#NotYourAsianSidekick Is Great. Now Can We Get Some Real Social Change?

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It began with a single tweet, posted by 23-year-old freelance writer and organizer Suey Park, that said: “Be warned. Tomorrow morning we will be have a convo about Asian American Feminism with hashtag #NotYourAsianSidekick. Spread the word!!!!!!!” Within hours, #NotYourAsianSidekick had grown into a torrent of Twitter posts by Asian-American women sharing their frustrations and even rage over a society that patronizes them and a feminist movement that renders them invisible. For days, Asian-American feminists, myself included, felt like we were witnessing something extraordinary unfold. It all seemed like the birth of a crusade — stickers now included.

(MORE: Kids Say the Most Divisive Things: Asian Americans Protest Jimmy Kimmel)

Led by Park, who tweeted, “#NotYourAsianSidekick because I’d rather base build with fellow Asian Americans than rely on allies, who have a history of being absent,” thousands of feminists similarly gave an online middle finger to those that reject them, namely patriarchal Asian-American spaces and white feminists. What pierced through the tweets was a broad slam around the silence from non-Asian feminists around our causes. Case in point: the only harsh critiques I saw around Katy Perry’s yellowface were by Asian-American journalists and bloggers, whereas Julianne Hough’s blackface Halloween costume was roundly denounced. We’re living in a world where the stereotype of Asians as the “model minority” — so retro yet still ubiquitous — allows people to tell me, point-blank, that Asian women don’t experience poverty or domestic violence. So of course, I want to tweet that exact sentiment.

But in conversations about #NotYourAsianSidekick, two seemingly conflicting facts stand out. The first is that a global movement around Asian-American feminism has been ignited. The second is that this movement is more than several decades old. Asian-American feminists have been battling these issues for generations, activist scholar Mari Matsuda tweeted yesterday: “We theorized #NotYourAsianSidekick ideas since the 70’s but kids gotta learn it from a damn hashtag. Still no Asian Am Studies at most U’s.” Matsuda, who like Yuri Kochiyama and Grace Lee Boggs, has a strong history of activism — actual picketing and taking to the streets — and her point was a good one. One of the reasons we are marginalized is because battles hard-fought by activists like Matsuda are undernourished.

The Internet is fast and far-reaching and Twitter alone has hosted some of the most fascinating conversations on race and gender this year. I’m all about not being your Asian sidekick — I support and applaud the platform — but can we please move from digital activism to social change? As Reappropriate, an Asian-American blog pointed out, “#NotYourAsianSidekick demonstrates that our ideas as Asian American feminists are out there, under the surface, waiting to be heard. But #NotYourAsianSidekick also proves that Twitter is the wrong place to have this conversation. 140 characters isn’t enough to express a lifetime of experiences — both oppressive and uplifting — and to be able to do it in a place where it can be heard and taken seriously.”

It’s true that the multiple movements of decades past — which included feminists, civil rights activists and Asian-American activism — left behind some issues that perhaps led to this place, where a group of mostly younger Asian-American women have found a moment of remarkable solidarity in 140 words or less. But it is also fitting that according to its website, #NotYourAsianSidekick has plans to take this beyond Twitter. It has to. An ephemeral platform like the Internet — though it may feel cathartic — is not always terribly productive.

Ma is a writer, journalist and editor. She is the former editor-in-chief of KoreAm, an indie monthly for which she earned the national New America Media Award for Best In-Depth and Investigative Reporting for her feature story on gay marriage and the Asian-American vote. The views expressed are solely her own. You can follow her on @kai_ma.

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12 comments
RebeccaZhou
RebeccaZhou

Thanks for putting a Getty image of a stereotypical Asian empowered female instead of an actual picture of Suey Park. That's very "fitting" for the article

shirleymayatan
shirleymayatan

I think it is encouraging and refreshing to bring forth issues for discussions or conversations. It widens our understanding as well as deepen our perspectives. As long as we seek to understand an issue in a better light, we seek to learn. Peace :)

Eastfist
Eastfist

Irony: article posted on Internet stating that Internet isn't productive. Yet, this is where article will get its most exposure.

GreenFields
GreenFields

I understand anger over performers acting out stereotypes and your calling that "Yellow face" but how do you determine when it's offensive for a "white" person to wear prints, styles and hairpieces from Asian artists? Or African fabrics, American Indian prints and imagery that's been approved by tribal representatives? Who are you, to declare your authority on my family's ancestry, just by looking at my face and the color of my skin? As a result of my Eastern and Northern European heritage, coupled with American Indian ancestry, I have unusual, almond shaped eyes for a "white" girl. If I stick a Japanese comb in my hair or wear a Chinese print, does that mean I'm doing "yellow face" and trying to be a "fake" Asian person?


Support for fixing the under-representation of female, Asian-American power, self-realization and personality diversity in our culture? That, I can get behind. Pretending that every time a "white" American -- people who could have a mix of ancestral ethnicity, that spans The Globe -- wears Eastern prints and styles, that they performing "yellow face" is unnecessarily divisive. America is a melting pot. Obsession with classifying us into breeds, with exclusive privileges of expression granted to each one, is precisely what The USA is not supposed to be about.

Vonni
Vonni

Really love your article, it was kind of an eye opener for me. I plan on following this one, and hopefully have an active part in the outcome of this situation........

Twyla
Twyla

Twitter isn't "the wrong place" but it shouldn't be the only place.

wangyutzu
wangyutzu

wow ,it is always good to see some people are seriously doing something big. But I am kind of miss the topic, what are the issue they are fight of?What is the goal?Or is this movement some kind of party for complainer? If the purpose be clear made then maybe there will be more people want to support this. 

BurtAllen
BurtAllen

I wish you luck, because frankly, many white women are sexually threatened by "Asian" women. There, I said it. It's a gross overgeneralization with many exceptions, but it fairly describes an extra-conscious motif as real as the sexual threat white men are perceived to feel about black men. It really does happen, by instinct, against the better reason of the actor. It's wrong, it's racist, it's sexist, it's dehumanizing -- but it is viscerally tangible in the real world and it's not going away before everyone on the planet has the same skin color, height, ambition level, sexual attractiveness, earning power, etc. etc.

People have ideas about unknown-other groups of people, and they begin by generalizing. It's easiest to do, and so it's done. A large swath of  the general public perceives, perhaps wrongly, that Asian women are high achievers, sexually desirable kow-towers or Dragon Ladies. Since every "category of person" is thus characterized, I don't really know how bad it is to be characterized as possessing generally positive attributes. It may be very bad indeed, partially because it doesn't lend well to empathy for a cause which relies on the claim that this positive characterization is a form of oppression.

In short, Asian-American-Feminist-NotSidekick thingy should be received by white feminists nearly as well as Fight Against Oppression of the White Male. It's unfair, but you'll still earn more money than they, and you'll have 90% of white males on your side. That's unfair, too, so again, good luck.

Lolaposen
Lolaposen

@BurtAllen  "don't really know how bad it is to be characterized as possessing generally positive attributes." 


To this I would respond with a quote written by an (Asian male!) writer: "There are two ways to dehumanize people: by dismiss them or by putting them on a pedestal."


The early feminist movement was (and still is, to some extent) hampered by the argument that social stereotypes of women as fundamental caregivers, arbiters of morality, upholders of purity, etc. etc. benefitted women. People saw those kinds of stereotypes as positives, not as sexist constraints. We know today that these views are antiquated and hurtful, so I don't understand why people can't make the same connection with these so-called "positive stereotypes" of Asian women. 1. They're not true, and it hurts women who can't or simply don't live up to these norms—poverty levels are actually rising in Southeast Asian populations in the U.S., for instance, and many are obviously not, as ridiculous as it feels to actually have to say this--geishas or math geniuses or Tiger Mothers. 2. They invite a fetishizing gaze from men, and the end result of objectification is always dominance and control, not liberation or promotion. 3. It tells Asian women that their worth is tied to some preconceived notion of them. 4. It makes it more difficult, as you pointed out, for women experiencing abuse and marginalization to make their voices heard and taken seriously. Case in point: one of the most vehemently racist attacks on that hashtag I saw on Twitter came from a black self-proclaimed feminist. 

RochelleSpencer
RochelleSpencer

I think the important words in your last statement are "self-proclaimed." I don't think one can be  a feminist and be anti-woman, no matter what the woman's color. Thank you for sharing this comment. It gives me a lot to think about in terms of the complexity of intersectionality @Lolaposen