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EDITORIAL: The Heart of Radical Movements Is Refusal To Accept The Status Quo

Updated: Dec 31, 2020

Artwork by Michelle Dong, staff artist

As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, politics are not just politics: they are our values, worldviews, and policies that can make or destroy people’s lives. Twenty-twenty has been a disastrous year, and I have been reassessing my relationships with others while educating myself. People take actions in different ways; I cannot measure how involved someone is with activism by looking at their social media. People that might not feel comfortable sharing on social media might be attending protests, signing petitions, making calls, and donating. The only way to evaluate someone’s stand is to have a civil, honest conversation with them. Additionally, the personalized discussion is often more productive than surface-level callout on Twitter or Instagram.

In “Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements,” Charlene Carruthers declares, “We are called radical, with the connotation of irrationality, something to be feared, because we demand a world without police and prisons.” Coming from a culture with a history of colonialism, queerphobia, and anti-black racism, my mother always called me “radical.” The original meaning of “radical” is “grasping the root.” As someone with a rudimentary experience in archaeology, I understand the importance of cutting off the roots that inhibit you from discoveries. We must not be satisfied with the issues on the surface but dig deeper into the roots of the problems.

Carruthers also discusses how identities shape our concepts and perspectives on the movement. As a transgender young adult whose joy were stolen due to the lack of healthcare resources and discriminations, I dream of a world where kids like me will not go through what I went through and will be embraced and supported as individuals regardless of their transness or gender expression. This is the reason I frequently bring up my trans identity in editorials despite my insecurity and “well-meaning” allies advising me to “stop writing about being trans.” 

My mother also told me that “this is just the way the world works” and “you’re too naive” when I protested that living openly as a transgender person shouldn’t prevent me from getting a job or not being murdered, when I explained that Black people struggling with poverty aren’t “just lazy” and “living on welfare,” when I attempted to illustrate the prison industrial complex and begged her to reflect on our own prejudices. 

My parents’ attitude -- and the attitudes of so many other minorities in America -- is deeply rooted in ethnic racism, as Ibram X. Kendi talks about in Chapter 5 of How To Be Anti-Racist. Ethnic racism creates a “racial-ethnic hierarchy, a ladder of ethnic racism within the larger schema of racism.” Minority groups recycle the racist ideas white people created against other minority groups. The model minority myth that many Asian Americans take pride in is part of ethnic racism. “With ethnic racism, no one wins, except the racist power at the top.”

“...Racist ideas we consume about others came from the same restaurant and the smae cook who used the same ingredients to make different degrading dishes for us all.” During the early years of high school, I held -- and probably still do -- lots of internalized racism against my people. I frowned upon other international students who struggled to learn English or talk in their native language, disdained the Asian students who only hang out with other Asian people (the segregation of international and non-international students is a problem, but that’s for another article) and took pride in not conforming the Asian stereotype by loving humanities over STEM and eating American food. Meanwhile, I was also terrified of being judged by other Chinese people, of being called a “banana,” or accused that I have betrayed my culture. 

There were two wolves in my head: one telling me that I’m too white, one telling me that I’m not white enough. The “dueling consciousness” I experienced is largely due to the fact that American culture is built on white/Eurocentric culture, especially since I went to a rich and predominantly white private high school in rural Missouri. In my heart, I was not torn between two cultures because I’m just being me. I am neither culturally Chinese or American despite what my passport says because I’m a lot of both. 

When I first started to question my gender and during the early stage of my transition, I held lots of prejudices against my fellow trans siblings. I believe that you need (a certain amount of) dysphoria to be trans, that you have to transition medically if possible, and that you have to make an effort to “pass” as the gender you are (the irony being that I am now extremely gender non-conforming). The internalized transphobia came from the media I (consciously and unconsciously) consume and the desire to fit in the cisnormative society.

I sincerely apologize for the many prejudices I held and still do. I love my fellow Asian and transgender siblings wholeheartedly, and anyone who tells me to diminish my passion fails to recognize that to limit our imagination also restricts the possibilities of changes. I still have racist, misogynistic, and queerphobic thoughts. We are all in a process of unlearning; this is a lifelong journey I willingly commit myself to.

The phrases “this is the way it is” taught by parents and society started when I was young, as soon as I started forming my own ideas. They tried to talk to me into acceptance, perhaps as a form of protection from the cruelty of the world. When high school came, I was almost convinced to resign. I thought of it as part of growing up. That acceptance of the world as it is would be the mature and pragmatic thing to do.

As you can see, I was wrong. In a sense, I was grateful for my body. My body is too yellow to blend in my 93% white town. Too queer to hide under the “normal,” casual American clothes my classmates wear. Too trans to be invisible in an environment that refuses to acknowledge my existence. Too small so I have to make my voice louder to be heard. White moderates see radicalization as a digression, or even a division from our collective movement, but it is the opposite. We can only operate productively as a community while diving into the root causes of our systemic issues and not only including but centering the voices of the most marginalized people. The refusal to accept the status quo helps us to move towards real changes. My experience radicalized me, and I was grateful for that.

Resignation is not a sign of maturity; it simply indicates that you have stopped dreaming. Whether you believe that we are personally responsible for leaving the world in a better state than we entered it, we should be motivated to acknowledge how our system oppresses all of us cumulatively and resist. I am allowed to dream of a better future. I allow myself to dream of a better future. 

Everyone has a reason that drives or motivates them to activism. We all have subject matters that hold close to us: to save the planet for our future generations, to unite the human race instead of divide it, to allow the kids to live regardless of their religion, gender, or sexuality. It’s crucial to recognize that it is not the marginalized groups versus the more privileged groups but everyone suffers under patriarchy, white supremacy, and capitalism. It’s not us versus them; we’re all fighting a common enemy. If you’re actively or passively participating in an oppressive system, you are supporting policies that harm your and your loved ones’ interests because no one truly benefits from the system except the very few in power.

Of course, only dreaming doesn’t achieve the goal. We have to make changes happen. We have to integrate activism into our daily lives and make it a habit. It goes farther than posting black squares on Instagram: it means adding “sign petitions,” “donate,” and “read books to educate yourself” to our planners and following through.

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