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The Story Does Not Begin in Georgia: A Letter to Students About the Recent Shootings

By Ju Yon Kim, Contributing Opinion Writer
Ju Yon Kim is a Professor of English at Harvard University. This letter was written on behalf of a group of concerned Asian American faculty.

We know the story does not begin with the murders that took place in Georgia on Tuesday. Like so many of you, we have lived isolated with the pain of the anti-Black, anti-Asian, anti-Indigenous, and anti-Latinx racisms, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia so widely brandished this past year. Like many people of Asian descent living in the United States, we have spent the last year worried about going out, and terrified of parents and grandparents going out — not just because of the pandemic, but because of the anti-Asian racism that it has amplified across this country. It is one thing to feel trapped and isolated by a virus; it is another to feel trapped and isolated by other people. The first we can bear for the common good; the second is unbearable.

We know the story does not begin with the shootings that took place on Tuesday. The fears and anxieties of this year are, for so many, intensifications of feelings that have been with you for much longer because of precarious circumstances of family, labor, rural and urban geographies, class, gender, and race that might seem unspeakable at Harvard.

We know the story does not begin with the murders of Asian American women in Georgia. The objectification and hypersexualization of women, queer, and trans people of color has a long history, one that many of us live in our bodies everyday. It is impossible to separate the horror that has occurred from the racial and gendered stereotypes that have stalked Asian women. We know the pain of learning of these murders, then witnessing the double erasure of those killed by how the shootings have been portrayed. We know this pain will feel especially sharp coming just weeks after learning that a professor of this University disregarded not just historical scholarship and archival evidence, but also the testimony and lived experience of Asian women to claim that what we know was sexual coercion was actually economic choice.

We know the story does not begin with the murders in Georgia. The expendability of Asian American life is tied to the expendability of Asian life, the military massacres of people across Central, South, Southeast, and East Asia historically and today, discounted because they did not take place "here," even as we continue to be directly and indirectly haunted by them. While people analyze one murderer's motivations, we know that race, gender, and class are not incidental to what happened, where it happened, and to whom it happened.

We share your grief, anger, and loneliness. To our Asian American students, we share the frustrations of being rendered silent, complicit, and indebted as the model minority, of having the complexities of our experiences reduced to caricature, of having the knowledge gleaned from the richness of that experience and our desire for social change cast as "navel-gazing" identity politics or attempts to play the "race card" — even when we are fighting for the right to walk outside our homes without fear of being punched, spat on, harassed, or shot. We believe that intellectual work and pedagogy that centers Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and other minoritized peoples, particularly women, is foundational to the pursuit of justice and truth. We stand in solidarity with all communities of color against anti-Black, anti-Asian, anti-Latinx, and anti-Indigenous racisms and xenophobia. We stand with all communities who have had to bear the weight of a deep and long history of violent white supremacy and misogyny.

We lie awake at night knowing that what happened was predictable but not inevitable. We worry about the nightmares you might be having, and about the nightmares being lived by the families and friends of those lost and injured. Daoyou Feng, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Paul Andre Michels, Soon Chung Park, Xiaojie Tan, Delaina Ashley Yaun, Yong Ae Yue. Their stories are much more than their status as victims and their stories do not begin or end on March 16, 2021.

We see your strength at a time when it seems impossible to hold any more sorrow and anger. We see the power and the compassion it takes to care for yourselves, your friends, and your families, to build community, and to imagine a more just world.

Ju Yon Kim is a Professor of English at Harvard University. This letter was written on behalf of a group of concerned Asian American faculty.

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