The Xenophobia Issue
This week’s author brings to light a very important and often-missed aspect of our most everyday social struggles: the fact that they are just that - everyday.
It can be terrifying to look more closely and realize just how common we might find tragedy and transgression in our communities.
In our country, someone is sexually assaulted every 73 seconds.
Over 47,000 Americans die from suicide each year.
42% of LGBTQ youth say they live in communities that are not accepting of LGBTQ people.
About 8,000 hate crimes are reported per year in the US.
Only 16% of people believe that black and white Americans will eventually have equal rights.
When we start crunching numbers, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the vastness of the challenge before us, all while forgetting that this very challenge is not something down the road or out of town -- it is right in our backyards. This week’s contributor reminds us that it is just as likely we find perpetrators of oppression and injustice in our neighborhoods, workplaces, and communities. She reminds us that we should remain alert and consider that where there are those who speak or act with intention to harm, there are also those who will be harmed by those words and those actions.
It is important that we continue to think of our neighbors most in need. The numbers are not just numbers; they are people.
When I started The Issue last fall, I hoped that the stories would be a way to educate myself, my friends and family, and a new, broader community. I didn’t want to just affirm what I already thought I knew. I wanted to reach out, to tell everyone that violence happens, hate happens, oppression happens. Over six months later, I still firmly believe that storytelling is one of our most powerful tools to educate, and thus to better our world.
I learn something every time that I step into a new writer’s shoes. Today, I ask you to breathe, learn, and then share, so our community of thinkers and educators might keep growing.
REGULAR PEOPLE - Anonymous
CW: xenophobic statements
On a Wednesday evening, I slammed the lid of my laptop shut in abject horror, disgust, and fear. It was an average January school night. I could see the illuminated Carolina blue water tower from my bedroom window, casting a soft, hazy glow into the dark sky. Previously, I’d sat at this same desk, working on papers and projects that had little to do with my “real life.” After all, reading William Faulkner didn’t cause visceral, raw emotion to bubble up from the deepest pits of my soul. But the video that I had just watched did exactly that. It was a piece of white supremacist propaganda that still makes me seethe.
I, a Chinese American woman, served as a student researcher within a group that studied violent, extremist organizations’ propaganda. I first got involved because I had enjoyed analyzing jihadist materials in a seminar. My professor thought that I had the potential to help her and her colleagues make strides in analyzing domestic right-wing groups; unlike on the jihadist side, there is not yet a comprehensive framework that picks apart why and how white nationalists, sovereign citizens, and other white extremists make the content that they do. Part of my job was to apply what I had learned from the jihadist side and help the faculty researchers break down what made, for example, a Neo-Nazi recruiting video, effective. I was excited because I genuinely believed that I, like the hero of Spike Lee’s BlackKklansman, could make a real difference in fighting racism.
But I never imagined that poring over white supremacist propaganda would take the toll that it had on me. On that otherwise ordinary Wednesday night, I watched a dynamic Rachel McAdams doppelganger, with strategically placed balayage pieces in her golden hair, angrily bemoan that white picket fences in America had been replaced by neighborhoods with “third-world immigrants.” Then, with a blithe, winsome smile, that peppy, picture-perfect suburban mom said that European countries were for European people and that people who didn’t agree could just leave. When I first watched that video, the applause that followed that blatantly xenophobic and racist statement barely registered with me. Instead, my mind’s floodgates were instantly opened.
“Well, are you an anchor baby?”
“Are you really American? I mean, I get that you were born here but you didn’t really live here.”
“Hey, can you pretend that you only speak Chinese? I want to prank my relatives.”
“Don’t worry about moving to the South. You’re Asian. You’re not going to get shot.”
Those words replayed in my head, words that had been spoken to me, to my face at various points throughout my life. Those statements don’t even begin to account for the things said indirectly about me, or the predatory fetishization I’ve experienced. On that Wednesday night, that energetic Rachel McAdams-lite confirmed something that I had suspected all along: white supremacists are everywhere. They enjoyed brunch at my favorite weekend haunts, sat next to me in class, and lived in the room next to mine. They could be regular people, who, behind closed doors, genuinely believe that I, the great-granddaughter of a Chinese immigrant who braved detention on Angel Island, am a threat to American-ness.
After being asked if I was really American or being asked if I was an anchor baby, I realized that white supremacy wasn’t some relic of the distant past. While I fully understand that, as a non-Black American, I will never know the fear of racially-motivated traffic stops and experience other blatant efforts to enforce white supremacy, I recognize that mass racism and xenophobia are as American as apple pie. When people make anti-immigrant and bigoted statements, whether to my face or behind my back, I think of my great-grandfather, who was detained under the Chinese Exclusion Act purely on the basis of his ethnicity, not the facts surrounding his immigration status. I think of the fact that I, like him, will always be judged by my external appearance; some people will always assume that my English will be incoherent, that I was born on US soil to further “chain migration,” and that deep down, I’m somehow lesser than my white peers. These realizations weigh on me and will likely continue to do so for the rest of my life.
My anxiety about the rise of xenophobia and bigotry has only grown since February of this year; news outlets were blaming Chinese citizens for eating bats, high-level American officials have referred to COVID-19 as “the Chinese virus,” and a shocking number of Asian Americans have been assaulted in broad daylight. When I put on a face mask to go to the grocery store, I hope that someone doesn’t yell at me to “go home.” When I’m pumping gas alone, I hope that someone doesn’t feel bold enough to attack me. It’s draining to live with fear.
I wish I could conclude with something hopeful, cheery, and full of light. But I can’t. To do so would be dishonest. However, I hope that white Americans remember that there are individuals of color out there, who, like me, are working to understand why and how white supremacists thrive in today’s America. I don’t do this work for acclaim. Rather, I do this work because now is the time to step up and fight in solidarity with other marginalized persons. Additionally, I hope that all Americans realize that silence in the face of racism and hatred is complicity. There are not two morally equivalent sides. I hope that you, with words and actions alike, openly choose the side that rejects hatred and safeguards the idea of our shared humanity.
MORE TO THE STORY
This week's contributor, "Anonymous Anne," has a lot to say on the topic of racism and coronavirus. Check out her recent RANT, "Science, Echo Chambers, and COVID-19," to learn more about her views on this important issue.
"The truth is that xenophobia has always been a central part of American life. It is an American tradition that shapes our worldview, mobilizes voters and generates profits. It influences our international relations and dictates domestic policy. And it is a form of racism and discrimination that has threatened the democratic ideals upon which this country was founded." Take a few minutes to read this article by Erika Lee, which explores a brief history of xenophobia in America, explains why today's racist and extremist movements are nothing new, and reminds us that there have always been forces for good.
This brief NPR piece highlights Seyward Darby's research on women of the alt-right, examining their motivations for joining the movement, and their experiences once they get there.