The privilege and violence of forgetting…

April 22, 2021 • Stories About WRISE

The Atlanta shootings happened on March 16.

Just over a month ago.

The news cycle, the chaos of our lives, the overwhelming amount of information, the access to an infinite global array of stories, all seem strategically designed to make sure we get distracted, make sure we forget, make sure we fall into the current of the next thing and the next thing. In the first days after the shootings, it felt like there could be a groundswell of education and awareness building for change – a rapid change supported by a decades-plus work already underway, maybe we could see the country achieve a better understanding of how long and in what myriad of ways Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities have faced hate at the hands of a society built on white supremacy. Maybe we might have honest and deep conversations about the layers of the myth of the “model minority” and the intersections of race, gender, class, religion, and immigration status.

To be sure those conversations are happening. 

They were happening before the shootings and they will continue after.

But the traction, support, and funding they get will depend on our ability as a society-at-large to hold the complexities of history and identity and let go of the privileges of living in naïve oblivion.

In her article “Ignoring The History Of Anti-Asian Racism Is Another Form Of Violence”, published in Elle in early March (before the shootings) Dr. Connie Wun, of AAPI Women Lead, addresses some of the history and the ways that same history has been dismissed or forgotten. She also quotes Dr. Mimi Kim of California State University who works on community accountability and transformative justice, who “once said about the Korean War and its impacts: ‘The violence is also in the forgetting.’”

So if we can agree that we do not want to perpetuate the violence,

And if we can agree that forgetting is a part of the violence,

What does it look like to build a community and a society that remembers?

In Chapter 2 of Isabel Wilkerson’s book Caste: The Origins of our Discontents, she makes the analogy that looking beneath the layers to understand our country’s history is like the requirements of modern medicine to know and understand a patient’s medical history before making a diagnosis and charting a course of action. Once the diagnosis has been made she says, “You don’t ball up in a corner with guilt or shame at these discoveries. You don’t, if you are wise, forbid any mention of them. In fact, you do the opposite. You educate yourself. You talk to people who have been through it and to specialists who have researched it. You learn the consequences and obstacles, the options and treatment. You may pray over it and meditate over it. Then you take precautions to protect yourself and succeeding generations and work to ensure that these things, whatever they are, don’t happen again.”

As we sit now nearing the end of April – today is Earth Day and we sit on the other side of Black History Month, Women’s History Month, Trans Day of Visibility, and Holocaust Remembrance Day – what will we carry with us? What precautions will ensure not just that we take time once each year to remember the many layers of our community and history, but that the memory is not lost in the interim, that the stories are integrated into our everyday awareness and knowledge, the meditations, the stories, the conversations, and that the protections for ourselves and succeeding generations are rapidly deployed.

One of my son’s children’s books “Of Thee I Sing” looks at various historical figures and among them highlights Maya Lin, the designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and says “Public spaces should be filled with art, she thought, so that we can walk amidst it, recalling the past and inspired to fix the future.”

I ask again: What does it look like to build a community and a society that remembers?

A community and society that honors the lived experiences of all and carries the weight of the stories of all of our ancestors in a way that doesn’t burden us into inaction but inspires us to create a better future.

Maybe the answer is more public art. Maybe we each need to choose our own piece that sits in our daily spaces and serves to wake us up and remind us. Maybe a morning mantra.

If you need/want a single concrete step for today – consider joining me in signing up for one of Hollaback’s Bystander intervention trainings coming up over the next month

And then consider the next steps.

Moments of collective remembrance remain critical, but collectively we must take the next step and fully integrate the observance into each day that follows so that we can stand side by side looking forward to a better tomorrow.

What will you have in your everyday space that reminds you to make time and inspires you to work for more? How do we transition an annual moment into daily practices in a way that gets inside us, in a way that changes how we communicate? How do we tell the important stories and understand each other’s experiences and history and importantly how do we teach our children?

What specialists, experts, researchers can you turn to? Maybe consider reading some of the articles I linked to above in full.

Follow and listen to the leaders like Connie Wun and others that have been advocating on behalf of the AAPI Community.

Listen to Podcasts and read books to educate yourself – I appreciated the insights of the More Perfect Episode a few years ago on Fred Korematsu and the Supreme Court Decision upholding FDR’s internment of Japanese Americans. Another podcast Still Processing is discussing Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong this month.

There is always more to do and to share but silence is not an option and forgetting is not an answer. I remain thankful to know the conversations and actions for change are continuing here every day with all of you.