What does it mean to be an activist in this day and age? In today’s episode, my awesome friend, Jennifer Li, and I will be covering topics ranging from how you can be involved as an activist for your Asian/Asian American community - whether it’s through social media, on the ground protests, or something else, why it’s important to support the Black Lives Matter movement, what it means to be a “good white ally,” and what we should do as a community under the Trump presidency. Besides listening to this Podcast episode, we’d greatly encourage others to take the time out to learn the history of Asian America so that we can better understand how we got here and where we can go from here.
Jennifer Li is a digital advocacy strategist and social justice activist. She comes up with creative campaigns and tackles her projects with unparalleled passion and efficiency. Jennifer is currently the California State Director of Rise, multi-sector coalition of sexual assault survivors and allies working to empower all survivors with civil rights.
She launched the #takedownjulienblanc campaign in 2014 that got a pick-up artist banned from several countries. Her personal work has been covered by CNN, Times Magazine, The New York Times, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, BBC, Japan Times, Tokyo Vice, The Independent, The Washington Post, Salon, Gawker, Jezebel, Think Progress, The Daily Beast, Al Jazeera, and more.
JESSICA NGUYEN, HOST: Today’s podcast is brought to you by Audible. Get a free audiobook download, and 30 day free trial at Audibletrial.com/projectvoice. Over 180,000 titles to choose from for your iPhone, Android, Kindle, or MP3 player.
TRANSCRIBED BY ALANI FUJII
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
NGUYEN: Hi, welcome to Project Voice! This is season 3, and today we have a very special guest. Her name is Jennifer Li, and she is a cool friend of mine who I am excited to interview, and today we’ll be discussing a very important topic, really what Project Voice is trying to embody, and that is Asian/Asian American activism. And to start off, I’m gonna let Jennifer introduce herself to our audience, and actually, I would love to hear her take on a Twitter movement she started a while ago. I actually know Jennifer through an alumni event at Smith. ...And I started stalking her on LinkedIn, because I wanted to invite her to our alumni dinner at this cultural organization that I’m in charge of, called the Vietnamese Students Association. So yeah, I learned a lot about her there and I realized that she’s really into activism and I’m so excited to hear what she has to say! Hi Jennifer, what’s up?!
JENNIFER LI, INTERVIEWEE: Hi, I’m excited to be on, and so excited for the launch of your Project Voice. It’s so awesome. You, like, just graduated Smith and BAM! Just gonna take the world on!
NGUYEN: Thank you, I try! Yeah, if you could just introduce yourself, why you’re awesome! (laughs)
LI: Well, I don’t know why I’m awesome, but my name is Jennifer Li, I went to Smith, graduated in 2011, and people who… don’t know me in my day-to-day life, if you check a summary of myself in my Twitter bio; came from New York, I live in Cali now. I was in D.C. for five years. You might have seen a few things circling around, I had a few art pieces that I did online that went viral, and then in 2014, I did a campaign called #takedownjulianblanc, and it was about this really awful pick-up artist who, I saw a video of him on Tumblr, actually because I used to go on Tumblr a lot back in the day-
NGUYEN: Oh, yeah.
LI: And it was him doing pick-up in Japan saying like, “If you’re a white guy in Japan, you can do whatever you want! Just yell ‘Pikachu,’ ‘Tamagotchi’ and then just like throw these Asian girls’ head on your crotch!” And it was just like, really awful. So I just looked more into this guy, I was trying to do like you know, like “fire a racist” type of thing to see who his employer was to be like, “Hey, this guy’s kind of an ass-hat, maybe you guys shouldn’t employ him.” And then I realized he was employed by a pick-up company, and it was just… they were going fire him because he was using the same tactics that they were charging men thousands of dollars to get into. So I started a campaign, and then we got him basically- a bunch of venues cancelled on him, so he had nowhere to host his events, and then he’s now- he got deported from Australia, he’s barred entry- his visa get taken away from the U.K., Korea, Singapore, Japan, Australia, I think Brazil, and I think a few other countries. So that’s a short version of basically what happened- that all happened in a month, in 2014, November 2014.
NGUYEN: Oh! What are you currently doing now?
LI: I work at a labor union in SF [San Francisco] right now called Local 21 IFPTE, International Federation Professional Technical Engineers, so basically, like a labor union for nerds (laughs). So that’s what I do for my day job that pays bills, and is still social-justice-y, and on the side, I work with this organization called RISE, which is founded by Amanda Nguyen, also fellow, awesome Asian American woman.
NGUYEN: Oh yeah.
LI: We passed the federal sexual assault survivor bill of rights last year when Obama was still in office, and now we’re going state by state to enact sexual assault survivor bill of rights in different states because it doesn’t matter what it says federally; oftentimes, if you get sexual assaulted, it’s based on state law, and every law- I mean every state is different, so we’re trying to make sure that everyone has basic rights in all the states. And I’m in charge of California!
NGUYEN: Yeah! Go you! Wow, that was a lot to take in (laughs). You’re accomplishing so many things, and Julian Blanc… just yes. He’s a really shitty guy, and when I read up on that, it really… opened my eyes to the issues that are still going on there, that is continuing to permeate because of this access to the Internet, like how dangerous it can be by- you know, to allow this easy access to technology. People are just more free to share pretty disgusting content out there, but at the same time, we can use it to our advantage, too, to combat against all the negative messages and presence out there. So, in terms of your work with Twitter and- I’m curious to know about what your thoughts are about social media activism because there’s been a debate between the validity and effectiveness of the use of social media to advocate the issues you care about.
LI: Well, I think back in the day, I would have been like, “Oh, slacktivists, whatever.” You know a lot of people like, poo-poo that, but actually a lot of conversations, the way we change conversations now, that happens around social media, like, Black Lives Matter, Oscars So White, If I was Gunned Down, all of those hashtags created a bunch of conversations versus before, you only had the media feeding things one way, and now we can talk back. And that in itself becomes a story. So I think social media, there’s so much power behind it. I think back when MLK and Malcolm X were in their hayday, that was when TV was starting to become a thing, and now, in our age, social media is becoming our TV where people didn’t know how to use it properly, but all these young people are using new and fascinating ways to empower themselves with it. So #takedownjulianblanc was completely just- it was all digital, just the fact that we got this guy kicked out off all these different venues, the fact that he’s been - his visa has been revoked, it was all digital. And so, even the fact that there is so much real, there’s a lot of real-life consequences to digital stuff, it’s very much blurred the lines. I think social media is best used if it’s complementing stuff that’s happening on the ground, but it’s also very possible to just have these effects happen just through social media.
NGUYEN: Yeah, I do agree. I’ve learned a lot about social justice-related issues on Tumblr, and a good number of my friends have credited Tumblr for that, too. And it’s just like this access to vocabulary, and news, the good and not-so-good things happening out there in the world wherever you get it from. I just get it from Facebook and Twitter. And, I think it opens up doors for younger generations to be more aware of what’s going on in the real world. I think that’s great now in these days to realize that issues relating to not just our identities or as people of color, but also healthcare reforms or education policies - all of that are relevant to our lives now, and we have to know how to get- know where we can get our information. And yeah, social media is powerful in that way. Switching from social media- so your digital activities to real-life activities, like on-the-ground stuff. Have you participated in protests, or marches before? What was your experience like there, if you did, versus your involvement online?
LI: So I guess it depended on the marches and the protests. I’ve gone to some when I was like in high school. The more recent ones I guess I can think of, are like Black Lives Matter ones, and the Women’s March, and the March for Science. Um, the Black Lives Matter ones were really… they were interesting. After I went to 3 or so, maybe 4, I stopped going to them, partly because I was like, I feel like there was a lot of performance. You know, there was a lot of white performance, I guess. You know, I came there to mourn, I came there to cry. I was like- well, someone was just gunned down, like they were shot- and there’s no justice, and they’re getting smeared on the media. So I went there with my friends to mourn and cry, and there were these people who came out just to have a good time, and there’s this one guy who came up to me, and was like, “Oh, isn’t this so fun? It’s so nice to go out and participate in things.” And I’m like, “ This isn’t like a party, dude- this is for real thing. And this Asian guy, who I didn’t know, he saw somebody who had a sign that said, “Yellow Peril Supports Black Power.” I was like, “Oh that’s freaking awesome.” And he’s like, “Oh, what does that mean?” I was like, “Dude, why are you out here?! (NGUYEN LAUGHS) You don’t even know what any of this means!” And I saw this vegan protester coming out to the Black Lives Matter- like, you know it’s fine to be vegan- like “All Lives Matter,” “Animal Lives Matter”-like what are these people?
NGUYEN: Oh my gosh.
LI: You come out here for a certain reason, and it depends who the crowd is right?
LI: And then you have these people chanting, “Whose streets? Our streets!” in DC, which used to be chocolate city. And it’s a bunch of white people saying, “Whose streets? Our streets!” The irony just goes way over your head right, ‘cause all these white people who are coming into DC- these are your streets now. You have gentrified them and you are safe in them. So, going to Black Lives Matter protest, where it was like a bunch of white liberals showing up with their tone-deaf chants, and I just remember repeating Black Lives Matter over and over again, I didn’t care what the hell they were chanting, I just screamed that because- Come on, man. You know? So depending on the protest, and if you have people who are good folks who are around you- like I was able to ground myself with my friend, Amas who is freaking awesome- she’s a South Asian activist. And if you go by yourself, it really depends on the crowd that’s at a protest. When I went to the Women’s March, it was awesome- it was like- but I also went with my local, and that was with people I knew, so it depends on what you’re expecting so long it’s not what you expect. And I will just say, should you have a group of folks who you can regroup with-
NGUYEN: I’ve sat in a Black Lives Matter sit-in at Smith, and it was interesting to see how, like, in a way, similar to your experience how a good number of non-Black students coming up to the stage and taking up space. Not being mindful of how much space they were taking up, ha. And it was frustrating to see that because you know, it was not theirs! And how do you confront them? (LAUGHS) And in that situation, calling them out would be great, because you should! People have the right, whether it’s a Black Lives Matter movement, or any other kind of protest that’s dedicated to a specific community. And coming back to activist culture in general, more specifically the Asian American activist community… And, so like, how do we relate to the Black Lives Matter movement? Why is the Black Lives Matter movement important to us? And it may seem like a “no duh” for some people, but for others, it’s difficult. Like, it’s difficult for them to embrace, simply because anti- Blackness is a huge issue even in the Asian community, and we do need to address it and inform our parents, and whoever is expressing these prejudices. And how do we- like, why is it important for us to educate ourselves about Black Lives Matter?
LI: Well I think, first we need to understand history. I think a lot of Asian American kids who know Asian American history, they can understand it- but when I think about my parents, it’s like, “Well, why do I care?” So the first part is understanding history, like how- like yes, we’re Asians and my parents immigrated here, so… there’s context for Chinese people in America, like they didn’t know the Chinese Exclusion Act, or how basically, Black people have paved the way for so many minorities, right? So, it’s basically- if you put the idea of self-interest, if you think about it really like, the totem pole, like Black people are at the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to race relations in America, so you have to think of the lowest common denominator. So, if Black people do well, the rest of us do well. Your society is only as good as you treat like, the least advantaged, the most disadvantaged people, and I think the biggest issue is trying to make the Chinese population - well, at least I’m talking about my own community, the Asian American community, understand that Black people are people, like having to explain to my parents that you have to humanize people, having that conversation with them about Mike Brown, was really hard. I think it’s also the way Asian media portrays them. Asian media that’s being shown to the Chinese community, so far from what I can see from the CCTV and stuff, is super right-wing.
NGUYEN: Oh, whoa.
LI: They don’t show like, both sides. But I think Chinese people need to understand that Black people and Asian people aren’t that different in terms of like- we always have a lot of discrimination within our own communities; we’re like, “Oh, they just don’t treat us right because we don’t speak English, or they see us as other blah blah blah- we have to make that connection, like, okay, well, we’ve faced this type of discrimination. Black people have faced this too, but times 10. And if you think that we can be [inaudible], look at the freakin’ guy on the United flight! Like come on. Police brutality affects our community too; every low-income stuff affects our community too. I mean in New York, Chinese communities were way below the poverty line. People just have this bullshit model minority myth, and I remember going to New York and being like, “What the hell? Where are these rich Asians? I have never seen them in my life.” Everybody that I know are on food stamps, so just- we have to bridge that gap. Black people have done so much for us, and we- we’re stronger together, you know. They are going to pit us against each other, and if they pit Asian people against Black people in the end, you’re going to find out that you’re never going to be White anyway. They only let you succeed up to a certain point. But if it’s Whites against Asians- whose side are you going to take?
NGUYEN: The idea of model minority is an internal part of America, and how it isolates ourselves from other people of color communities. We may think that we are better than other people of color, and by conforming to the expectations of the model minority, we’re like a step closer to being accepted by White American society. When in reality, we’re never going to be equal to them. We’re never going to be perceived on the same level. And we need to form better, stronger alliances with our fellow people of color. And we need to be more comfortable identifying ourselves as a person of color, as people of color because at the same time, there are some situations where we are not seen as people of color because of the model minority issue. I think a tricky question that we need to find answers for: how do we become better allies for other people of color when at the same time, we’re still so caught up with fighting our own issues as Asians/Asian Americans here? Because we spend so much time and energy fighting for ourselves, at the end of the day, we’re already drained out, and it can be hard for us to extend a hand to help each other out. But it’s like, it sucks because it’s like this, this system we have to fight! (LAUGHS) Like, not just for ourselves, but for other people, too! So finding that bridge has been a huge challenge, and something that needs to be brought up more; why can’t we be activists for ourselves and others at the same time, too?
LI: We have to treat it not as like, “we’re helping them.” You know, because then it becomes kind of savior, savior-like.
LI: And I mean like during the Communist times, they had these really wonderful posters; one of them was like you know, trying to lift all the races up. And we have these posters where it’s like the Chinese doctor vaccinating the African baby, and the Chinese proletariat leading the Black man and the Hispanic man into freedom. So, we can very easily fall into that, like “Oh, okay, like we have to help them” kind-of trope. We have to understand that it’s not like, “Oh we’re helping them.” It’s like, “By helping the Black community, we’re helping ourselves. We have to do this - this is in our own self-interest.” So it’s kind of cheesy, but it’s like, when they came for the Jews, I didn’t stand up for the Jews because I was not a Jew. When they came for the Communists, I did not stand up for the Communist because I was not a Communist blah blah blah. It’s kind of like when they came for the Black people, I didn’t stand up because I was not a Black person. And then when they came for me, everyone was fucking dead because I didn’t stand up for jack-shit. So, it’s like, you know, you need to make allies, so that when shit hits the fan, you have somebody on your side.
NGUYEN: Mmm. Makes sense.
LI: If you think about just self-interest, not just doing it for the sake of it- I mean, I do it for the sake of it because the stuff pisses me off, but also a lot of people are very isolationist, like, “Well, it’s not my community, it’s not me, why should I care?” You know?
NGUYEN: Right, right. That’s a really good point. How would you describe the culture of our Asian American activist community, and what are some topics that are currently popular, up in the air right now in the mainstream digital/real-life spaces?
LI: Well, I think you have to think about Asian American activism in three different categories. First, you have the Asian American hyphen. So you have the Asian American activists who are in Berkeley, in Oakland, and people like me who are in DC, like Asians for Black Lives, and like you and me - we’re like college educated and super lefty liberal. So, we have those Asian American activists. You have the Asian American activists who are like kind-of apolitical, but will come out once in a while, when Abercrombie and Fitch has a racist t-shirt. (BOTH LAUGH) You have the Asian American activists who are Asian activists like our parents, who will show up for Peter Liang. You know, so it’s like all these different types of activism. Within the main Asian American activism sphere, within the first category, the people who are showing up to events, and are talking about intersectionality all that stuff, right now, we’re- they’re between the first and second categories, there’s a lot of talk about whitewashing. You know, you have like, Emma Stone being half-Asian, you have Tilda Swinton, you have, who’s that new guy, Zack- whatever the hell his name is- playing a Hawaiian, just got a tan. So we have a lot of talk about whitewashing within the Asian American community that I think a lot of people can get behind. That’s not something that my parents would care about or understand. But I think people who are sometimes activists, full-time activists, that’s something that is talked about a lot right now.
NGUYEN: Interesting. So, could you expand the third group? Like, what does it mean to be part of that group of activists, like our parents’ level. (LAUGHS)
LI: I think that level is, “There is something that happened to somebody because they were Asian, and I felt like it was unfair.” That- like that’s like a very, much more narrow- does it feel like it directly kind of affects my community, right?
LI: So, the Peter Liang is, depending on how it gets reported on the Chinese news, but also like- I would ask my dad about this because my mom was like, “Oh, don’t go to any protests,” because she was pro-Peter Liang, and she thought that if I went to a protest, it would be a pro-Peter Liang protest, and I was like, “No! I would be the Asian trying to protest for the Black Lives Matter folks!” But, I talked to my dad about it, and the way they see it is like, the Peter Liang protesters, they see his plight in their day-to-day life, in that he is an Asian cop, and they feel like they are caught in this dichotomy of Black and White America, and they don’t know where to put Asians, right? So, they’re using the Asian cop as a scapegoat for the white cop- they’re like, “Well, how come all of the white cops didn’t get caught? But because he’s Asian, they’re just gonna throw him in jail because he’s Asian and he’s taking the fall for all the white cops.” And, my dad’s explanation was like, “Well, he was on the beat; I understand, and he was walking up-and-down the projects, but why would you send a rookie to do that? Is it because he’s Asian? You just give him the shit assignments, and you know that you can, so you do.” So it’s like, they see their own experiences reflected in that, or like the guy with the United flight; they can see themselves reflected in that, something where they can relate to him. It’s like, okay, he’s- I know what it feels like to be the Asian guy who gets this shit dumped on, without-
LI: -and I was like, “Dad, I understand this. But still he shot a guy, and didn’t call the ambulance. He called his union rep to see how he’d get out of it.” And my dad was like, “Yeah, that was probably not the best thing.” But still, like it’s- it’s like this combination of how do my problems get reflected in this situation, and a combination of also like not seeing Akai Gurley as fully somebody you should go to jail for shooting him. They keep saying it’s an accident, like what was the sign… there was one incident, two tragedies. It’s not a tragedy that the Asian cop is getting held accountable! It’s not a tragedy here ok! (BOTH LAUGH). You can’t equate human death with, “Oh shit, I’m getting in trouble for shooting somebody in the dark.” But that’s the type of activism that we have within our parents’ communities. So, it’s something where they can- where they have seen a lot of discrimination in their own lives, and they see that this is somebody else who is going through the same thing as they are. And it’s specifically because it happened that you were Asian. I feel like that’s the type of stuff that riles them up.
NGUYEN: Oh, yeah, like that phrase is important. The fact that it’s because they’re Asian. Oh, I’ve learned something new today, that was- things like, oh, yeah, my parents can relate to that, too… So, I do agree that the lack or misrepresentation of Asian Americans/Asians in mainstream media is hugely popular right now.
LI: Mm hmm.
NGUYEN: To the point that you see some traction going. At the same time, like a lot of shitty things still are happening, too, despite activists becoming more activist about them. At the same time, like to me, I think that there’s a strong focus on that issue, but also there are other issues, too, that are more relevant to our day-to-day situations, like immigration, and the fact that the immigration policies now, and how easy it is to deport Asian Americans to go back to their countries, “their countries,” sometimes their countries that they didn’t even grow up in, and now have to go back because they don’t have the proper documents. In a way that’s…
LI: Yeah, it’s definitely affecting us, it’s just not as in the mainstream. Ha-ha.
NGUYEN: Yeah. So I know that you work with Amanda Nguyen about the sexual assault issues that’s a huge issue on campus, college campuses all over the country. And Joe Biden and Lady Gaga have talked about it… Do you find this issue to be intersectional? Or with the other works that you are currently involved in, do you find those issues to touch on our community?
LI: In terms of sexual assault, and like, labor issues?
NGUYEN: Yeah, sexual assault and labor issues, like how does that relate to Asian communities?
LI: I guess sexual assault- when I work on it with RISE, we don’t do specifics to like each demographic in terms of race.
LI: But I think it’s like Asian American women have a pretty high percentage of domestic violence and sexual assault. But you have- I guess when I think about sexual assault I don’t think about it specifically in Asian American terms and how it affects our community. But I- the way we frame it when I was first being- I went to a training on domestic violence and basically this affects everybody. It doesn’t matter what class you are, what race you are; like people think that domestic violence happens only to poor people; that’s totally not true. It happens to upper-income women as well, white women, black women, whatever. It’s just that in different communities, it may be racialized differently, but it is something that affects all women, and it affects men as well. You know, we don’t really talk about the male victims of sexual assault either. So, I guess I haven’t put too much thought into specifically an Asian American experience with sexual assault. I’ve thought a lot about sexuality and sexual assault in terms of like- a lot of people don’t realize it, and I didn’t even realize it until I read it in a Cosmo magazine of all places.
LI: That actually bisexual women are I think 15% or something- bisexual women are more likely to be assaulted than straight or lesbian women. Like they have one of the highest percentage rates and I think the highest is trans women and after that is bi-women. So I think about it in terms of sexuality, but I haven’t thought of it in terms of like,Asian American-
NGUYEN: Yeah, I was just curious because now that you brought up your work history, it just got me thinking about how domestic violence is an issue in our community, It’s a really heavy topic to talk about and it’s taboo; I mean some would even consider it to be a norm in their household. And a taboo topic that oftentimes, we have a hard time discussing and just verbalizing and letting others know because it pertains to issues within the domestic sphere versus something you can see out in the open. And I hope to cover that in a future episode on Project Voice.
LI: Yeah, that’s definitely something that we don’t talk about. What I mean when I talk about relationships and stuff, my mom is like- she’s like- and I’m like, “This is why I’m unhappy about this thing,” and she’s like, “That’s a complete normal to me!” Like, shit that’s right. Doesn’t have the best you don’t have- we don’t always have the best model of what a healthy relationship is and I’m like, yeah you know? She’s like, “It’s okay to be scared of your partner sometimes; that’s how you know you can take them seriously.” I was like, “Uh, I should not take relationship advice from my mom.” I love her, but you know, I think within our community it’s like yeah, that’s normal, or like that’s totally okay; you know, like oh, that’s bad but not super terrible. We definitely have this mentality within the Asian American community- we don’t have a lot of support like... straight the matter of what’s the cost; that kind of mentality-
NGUYEN: Oh, yeah.
LI: -I think a lot of our parents’ generation has.
NGUYEN: Yeah, yeah definitely. Okay, moving onto another topic. It’s not gonna be light, but- so what is your take on the Asian American activist community and what do you hope our community could focus more on?
LI: I think our community needs to focus on making sure our community knows our own damn history. We don’t know our own history! Like my parents don’t know- they know like Chinese history from China. But if you’re here in America, you also need to understand the history of how we got here... how has America treated us in the past? Granted when you’re working 40 hours a week you don’t give a shit about Asian American history right, you try to hustle, try to make a living, but if you think about our- the bigger picture, that is something that is important that we should we should be working on. And I also think that we should be particular in our own community in terms of like the type of narratives that get told in the news cycle; like, oh my god, I was watching this shit at home and you know Michael Brown did not have a gun and so this Chinese news that I was watching was like blah blah blah and then like shows a stock photo of a gun! So, it implied that he had a gun even though he didn’t have a gun. And I was watching some footage, and actually a lot of people in Chinatown are pro-Trump. And you’d be surprised, I was very surprised. I went back home for Chinese New Year, and people were basically out and I was just like, yeah, this is crazy because I was still reeling from the shock and they’re like, “Yeah, that’s good, I think he will make America great again” in Cantonese.
NGUYEN: Oh my-
LI: Like, to me, and I was like, “What?” And my mom was saying some of this type of stuff, and my dad, as you know, is a businessman and I think even working on that I think- we’re like, not even on the level of a lot of people who are at- we need to step back and reevaluate and talk to our parents, see where they’re even at. Like, I know they were at that place, right?I was trying to challenge them on that. But all the media that they’re consuming, like when I went home, it was the China/US Relations, the way they portrayed. They just showed an interview of the American ambassador to China having an interview with this Chinese anchor, and it was very favorable. They made him seem likable, he just talked about the time he went to China and how it was so great, and the food was wonderful and any microaggressions, whatever are going to be lost to our parents’ generation. Talking to them about how Trump- like even starting from that point in which Trump is not even a good, viable candidate.
LI: At least for me, that’s something that I need to work on. And then, I think also just another thing that we can work on is like anti-Blackness, also just not being afraid to speak up. I think I got hammered into me to not stir the pot. Like when- I think it was 2011, there was an old man who got beat up in Chinatown, and I started this Facebook event to like, protest outside of the Chinatown precinct’s office to be like, why’d you guys beat the shit out of this old man who was just playing music in Columbus Park in New York? And the police- I was too young to understand that I shouldn’t have listened to this officer, but this officer messaged me from the 5th precinct saying, “You should take this page down, you don’t understand what’s going on, blah blah blah.” And so I took it down; I had like 10,000 people who RSVP’d to this-
LI: And then my dad was also like, “Don’t do this. You’re gonna fuck it up blah blah blah.” And then he made this big display where he like called the commissioner, or whoever the hell that he knew from the NYPD back from the 80s when he’s in New York, and he’s like, “Please, don’t pay attention to my daughter blah blah blah, like it is so hammered in me not to stir shit up, and to just lay low, lay low, lay low. Whenever I- When I talked to my parents about Trump this past Chinese New Year, my dad was like, “Oh, it’s fine to say this stuff t me, but don’t say it in public.” I was like, “Dad, you understand that freedom of speech is a thing in this country, and if I can’t denounce, or can’t voice my political beliefs outside, where- what kind of country is this, you know?” I think trying to- even an activist like me, “activist,” I don’t know if I would call myself that, but just when they heard about Julian Blanc, my brother was like, “Oh, you know, sis on Australian TV for some shit.” And they were like, “Why are you on Australian TV?” And I was like, “Oh-” trying to simplify it- “There was a pervert who said bad things about Asian women, and so I tried to stop the pervert,” (BOTH LAUGHT) without explaining pickup or anything, and my mom said, “Did you use your real name?” And I was like, “Uh… yeah?” And she was like, “What?! Blah blah blah blah,” like freaking the shit out. Just trying to- I think Asian Americans as a whole, we just need to like wake the fuck up, and do stuff. Stop being so scared and anytime we say something- I feel like a lot of the reasons why people underestimate us, or feel like it’s okay to make shitty Asian jokes is because we’re mad quiet. There- it’s like a set stereotype, but I think there’s always that voice in the back of your mind that tells you not to speak up, and I think we need to start speaking up.
NGUYEN: I do think that’s a huge issue with our- with our community, too, because I remember there was a time when I was with a friend of mine, I was just joking around about like white people- I think that the term white peoples, white peoples (LAUGHS), the term white people, is some kind of taboo that-
LI: It’s like a sensitive to “white people,” but you call me Asian all the time! What the hell!
NGUYEN: Yeah! Exactly! And like I’ll hear my white people friends, or not friends- colleagues, just describing someone by their race, like, “Oh, I know this Asian person like blah blah blah, and I’m like, ‘There’s no need for you to add that word into this conversation- or like, what are you trying to do by adding that word?’ When usually like sometimes, I’ll hear like them sharing their stories, and there will be like a few of them that involves this Asian person who did some crazy things, and I’m like, “Is that like some subconscious- your way of - you do not realize in a way you’re helping perpetuating certain stereotypes about Asian people, by using that word ‘Asian’ in certain situations. Like white people- I’ll make a couple of jokes out in the public, and my friend will be like, “Shh! Jessica! Shh!”
LI: Yeah, like, what?! I’ll say it louder, bitch, like-
NGUYEN: Exactly! I’m like, “What the fuck?” Like they say Asian, but I can’t say white people? That’s so unfair! And you know, like things like that, and we need to in a way normalize the idea of white people-
LI: Oh my god, I had this white guy, this white guy asked me on the train, who I didn’t fucking know, mind you. Mind your own fucking business, this white guy came up to me and was like, “Oh, hey. What kind of Asian are you?” And then I looked at him dead in the eye, and said, “Oh well, what kind of white are you?” And then he looked so fucking offended! And I was like, “Why are you so offended? I just asked you the same exact question, so I was like, “What are you, white bread, mayo, like what kind of white,” and he was with a few white female friends, and the white ladies they were like, “Oh he’s just regular White American.” And I was like, “Oh, okay,” but he was looking in the corner like all fucking sour and shit, and I’m like, really, you can’t even be- you can’t even handle being called what type of white are you, and you have the nerve to ask me what kind of Asian I am! White people have the thinnest skin, it’s like thinner than the hair on their head (LAUGHS).
NGUYEN: Oh my god. See- I have to show you this video, I think I’m going to link it in the show notes too, like, how to deal with white fragility, have you seen that? Someone created a video, like a parody on how like
LI: Is it- is it silence? Is it, like “see-lance” or something?
NGUYEN: I have to check- it’s like a work, like an HR-style kind of video
LI: Yes, I saw that! I’ve seen that! It’s like (LAUGHS) it’s like, there was an acronym for “SILENCE-”
NGUYEN: (LAUGHS) Yeah, oh yeah! There was, I remember that! (LAUGHS)
LI: Yeah, it was amazing! It was an 80s type video (LAUGHS)
NGUYEN: Yeah! It was like- (LAUGHS)
LI:It’s like, don’t tell them about your feelings because white people are more sensitive-
NGUYEN: You have the choice of calling them out, or you know, just taking it all in and not letting them know, because you know how fragile they are- and it’s so true, like ugh… like I had this white friend who would just like, you know, start going on these huge technical debates/discussions on terms I use, like why do I always bring up Asian American community, and do I need to bring up my Asianness all the time? And so-on and so-forth, and I was gonna say something else-
LI: Making a mess.
NGUYEN: So oh! I watched- I recently finished this amazing Netflix series called “Dear White People,” and-
LI: I haven’t watched it yet, is it good?
NGUYEN: It is so good! I think, it’s such a great series, like I think everybody should watch it, I think everybody should- I mean, if you want learn some history, I mean if you wanna learn about why Black Lives Matter, or even, you know, why we’re so angry (LAUGHS), like definitely watch this series. There’s also a movie, which is like a prequel to this series, but I highly recommend it. It’s so good. You know it calls out on all these stereotypes that white America makes-
LI: And about the movie, I was a little disappointed in it. I think the end, but maybe the series will be better. The movie was pretty good on a lot of parts, but I was like, really? You have the dark-girl being self-hating, the light-skinned girl end up with the white guy, and be like the savior of everything! It was just like a lot of shit you know-
NGUYEN: Oh, yeah. I-
LI: I did appreciate the Asians, though. The Asians like standing up, I was like, “Yeah yeah! Asians in the movie!” (LAUGHS)
NGUYEN: There was one, too, in “Dear White People!” (LAUGHS). Also, the same characters, some different actors, but yeah, I think the series is way better than the movie too, and I watched it after finishing the series, and I have to say I’m so glad I watched the Netflix series first. It’s good. At the same time, I think there was a couple of slip-ups, so yeah! Moving on, I think we went off on a tangent there. (BOTH LAUGH) So, you mentioned the Trump election earlier and how your parents’ reaction to that, in a way, my parents reacted similarly too, like when I was yelling over the phone about my frustrations, my dad was like, “You never know! Maybe Trump will be a good guy.” And I’m like, “You don’t understand-”
LI: Yeah! They keep saying that, like-
NGUYEN: Yeah it’s like- I- this is not a good time to have hope. This is a time to figure out what we need to do to stop more shit from happening. And instead of being complacent about it, like the whole Trump election was a while ago, but at the same time, obviously it’s still- it’s always news about Trump, you see it, it’s now still, like something fucked up is still happening, and there are times when it gets too much to a point, just sometimes I disengage myself from the media, and my friends disengage themselves; it’s a healthy way to cope with this overload of news. At the same time, I find it important to know what’s going on and I wanted to know what your post-election thoughts are, and what should we do as a community about the fact that we are under a Trump presidency? As much as we hate it. Ha.
LI: So yeah, I kind of- I hate watching him speak, and all this stuff; I actually had to compile a bunch of really shitty Trump tweets for my union today, and some of the stuff, you won’t even- oh, it just must be fake, it can’t be real! I check on his fucking Twitter timeline: this fucking tweet is still there! It’s like, oh man, he had some- every single time he has- he wishes people happy holidays, he writes “losers” and “haters,” so like, “Happy Easter! Even to like, the losers and haters!” And like “Happy Thanksgiving! Including losers and haters!” It’s like what the fuck is this guy’s deal?!
LI: But yeah, sometimes I do have to like, just shut it out- like, I’ll read shit once in a while but I can’t- I have friends who just fucking take an IV and plug it in their veins and watch news all day, and I can’t do it, because I feel- it makes me feel hopeless you know, so I’d just rather build with other people, you know, like I can hear from the people who love watching the news, they’ll give me the deeper reasons- I don’t know, I just try to find good community, good folks that you can feel like you can build and grow. I think I’m lucky enough that in my work with my union, we’re trying to resist him and with RISE, I feel like I’m doing something at least ‘cause otherwise, I just feel like really restless and not doing anything. But I do think that there needs to be some freaking low-down backseat for at least Chinese people in the fucking news, being like, “Here are 10 Reasons- Here are 10 Ways that Trump Will Affect the Chinese Community” because we’re so fucking self-interested, like having to say that type of shit, to like explain why it’s- why this shit isn’t good! You know, like I have a fucking uncle that I don’t know if he fucking finishes papers or not, but I called my cousin, like “Yo, did third uncle ever complete his papers? Because I think they’re going after Asians now, too.” “Oh no, no, no, it’s fine.” Well, I sure hope it’s fine. But you know, stuff like that, just to put it out there- but yeah, I don’t know, I’ve been watching RuPaul’s Drag Race, and it makes me feel much better about every day!
LI: You just have to find the good things in life, and try to build you know-
NGUYEN: That’s a good way to cope with your- what’s going on (LAUGHS). I should start doing that. Another topic I wanted to touch on before we end this: being a good white ally! And what it means to be a good white ally! Because I think that is, whoa, a handful, or just like a load to talk about. I apologize for asking you so many questions, but it’s like-
LI: No, no, no, you’re deep on these questions. It’s all good.
NGUYEN: So like, white alliances, and what it means, and to me personally I think, I don’t know, I still feel skeptical of the idea of embracing the term “white ally” wholeheartedly simply because there are people- there are white people who have taken this term under their belt, who have identified themselves as that, but not really being that great of allies. You know, misinterpreting the idea of the alliance, and taking up too much space sometimes, and or coming into these spaces without being asked, and yeah! What do you think is a good white ally - like is there one? Or yeah (LAUGHS).
LI: I guess like, I don’t know if you’ve seen- it’s this really great article on Reductress, it’s like- kind of like, ironic where it’s like a picture of a white girl with a flower crown in her head, she’s like- I don’t remember what the headline was like, it was like, “I myself have never experienced any of these oppressions, but I feel really comfortable talking on behalf of other people who have experienced these oppressions, and I just feel really comfortable talking on behalf of other people (LAUGHS) I think it’s just this really great article about it, and I just love to capitalize on other people’s oppressions, and capture their voice blah blah blah; luckily all my POC friends are friends that never call me out on my bullshit, and I just feel really good about myself (LAUGHS). So I would say, eff that shit, I’ve totally seen so many of these types of white allies. Those are like, three things: one, just shut the fuck up, like don’t talk. Period. Just listen. Just shut up and don’t say anything, just listen. Two, it’s not about you. I know it’s really hard for white people to understand that it’s not about themselves because the whole world has always been about themselves, but just be like- I understand you have white guilt. I understand you have all these feelings. But honestly, it’s not about you. Like it’s not about your white feelings. You can have like a support group with other white people to talk about how guilty you feel, but don’t take up the space of POC- to know that we have to call to you for feeling bad about being a white person. So it’s not about you. And three, is just retweet, in terms- as in, give the microphone to a person of color. If you are going to speak, just be like- first of all, give credit to the person of color who originated that thought, don’t pretend that you know, you had this fucking epiphany, but just uplift people of color’s fucking voices! It’s like whatever epiphany you had white person, I can promise you the person from that actual background has come up with the thought because they have lived the fucking experience; just find it and just retweet it, shout out from the mountaintops, and be like, “Look at what my brown friend here has come up with and said,” just be like Will Smith on the red carpet at Jada Pinkett Smith, you know that picture where he has his hand and he’s like, “Fuck! Look at that incredible woman!” Just do that. Like, just don’t take up space, and give us more space, you know. Just don’t make it about yourself, it’s not about you honey, I know it’s like everything is about you, but just don’t make it about yourself. Honestly, everything is more important to me than white feelings. Like I don’t give a shit about your two white feelings (LAUGHS).
NGUYEN: So I… (LAUGHS). So that time when Adele won the Grammy for her album, and then she called out Beyonce should’ve won this Grammy Award, do you think that was a good example of white allyship, like-
LI: I think it was- I think it came from a place of genuineness, like she really did love Beyonce. I felt that that was a much better display than Macklemore tweeting to who- was it, Kendrick Lamar that he texted saying, “I’m so sorry, dude; you should’ve won that.” And after he sent that text, he screencapped it and Tweeted it out, like okay, so you’re just doing a performative shit to be like, “Oh, yeah sorry dude you should’ve won that?” versus Adele, at least maybe- she actually made her entire speech about Beyonce. It was not about herself, you know. Versus Macklemore, you fucking done there, you fucking went up on that stage and accepted the award, and after the fact, you’re gonna send a shitty little text to Kendrick Lamar saying, “Oh, you should've won that?” Like, and then Tweet out the fact that you apologized to Kendrick Lamar, to be like, “Oh, I have the Grammy, but also I’m a woke white person.” Like that to me does not seem genuine, versus Adele, at least, she fucking made it all about Beyonce, you know, like she- I don’t know if it’s the perfect way to do it, but it felt like it was from the heart at least, it wasn’t like, “Look at me, I’m a good white ally.”
NGUYEN: Yeah. So for me, it’s something that I surprisingly found out was that I have white friend who has been following Project Voice since Episode 1, so in a way, like me trying to figure out oh, was a good example of being a good white ally, like seeing her listening to all these episodes, and educating herself by will, you know, and not out of.. .a sense of obligation? Just to do it, you know, just to do it, like interested in learning more about other communities, and yeah, I think that is one way. So, if you are listening to Project Voice (LAUGHS), and you are white, good job! (LAUGHS)
LI: Yeah. Just don’t take your white allyship to like Rachel Dolezal levels- just don’t be Rachel Dolezal! (LAUGHS), you know. Or thinking that you’ve completely become Black now. There’s a really good thought piece about- Oh my god, this Black woman had interviewed Rachel Dolezal, and this is like the last thing you ever need to read about Rachel and like, oh my god- it was the best piece ever about how at the center of it, she’s just really looked down on Black people. She’s really just like, only Black people have understood the way that they should understand Black people than they will ever understand me- kind of thing. And all this fucked up shit. Just don’t take your white allyship to that level, but you know, it’s like yes- educating yourself like you were saying, Jessica, is like one of the best ways. Don’t ask us, don’t fucking ask me to educate because I have a short temper, and I am really bad at explaining things, so don’t ask people. Some people are willing to take the time to explain it to you, but if you can, try to educate yourself- there have been a million blogs written about it, there’s things like Project Voice that will educate you so you don’t have to exasperate a poor person of color with your shitty questions.
NGUYEN: It’s true, it’s like a lot of labor on us, a lot of emotional labor because you know, you want to understand something- they want to understand something, and then we’ll have to explain it, and then we’ll hear something fucked up from them, and then we’re like, (SIGHS) “No... god.”
LI: It’s like explain it to me! But oh now I feel a little bit guilty, please explain it to me but also make me feel better (LAUGHS)!
NGUYEN: Like… okay (LAUGHS). It’s a lot to ask for, but okay. Okay, so final questions. So my first, is what are some key takeaways that you hope our listeners will gain from listening to this episode?
LI: The key takeaways is like, white people should really step back and try to listen and educate themselves and then also if you are a POC, woman of color, bi, whatever, any kind of counter minority I guess- to kind of step up and make sure you- if there is something that you have concerns about just freaking go out there and just you know, voice your concerns and get active. If you want to get active there are always spaces that you can get active within. You don’t have to start your own movement; there’s always something you can get started with, whether it’s like, you know talking with your friends, ask them what issues they’re involved in, or you know, your neighborhood whatever- whatever it is you want to do like- I got involved with RISE, I don’t have to start something from scratch, I just got involved with it that someone else already started it. So just remember to try to keep yourself educated, try to stay active if you can; if you can’t then just have conversations with your parents and with your community to make sure that your parents won’t think Donald Trump is a great idea. Like, I guess.
NGUYEN: There are so many different ways that- how you can get involved in activist work, especially with technology nowadays. It’s like we can do it through social media. We can do it through protests and marches. We can do it through creating content themselves, like videos and podcasts and art, really, or writing books and poetry you know, there’s so many different ways to getting involved. And or just simple day-to-day conversations in the classroom, work, with your friends and family… and with your not-so friends and family (LAUGHS) Just get out there and do it. Just do it, like Nike (LAUGHS).
LI: Yeah. I mean even if you don’t wanna- you don’t have to write a book and all this stuff, but if you’re mad lazy, sometimes I get lazy, I just give money to organizations that you like. Just donate money. If you can donate your time, if they’re having some type of, I don’t know, whatever, some sort of event, just do something to acknowledge that feeling that you have. Like for me, it’s like I have a feeling in my heart that I feel unsatisfied, where I feel very restless or angry. I just need to do an action to acknowledge that, whether it’s creating a shitty piece of art, or starting a conversation on Twitter, or whatever it is; just do something that acknowledges that part of you and just don’t let it- don’t let it go away. Just acknowledge it and some way to make you- even if it was just to make yourself feel better. Just do some good and acknowledge that, yeah I understand, this is not just, this is fucked up, and whether it’s speaking up, whether it’s giving money to someone, or whatever it is, just you know, do that whatever makes you feel good
NGUYEN: Yeah, that’s true… preach! (BOTH LAUGH). What are some resources and spaces that you would recommend for someone who’s looking to be more involved in such movements, more involved in on-the-ground movements, or more just like- more involved. I feel like we might have covered this already but it’s our last question… (LAUGHS)
LI:There’s a lot of good blogs out there you can start getting involved with it, or if you want to educate, Tumblr has a lot of really good resources and, like Everyday Feminism is great for a starting point if you don’t want to explain why microaggressions are bad or this or that; they have a lot of 101 stuff, so they’re really good. There’s a lot of good places online to look for if you're trying to get yourself educated, but-
NGUYEN: There’s like Hyphen magazine or hyphen- because Hyphen seems so oriented to yellow Asians- is that even the right term?
LI: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, like East Asians, you know.
NGUYEN: East Asians. There’s also another Hyphen that’s dedicated to brown Asians, and you know, being aware of- that there’s a diversity of the community and that there is a range of spaces out there that can be as specific as you- to the ethnicity, to the region are you want to focus on, to other like intersectional spaces too, ‘cause it’s not just race or ethnicity, too, but also your sexuality! Like, if you’re into supporting queer Asian nonprofit organizations or like spaces like that-
LI: Yeah, and NQAPIA is a really great resource you can just look up. I think they have a whole list of all the different Asian queer organizations across the country and NQAPIA, National Queer Alliance for wait, National Queer Alliance for Pacific Islander Americans or something- National- Okay, something about queer Asians and national and it’s an alliance (LAUGHS).. So you can look it up and they have organizations all across the country. Like last year, I went to their, the leadership summit, and there’s a really great organization called BEYLA, and that’s in New Orleans and they have- it’s a lot of Viet community, of Black community, a lot of different Afro-Caribbean people in that group. There’s GAPA in the Bay Area and like there’s just- there’s a lot of different orgs already doing stuff, you can just join them and you can find a good community. They even have potlucks, parties, like it doesn’t have to always be like blah blah blah super political. (NGUYEN LAUGHS) Like just go to their parties, hang out with some folks, and then you’ll just get some stuff through osmosis, you know, it’s kind of the point to get community, you’re not always have to be fighting, sometimes, you can just be building… love, I guess if you want to be cheesy (BOTH LAUGH)
NGUYEN: That’s true (LAUGHS) So, thank you so much Jennifer for the interview! Where can we follow you? Do you promote your social media accounts?
LI: Sure! On Twitter and Instagram, I am the same handle, it’s @Jennli123, it’s J-E-N-N-L-I-1-2-3; I think if you look up “agressive asian” on Twitter, I might pop up, but that’s at not my actual handle; my handle is Jennli123 (LAUGHS)
NGUYEN: (LAUGHS) Fun fact! Okay, great, and if you’re interested in following Project Voice, just look us up on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @projectvoiceaaw. We also have a website now, it’s projectvoiceaaw.com, so check us out there! Thank you so much for listening! Please subscribe if you want, and tune in next time. Bye!
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