Piece 36: Know My Name

Peace by Piece

This post is part of a year-long series. If my work is helpful for you, consider a contribution through Venmo to support this crucial work of unlearning racial bias.

This week’s piece will diverge from my normal focus on antiblack bias and racism to focus instead on the recent hate crime perpetrated against the Asian American & Pacific Islander community.

I won’t name the murderer, a young white man connected with the Southern Baptist Church, who claimed the reason for his terroristic rampage across several counties in Georgia, was a sex addiction that necessitated eliminating “temptation.”

Eight candles: one for each person who was killed Tuesday
Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

Instead, I want to focus on the tragedy this killer wrought upon the families of Soon Chung (Julie) Park – age 74, Suncha Kim – age 69, Yong Ae Yue – age 63, Paul Andre Michels – age 54, Hyun Jung Park Grant – age 51, Xiaojie (Emily) Tan – age 49, Daoyou Feng – age 44, Delaina Ashley Yaun – age 33 – innocent people who bore God’s likeness in their living human bodies. [Originally, I did not list every name here, because there were reportedly some families who did not want their slain loved ones’ names publicized. Now that all of the victims’ names are public, I have updated the post to include each name.]

Last month, I ticked several books off my to-read list, among them Chanel Miller’s Know My Name. Within the pages of Miller’s account of her sexual assault by Brock Turner, she unfolds to us the details of her harrowing experience, the subsequent trial and sentencing, and their aftermath.

Because she is a firstborn child with a June birthday, Miller’s Chinese name is Zhang Xiao Xia, which means “little summer.” Xia is also China’s first dynasty – Miller is the firstborn. Her American name, Chanel, is a play on the sound of Xia (sha). In Miller’s words, she begins this story with no name. When she was found half-naked behind a dumpster, she lacked identification and it was unclear to authorities whom she belonged to. For months after she was assaulted, Miller kept secret the attack she suffered. Only a handful of people knew her identity, even as news reports and updates danced across her family’s TV screen. Miller was Emily Doe until she was ready to reveal her true identity. 

If you’ve never read her victim impact statement, I recommend, as Miller’s then-therapist recommended to her before knowing her client was in fact Emily Doe, that you do.

This week, as unspeakable tragedy rocked Georgia and reverberated throughout the country, many of us found ourselves stunned and outraged at this latest in a recent string of merciless attacks against the AAPI community. As I watched and listened and read news reports and emotional responses, my mind kept flitting back to Chanel Miller. This self-described shy young woman, who kept her identity concealed in part because she was raised to protect her younger sister, whom she knew would be harmed by the revelation of Emily Doe’s true identity to the nation and to her family, was not only assaulted by a young white man but also seen as unimportant by American culture. As a woman who is also Asian, Miller found herself at the unique intersection of misogyny, racism, and fetishism. No doubt, Miller’s assailant, who had also hit on and forcibly kissed another young woman in their party earlier in the evening, believed he was entitled to do as he pleased with Miller’s body – regardless of a lack of verbal consent – because of our culture, which too often treats women’s bodies as men’s playgrounds, as well as because of her Asian ethnicity, which our culture too often treats as a voiceless, submissive, fully assimilated model minority. 

As we, who are not members of the AAPI community, continue to read, listen, learn, and support this community, it is of utmost importance that if we enter conversations with others, we do so knowing that a murderer can have more than one motive, can possess unconscious bias, and that we who deny either of the prior points are complicit in compounding our neighbors’ pain.

Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels

In January 2015, Miller was 22 and living in her hometown of Palo Alto, California. She went to a party, was sexually assaulted, and then saved from further harm by strangers who stopped her assailant when they saw what he was doing. Six years later, eight people went about their normal daily activities on a March day in Georgia, completely unaware that their lives would be violently cut short. 

Our task, if we are concerned with showing love and solidarity to our AAPI friends and neighbors, is to listen to them and sit with them as they grieve.

Here are some of the voices I am listening to and learning from in this moment. These activists and writers, along with Chanel Miller’s bold memoir, represent the beginning of my learning. These are this week’s suggested resources:

As you lean into discomfort and join our neighbors in their grief, I hope you will reflect:

  • What stereotypes have you believed about Asian Americans – that they are all smart, especially at math? That they are submissive, meek, and quiet? That they are all wealthy?
  • How have your assumptions about Asian Americans possibly harmed Asian people you have encountered in your life? 
  • Have you held grudges or reacted angrily toward someone who didn’t respond to you in the way you expected them to, based on your belief in a stereotype that was disconnected from this person as an individual?
  • How can you show up for your AAPI friends and neighbors in solidarity right now?

I hope you’ll lean in to the discomfort that you feel. And I hope that in your effort to show support for Asian Americans in your life, that you don’t burden them with your grief while they are muddling through their own. And I hope, as always, that you will join me here again soon, so we can keep building peace in our lives and communities, one piece at a time.