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Columns

Where Our Rivers Intersect: Intersections between Black and Asian American Women

By Ogechukwu C. Ogbogu, Contributing Opinion Writer
Ogechukwu C. Ogbogu ’24 lives in Wigglesworth Hall. Her column appears on alternate Thursdays.

In witnessing a rise of anti-Asian violence due to the pandemic, I have found it difficult to process how quickly we have broken our promise to protect vulnerable communities before their lives are taken. Asian Americans have been discussing the ongoing violence, hatred, and racially motivated attacks they have experienced since the pandemic’s onset, yet the cycle of death creating “progress” happens once again.

On March 16, a series of mass shootings took place at three spas and massage parlors located in Atlanta, Ga. Eight were killed, two were wounded, and of the eight, six of them were Asian women.

This hate crime was not the result of mental illness, but a symptom of the growing virus of racism, misogyny, and xenophobia. We are witnessing the result of violences that Asian women have long endured — fetishization, infantilization, and hypersexualization.

Many news media and articles continue to discuss what the Black community can do to demonstrate solidarity. Sources such as NBC are calling on the Black community to remedy the relationship between Black and Asian Americans, but who is the real culprit? White supremacy has succeeded in pitting Black and Asian Americans against each other. Both are victims on the extreme ends of a spectrum: Asian Americans have to combat the “Model Minority Myth” while Black Americans are characterized as the villain of that tale.

There are conversations to be had, and issues to address, but the only way to build alliances and create long-term interracial solidarity is by uncovering the histories of both Black and Asian American women, and coming to understand how these histories helped construct their identities. As women of color, it is vital that we enter conversations with the understanding that we have all learned how to survive in our own ways. The manners that we resist may manifest differently but are rooted in the same desire to grow and disrupt spaces to create futures for ourselves and those to follow us.

Despite Black and Asian American women’s connectedness, there has been very little conversation between the two groups at Harvard and beyond, even when we are both facing brutality, violence, and can assist one another during these times. By redirecting discourse to these women’s crisscrossing rivers, our words and authentic mutual support can begin to flow.

Microaggressions such as the question “Where are you from?” are rooted in the histories of the Asian Americans and Black Americans whose labor has constructed our current society, largely through means of slavery and exploitation. Chinese Americans, for example, were forced to construct the Transcontinental Railroad at lower pay than their white counterparts, with many dying due to the lethality of mining. We can be used to make America and simultaneously be forced to justify our “Americanness” when it is both groups’ sweat and blood that form the ground on which we walk.

This question also specifically targets Asian American women by emphasizing the idea that they are foreign or exotic, which plays into their fetishization. Terms such as “china doll,” “baby face,” and “porcelain,” infantilize Asian women, stripping them of their agency and justifying their assault — and in the case of the Atlanta shootings, murder.

While Asian American women face infantilization, Black women face adultification. But ultimately, we are two sides of the same coin, prone to violence and assault. Based on a report by the Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence, Asian American women report hate crimes 2.3 times more frequently than their male counterparts; 21 to 55 percent of Asian Women report experiencing intimate physical and/or sexual violence. Many reports reveal the homogenization of Asian Americans through ignorant racial slurs that ignore the immense diversity within the Asian diaspora — including East, Southeast, and South Asians, as well as Pacific Islanders — illustrating the misrepresentation and erasure of many AAPI women.

Many of us have heard of the Chinese Exclusion Act, which banned Chinese immigrants from entering the U.S. However, its congressional predecessor was the 1875 Page Act, which uniquely targeted Chinese women on the basis that they were possible sex -workers who would corrupt the nation.

The Page Act is symbolic of a recurring theme that all women of color experience: erasure and lack of protection by the law. The Page Act uniquely targeted and excluded Chinese women on the basis of both race and gender — similar to various laws that target Black women, including hair discrimination and lack of legal protection against sexual assault. Asian women were excluded from creating community and reuniting with their families due to these laws and additional forms of otherization, which run parallel to the systematic separation of families via police brutality, mass incarceration, school-to-prison pipeline, that continues to tear Black mothers from their children and family, and is likewise grounded in racialized and gendered violence and exclusion.

For us to heal wounds, we must turn to ourselves and recognize the ways that our narratives and experiences intersect. Alliances between Black and Asian women have been demonstrated through movements and organizations, including: the Conference of the Women of Asia 1949, which amplified the global anti-imperialist struggle; the Bandung Conference of 1955, at which Asian and African nations convened to discuss peace and politics in the Cold War era; the ongoing media effort, the Blasian Project; and conversations between several Black and Asian female leaders such as Audre Lorde, Angela Davis, Yuri Kochiyama, and Grace Lee Boggs.

The burden of Black and Asian women is to care, value, and cherish one another. Telling each other our stories, detailing our histories, is necessary for our rivers to bridge; for us to mobilize together.

This article is not about strategizing to combat the greater oppressive forces of white supremacy, which still must be done, but is about cultivating and embracing the women around us and the violence we collectively experience. Within this sharing can come laughter, beauty, and recognition of our stories, so that we can create spaces, worlds, and futures that embrace us and see us for all that we are and all that we can be.

Ogechukwu C. Ogbogu ’24 lives in Wigglesworth Hall. Her column appears on alternate Thursdays.

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