Flimsy Bridges Burn Easily: How Social Media Exposed the Trepidatious Nature of Black/Asian Relations in the Wake of the Atlanta Spa Shootings

TL;DR

In the wake of the Atlanta spa shootings, controversy surrounding prominent media outlets and influencers illuminated flaws in mainstream efforts to foster better Black/Asian relations. To lessen the detrimental impact of controversial people and statements, stop relying solely or even heavily on social media stars and outlets for your education. Social media should always be a starting point, never an end point. It is okay to learn from someone and then outgrow them if they demonstrate more of a commitment to employing trendy jargon and shallow conversation to garner clout instead of system-changing action. Let the change start with you.

A while ago, I found myself in conversation with an Asian-American acquaintance about a White coworker of theirs. I experienced life-altering racism at the hands of their coworker that threatened to end my career and deteriorated my mental health over several years, and I was seeking a restorative justice process. My acquaintance took a startling position on the issue and insisted that I shouldn’t “cancel” their coworker by pursuing restorative justice, and I should drop the matter altogether, thereby allowing the person who victimized me to “keep learning.” They made it very clear that they valued the personal growth of a bigot more than the livelihood of a marginalized person who was impacted by that person’s bigotry. Naturally, this caused tension between myself and the acquaintance.

On March 16, 2021, I witnessed the same acquaintance reacting on social media to the murders of 6 Asian women (Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Soon Chung Park, Hyun Grant, Suncha Kim, and Yong Ae Yue[1]) in Atlanta at the hands of a White male, Robert Aaron Long. Unsurprisingly and appropriately, the sum of their reactions indicated a belief that what Long had done was an atrocious manifestation of longstanding anti-Asian racism in the U.S. that was deserving of punishment. There was no insistence that Long be given an opportunity to learn and grow from the situation or that he remain “uncanceled” by the public. The tendency of some Asian individuals to demand justice for their own communities when White-perpetuated racism is enacted towards them yet aid or ignore White-perpetuated racism against members of the Black community is so prevalent that this was entirely expected, albeit disappointing.

What I did not expect, however, was to see social media flooded with other Asian individuals sharing a (now deleted) tweet by NBC News of an article by Char “CiCi” Adams explaining “how Black people can be strong allies to Asian Americans right now.” Adams later clarified that the article was written on March 12, four days before the Atlanta shooting, and she was not the one who made the choice to connect the article to the shooting. Still, despite Adams’ clarification and the fact that many Black and Asian social media users decried NBC’s insensitivity in centering a community that had nothing to do with the incident, other Asian users chose to keep the Black community centered, using their platforms to share reminders of instances of Black aggression towards Asians (like the senseless burglary and murder of Park Ho on March 8, 2021 [2]) and citing non-existent or unfounded statistics to claim that the Black community is responsible for the majority of anti-Asian sentiment and crime in the U.S. An incident that should have ignited a social indictment of Robert Aaron Long and critique of White supremacy instead fueled flames of anti-Blackness in Asian digital spaces that used us as scapegoats responsible for the suffering of all POC in a social structure that we neither built nor flourish within.

Char “CiCi” Adams tweets clarification in light of backlash to the NBC tweet sharing her article, saying “I wrote this on March 12 to highlight practicing interracial solidarity with Asian American groups in ways that combat anti-Blackness & honor decades of radical Black/AAPI coalition-building. 
 
 I hate that it seems like a response to last night’s shooting, but I understand why.”

What amazed me even further was that many of the responses of Black platforms to the Asian focus shift in the wake of the NBC tweet were met with intense hostility from their Asian followers. For example, activist outlet No White Saviors (NWS) made a (now deleted) post to their Instagram (@nowhitesaviors) in response to the NBC article that noted the inappropriateness of placing blame and labor onto the shoulders of Black individuals in light of White-enacted terrorism. NWS deleted the post after several of their Asian followers privately messaged the administrators to insist that their post responding to NBC was what was inappropriate and mention of anti-Blackness among Asian communities was somehow responsible for perpetuating harmful anti-Asian stereotypes. In light of NWS’s public apology and announcement of deletion of the original post, many of their followers (including several Asians) noted the hypocrisy of the offended Asian parties in their support of White- and Asian-initiated centering of Black communities for the purpose of shifting blame and responsibility for rectification onto them while simultaneously denouncing Black-initiated centering of Black communities for the purposes of noting how such blame and responsibility shifting perpetuates false narratives and is harmful for everyone involved. The frustration of many NWS’s Black followers at the page’s Asian followers who requested the post deletion appeared to be rooted in the belief that a not-so-insignificant number of Asians only value Black/Asian alliances for their ability to advance Asian communities in a White supremacist society yet have no interest in aiding Black communities in their advancement or in dismantling White supremacy altogether.

For myself and many others, this belief was further solidified amid the controversy that ensued following a (now deleted) Tiktok video posted by the famous “poet” Rupi Kaur six days after the Atlanta spa shootings on March 22, 2021. The video is a self-recording of Kaur reading a sexually-charged “poem” from her book Milk and Honey while making exaggerated faces and gestures that I am certain she practiced for a while prior to shooting. An avid social media watcher, I saw the video within the first hour it posted and shared it immediately to my Instagram to show my friends the “artist’s” latest publicity stunt. Within another hour, I had indulged in several more Tiktok videos in which other users stitched Kaur’s video and mockingly mimicked her faces and gestures. Within another two hours, Kaur had deleted the video from Tiktok, but the dozens of videos mocking her remained. In response to the parody videos, a number of Asian Tiktok users denounced the parodies and their makers for allegedly promoting anti-Asian sentiments on the app. Although the videos simply featured creators mimicking exactly what Kaur was doing (reciting a Tumblr-esque statement in English while trying to gesticulate sexually in a way that makes one wonder whether the gesturer has ever actually had sex) offended parties were adamant that it was inherently anti-Asian for other creators to mock Kaur [3]. Many creators and commenters alike retorted that Kaur is a particularly unlikeable figure because her poems are unimaginative, and she allegedly-but-absolutely built her career by heavily plagiarizing the work and style of Nayyirah Waheed, a Black poet who is also well-known for her Tumblr posts and Tumblr-esque presence on other platforms [4]. For full transparency, these are the reasons why I also personally dislike Kaur. Still, many Asian social media users and writers continue to defend Kaur from the internet trolls and uplift her as a poet who changed the game for South Asians in the arts, all while completely ignoring or excusing the avenues through which she has come to be successful.

Meher Manda is one such writer who swiftly came to Kaur’s defense. In an article for The Juggernaut [5], a popular South Asian culture outlet, Manda quickly glosses over Kaur’s plagiarism controversy to encourage people to be nicer to her compatriot.

“At a time when India seeks allies in the diaspora, Kaur has been one of the most dependable…Perhaps, it is time to be kinder to one of our own, and let those who do love her work enjoy it without shame.” concludes Manda.

A short sigh of well, she’s Indian and sometimes uses her platform to highlight Indian politics, and weak representation is better than no representation, so I guess we should just tolerate her corked the article which was otherwise full of criticisms of Kaur’s artistry and personal identity brand that even Manda admits “flattens the experience of all Brown women, regardless of their country of residence, class…and caste.” Yet again, the Asian diaspora proved that it has no dearth of members who view the exploitation of Black labor as a means to their success and the harm done to Black individuals in the process as simply an inevitable and reasonable cost of doing business. Manda’s article also fortifies the dangerous paradigm that equates opposition of one member of a diaspora with opposition of that diaspora itself. Followers of The Juggernaut’s Instagram account immediately filled the outlet’s post of Manda’s article with reminders that members of the public have not forgotten nor forgiven Kaur’s questionable ethics and methods. To my knowledge, neither Manda nor The Juggernaut have publicly responded to these reminders.

The final and perhaps most insidious blow to Black/Asian relations in the wake of the Atlanta spa shootings that I will discuss here came another 6 days after the initial posting of the Rupi Kaur Tiktok. On March 28, 2021, the physiologist-turned-travel-blogger known as Dr. Kiona of How Not To Travel Like A Basic Bitch (abbreviated in this piece as HNTT) posted a now hotly contested infographic to Instagram titled “Why Is It So Hard to Stand With Asian Americans?” Kiona is an Instagram influencer who initially only used her platform to provide socio-historic context for her travel destinations, places the average American might regard as “exotic” and/or have several undereducated opinions about. She was also initially known for her efforts to rewrite the narrative around how PhD holders look and behave, posting “ass shots” (pictures of her ass) for every milestone of 1k additional followers to her Instagram. Remember both of these aspects of her initial work; we will revisit them later.

As Kiona’s social media presence as a travel influencer has grown, so has the controversy surrounding both her persona and offline person. I personally considered myself a fan of Kiona’s for a while but was prompted by many trusted colleagues to reconsider my stance. Some long-time activists (many of whom do not have large social media presences) began to whisper that Kiona’s “activism” is purely performative; that is, her educational efforts are merely rhetoric that she posts to Instagram to gain social media “clout” yet never works to internalize or uses to make fundamental change in the sectors in which she claims to be involved [6]. In the summer of 2020, there were nationwide protests aimed at criticizing violent structural racism towards Black Americans. Many of Kiona’s Black followers questioned why she had not yet used her platform to advocate and show solidarity in the way many others were. In what Kiona now alleges was a response to a direct message sent to her by a Black follower she tweeted:

“To require Asians to only hold space for Black Death is oppression in and of itself. It is 100% not necessary for Asians to hold space for any other race while our communities are under attack. If an Asian person chooses to do so, it’s a bonus.”

Naturally, her claim that Asians are not required to care for or support other non-White communities stirred up quite the storm. To my knowledge, Kiona never publicly addressed nor apologized for the tweet. Instead, she deleted the tweet and seems to have altogether abandoned her Twitter account (which was newly established at the time). Now, I cannot say whether or not Kiona was ever actually messaged by someone genuinely insisting that Asians ought to only hold space for “Black Death” (why is the “d” capitalized? Your guess is as good as mine). What I can say is that it is certainly unfair for any person to insist that other only value and/or prioritize advocacy of one demographic. What I can also say is that it is certainly (pardon my French) fuqued up to insist that people of one demographic are not obligated to care about others and that others should be grateful for any crumb of support they do receive. I believe that most Black people know that many individuals of the Asian diaspora hold the belief that they don’t have to care about other non-White people, but for most of her followers, Kiona was the first public figure to actually say it out loud.

With rumors and a controversial tweet haunting her career as an influencer, Kiona and a team of others seeking to either gain or grow social media-based influence presented the “Why Is It So Hard to Stand With Asian Americans?” infographic. As someone who holds a master’s degree in a humanities field and remains involved in qualitative social science research at the professional level, I am very confident in my assessment that the digital packet is highly under-informed and full of statements that can only be the conclusions of unskilled analysis work. To begin with, the team presents a question to which they never actually provide an answer nor sufficient evidence demonstrating that the question is worth asking. Where are the people saying that it is hard to stand with Asian-Americans? Where are the statistics definitively proving that certain people don’t stand with Asian-Americans specifically because doing so is “hard?” We are never presented with any of these things through the infographic, but we are reminded that qualitative research shouldn’t be conducted solely by a team comprised of social media influencers with a grand total of zero qualifications to do so.

A screenshot of the infographic title slide “Why Is It So Hard To Stand With Asian Americans?”

Sure, many statements made in the packet are objectively true. It is true that there are hardly visible aspects of how racism manifests in the lives of Asians, and many people incorrectly believe that Asians never or hardly experience racism because most of those racist manifestations are invisible or easily misinterpreted by the non-Asian public (as depicted in the “racist soil” slide). It is true that the framework of Asians as a “model minority” (MM) group that has freed itself from White supremacist subjugation through hard work and respectability is a myth used to encourage disbelief and disregard for claims of anti-Asian bigotry.

A slide from the infographic that says “Let’s face the truth. We as Americans, are planted in racist soil.” There is a rock inscribed with “Attacks on Asians” sitting atop soil. In the soil there are buried a number of other forms of racism experience including “selective immigration,” “model minority,” and “racist hiring practices.”

However, it is not true that Asians are never afforded privileges and opportunities in White supremacist society that remain denied to other POC, especially Black Americans. It is also not true that what Kiona later describes as a “feedback loop” of detrimental Asian actions/sentiments and detrimental actions of non-Asian POC actually manifests the way it is depicted in the infographic and described by its creators.

Although the MM paradigm is indeed based on the myth that subscribing to White supremacy will elevate and liberate Asian-Americans, the truth is that many Asian-Americans still do not regard MM as a myth and work every day to align their selves with Whiteness in the vain hopes that they will someday be admitted to the club.

It was not lost on Black Twitter that the Atlanta spa shootings occurred exactly 30 years after the murder of Latasha Harlins at the hands of Korean store owner Soon Ja Du on March 16, 1991. Du murdered 15-year-old Latasha after profiling her as a thief and initiating a physical altercation. Throughout the course of her trial, Du tried to paint Harlins as a stereotype and claimed that the teen was plotting to steal a juice from Du’s store and made Du fear for her life via physical intimidation. Eyewitness testimony and video footage from the store revealed that Du called Harlins a “bitch” upon the assumption that Harlins was planning to steal the juice and initiated a physical altercation with the child despite the fact that she was holding the money for the juice in her hand. Du shot Latasha in the back of the head as she was running away to escape Du. For her crime, Du was only sentenced to five years of probation, 10 years of suspended prison, 400 hours of community service, and pay a $500 fine. Latasha’s murder and Du’s incredibly lenient sentence stoked the flames of the infamous LA riots of the early 1990’s that resulted in many Black LA residents targeting Asian-owned (primarily Korean) businesses for destruction and looting [7].

The murder of Latasha Harlins is just one of many incidents that debunk the assertions and implications of Kiona and her colleagues that

1) Asian-Americans and Black Americans face equal consequences of racism in the U.S.

2) Asian-Americans are forced to subscribe to the MM myth but do not actually have it internalized

3) Once either demographic in the listed “feedback loops” (of the Upholding Model Minority Myth slide) stops doing their harmful actions, the harmful actions of the other demographic will also cease as a result

Soon Ja Du murdered Latasha Harlins because she voluntarily subscribed to the false narratives and stereotypes that assert that Black people are thieves, deny Black adolescents childhood status, and treat­­ Black individuals as subhuman contributors to non-Black wealth amassment that can be easily disposed of once they no longer serve their purpose. Du received a lenient sentence and is still alive today because she benefitted from the false narratives and stereotypes that assert that Asian women are docile and unthreatening and led the court to state that Du seemed unlikely to commit such an atrocity again. The Black community-initiated riots that targeted Korean stores in LA in the wake of Latasha’s murder were loud and forceful statements that aimed to make it clear to Asian-Americans that they could not rely on Black money if they did not learn to value Black lives. If the nonsense paradigm that Kiona’s team created was true, then if the “anger + violence towards Asians” manifested in 1990’s LA as rioting of Asian-owned stores simply stopped, the Asian-American community too would then automatically stop “harboring anti-Black mindsets that can look like denying service, following people in stores, etc.” as manifested in a small convenience store as a Korean woman murdering a Black child, then using stereotypes about Black individuals to try and get away with it. For Kiona to use her HNTT platform to suggest that Asians will stop discriminating against Black people once Black people stop reacting to said discrimination was nothing short of disgusting, divisive, and irresponsible. As the reader can see above, the infographic is full of false equivalences like claiming that “bullying Asians to wait their turn to speak” is what non-Asian POC should stop doing in order to stop the feedback loop in which Asians use racist slurs against them. Not only am I dubious of the pervasiveness of this oddly specific type of bullying against Asians, but I cannot understand how anyone who considers their self to be an anti-racist educator could in good conscious say that telling someone to wait “their turn” is both the cause of and equal in offense to being called a racial slur.

Ultimately, the infographic has several flaws that I will not address here but will say that they all reek of “all lives matter-esque” rhetoric used to avoid actually confronting and addressing the reality of how Black Americans and Asian-Americans are situated within a White supremacist social structure. White people may have invented this social system, but they are not the only ones who uphold it. Like many processes of remediation and healing, the first step towards better Black/Asian relations is to admit the truths of the problem. The claims of Kiona and her colleagues through the infographic perpetuate dangerous false narratives that cannot be used to develop true solutions. The desire of certain Asian-American individuals to pursue model minority status by upholding White supremacy (which inherently involves adamant anti-Blackness) is something that must be addressed before genuinely strong Black/Asian alliances can be formed.

As it turns out, I am not the only Black social scientist to notice the infographic’s flaws. On March 30, 2021, Alyssa “A.L.” James and Brendane Tynes, students of the anthropology PhD program at Columbia and hosts of the podcast Zora’s Daughters, posted a critique of the infographic to their Instagram (@zorasdaughters). The critique is formatted as an annotated version of the infographic with the aim of demonstrating what Alyssa and Brendane believe should have been written and presented to the public by Kiona and her teammates. It is far more in-depth and insightful than what I have allotted space for in this essay, so I advise the reader to head directly to their Instagram page to review it. The critique received a warm reception by many and started to be circulated in lieu of the original infographic. Kiona promptly responded to Alyssa and Brendane via a 14-minute-long video posted to the HNTT Instagram story. In the video, she switches between using AAVE to launch ad hominem attacks at the podcast’s hosts, calling them “bitches” who “are not [her] peers” and using a more formal English to further “explain” the infographic (because I’m guessing she assumed that the reason Alyssa and Brendane were criticizing it is because they just didn’t “get it”). Kiona ended the video by trotting out a mystery Black person (whom I honestly hope stays mysterious) to…I don’t know, I guess confirm that Kiona’s racist diatribe was not indicative of the fact that she herself is a racist because she has a Black friend??

As one with common sense might expect, an Asian travel blogger with degrees in physiological sciences referring to two Black anthropologists as “bitches” who are not qualified to engage in dialogue with her regarding socio-cultural analyses was not well received. The influencer lost over 1k followers and went silent on the HNTT platform for over 48 hours as the video was swiftly disseminated across Instagram. Upon her return, she removed the video, stating that she was “not proud of how [she] went about it.” There was no apology or acknowledgement of harm to Alyssa, Brendane, or her Black followers. Immediately following her nonchalant statement of the video deletion, she posted a series of images to her story showing herself with several Black “friends” (whom I presume identify as male) that culminated in her “joking” that she was excited to get “all friends with muscles to help [her] move and carry sofas out of the house.” This is a fact worth noting because calling the hosts of Zora’s Daughters “bitches” is not the first time Kiona has referred to people of the African diaspora as dogs. In a post encouraging people to fetishize non-American men and specifically seek them out for relationships, she features herself being held by a very dark-skinned man and states that “import boyfriends are dogs too, but at least they DO something…” She clearly lacks any of the room-reading ability required to realize that calling descendants of Africans (however far removed) “imports” and “dogs” is incredibly tone deaf nor did she spend any of her time offline trying to come to this realization before “jokingly” claiming that her time spent with a group of Black friends had the ulterior motive of soliciting free labor from them [8].

Kiona’s online presence is also infantilizing and demeaning towards Black communities. She confidently and loudly denies that outspoken Black people who use the same platforms as she does to spread messages are 1) qualified to have a discussion based on their lived experiences and cultural milieu because they may not have advanced degrees and 2) capable of grasping and properly analyzing the points (and implications of those points) that she makes in her “heavily researched” presentations. She somehow retains this confidence despite the fact that none of her degrees are specific to society, politics, or culture [9]. She stated that the infographic was “baseline” and meant to serve as an introductory breakdown for the commoners without doctoral degrees who are just now being exposed to the topic. However, just as a political science PhD should never perform brain surgery without a complete career shift and updated accreditations, a doctor who specializes in quantitative, physiological sciences should never function as an expert educator of qualitative, social science without the same shifts and updates. Additionally, the assumption that people (like ordinary Black Instagram users) who have spent their entire lives experiencing and witnessing the effects of a racially stratified society, but have not been afforded or who simply may not desire the opportunity to complete higher education, are inherently unqualified to engage in conversation with her on the topic simply because she obtained degrees in unrelated fields is nothing short of elitist.

Ultimately, regardless of the infographic, Kiona’s online presence is an embodiment of what Black people have been trying to express for decades regarding Black/Asian relations: many Asian-Americans only value Black individuals and our allyship when the Asian community is under immediate attack and/or they can leverage our allyship to garner attention and advancement for themselves. The belief that Black people should be forever at the ready to aid and uplift the Asian community even as the Asian community in turn perpetuates, ignores, or supports harm to Black people based on their Blackness is pervasive at all levels from interpersonal interactions to pop culture to pedagogy.

The majority of Black Americans are the descendants of those who were brought here from the African continent to serve as beasts of burden that relentlessly perform labor for the benefit of others. Any calls for “unity” from Asian-Americans that request favors of the Black community that Asians aren’t obligated to reciprocate perpetuate the status of Black Americans as undercompensated laborers.

With all these things said, the question still remains: What should those of us who want real, fortified Black/Asian alliances do in the face of such hypocrisy and unproductive efforts? My suggestion is simple: produce and reinforce productive efforts only. Get comfortable denying energy to efforts that have proven unproductive and inflexible. Instead of insisting that people who are disinterested in the truth and wellbeing of others to come dialogue and learn why they were wrong, let’s ensure that coalitions, panels, and conferences regarding Black/Asian relations are only ever led by those with relevant qualifications and who have a genuine commitment to education and community building. Social media idols who rely on theft and inflammatory statements to garner attention have no place at these tables. There is no purposeful dialogue to be had with them. The best way to deplatform harmful ideologies and people is to turn our collective attention away from them except for the times they are being cited as examples of harmful beliefs or people. Black /Asian relations are complicated, nuanced, and in great need of repair. To build a truly strong front in the fight against White supremacy, we must tell hard truths and recite accurate narratives. We must not let false equivalencies, gaslighting, and cries of “divisiveness” prevent us from moving forward with real work.

So then, what is the role of social media in the healing of Black/Asian relations and collective fight against our oppressors? In my opinion, social media should serve a very limited and basic role in education and action. One thing that Kiona got right in her tirade video is that social media often serves as a young person’s first introduction to these complex social issues. What she gets wrong is the belief that someone as unqualified and antagonistic as her should serve as an educator beyond the introductory level. Social media influencers are just that- influencers. They are not activists; they are not experts; they are not unique originators of any concept. Figures like Rupi Kaur and Dr. Kiona have proven time and time again that their ultimate aim is self-elevation, not community strengthening. Their lives are brands; any press for their brand is good press. Like clothing and food, the aim of a social media brand is to influence your thoughts and behaviors in ways that motivate you to desire more of their brand. Their jobs are not to foster a sense of self-confidence that encourages you to seek strength and truth wherever it may lie, even if it means eventual disengagement with their content. If your focus is on alignment with an influencer and their brand, your activist efforts will always fail to bring about beneficial structural change regardless of how much attention they garner. Like clothing and food, if influencers continuously lack quality and substance, their brand will eventually stop trending. Focus on the platforms of real experts and activists, and know that they may not consistently put out content because they are too busy doing actual work and practicing self care.

There is absolutely no shame in having your first encounter with a nuanced topic occur via social media, but you cannot and should not rely on social media to give you a true, holistic understanding of an issue. Instead of relying solely on infographics, go read the source material for yourself. As an academic, I can tell you that the access barriers to advanced knowledge have never been lower than they are at this point in history. Many articles and academic discussions on the theories and concepts shared in social media infographics are free to the public and only require internet access to download. Google Scholar is an imperfect but highly valuable resource for the average person seeking these types of documents. YouTube hosts many free-to-access videos where you can watch the creators of certain theories and knowledge frameworks discuss their work first-hand. Many scholars, activists, and educators provide their works for free on their personal websites. Many others will simply send you their works if you email them and ask. When you shift your reliance for education from secondary sources like social media influencers to primary sources like topic-relevant scholars and activists, your knowledge will be based on well-rounded insights rather than singular brand messaging.

Ultimately though, the digital realm can only ever take us so far on issues that impact people even when they are offline. For example, an analysis of Latasha Harlin’s murder also exposes flaws in the recent calls to “buy Asian” in the recent wake of increased anti-Asian sentiments. The supposedly activist call that is currently pervasive on online platforms completely fails to recognize that “buying Asian” is already a long-standing facet of Black livelihood. From beauty supply shops to nail salons to convenience stores to neighborhood-specific Asian-owned restaurants, Black Americans have funneled a steady stream of revenue into Asian-owned businesses for decades. However, our presence is often met with aggressive anti-Blackness, and it is this very anti-Blackness that ended Latasha’s short life while she was trying to “buy Asian.”

Clearly, we cannot rely on the rhetoric of social media influencers to secure liberation for any of our communities. Genuine, strong alliances are built at the interpersonal level and the governmental level. How will you use your newly obtained education to correct your oppressive behaviors? How will you hold your community members accountable for the harm that they do to others in schools, stores, and neighborhoods? How will you work to deplatform political leaders that support the oppression of other marginalized communities even as they advocate for the elevation of your own? How will you work with local coalitions of other marginalized communities to ensure that you all remain safe and cared for despite the injustices that persist at the systemic level?

The answers to all of these questions will vary depending on the individual as we all have different roles to play in revolution. Still, it is each individual’s responsibility to ensure that their answers to these questions are consistent with their supposed desire to see unity between marginalized communities. Anything that requires you to hold your critique and/or emotional response until your labor has been extracted will not achieve unity. Anything that insists that your labor is mandatory while the labor of others is optional will not achieve unity. Anything that requires you to harm yourself or your loved ones for the betterment of others will not achieve unity. Anything that lies will not achieve unity. Black/Asian relations are being restored every day by individuals who already know these things and (at varying degrees of publicity) reflect just as much as they act. Unfortunately, during this recent burst of turmoil, many people allowed brands with high public visibility to derail these efforts. We must minimize their impact by focusing less on sensationalized and poorly distilled analyses and ensuring that each of us is holding ourselves and our immediate communities accountable for doing purposeful work. Our lives literally depend on it.

Disclaimers and Clarifications

  • The opinions shared in this essay are solely mine. While I know that my opinions are shared by many others in the Black community, I do not claim to speak on behalf of anyone in my community other than myself.
  • In case the essay did not make it clear, I strongly support and advocate for better Black/Asian relations and view a strong alliance between our communities as imperative. We absolutely must also have a conversation about anti-Asian sentiments in the Black community, but this essay is speaking specifically to the inappropriateness of some outlets in using a tragedy that a White terrorist enacted against members of their community to increase visibility of their anti-Black sentiments on their platforms and how other controversies served as reminders of just how pervasive anti-Blackness still is in other POC communities.
  • In this essay, “Asian” and “Asian diaspora” are used interchangeably. “Black” and “African diaspora” are also used interchangeably. Due to the globalizing nature of the internet, some people of Asian descent who do not reside in the U.S. voiced anti-Black opinions in the wake of the Atlanta shootings. Likewise, non-American people of African decent voiced opinions and/or have a relationship with the figures and outlets discussed in this essay. I refrained from using “AAPI” to refer to people of Asian descent because many communities of the Asian continent and nearby islands are in dialogue about whether or not they are all unified enough to be lumped together by that term. Because I am neither a member of any Asiatic community nor any Pacific Islander, I chose to use the more broadly accepted (yet admittedly still very limiting) language.
  • I do not support or advocate for the doxxing or bullying of any person I have critiqued in this essay. As stated in the text, the best way to deplatform these individuals is to simply stop engaging with their content except for when the communities that elevate them need to be warned. However, please also note that attempting to engage in purposeful dialogue with a critiqued person is perfectly valid. I personally have noted that both Rupi Kaur and Dr. Kiona are averse to conversations about their controversies and come to the conclusion that there is no constructive dialogue to be had with either of them. Remember kiddos, “canceling” isn’t real. There exists only accountability holding, deplatforming, and bullying. I advocate always for the first, sometimes for the second, and never for the third.

Footnotes

[1] Names spelled as they appear in https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2021/03/these-are-the-victims-of-the-atlanta-spa-shootings.html

[2] https://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/suspect-charged-murder-after-death-75-year-old-asian-man-n1260870

[3] I do not deny the possibility that some Tiktok creators who stitched Kaur’s video may have expressed anti-Asian sentiments in their videos or comments either intentionally or unintentionally. The opinions I express on the topic in this essay are based on the stitched videos that I personally watched and reviewed comments for, all of which only featured the creator mimicking exactly what Kaur was doing in her original video. After accusations of anti-Asian sentiments began, most creators I observed clarified in their comments that their dislike of Kaur is due to their personal distaste for her poetry and Kaur’s reputation for being a plagiarist.

[4] Kaur is recognized as a plagiarist by many throughout the global indie poetry community. Kaur herself denies the claims that she plagiarized the work and style of Waheed and instead insists that Waheed was an inspiration for her and “me using a couple of words that the other person also uses, doesn’t equal plagiarism.” https://www.vice.com/en/article/xw75pj/pop-poet-rupi-kaur-isnt-worrying-about-being-unique

[5] https://www.thejuggernaut.com/opinion-its-too-easy-to-criticize-rupi-kaur

[6] I have never spent much time (or any time, really) trying to verify any “horror story” about Kiona’s past. As stated, I changed my opinion about her once I saw her do and say certain things with my own eyes. I do not condone trying to deplatform people based on gossip, but I do believe in deplatforming people once their own actions prove a rumor to be true. It is okay to be wary of people even if you like them, and it is okay to change your opinion about anything when confronted with evidence.

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Killing_of_Latasha_Harlins

[8] Obviously, there is nothing wrong with Black/Asian romance nor is there anything wrong with Black people choosing to do free labor for their Asian friends. What I am noting here is that Kiona’s history of using fetishizing language to discuss her interest in non-American, sometimes African-descended men combined with her history of hating yet emulating Black women leads me to believe that the dynamic between her and any Black individuals with whom she claims to be friends may be exploitative. I might be wrong.

[9] In an interview with Conscious City Guides, Kiona states that she has a Bachelors in Sports Medicine, Masters in Nutritional Epidemiology, Masters in Statistics and Data Sciences, and a Doctorate in Nutritional Sciences. https://consciouscityguides.com/the-journal/interview-with-kiona-of-how-not-to-travel-like-a-basic-btch/

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Ashley-Devon W.

Ashley-Devon W.

I am an anthropologist and poet, and humans are my favorite creatures. I use this platform to share my opinions on the complexity of the human experience.