Op-ed: A call for (Asian) accountability

Lee Steinhorst | Class of 2018

On Oct. 2, I came upon a screenshot on Facebook of what seemed to be a floor GroupMe chat expressing aggression against the Asian community (specifically, complaining about Asian students taking up space in a study room). This was alarming to read, both as a Chinese recent alumnus as well as a general human, but the surprise at the content itself was little in comparison to that at the wave of attention it garnered.

Just 20 days later, the original Facebook post stands at over 600 reactions. There has been a published response on behalf the Asian Multicultural Council, a Sensasians video of support for those affected by the comments and an occupation of Umrath Hall to heal and plan further action—all understandable, valid and needed spaces to express hurt, fear and solidarity as we process the incident. And, of course, if feels comforting to see so many allies in solace.

What concerns me, however, is the lack of similar outrage by so many students when it is black students that are the target of these types of racist sentiments.

While I have seen much support during the aftermath of this particular incident by those in the black community, rarely do I see nearly as many Asian (especially East Asian) students come to support the black community when other students, administrators, Washington University Police Department officers and community members work to make them feel unsafe or unwanted. This is the first time I have witnessed a large chunk of the Washington University Asian population unified in shared indignation, but this rage and desire to see tangible change for the better cannot and should not be only sparked by us when we are the party being made to feel unsafe.

Where was this massive wave of upset and vehemence—resulting in unified demands for justice—during the Black Lives Matter protests and rallies in the wake of Michael Brown’s murder; during the time two years ago when two East Asian students posted a Snapchat photo of them in dark face masks claiming they were of the “zulu (sic) tribe;” during the blackout protest in response to the Jason Stockley verdict?

“POC solidarity” is a buzz phrase people love to toss around, but it means nothing and is damaging instead if the solidarity and work is only done by those in the least powerful position. It is not fair for black students to be the only ones working to make positive change for all of those affected by racial inequality at Washington University, with Asian communities only reacting when we are the ones being affected. In order for this to change, there needs to be a serious wake-up call and shift out of Asian-centralization in POC spaces and activism.

The first step to this is addressing the anti-blackness in our own community, and it is so much more than just being sure to not appropriate black cultures.

It is writing to administrators when black students’ safety is threatened. It is showing up to rallies and protests not for the Instagram posts but for the cause. It is asking black communities the best way to support them instead of imposing one’s own ideas or expecting recognition. It is attending and supporting black productions like Black Anthology just as we do our own shows and festivals. We cannot demand racial justice at Wash. U. but only demand it for ourselves.

I by no means wish to delegitimize the very real effects of anti-Asian racism and sentiment on campus and off, and hope that this piece does not come off that way. Even before writing this, I spoke with a friend of mine also in the community, apprehensive of any students that may come to my inbox declaring me a race-traitor or anything of the sort. But we need to be held accountable for our actions, need to become not only aware of our behavior but also cognizant of how to improve it.

Wash. U. needs to become a safer space for POC, and that cannot happen until we realize that we are an integral part of that process.