I “am”

It is a privilege that I only first experienced overt, daily racism from walking down the street because of my Asian skin due to COVID-19.

I (currently) do not walk outside with as much fear as I did in March, April, and early May. I am not completely stressed by the idea of running errands alone, nor do not feel like I need to have my two medium-sized dogs with me when I am out. The fear still exists, but I suppose not quite at the same level. Now I can, with privilege, negotiate what is more terrifying again: COVID-19 or anti-Asianness.

Don’t get me wrong – anti-Asian sentiment is still unfortunately alive and well in the “United” States. I am reminded by it whenever I see the “kung-flu” headline that seems to keep resurfacing in tweets, public statements, “news” reports, and presidential rallies. The videos of the Asian woman who was burned with acid outside her home in Brooklyn, NYC and the elderly Asian man being attacked in San Francisco will forever be stamped in my mind. And so many more. I will never unsee the horrors of this reality.

Then the end of May came with white womxn weaponizing Blackness, Black lives continuing to be killed on American screens with the world’s eyes watching, and very literally, NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE. 

As AAPI month came to an end, solidarity with Black folx was of necessary and immediate urgency. I almost laughed at all my own “issues” I’ve had the past few months because really, my personal confrontations with racism felt like uncooked pieces of rice in a larger bowl of atrocity noodle soup.

I am an Asian American music educator teaching Black and Brown children in New York City. I’ve founded the music program at my school. I’ve seen my children grow up. But most importantly, I will never truly understand what it means to be a Black and/or Brown person. Never. I also know that for some readers, racist judgements (#urban #titleone #poor #lowincome #badneighborhood #unsafe #achievementgap are a few) were made upon reading the first sentence because you are already trying to envision who I am, and who my kids are. I’m no savior. I refuse to be, and I will never be.

My elementary school students and I talked about the anti-Asian hate openly. My students didn’t understand why it was happening, but yet, some blamed the bats that people supposedly ate. As the only Asian-identifying educator in their schooling thus far, I constantly feel the responsibility to share who I am and my AAPI identity with my kids. “I do not eat bats”, I shared, “and not everything you see or read may be true”. 

After the killing of George Floyd amongst many others, my first 8:00AM Orchestra class online included the following questions and statements from students:

“Sometimes I wonder do white people even think that we are human beings just like them.”

“Being Black is not a crime!!!”

“This is sad, frustrating.”

“Stop killing Black people for no reason!”

“I want racism to stop affecting the community.”

“Stop thinking people with different skin are a threat.”

This was not a time for me to teach them ANYTHING about “Orchestra”. These statements didn’t just last for that hour. They came up again and again in the days and weeks afterwards, all the way through the end of the school year. I was and continue to be the learner because We Obtain Knowledge Everyday.

The thoughts don’t disappear from children’s minds over the summer as the world keeps spinning. Because of that fact alone, I also must continue to learn and unlearn without placing burden on my children or Black and Brown people. This learning and unlearning is non-negotiable.

Simultaneously, I saw the growing divide amongst AAPI folx who believed only in supporting Asian American heritage and culture, but not standing up for justice when Black murders were in their faces. I saw the hatred spewed at Blackness because of the model minority MYTH without the understanding that the model minority myth has privileged Asian Americans and is rooted in anti-Blackness. I saw the monolith of being Asian eviscerated by the actions of Asian-identifying people, but pitted against us when convenient. I saw debates on the centering of Asian people and Asianness in “Asians for Black Lives” (also known as Asians 4 Black Lives) or “Yellow Peril for Black Power“. I saw, and I see – because all of this is still continuing.

I then saw a post about how music educators should not use chopsticks in the classroom, but then edited to name why it is okay if for economically friendly reasons in an age of budget cuts and COVID-19. I wrote this response two days ago.

Thousands of comments in the past 48 hours reminded me that I “am”:

  • An Asian American educator in a field filled with white people
  • An Asian American music educator in a field filled with white people
  • An Asian American music educator in a field that is filled with white rhetoric
  • An Asian American music educator in a field that is filled with whiteness in positions of power
  • An Asian American music educator who is just one opinion
  • An Asian American music educator whose tone was too harsh
  • An Asian American music educator who is starting drama
  • An Asian American music educator who does not have the authority to speak for the Asian population
  • An Asian American music educator who is less Asian because I am born in America
  • An Asian American music educator who has questionable understandings of Asianness
  • An Asian American music educator who should not be trusted to speak for any and/or all Asian people
  • An Asian American music educator who is more Asian because I am of East Asian descent
  • An Asian American music educator who is not American
  • An Asian American music educator who seeks to divide and polarize the community
  • An Asian American music educator who does not understand cut budgets
  • An Asian American music educator who does not understand the tough schools and situations of fellow music educators
  • An Asian American music educator who needs to understand what being resourceful looks like
  • An Asian American music educator who needs to explain further why
  • An Asian American music educator who is just ranting
  • An Asian American music educator who is not trying to understand any other viewpoints besides her own
  • An Asian American music educator who is making a big deal out of nothing
  • An Asian American music educator who is making a big deal out of a little issue
  • An Asian American music educator who is wrong because other Asian people don’t feel the same way
  • An Asian American music educator who is wrong because Asian children do not feel the same way
  • An Asian American music educator who is wrong because Asian educators do not feel the same way
  • An Asian American music educator who is off-putting because she added her Venmo at the end.
  • An Asian American music educator who should feel honored to educate about her culture
  • An Asian American music educator who should just further define and explain for free
  • An Asian American music educator who should not demand compensation for cultural explanation
  • An Asian American music educator who does not know what she is talking about
  • An Asian American music educator whose words go against the other Asian people consulted in this work
  • An Asian American music educator who is diminished by other Asian educators who took the time to write lengthy explanations or dropped Google-able links for others
  • An Asian American music educator who should have wanted to educate instead of lecture
  • An Asian American music educator who is not credited for a work until a white person explains their journey of understanding
  • An Asian American music educator who made people wish they knew earlier so that they did not buy the chopsticks in bulk in the first place
  • An Asian American music educator who did not consider that children play with forks and spoons
  • An Asian American music educator who is silly for thinking this
  • An Asian American music educator who should not be an educator
  • An Asian American music educator who should change her mind upon seeing video footage of Asian kids using chopsticks in this way
  • An Asian American music educator who is not the original cultural bearer of being Asian
  • An Asian American music educator who is too far removed from Asianness and Asian history to have an authority on this
  • An Asian American music educator who isn’t Black so DMs are warranted
  • An Asian American music educator who does not understand the plight of other Asian children 
  • An Asian American music educator who is dismissable so just keep scrolling along in your feeds
  • An Asian American music educator who is being called racist
  • An Asian American music educator who is accused of enacting cancel culture
  • An Asian American music educator who is dismissive
  • An Asian American music educator who is educating for clout
  • An Asian American music educator whose lived experiences are not enough
  • An Asian American music educator who must cite credible sources
  • An Asian American music educator who should have spoken in a kinder, friendlier tone
  • An Asian American music educator who must be kidding
  • An Asian American music educator whose advice is not applicable to white students
  • An Asian American music educator whose advice is not applicable to Black students
  • An Asian American music educator whose advice is not applicable to Asian students
  • An Asian American music educator who is confusing white teachers because Asian teachers are arguing
  • An Asian American music educator who is confusing Asian teachers because Asian teachers are arguing
  • An Asian American music educator who does not have the right to speak for other teachers nor other students
  • An Asian American music educator who is harming teachers from making the best possible decisions
  • An Asian American music educator who should educate with chopsticks if necessary
  • An Asian American music educator who needs to focus on the bigger issues at hand like Black Lives Matter
  • An Asian American music educator who had DMs from fellow Asian people who shared traumatic experiences from this happening to them as children
  • An Asian American music educator who had DMs from non-Asian people who shared traumatic experiences from doing this in class
  • An Asian American music educator who had DMs from fellow educators who already did this in class and deemed it to be unharmful
  • An Asian American music educator who should not use CAPS LOCK
  • An Asian American music educator who should suggest pencils to solve the problem
  • An Asian American music educator who provided no solutions
  • An Asian American music educator who led people to her personal Facebook to argue
  • An Asian American music educator who dragged people into a mess
  • An Asian American music educator who must explain more
  • An Asian American music educator who must answer people’s questions
  • An Asian American music educator who should have just suggested dowel rods
  • An Asian American music educator who should not block people from sharing their ideas on her personal Facebook page
  • An Asian American music educator who is just the OP
  • An Asian American music educator whose name misspelling is okay because of an accident, autocorrect, and/or slip of the hand
  • An Asian American music educator who needs to spread joy and love
  • An Asian American music educator who needs to explain what Google is free means
  • An Asian American music educator who already has the freedom of speech
  • An Asian American music educator who is already lucky to be in this American nation
  • An Asian American music educator who is taking it too far
  • An Asian American music educator who needs to show more empathy
  • An Asian American music educator who doesn’t understand oppression
  • An Asian American music educator who needs to be silenced
  • An Asian American music educator who needs to turn the comments off
  • An Asian American music educator who needs to be told what is right and what is wrong
  • An Asian American music educator who needs to hold herself accountable for this
  • An Asian American music educator who needs to remove her Venmo at the end
  • An Asian American music educator who needs to stop this
  • An Asian American music educator who needs to moderate the conversation
  • An Asian American music educator who needs to be more open-minded
  • An Asian American music educator who does not understand appropriation
  • An Asian American music educator who is not being culturally appropriated
  • An Asian American music educator who needs to explain what makes something sacred or not
  • An Asian American music educator who has fellow Asian people doing a better job explaining
  • An Asian American music educator who has fellow Asian people whose words can be more trusted than hers
  • An Asian American music educator who must poll the parents to ask if it is okay to use chopsticks in the music classroom
  • An Asian American music educator who must consider the larger majority
  • An Asian American music educator who should not speak for other Asian people
  • An Asian American music educator who does not speak for the one Asian child in the school, nor for the thousands of Asian children in other schools
  • An Asian American music educator who is benefitting from this
  • An Asian American music educator who is just a liberal
  • An Asian American music educator who is just showing her performative wokeness
  • An Asian American music educator who does not understand her family history
  • An Asian American music educator who is too removed from her cultural roots
  • An Asian American music educator who should understand why her parents are in America
  • An Asian American music educator who should understand why her parents get to be in America
  • An Asian American music educator whose profile picture shows her hiding
  • An Asian American music educator who needs her friends to gang up on white people
  • An Asian American music educator who does not understand what decolonizing work is
  • An Asian American music educator who is upsetting too many educators
  • An Asian American music educator whose discussion does not belong in music education groups because this is not related
  • An Asian American music educator whose voice has been silenced in many music education groups
  • An Asian American music educator who should not make people feel discomfort
  • An Asian American music educator whose words have been unapproved by music education groups
  • An Asian American music educator whose words needed to be curtailed when people reported me
  • An Asian American music educator whose words needed to be stopped because moderators got nonstop reports about it
  • An Asian American music educator whose words do not belong
  • An Asian American music educator who just wanted to write an angry manifesto
  • An Asian American music educator who should give more context
  • An Asian American music educator who must apologize
  • An Asian American music educator who should know better because of her culture
  • An Asian American music educator who should be quiet because she is Asian
  • An Asian American music educator who does not have the right to be angry
  • An Asian American music educator who has enough freedoms
  • An Asian American music educator who should leave
  • An Asian American music educator whose words are not enough

None of what I “am” is new. For every word I have put into what I originally posted, there are multiple multiplications of A.N.T.I.(which I have personally defined as Actively Negotiating Thinking Internally)-racism happening within my brain. For every reaction statement of the thousands made, there have been truly an infinite number of times in my life I have heard this. I, who I am and/or what I say, is never enough in our racist, white supremacist, colonized, and thirsty-for-abolition world. 

I think of Christopher Mena, who shared about his racially occupied mind:

These daily negotiations have my ROM (racially occupied mind) working in overdrive as I boot up my brain for the next opportunity to make a contribution to conversations pertaining to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) being had by white scholars “in the tent.” I want to be firm, but not angry. I want to value other voices and honor their intersecting oppressions, but also have my perspective validated. Unfortunately, it is too often that I am left feeling like I have to apologize for my words rattling the fragile white veneer that covers the walls built to house my brown voice. (Mena, 2020). 

I am an Asian American music educator teaching Black and Brown children in New York City. I have a racially occupied mind, that does not get to choose when it goes into overdrive or not. I will always be seen as Asian American before I am heard as a music educator. I will always be seen as Asian American before I tell you that I am a born and bred New Yorker. I will always be seen as Asian American before you listen to my Black and Brown students. I will always be seen as Asian American after the trend and black squares of racism pervades like the invisible veil through which you see me. 

I am not defined by the I “am”. 

I have the privilege of breathing who I AM.

I am an Asian American.
I am unafraid.
I have the power of my voice.
I will amplify my own voice.
I will amplify my students’ voices
I matter.
I am, have, and will all of the above and more, simultaneously.

What will you say to her?

What will you say to her?

What will you say to her?

What will you say to her?

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