From now until at least the midterm elections in November, we’ll be featuring essays from powerful cultural voices alongside one simple thing, chosen by the author, that you can do to take action against the paralyzing apoplexy of the daily news. Maybe it’ll be an organization that deserves your donation; maybe it’ll be an issue that deserves greater awareness. Whatever it is, our aim is to remind you, and ourselves, of the big and small things we can do to work toward justice and change.
by Jane Wong
In the first grade, I brought wonton soup to my class to share with everyone. My family owned a Chinese American takeout restaurant a few miles down the road in a Jersey strip mall. Pork and chive wontons my mother and grandmother had folded, dusted with flour, warmed in their palms. I remember telling myself to be careful, to not spill the soup. Everyone started eating and loving the soup, until one classmate — a bully; he was white — took a bite and spit it out: “I feel sick. It’s poisoned!” And one by one, my classmates turned to him and, in this moment, decided to agree with him (which most did) or to turn away quietly. As I started to cry, and my classmates started to laugh, I realized deep within that I had known this was going to happen. I had seen it coming. This bullying. This meanness, this joy in hurting others. This othering. At the time, I was afraid. My peers of color were also afraid to say anything.
I’ve been thinking about why I don’t like to say his name. Or hear it, for that matter. It’s a violence each time I hear it in conversation, in passing, in the news that spits forth nonstop. How it’s easy for some to say his name in passing, for people who still make jokes — as if this were a laughing matter. This was never a laughing matter. Not before the election and not after. White supremacy has never been a laughing matter. Not before the election and not after.
What are the consequences if this is not put to an end? What change do we want and need to see? How can we move away from fear and toward action? How can we voice our anger (because yes, this is anger)? I want to know, to see what a country based on kindness looks like. A country with reparations, voice, and visibility. What it looks like to leverage your and my privilege for people in more precarious positions. To break down borders. To support my DACA students, to fight for Black Lives Matter. For them, for myself as a first-generation woman of color. What we have — as a unified coalition against the president and his administration — is based not in fear but in necessity and our refusal to be complacent. The dismantling of white supremacy, of fear-based policies, and of bullying must occur in order for the people we care about to survive. To say is to survive. To celebrate our survival is to survive. From Lucille Clifton: “come celebrate / with me that everyday / something has tried to kill me / and has failed.”
Take action today:
Support Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, which promotes justice by defending and advancing the rights of immigrants through direct legal services, systemic advocacy, and community education.
Jane Wong is the author of Overpour and a professor at Western Washington University.