by May 2, 2022 | Politics and Society
Ask “This” Taiwanese is an advice column dedicated to pesky and uncomfortable questions about Taiwan or about being Taiwanese. May’s question is from a reader in time for Taiwanese American Heritage Month.
Send us your questions in the form here: https://forms.gle/t4ddFbfqWKoRstn2A
Last year, six Asian women were murdered in the Atlanta spa shooting. As a Taiwanese American woman, the spa shooting really shook me. I felt deep grief and anxiety about my physical safety. I deeply care about Taiwan’s future, but when I see Taiwanese American media play up stereotypes about China, I am reminded of the spa shooting and I feel anxious that the media adds fuel to Americans’ prejudices against China, which are ultimately expressed as hate crimes against any East Asian. What does it look like to advocate for Taiwanese sovereignty without adding to the anti-China sentiment that ultimately harms us?
From a Taiwanese choosing between fighting against autocracy or racism
To a Taiwanese choosing between fighting against autocracy or racism,
Your question is a great one! So great we decided this is the one we will be answering for the Taiwanese American Heritage Month!
The shooting that you are remembering is one that touched upon both the history of race in America and the history of gender violence in the world. The wound that these murders reopened can be described as nothing less than a reawakened collective trauma. Being a Taiwanese American, you understand the minority experience in America. Being a woman, you know what sexualized violence is about. The intersectionality of race and gender issues is so vast, that we would encourage you and anyone reading this column to continue to explore writings on the question of race in America and the question of gender inequality in the world.
And as always, at Ask This Taiwanese, we are interested in the aspect of the answer that focuses on you as the human being processing these challenging situations. We sympathize with your worries that criticisms of China would encourage racism against people who look like us. But first, we must emphasize that being pro-Taiwan is not the same thing as anti-Chinese.
Pro-Taiwan does not mean anti-Chinese
There are many levels to this question, which many of us in the Taiwanese community are also asking. Just how do we advocate for Taiwan and criticize the Chinese Communist regime, without adding to anti-Chinese sentiment in the US?
Being critical of the Chinese government does NOT equal racism towards the Chinese people. We criticize the Saudi government for their treatment of women, and for their role in the murder and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but is that racism towards the Saudi people? We denounce Russian President Vladimir Putin for invading Ukraine and slaughtering Ukrainian women and children, but is that racism towards the Russian people? We decry the butchers of the Rwandan genocide, but is that racism towards the Hutus as a group? We fought Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in World War II, but is that racism towards the Germans or the Japanese peoples?
The examples go on and on. What makes the case with China different? The American left’s critique of American imperialism and distaste of American war abroad has created a lens through which many progressives see foreign affairs. From the Vietnam War and the 2003 Iraq War to our War on Terror in Afghanistan, the suspicion of involving ourselves in foreign conflicts runs deep. We tend to quickly blame the United States government for causing unnecessary conflict or to fabricate accusations against foreign states for selfish reasons like protectionism or enriching the defense industry.
So when the United States’ policy towards China shifted from friendly cooperation to competition, people were understandably skeptical. It didn’t help that the shift began during the presidency of Donald Trump, who constantly made racism the center of his policies. Regardless of how objectively legitimate the policies may be, they were tinted with a racist undertone from the start.
What’s worse, the Chinese Communist Party has taken advantage of the divisiveness in the US and co-opted the left’s critique of America against the United States—especially on race. The standard response to the Chinese government’s mass internment and genocide of Uyghurs, or the systematic erasure of the cultural heritage of Tibetans, is “what about how you Americans abused blacks and Native Americans?” The implication is since America has unclean hands, America doesn’t get to tell China what to do. China has even launched a case in the UN Human Rights Council against the US’s treatment of native peoples.
These are the forces contributing to a bizarre polarizing of positions: left-wing but pro-China, versus right-wing but anti-China (including pro-Taiwan).
We would argue that it actually makes little sense to think that we have to pick between the fight against racism or autocracy. We say it makes more sense to fight BOTH in order to support democratic values – especially when we often see that the racist point of view IS the attitude that supports autocracies.
Foreign policy does not cause racism, racism causes racism
Some supporters of Stop Asian Hate, looking at the world through this lens, believe that US policy is to blame for racism towards Asians.
We acknowledge that foreign policy and wars do in fact fuel racist attacks against minorities. WWII brought us the ugly history of the internment of Japanese Americans. The decades-long War on Terror spurred a generation of Americans suspicious of Islam and Arabs. We also acknowledge that foreign policy may be motivated by racism.
But racists will be racists. Foreign policy is just an excuse for racists to be racist. Even if we reverse our foreign policy, racism will not go away.
Back to the basics: Principles
It is possible to be critical of the Chinese government for reasons not based on animosity towards a race, but based on principle: democracy, human rights, and rule of law. It is possible to craft policies that address the abuses and aggressions of the Chinese Communist Party while treating the Chinese people (both in China and the US) with respect.
We would even argue that being critical of the Chinese Communist Party is very pro-Asian. In fact, no one has slaughtered and oppressed more Chinese people, not to mention ethnic minorities in China who are also Asian, than the Chinese Communist Party.
Using history too as an example – is the solution to Japanese internment during WWII to not fight Imperial Japan? We think it’s obvious that the answer is to fight Imperial Japan AND to not round up Japanese Americans. Yes, our policies have effects on racism in America, or may even be motivated by racism themselves. But the solution is to do what we believe is right as well as fight the underlying racism that would find any excuse to rear its ugly head.
The solution is to stand up against BOTH autocracy and racism.
Ultimately, the fight against autocracy and the fight against racism comes from the same place: our love and respect for fellow humans, whoever they may be or wherever they may live. They are not contradictory, but in fact consistent.
And in supporting democracy, human rights and the rule of law, we also have to focus inward and ask ourselves how we empower ourselves!
There are three great ways to find empowerment in these difficult situations.
First, speak up more or not self-censor. The solution is to speak up more and more often, especially if you see behaviors that are questionable from our own affinity group where you hold the power of influence.
In the same spirit, speaking up against the Chinese Communist Party and autocracy is not anti-Asian. It’s pretty important to note that Asian people in general and the Chinese Communist Party are not the same things.
Second, let’s not just be against anti-Asian hate. Let’s be pro-Asian! What could be more pro-Asian in attitude if not speaking up for your own heritage? We can’t think of anything else more pro-Asian than showing pride in your own identity. So we say not just push against injustice but also promote what you believe in!
Lastly, be the change you want. Sometimes, it is more about the truth we live by. We say get involved and stay involved by volunteering your time and talent at local chapters of various Taiwanese/Taiwanese American organizations you believe in! Here are links to some Taiwanese/Taiwanese American national organizations:
Formosan Association for Public Affairs
North America Taiwanese Women’s Association
Taiwanese Association of America
Taiwanese American Citizen League
As Grace Lee Boggs, an Asian American civil rights leader and thinker, said – “You cannot change any society unless you take responsibility for it, unless you see yourself belonging to it and responsible for changing it.”
As Taiwanese Americans, we are fortunate to have democratic principles reflected in our Taiwanese heritage. We can easily think of ourselves as a member of this continued legacy in our fight for democratic values. There is no better way to celebrate our Taiwanese and Asian heritage than to honor our own legacy as democracy fighters and civic warriors. So let’s get involved and stay involved!
To always up for fighting the good fight,
Ask This Taiwanese
(Feature photo by Victoria Pickering, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
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by May 2, 2022 | Politics and Society