academia, Race/Ethnicity

DH2020 and Asian American DH in the age of Coronavirus and the Movement for Black Lives

This past week, I was supposed to be in Ottawa, Canada, on the traditional unceded land of the Kitchissippi Omàmiwininì Anishinabeg, or Algonquin Peoples, with a handful of my colleagues for the DH 2020 conference. But as with most things, plans changed with the emergence and proliferation of COVID-19. For Asians and Asian Americans, this has been an especially fraught and difficult time, as we’ve been navigating changes to our personal and professional circumstances at a moment of increasing anti-Asian racism. I can’t recall now, off the top of my head, how many trainings or webinars or dialogues I attended or participated in about bystander intervention, de-escalation tactics, and safety for APIDA (Asian Pacific-Islander Desi American) folx.

And then these spaces took on a different urgency after the murder of George Floyd. What had initially been spaces of solidarity and healing for Asian Americans in the early months of coronavirus became even more challenging when we had turn our questions and analyses back on our selves and our communities to examine our complicity in anti-Blackness and white supremacy.

All this is to say that as the time for DH2020 rolled around, after all the

work disruptions,

care difficulties,

demonstrations and protests,

attacks on our international students,

and the anxiety comes from knowing what is to come or how to prepare for it,

we were just so damn tired.

We wanted to host a virtual forum. We wanted to do something. But we were exhausted. Emotionally, physically, temporally. So, at the last minute, we put together a statement. Many thanks to Setsuko, for taking the lead on much of this work at a very difficult time, to Dhanashree and Arun for helping to revise our statement, and Amerdeep for his ongoing support.

Although we can’t be there sharing space and time with y’all, we are wishing you well and hope that you are also taking this opportunity to learn, and grow, and act to protect Black and Brown lives, and to ensure Black liberation and Black futures.

Below, I’ll post our original proposal and our statement.

Asian American DH: Building Radical Communities through Justice-Oriented Praxis

This forum brings together Asian Americanist faculty, librarians, and students to unpack and frame research, pedagogy, and praxis in both digital humanities and Asian American studies: What does Asian/Am DH look like? What form might a community of practice in Asian/Am DH take? How best can we support Asian Americanists, whose field is historically grounded in community organizing and activism, in applying DH methods to their scholarship? As we address these questions, we will foreground how Asian/Am DH, like other ethnic studies informed DH praxis, centers concerns of race, social justice, transnationalism, and community. In the ethos of public digital humanities, one of the conference themes for DH2020, this forum emphasizes inclusion, care, community, and anti-racist collaboration.

Anne Cong-Huyen, University of Michigan
Dhanashree Thorat, Mississippi State University
Setsuko Yokoyama, University of Maryland
Arun Jacob, University of Toronto
Amardeep Singh, Lehigh University

Statement from Asian American DH Forum Hosts

A lot has changed since October 2019 when we put together the Asian American DH Forum to discuss building radical communities through justice-oriented praxis. As COVID-19 cases started to emerge in the United States in February 2020, the White House started blaming the People’s Republic of China for the global pandemic, and such false accusations led to the surge in hate crimes against Asians and Asian Americans in the U.S. Even being challenged by journalists about the consequences of such racist remarks, the President continues to willfully refer to the virus with various xenophobic terms including “Kung Flu” or “Chinese Virus” to divert the public attention from his dire mismanagement of this public health crisis.

Just as the current administration’s rhetorics around the pandemic has incited the legacy of racialization that has long marked Asian Americans as the Yellow Peril and perpetual “foreigners,” COVID-19 has also exacerbated the existing inequities bolstered by centuries-old systemic racism in the U.S. To date, COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted the lives of Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities, as many work as frontline workers, rely on public transportations, suffer from housing insecurity, and lack basic social infrastructural needs such as access to clean running water and affordable health care. Meanwhile, rightwing militia groups brandished assault rifles on as they gathered to protest their state’s order to shelter in place, a policy designed to collectively curve the infection rates. This was April 30th.

While ignoring the gun-bearing protestors refusing to quarantine or to wear masks in public, the police have continued to inflict violence upon Black lives. On May 25, 2020, a white police officer named Derek Michael Chauvin murdered George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN, by keeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. The killing of Floyd came after the killing of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor and many others before them at the hand of police and other state-sanctioned vigilantes. Such a heinous act of Floyd’s killing captured on video and widely circulated on the Internet sparked public outrage. For Asian American communities, it was especially appalling to witness Tou Thao, an Asian American police officer, standing guard while Floyd suffocated for air. The moment woefully encapsulated how white supremacy has assured itself by pitting BIPOC communities against one another, and that anti-Blackness within Asian American communities must be dismantled.

The Black Lives Matter movement that saw a myriad of street protestors demanding immediate justice for Black communities has now turned into an abolitionist movement: to end excessive policing; to replace the police with community social services equipped to respond to the public health crisis; and to terminate the mass incarceration which disenfranchises Black Americans and sustains capitalism run on their prison labor. 

While the call for “care not cages” has mobilized activists and allies to work towards abolition, however, ICE announced a new guideline on July 6th with its plan to deport international college students unless students attend in-person courses in Fall 2020. Like the police, ICE shows no regard for human life, as it has terrorized undocumented students on university campuses as they actively keep immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers in crowded cages, even in times of COVID-19. This latest attempt of the xenophobic policy was meant to target a particular group of Chinese students as a political stunt, but it echoes the exclusionary anti-Chinese immigration policies of the 19th century and which take on new life in the age of coronavirus. Attacking international students allows the White House to demonstrate its misguided commitment to the “America First” ideology that blames immigrants for historic high rates of unemployment–just as the same administration tried to justify dismantling of the DACA program in the past–and claim COVID-19 as biological warfare fabricated by a foreign nation. These actions on the part of this administration all act as diversions, drawing attention away from the fact that the current administration’s mismanagement of the public health crisis led us all here in the first place.

In a moment of heightened anti-Black and anti-Asian racism, our commitment to building radical communities through justice-oriented praxis is of vital importance. It could not have been more timely for us to engage in discussions with scholars, teachers, and activists in the field of digital humanities to forge our way forward by reintroducing Asian Americanists who have been doing the work that is attuned to ethnic and critical race studies. Asian American studies emerged out of and remain committed to Afro-Asian solidarity, and continue to work against U.S. imperialism and white supremacy in all forms. 

At the same time, the constant assault from the racist White House coupled with the new normal of working and homeschooling in quarantine has been draining. We are tired. We have therefore decided to prioritize our wellbeing and community care over academic productivity, which has long tasked BIPOC communities with emotionally taxing labor to address prolonged injustice in the U.S. and in our institutions without the necessary support.

Although we cannot engage in these dialogues with you in-person, we share this statement with our larger DH community with the added heartfelt wish that you all remain safe and well. We also hope that you take this time to reflect on your own positionality, your own actions, your own complicity, and consider ways that you can work towards racial justice. 

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