Let's Talk About Hard Stuff
Updated: Jun 22, 2020
To make a revolution, people must not only struggle against existing institutions.
In order to change/transform the world, they must change/transform themselves.
- Grace Lee Boggs
On May 27, 2020, I put out a call on IG. A feeling had been stirring inside of me for a while, a responsibility that I'd put aside. I had been engaging in anti-racism work as an Asian-American, but not fully owning my identity and its complexity within White supremacist culture. In unpacking those realizations, I craved a conversation with other AAPI folx. I've often felt distant from the AAPI community, having been raised by White folx and in White culture. But something on May 27 prompted a new feeling, to put aside the excuses and simply dig into the questions. So, I scribbled out and revised and wrote and rewrote a simple message on my phone:
In under 72 hours, over 100 AZNs and allies answered the call.
And so in this moment, as nearly 200 AAPI folx have responded, I feel it's important to give context for these conversations, as well as share what I'm dreaming about in this space we are co-creating. I also want to share resources and learnings as we proceed, in hopes that other groups might use this simple format as a jumping-off point.
Why This? Why Now?
As the momentum of the past few weeks was building, I found myself craving a more personal conversation amongst AAPI folx. My experiences in anti-racist training had not spoken specifically to me and how I, as an AAPI person, contribute to White supremacy in direct and indirect ways. What if alongside our direct action we engaged in personal conversations about the ways we participate and how we take responsibility? How do we engage with depth and hold space to ask the most difficult questions, about ourselves and our communities?
My background is as an artist, a facilitator, and educator. I’ve worked in education for 17 years, guiding groups of artists, learners, teachers, and school administrators to create empowered, equitable, and anti-racist programming, examining how and what we share with rigor and intention.
I believe that the personal nature of this internal work reinforces the idea that anti-racism is a lifelong journey. It counters the White supremacist task-based culture that can see anti-racism as a checklist or a goal to be achieved. I believe that grounding the work with intentional space and room for personal questions, doubts, and frustrations, roots us in the idea of shared liberation.
What do we know? What do we see?
Based on conversations with other AAPI organizers, it felt essential to ground our space in two fundamental ideas:
1) These conversations will center Black people and actions to address anti-blackness and the ways AAPI communities have contributed in direct or indirect ways. This is not the space to discuss racism, discrimination, or colorism amongst AAPI communities, nor is it the space to discuss how white supremacy affects and harms AAPI peoples. Those things are true, and felt, and harmful, and are not the focus of these discussions.
2) If you attend, you agree to engage in open, honest dialogue. This is a space for introspection and deep questioning. These sessions are not for you if you do not believe AAPI communities uphold anti-black sentiments and contribute to White supremacy in direct and indirect ways.
These ground rules were created in response to common conversational derailments we had experienced in talking with AAPI about anti-Blackness and White supremacy. It was important to me that our dialogue stay focused on our own accountability and possibility for moving forward with intention.
The agenda for our first conversation was purposefully grounded in the personal: What drew you into this space? What do you know and what are you seeing when it comes to anti-Blackness, racism, and White supremacy within the AAPI community? What questions do you have? I hoped this format could serve as an easy template for engaging in these conversations with any community we're a part of, as it grounds dialogue in first-hand experiences, noticings, inquiry, and questions.
These prompts were rooted in Grace Lee Boggs’s belief that changing and transforming ourselves is a revolutionary act. While I know some folx were longing for a more action-focused space, my belief is that spaces, panels, and listservs exist for this already. I am attempting to build a different kind of space for developing AAPI anti-racist muscles, language, and tools.
I envision a series of 3-4 small group sessions around collectively-selected topics. I am building an optional framework for these conversations, but imagine they will largely be led by each group of individuals. These sessions will begin with a 10 minute intention-setting as a whole group and then move into smaller breakout rooms. From there, we may decide to keep up bi-monthly gatherings, in either large group or small group formats. We may decide the formal group has come to a natural end, with interest-based connections continuing on independently. Or, we may find a completely different path forward collectively. It’s important to me that the structure exists in conversation with community and our collective needs and vision.
If you're AZN and would like to get involved in these conversations, please email:
Here is the agenda for our first round of conversations, as well as the conversational framework PPT that was shared with all participants at the start of the session.
Feel free to reach out with any questions you may have about adapting these resources for your own conversations.
More to come! Our small group sessions start on Thursday, June 25th. I will share learnings and thoughts from those sessions this week.