By now, most Chinese Americans have seen Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn’s anti-Chinese tweet and reckoned with the 24,400 retweets endorsing the idea that “China has a 5,000 year history of cheating and stealing.”
I want to commend the Chinese Americans who have organized against Senator Blackburn’s blatant racism. On Wednesday, December 9th, Chinese Americans held a protest in Washington D.C. and a second protest was planned for Saturday, December 12th, in Nashville, Tennessee.
Haipei Shue, president of the Chinese American Federation, spoke at the protests in Washington on December 9, 2020. Photo by《北美新视界》.
The Tennessee American-Chinese Alliance (TCAA) held a protest at the Legislative Plaza in Nashville on December 12, 2020. Photo by LiZhen for ChineseAmerican.org.
From afar, petitions, letters, calls, and emails from rightfully angry Chinese Americans continue to pour into Senator Blackburn’s office. Their demands range from a formal apology to censuring Senator Blackburn. For the aunties and uncles who are mobilizing—加油！
Washington D.C protests on December 9, 2020. Photo by《北美新视界》.
But Senator Blackburn’s Twitter is a small symptom of the cancerous problem facing all diasporic people of Chinese descent. Exacerbated by COVID-19, anti-Asian hate crimes and bias are at their worst in decades. Politicians across the world are fueling anti-Chinese sentiments as countries navigate worsening geopolitical tensions with China.
In the United States, anti-Chinese rhetoric and concrete policies are predominantly—but not singularly—perpetuated by Republican politicians like Senator Blackburn. These events raise important questions about who Chinese Americans can seek support from and what causes we can ally ourselves with.
Regarding Wednesday’s protest, the chairman of United Chinese Americans commented on why he believes Chinese Americans are organizing now. “We felt safe, always the model minority…” said Cai JinLiang, “Now we’ve become a target because of these difficult bilateral relations. All of a sudden we become collateral damage.”
Respectfully, I disagree with Chairman Cai. It is not “all of a sudden” that Chinese Americans have become “collateral damage” in this country. History—both recent and distant—shows us that no matter how many contributions that Chinese Americans make to the national economy, public life, and culture, this country will deny us our dignity and full inclusion into society.
As one WeChat Project member once wrote, “Chinese American success can always be taken away when it becomes politically and/or economically advantageous for this country to do so.” In anticipation of worsening U.S.-China relations, it will be futile to urge our American neighbors to distinguish between the Chinese government and people of Chinese heritage. Auntie and uncle, it is pointless to say: “We are American” “We work hard,” “We pay taxes,” “We don’t cause trouble,” “We don’t protest”—“We don’t cheat,” “We don’t steal.”
We cannot settle for our dignity on any of these conditions. Freedom on condition is not freedom at all. So when we condemn Senator Blackburn’s racism we must condemn it without qualification. We must condemn the anti-Black, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric of her colleagues—and of our neighbors.
In looking for allies, Chinese Americans can seek support in other marginalized communities organizing for freedom without condition. Indeed, we already have. The legacy of the American Civil Rights movement is what informs our ability to write petitions against Senator Blackburn, call politicians, organize local protests, and freely discuss online and in person. These tactics were made familiar to so many of us during this summer’s ongoing fight for Black lives.
It is our responsibility to ally “with those on the bottom, on the margins, and at the periphery of the centers of power,” as stated by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, professor of African American Studies at Princeton University, a Pulitzer finalist and activist. Only then can all our humanity be unconditional.
Contributing editing from Jing Liu and Yifeng Hu