to the history of the Third World Women’s Alliance, which looks towards this history of pushing against imperialism, against racism, and against capitalism as a multiracial coalition that emerged out of the Black Women’s Liberation committee. They built coalitions with Asian, Native, and Chicana feminists to create a movement collectively resisting these systems. They thought about world building together.
Jaimee: Another thing that comes to mind is the Azalea Newsletter: Conversations from Third World Lesbian Writers. That’s a collective of Black and Asian writers, and Latina and Chicana writers, who all came together as Third World lesbians to write about their perspective and I think that’s so important. One of the writer’s was Michiyo Fukaya, also known as Michiyo Cornell. I also love the essay [by Audre Lorde] because she also talks about how we have to uproot homophobia and sexism amongst other things in our community, because we can’t get free or move forward with those systems. So, how can we learn from that time period, how can we learn from now and COVID-19 in order to move forward?
Three issues of Azalea: A Magazine by Third World Lesbians spanning 1979 to 1983
I’d love to look at some literature and movements between Black feminists and Asian feminists. There’s the Bridge Called My Back anthology; there’s the Conference of the Women of Asia in 1949, the Bandung Conference, the Afro-Asian People’s Solidarity Conference, the Afro-Asian Women’s Conference in Cairo, Egypt. There’s also an organization that was called the Organization of Women of African and Asian Descent (OWAAD) that was founded by Olive Morris and Stella Dadzie.
Three issues of OWAAD’s newsletter from 1979-80
Rachel: I love this genealogy that you lay out of this coalition building, because I think what’s also so helpful about it is that through each of these iterations, there are these recursive moves where people are learning from the movements that came before and their mistakes. I named the Third World Women’s Alliance earlier, and they had really grappled with the problems of homophobia within their collective and had to transform and think about how they developed a political line that accounts for the queer folks in our communities. This genealogy that you’re laying out is people thinking about how we grapple with tensions and conflicts and move through that together in order to move forward.
ON ANTI-BLACKNESS AND BLACK-ASIAN CONFLICT
Jaimee A. Swift: We are going to talk with Tiffany, who is a great writer and journalist. She wrote this dope article about anti-Blackness in the Asian community, and that’s what we’re going to be talking about now. So let’s get into it. Hey Tiffany, how are you doing?
Tiffany Diane Tso: I’m good. Wow, this is unreal. I feel it is my first time doing an IG Live. I’m not used to having all these comments and seeing all these people.
Jaimee: Yeah, just like I told you before, I feel like a fossil doing this, but we’re here, everyone’s participating [Laughs]. Tiffany, you’ve done a lot of work dissecting and discussing anti-Blackness in the Asian community. I’m really excited to speak with you right now. First, what’s giving you joy right now?
Tiffany: I feel like this has been the first time—for some reason—in my life where I’ve had a normal sleep schedule. I don’t know, maybe I’ve been giving myself permission to or something, but I’ve been sleeping well. It’s a weird silver lining. How about you?
Jaimee: I don’t ever really sleep, which is a problem. Mainly reading and getting to talk with y’all and getting to build relationships with with the Asian American Feminist Collective. Also, really knowing that in terms of Black feminist thought and behavior, Black women have gone through so many trials, tests, and tribulations, and we keep moving forward. And building on that, we can continue to work with others who are radicals and want to transform this world.
Rachel talked about cross-racial, multiracial, or Black and Asian solidarities. But I think we have to talk about—not so much the elephant in the room—but there’s been systematic and historic and even contemporary anti-Blackness in the Asian community. We also see a rise of anti-Asian [racism], which has always been there historically, but right now with COVID-19 people, particularly in New York, Asian Americans are afraid to go outside, because everything that’s going on. So let’s get into that.
Tiffany: Yeah, let’s get into that. It’s a really interesting time right now, because like you mentioned there has been this heightened anti-Asian sentiment and racism and hate crimes going on, and that’s been this very overt racism that I think some Asian Americans may be experiencing for the first time. But at the same time, the way that we’re seeing COVID really impact our communities: It’s very clear that there are some racial lines, where Black people are experiencing the brunt of racist policy and racist systems, which is why the community has been hit the hardest.
During this time, I feel like we’ve been wanting to have these conversations about Black and Asian solidarity and ways that our communities can work together, but that, yeah, there always is this “elephant in the room” or this issue of anti-Blackness that is kind of always an undercurrent [in Asian American communities]. There are a lot of people within the Asian American community that really want to deny or ignore that it’s an issue, or they get very defensive about it, which is understandable. Because at this time we’re experiencing this racism, and so maybe you’re thinking, ”Well, I’ve been victimized. I’m hurt by racism.” It doesn’t feel great to feel that turned around and have to inspect yourself and how you’re perhaps a perpetuator of said racism against other communities. So I think that it’s really important to note that wanting to have these conversations is to bridge these gaps and to build solidarity and build coalition with one another. And it isn’t necessarily to villainize any one community. We know that there has been hurt in the past, but it doesn’t mean that we’re completely ignoring all of that in order to talk about or center someone else’s issues. It’s just that we need to look at this issue as what it is, which is something that is systemic and structural. It’s not just about Black people against Asian people or vice versa. It’s about a system of white supremacy that we’ve all been indoctrinated into and that we need to figure out a way to dismantle.
Jaimee: Yeah, I think in even talking about white supremacy as a global apparatus, we see anti-Blackness during this time with COVID… First of all let’s go back to COVID-19. Let’s talk about how Trump called it the “Chinese virus”, and evoked even more xenophobic racism.
But we also know that while this racism toward Asian communities has existed historically, we also know that somehow Black communities also receive a major brunt of things, as well, because we are viewed as deviant or criminal, and (same thing in Asian communities) exposed to disease and deficiency, right?
When we talk about global white supremacy, even with Trump calling COVID-19 the “Chinese virus”, somehow members of Chinese communities wanted to kick out Africans in China. And so I think for me as a person who identifies as a Black feminist—and in discussing a radical perspective—if you identify as a radical feminist, you can’t be anti-Black. You can’t be homophobic. You can’t elicit xenophobia or prejudice. I think we need to decolonize ourselves and constantly decolonize our thinking, because we are co-opted in this system. We are pacified in this white supremacist, capitalist, heteronormative system. So, how do we decolonize, and how can the Asian community look at Black people not as your enemy—and the same for Black people with Asian folks, right? I think it’s important to partner with radical people in the community.
Tiffany: Yeah, this is definitely an issue that isn’t just within American borders but something that we see across the diaspora, because anti-Blackness isn’t just an American issue. What you’re mentioning about the African migrants in Guangzhou, where they were basically evicted and scapegoated for a virus that obviously they hadn’t caused—that is something that I see and that I try to personally address, and I think that it is very much on Asian communities to address our relatives from across the globe, understanding that they are coming from a different perspective.
China can be very nationalist in ways and [often] foreigners are all seen as not welcome. But yeah, there is this persistent anti-Blackness I see that happens within my family here and my family abroad. I make it a goal, though, to talk about these issues and not bury them under the rug.
Some of the people in the Asian American community who do get upset that we talk about these issues think that we’re not highlighting anti-Asian crimes enough—which yes is a thing, but we do need to think about systematically what police brutality looks like or who gets incarcerated or who is constantly being disempowered in different ways. Racism isn’t just about hate crimes and racial slurs, but goes further and is about systematic disempowerment and who is left out of policy.
From Letters for Black Lives: Comic Edition
I think Asian Americans—due to the model minority myth, due to certain economic and career advancement—have been feeling comfortable maybe. I don’t think that this is true for all Asian Americans, but I’m going to say East Asians who are light-skinned might feel this sense of complacency because of their own advancement, perhaps. But in times like these, when the racism comes out in a much more in-your-face way, you’re forced to really reckon with racism. And whenever you talk about racism, you can’t talk about it without mentioning how it’s impacted so many communities in America that don’t look like us.
Jaimee: Definitely yeah, I think about your point that there are also Asians with darker skin who might not be Afro-descendant necessarily, but there are Afro-Asians as well. There are people who are Black and Asian, like Dr. Margo Okazawa-Rey. There’s several intersectional identities. I think it’s so critically important—everything you were saying with family decolonizing and speaking up and speaking out, I think that is a part of our responsibility as articulaters of a radical feminist tradition. How are we standing up when it hurts? How are we confronting people in our family? How are we confronting society? How are we confronting ourselves?
This is such an important conversation, and I hope that people take away from it that we can be co-opted and absorbed by white supremacist thinking. It’s your responsibility to work on that. If you’re indebted to Black feminist thought and radical Third World feminist traditions, then you can’t claim that legacy and be anti-Black or xenophobic.
Tiffany: Absolutely, and I appreciate you mentioning that there are people who identify as Black in the Asian community too and vice versa, because I definitely don’t mean to erase them in this conversation at all.
Jaimee: You definitely talked about it, and I appreciate you so much, Tiffany. This was a great conversation. And I hope that other people offline continue to build off of it, too. Thank you for being dope as you are.
Tiffany: Absolutely. Thank you so much for this platform.
Jaimee: So, we’re going to move over to the feminist contextualization of COVID, and we are going to meet Salonee. There you are.
ON FEMINIST CONTEXTUALIZATIONS OF COVID-19
Salonee Bhaman: Hey! How are you? It’s so fun to hear you all talk.
Jaimee A. Swift: What is giving you joy right now? And can you also tell folks a little bit about yourself and what you do?
Salonee: My name is Salonee. I am one of the co-leaders of the Asian American Feminist Collective and in my non-collective life I study the HIV/AIDS epidemic or the first decades of the HIV/AIDS epidemic… because it’s still very much ongoing it’s with us today, but it’s also a historical subject.
What’s bringing me joy… I’ve been cooking a lot and that has always brought me joy. I think that this moment has clarified to everyone how valuable domestic labor is and how much the person who cooks and cleans and plans for the pantry [in a household] is actually a critical person and [seeing that] acknowledged feels really good and affirming to me.
Jaimee: The question I would like to pose is about how historical and current racial and economic disparities in general and the lack of public health and access to healthcare specifically exacerbated what we see as these oppressive and fatal encounters with COVID-19?
Salonee: I can’t think of a way that they haven’t. As we think about this moment and why we’ve been talking internally as a group and with you, there’s been a tension where we’ve heard so much about anti-Asian racism and also about serious disparities when it comes to the Black community dying at higher rates from COVID-19 and which communities are kind of disproportionately affected. Elmhurst is so heavily affected because it’s a working-class place in Queens where people who still have to work have to go out. There’s been such a disconnect in some of our public health messaging… who can stay home, who’s allowed to stay home? It’s kind of a privilege to be able to take care of yourself and stay inside, you know?
Sorry, I’m bubbling over because I’ve been having so many of these conversations and it feels exciting but it’s also hard because it’s the people with kind of pre-existing health disparities that are the hardest hit, people with heart disease or diabetes, or who are immunocompromised and those categories have always fallen on certain communities far more than others. Working class communities, poor communities, Black and brown communities. And so I think that when we look at how the epidemic actually takes shape, it falls along the same lines that we see these health disparities with every other… disparity.
Jaimee: Yeah white supremacy has and continues to do serious damage. I think about Medical Apartheid, medical surveillance, and even medical skepticism when it comes to the Black community because we’ve been experimented on. Fannie Lou Hamer had forced sterilization, unbeknownst to her. It’s so many layers! I’m in “Chocolate City”––Washington DC––and you see a vibrant Black community, but historically we’ve seen the Black community has been left behind in terms of access to health care and who can get health care. In Chicago and in Louisiana we’re seeing high rates of anti-Black death in terms of COVID-19 and the carelessness of our government’s responses to it, and it’s especially obvious when we have this notion of essential workers, now. It’s like you said, we’re seeing how people who are on the frontlines are now being applauded, but beforehand it’s like who cares about the barista, who cares about the janitor, who cares about the folks who clean, it’s tiring…
Salonee: And even after we’ve acknowledged that they’re essential… are they essential or are they sacrificial? Do we take care of them? Are we making sure that the way they work is clean and safe? Do they have masks? Are they allowed to get the shifts that they need? Are we paying them enough? And… I’m a big fan of the 7 p.m. clap that happens in New York. I love it. I think it’s important. I think it helps us connect to each other in a way that we should be connecting, so that when this is over and we start to go back out…. We are in community. I think also it should be more than just clapping. We have to start paying people to take care of themselves, giving them sick leave… all of those things.
During the first years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, starting in 1986, the fastest growing group of people who are HIV-positive are Black women in New York, right? When we think of that timeline we still think of it as predominantly gay men, but those women don’t get recognized by the medical community until 1994. So those women don’t qualify as having AIDS … don’t qualify as eligible for disability, don’t qualify for benefits or services. They can’t get into the health clinics they need, and it is these amazing Black women organizers, many of them women in prison, like Joann Walker, who are organizing around access to health care and information. They did so knowing exactly what you said: that the powers that be are not always vested in giving you the right information. You could be a test. You could be an experiment, you could be a control group. Essentially, affected communities have to make and produce the knowledge that keeps themselves safe. Not being able to count on the state or medical establishment is a profound experience of distrust, right?
Photo of Joann Walker from the “Metanoia” exhibit on display at The Center in New York City from March 11 to April 29, 2019. Photo by Judy Greenspan
Jaimee: It always seems as if Black and brown folks, and I’m speaking about the Black community diasporically, are treated as if we’re guinea pigs and I think when we think of this in bigger terms… I was talking to a friend yesterday and they talked about genocide by complicity from our government and I think we need to look at this in terms of genocide. Medical genocide is what comes to mind and the inactivity of our government to uphold this quote-unquote social contract, which never was concerned about those who are oppressed from a Black feminist diasporic frame. I think about Black women in Brazil, who do the majority of the domestic work, and they’re not getting a stimulus check. Jair Bolsanaro, the president of Brazil, doesn’t think that COVID is real… what about them? What about Black women who are a part of the largest Afro-diasporic location in the world, which is Brazil? How are they faring during this time? So I really think that these feminist contextualizations of COVID speak to who can be productive, who is not, who is considered essential, who is the underbelly…
Salonee: Or who’s considered deserving of their illness or casualty… as fodder for our society moving on. Something I’ve been struck by in this conversation about anti-Blackness and the Asian American community and model minority myths is that I do think that part of the problem is who we as an Asian American community have cast out as undeserving of our full advocacy. Whether that’s sex workers, or drug users, or people who are on the street who we’re not looking out for. So I think in trying to align ourselves with certain projects of white supremacy, we’ve really left a whole lot of people in the Asian American community out, as well. Being in solidarity with both those people and people of color more broadly requires a real reckoning with questions like: what is radical politics ? and who counts in your politics? Like, who gets to matter?
Jaimee: Yeah, no, you’re definitely right. I also think of the disabled community, who has been rallying so long for certain access, and now all of a sudden when there’s COVID-19––a pandemic but also a capitalist crisis because you know, you can’t exploit the the proletariat like you want to––all of a sudden: oh, you can work from home now! Disabled folks were advancing this the entire time. To your point about sex work, we really have to look at how Dr. Cathy J. Cohen, a Black lesbian scholar, talks about advanced marginalization. She has done a lot of work on HIV/AIDS too in the Black community.
Killing the Black Body by Dorothy Robers
Salonee: “Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens” is my favorite most formative text for my whole dissertation… about thinking through what queer could mean if we expanded who we include in our frameworks. I want to touch on something you mentioned earlier about maternal health—it is such a huge place where we see that kind of disparity play out. I was just reading about a young woman in the Bronx who just passed away while giving birth, who kind of predicted her death because she’d been reading so much about how Black women are really underserved by our healthcare systems. I think Black women are eight times more likely to die than white women in maternity wards in New York City, which is wild. So folks looking for reading recommendations, Killing the Black Body by Dorothy Roberts has been so important and formative for me.
Jaimee: Yeah, we’re gonna do a book list, but it was so great. Yeah, “Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics”, is the full name of this article. This was such a dope conversation! I appreciate you … doctor.
Jaimee: We’re almost there, but we are going to transition to Julie so we can have this amazing conversation on racial disparities of COVID and just have a cool dialogue.
ON COVID-19 RACIAL DISPARITIES
Jaimee A. Swift: Hey, hi, how are you? Julie, can you tell folks a little bit about yourself? And what is giving you joy right now?
Julie Ae Kim: I’m Julie. I’m with AAFC and what’s giving me joy right now… the other day I was talking to my mom, we are from Flushing/ Bayside, Queens and she was telling me about how she has been doing food distribution through her own network and through her local church. She speaks very little English. I’m reminded of how resilient our immigrant communities are even without the help of the government. Seeing how she and her community has been rallying together to do that has been really inspiring for me.
Jaimee: Yeah, so that’s so wonderful. Like the resilience of our mother’s resilience is our resilience. Our foremothers speak a lot to the resilience that we have now. I’m super excited to speak with you about the material impact of COVID-19 in terms of racial disparities and also what we are seeing on the ground from our respective community groups around COVID-19.
Julie: The first thing that comes to mind when I think about racial disparity is the official mortality rate that is published by the Department of Health or the government. Those statistics have shown that Black and brown people have had the largest mortality rates and for Asians in New York City, that rate was shown to be about seven percent. They also didn’t count certain people such as those who didn’t go to the hospital or who died in their homes. When we think about the official statistics, there’s also undocumented immigrants who are afraid to even go to the hospital to get tested and who won’t even be a part of these statistics. There was also a case of someone who is South Asian being marked as Caucasian. How can we even trust if our communities are being counted during this time?
I was also thinking about those on the front lines and how it’s almost sacrificial. Essential workers like people working in the bodegas, at the laundromats, dry cleaners, MTA workers are now on the front lines of having to work through this while being hailed as heroes. Dissecting why we call these frontline workers or essential workers “heroes” is important.
A meme from the 2019 movie Parasite
This reminds me of a meme about [the movie] Parasite. There is a scene where the wealthy mom, while it’s raining really hard, looks and says, oh, it’s such a blessing, it’s a blessing in disguise. While all these people who are living in the basements are like “it’s like flooding.” And that’s sometimes how I think about this pandemic, because for folks who can stay and work from home, they are saying things like “oh it’s a blessing in disguise, like maybe this is what we needed.” But for those on the frontlines, they are not saying that. It makes me think about privilege and who gets to rest.
Jaimee: Yes, I agree. I think it’s so many interesting how the white supremacist capitalist apparatus will switch up and assign certain functions to whom and at what time, like the process of racialization or racial formations. Now, they’re using essential workers as props, like “oh, thank you so much,” but beforehand, I’ve walked into stores and had to confront people who want to talk down to baristas or talk down to workers in general, like the people in my family who come from the working class––and at one time very much working poor––and worked as janitors and cleaners and whatnot. So it’s like now all of a sudden my labor’s seen as a prize or should be propped up, but what’s going to happen after this? What I’ve been talking about with a lot of Black feminists, like in the event we had on Tuesday on post-COVID, is what will this new normal quote-unquote look like particularly for Black people? This one sista, her name is Doriana Diaz, she wrote in an essay for Black Women Radicals about COVID-19, the impacts of enslavement and separation, and how Black people have used healing, community, and communion as a source of resilience. So what will that mean post-COVID? Will I have to hug you with the mask on, can I hug you, can I touch you, what will communalism and intimacy look like?
Julie: Thinking about post-COVID is important because one benefit is that we are seeing clearly what needs to change and just how broken the system is. And we need to make sure that after covid is over, it’s not something that just happened in the past. We have to think about how we are going to be utilizing this to advocate for the future, advocate for Medicare for all or working from home. Remember how employers were so against giving autonomy to work from home?
Jaimee: Definitely and also forgive me for being remiss, let’s talk about incarcerated folks who the state has relegated to inhumanity already. But you know, they’re not getting COVID-19 access in terms of health care and health equity. We already know that the prisons and jails are overpopulated with Black folks. And so what about prison abolition? I want to uplift grassroots organizations such as BYP100 DC and their new campaign, No New Jails in D.C.; Black Lives Matter DC; and DECRIMNOW DC, a radical coalition of organizations who are working to decriminalize sex work. How do we transform the space and with us working together? This can’t be just a one-time event. We have to continue to build to see the world and transform the world that we want and is possible.
Julie: For a lot of Asian Americans who are feeling anti-Asian racism and xenophobia, our automatic reaction could be anxiety, fear, and acting out of that fear. Instead of acting out of fear, how can we act out of love and solidarity to each other and utilize how we’re experiencing this right now to build coalitions and build solidarities.
Jaimee: We’ll meet in person and we will continue this fight in terms of organizing and working together and learning from one another! So thank you, Julie.
We are going to have Senti speak on futures and solidarities.
ON FUTURES FOR SOLIDARITY
Jaimee A. Swift: Look at that red lip.I love it. I love it. I love it. It looks really great. How are you doing?
Senti Sojwal: I’m good. I’m so excited to be having this conversation with you. Thank you so much for reaching out. It’s been such a thrill to hear everybody talk about all these really pressing issues. So thank you for bringing us together.
Jaimee: What’s bringing you joy right now?
Senti: One thing that’s bringing me joy right now is public radio. When I listen to Brian Lehrer in the morning and New Yorkers call in with their questions and to share their experiences of the pandemic, it feels so intimate. I love being able to hear the voices of other New Yorkers and feel like we can be in communion in that way because we can’t physically be together. So I feel like that’s something that’s making me feel connected.
Jaimee: That’s so sweet. I’m really excited to talk to you about ways that we can build solidarities between the Black and Asian American feminist communities, and I would love your thoughts on that.
Senti: I think that this is both a really personal and large-scale crisis. We can find so much of the joy and comfort that we really need in this moment through building radical revolutionary feminist solidarity. The world is really understanding a lot of what feminists have been talking about for a long time through this crisis. How we need a full-scale re-evaluation of how we think about care, how we think about whose work is essential, whose lives have value. I think that solidarity really depends on how we come together and it’s defined by how we understand and enact our responsibilities and relationships with one another.
Historically, in Marxist theory, solidarity was conceptualized as an expression of the shared experience and specific political needs of the working class. It was a framework that showed that we’re always stronger together and that collective action is the only way we can have real wins for our communities. I’m so happy that you brought up Audre Lorde earlier. She’s definitely one of my all-time favorites, and she famously said that none of us are free until we’re all free. So what does that actually mean when we think about the work that we’re doing together right now? Solidarity requires us asking ourselves some questions. What are my privileges? How can I use them for other people? What does it mean to take up space? When should I be taking up space and when I should be relinquishing it, how can I use my voice to amplify the voices of others?
Fundamentally, I think solidarity really means that we understand that we don’t necessarily have to have a personal relationship to a person or cause to take up action against what oppresses them. And I think that solidarity also means really thinking about the fact that we’re not all equally impacted by injustice just because we’re people of color, but it means that we can honor our differences and we can examine that nuance and live in it while we also say our struggles are intertwined. We’re seeing so much of that solidarity happen right now, through the COVID-19 crisis. We’re seeing things like the rise of mutual aid funds and rent strikes. We’re seeing people donating their stimulus checks to people who need them. We’re really seeing collective action in practice right now. Many people are encountering these ideas for the first time, and I think that’s something that’s giving me a lot of joy and hope in this moment that can sometimes feel so debilitating and so hard for so many of us.
Jaimee: We have to remember solidarity not just as a theory but as an everyday action. If we want to decolonize and radically transform this world, that requires reading, working together and really being invested in our histories and radical traditions in our respective communities.
Senti: Definitely. I also think this moment has given us an opportunity to imagine utopian futures as we rebuild. As activists we’re always told that our dreams are too big, our desires too much. We saw that so much with the Bernie Sanders campaign, with democratic socialists being told that America is not ready for the kind of justice and equity we demand. I really love that thinking about the way we work in solidarity is also an opportunity for us to imagine and create the kind of futures that our people deserve. This is a creative practice, a practice of imagination and love. At the end of the day, that’s what solidarity really means. It means love for other people. It means understanding that we’re all in this together and that there’s really no future that we can have that’s sustainable and real without collective liberation and action.
Combahee River Collective Statement
Jaimee: Yes. I want my people to be free. In the Combahee River Collective Statement, they write that when Black women are free, we’ll all be free. It’s about love, but that doesn’t always mean it will be perfect and flowery. And so that takes commitment, that takes accountability, and that takes some sort of structure. It takes a lot of things and if you’re really dedicated to solidarity and transformation, you will do what is necessary to catalyze that and create that for yourself and for others. Thank you so much. This is us learning from one another, educating one another, talking about what our communities are going through.This is the first step.
Senti: Solidarity is about relationships, and I’m so thankful to you for helping us have this conversation so that we can really start building that solidarity together.
Jaimee: Yeah. I’m grateful. Thank you Asian American Feminist Collective. Thank you Senti, Julie, Salonee, Rachel, Tiffany.