the atlanta shooting is not a single trauma, but a series of big and small traumas compounding

Unsplash Image by Paul Volkmer

If you’re not an Asian women, I want you to see how intensely some of us are experiencing the murders of the six Asian women in Atlanta this past week (I’ve since removed their names as some of their family members do not want names publicly shared). I grew up in the shadow of intimate partner violence that I’m still moving through as a 32 year old Lao/Chinese woman and there is nothing poetic or gracious “to be learned” from this.

I want you to understand, instead, how the personal, political, and historical traumas compound and interact with each other; how especially for people in identity-marginalized groups, this all feels inevitable when it doesn’t have to be.

Here is a look into my life on the very ordinary week when that vile white male supremacist murdered Asian women who had full, beautiful, complex lives, histories, and orbits they belonged in and strung together as mothers, aunties, sisters, daughters, friends.

This week, I spent it (and the past month) bearing witness to my Asian community’s elders get brutally and violently attacked while I held my tongue because I didn’t want to take up space in the larger zeitgeist of trauma and oppression. I passively watched the mainstream world and some friends and colleagues erase, dismiss, or ignore how my individual and singular pain fit into the collective trauma that told the story of Asian Americans as not quite. Not quite here enough to matter; not quite human enough to see; not quite brown enough to carry the kind of trauma and histories that deserve attention.

This week, I had two separate conversations with close friends about the passing of their loved ones, and how they were so deliberately debating whether or not to attend the funeral, reminding me of how I had to “debate” the steps of burying my grandpa almost a year ago through masks and social distancing and the constant dying that morgues desperately couldn’t keep up with. This made me feel unloving and unlovable: why do we have to choose life and death in such binary terms these days?

This week, I had to deal with three separate instances of utter caucacity, white fragility, and white people doing white-people shit. One included white resistance and backlash to DEI work in a self-proclaimed “diverse” and “progressive” organization. The worst part is having to deal with this exhausting, tired, vile, and entitled white aggression with “professionalism” because it’s my job and how I make a living.

The second instance came in the form of a long-lost text: a white man attacking me with screenshots of my private social media postings that had nothing to do with him, his blunt words of white male ego not worth repeating here. No “hey” or “how’s it going?” or “I know the world is tough right now…” Just a text that violated my sense of safety and freedom from a toxic and harmful relationship I spent the past year trying to disconnect and heal from. Even writing this now, I worry about the backlash from him and his goons that is sure to come. But there’s more.

I want you to know that the worst part is realizing how his toxic white male shit still has so much hold over me despite therapy and intentional self-healing work. I want to say clearly and emphatically: this too — no matter how small it may seem to you—is white supremacy and oppression. This is a violation. An intimate violence that I do not get to claim in the larger scheme of things, but it is still violence.

The third instance (which is comedy if only I wasn’t feeling so defeated) was the classic story of Karens doing Karen shit: a group of white women doing anti-racist work and deciding to take on the identity of being the oppressed ones! Come again? The absurdity (if only my spirit wasn’t so exhausted).

This week, I finally found the energy, space, and endurance to write about a recent discovery of intimate partner violence that feels too close. Despite finally writing to process, I’m still carrying its weight and secrecy. It’s still sitting in me. And the six murders this week sat down alongside, inside of me.

This week, I watched the violence against women in all forms and expressions make its round again. #mefuckingtoo again and again and again. And then Atlanta. What happens when I can’t feel the pain and sadness anymore? Am I losing my own tenderness and sense of being human?

This week, someone asked if I’ve grieved all that has happened and the most honest answer I could give was that I haven’t stopped grieving since I buried my grandpa almost a year ago. His loneliness in death and my drowning in life comes in the most ordinary of moments: like recently seeing a video my uncle posted onto Facebook of my grandpa walking in the park with my grandma and aunties. Watching his body move, his face twitch almost into a smile, his fingers pointing at the sky, his cane holding him steady, his sad eyes looking at me across time and space broke me so hard I couldn’t stop crying.

And you know what else? In this same week, a million other things happened that are worthy and unworthy of mention, noticeable and unnoticeable even to me.

That’s the kind of week I was having when the murder broke news across my social media on Tuesday night, so yeah, this feels personal and patterned. Imagine other Asian women who had a similar week, or with even more intensity from the endless permutations of how pain and sadness come together.

This violence and violation feels too intimate, like the ghost of the intimate partner violence I grew up with but this: a grander scale with white supremacist actors and systems.

You and I co-exist in this same precise moment and space; we are responsible for each other. We hold each other’s dignities. It is violent when you look away. And it is too intimate when you look and do nothing.

I already know how this story unfolds. The way it always does.

But please be absolutely clear that I don’t need or want your protection. If you still have to protect me, that means the conditions haven’t changed.

Instead, go collect your people. Go reckon with the conditions that you’re upholding, protecting, being protected by, and then — destroy them. Destroy them again just to be sure. Only then can we begin.

Oh, a PSA: if you’re about to text or talk to an Asian person or Asian women and it isn’t kind, compassionate, and de-centered from yourself and whiteness — don’t. The least we can do on any ordinary day and week is to treat each other with kindness and dignity cause we literally do not know what happens in one single day for one single person on the other side of the screen or line.

That’s the messiness, complexity, and expansiveness of these lived experiences that we get to call ours. Tenderness and dignity, can you begin there with me?

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