When will it be Enough?

By Sutton Steensma

This work responds to “Trust Black Women: Reproductive Justice and Eugenics” by Loretta Ross.

When will it be enough for women to decide the fate of their bodies?

With dress, behavior, contraception, movement, parenthood, intimacy, or expression?

The facade of choice has always been monitored and encouraged towards a White supremacist, patriarchal agenda.

We are always made acutely aware of the organs that motivate assumptions and expectations.

I know I have a uterus, thank you.

I know what it is capable of, thank you.

I do not want you inside of me, thank you.

I do not wish to nourish this unwanted fetus, thank you.

I feel like I am speaking but nothing is being heard.

Imagine how our Black sisters must feel, producing rich evidence of pain and tailored abuse from a system crafted to control and manipulate.

Endless evidence of use of female body cavities to achieve power and maintain structures that are rooted in oppression.

The possession.

Who matters in all of this?

Is it the man who just wanted to know what sex would feel like without a condom?

Is it the woman who is imprisoned within her reproductive capacity?

Is it the child born into a family system that is unwanted even before conception?

Or is it the person in the big office chair, lubricating their black pen to sign the paper that determines the choice for bodies that they have never respected, while proceeding to kneel behind a pew and pray to a God that they believe condones their control over bodies.

Autonomy must be granted back to the bodies that experience the implications of narrow laws.

Leverage must be provided to Black feminists who have been engaging in this work for centuries.

Encouraging belonging to all options must be granted for reproductive and parental agencies.

But when?

Fully Searching

by Kaylee Stanton

Fingers tracing the corners of pages.

The fluorescent lights filter the dust on book covers.

I’m drawn in,

into the sea of women’s melodies, words, wisdom.

Their voices call out, needless of response, just breathing in time.

And yet she finds me

and I find her.

Her life, a canvas of smudges and struggle

wrapped in the beauty of lavender petals.

Her poignant and powerful words cut deep,

releasing my ear from the bonds of thy master to the wild, to the feminine.

It’s not a clean cut.

The cord tangles, gnashing at freedom,

but the voice pierces it with the force of the women before her. The women after her, refusing to be silenced.

We sit at the table alone, the ink and I.

We have no reason for numbers or scales,

our conversation is proof enough

without the scaffolding of 19th-century quills.

Honest and raw, I am enough.

We time travel together to times of pain and rejection

and times of unity and comfort.

I melt into her lyrics of “Angry Atthis”, oh how soft, oh heartfelt. My ear listens but my body feels a spark.

The twinge. My shame.

My ear has been comfortable in captivity for far too long.

I invite this emotion in,

to sit at the table with us, my heart and head on the wood.

The spark sets the table on fire but we bask in its warmth. No water quenches the flame.

Her verses reckon with me, responding:

I know of who I am

I know my being to be joyful.

They see my heart and call it vile,

I see my heart, a lily of the Nile.

I buckled under the weight of fear,

our hands pressed only in the dark of night.

Feeling the world veil our hearts,

they hide us in glass closets for

“God forbid we reveal who we are.”

But hear our anthem rise

Collective strength, our voice.

Proud of who we are

Shattered glass, breath full, rejoice.

I find peace with this ink.

We have met before by another name, sharing the lines on the same page.

In her song, I find the answers

And they find their home.

Vinyl record of “Angry Atthis” by Maxine Feldman

I wrote this poem in response to the research by Jo Reger on the politicization of women’s music through Maxine Feldman. It is both a representation of the researcher journeying through research as well as honoring the feminist methods of research and an ode to Maxine Feldman’s song “Angry Atthis”. I was taken aback by the way Reger utilized both intellect and emotion to support her research, which I have never seen in this both/and way in research. To have permission to use emotion grounds the work in a way that using high theory can not. Reger’s research explains the concept of the “masculine ear” and how we have been taught to listen with this frame, similar to the male gaze. I really enjoyed the way she utilized this throughout her paper to reveal how women’s music created a new ear to listen, which I kept in mind throughout the poem. To me, rhetorical analysis is both beautiful and terrifying because it allows the researcher to claim power and authority within themselves which I represented with the spark of emotion turning into a fire before the researcher. In the same light, feminist rhetorical analysis usually doesn’t rely on dead white theorists to legitimize their work. Reger continuously emphasized how she had a conversation with Feldman’s lyrics, interviews, articles, etc., so I wanted to reflect that with the response of Feldman, inspired by the song which Reger analyzed. Overall, there is a theme of connection between the researcher and their work reflected in the poem as I was moved by the way feminist researchers refrain from severely separating themselves from their research, viewing it as a possible strength rather than something that would discredit the research. At its heart, Fully Searching is an ode to feminist rhetorical analysis research.

The Production of Babies

By Elizabeth Bassett

This poem responds to “Conceptualizing Reproductive Justice Theory” in Radical Reproductive Justice by Loretta Ross.

What does freedom

Really mean when we can’t hear it

Over the manufacturing equipment

We call women’s bodies?

Factories supply.

They shouldn’t malfunction,

Miscarry or abort.

Because what are you doing in this business anyway?

Manufacturers should supply and

Demands

Belong to the markets.

White people, white movements, white feminism

Pro-life white, pro-choice white

Just do the right thing

The markets tell a twelve-year-old Black girl

What she ought to do for a baby

When no one feels they ought to do anything for her

Or her baby but

She is her mother’s baby

The baby of her grandmother’s baby.

So stop pretending

A twelve year old cornered into birthing

Isn’t child labor.

You made laws about that

*see the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938

What does freedom really mean

When investors talk morals

But have stake in the manufacturing of

Only white babies?

A Black girl has metasystems tangled around her throat

The “it’s more wrong to abort than it is to

Assault a child” is just the beginning of the

Conspiracy of silence

Global capitalist

Legislative reluctance

Hyde Amendments

Classist resentments

Of legal dependents— “your children and wives”—

White supremacist descendants

Anti-CRT Superintendents

And Roe v. Wade precedents that come crashing down around Strategic ignorance disguised as Privacy

Independence is for the state.

And anyways, the demands for a Black baby are low.

It’s on you for supplying

And producing.

We were wrong

We are wrong

We are wrong

The child is no manufacturer of babies

She is a producer of knowledge

Feed her theory and she invents

And destroys the industry

Read to her some bedtime myths

Recite to her some human rights

To fuel her dreams and mobilize her friends

Into a universal gravitation towards Ubuntu

And humanity

And far, far away from the universal absolutes

That cage her in.

White people struggle to understand

What’s wrong?

Being a woman isn’t so bad!

I can do whatever I want

I can be a career woman if I want

And that movie about the Black women who worked for NASA? See, you can do anything

If you lean in and become empowered enough,

Have children only if you want to

I have the Paraguard till twenty thirty-two

But I’m pro-choice because

Accidents happen.

My feminism is painted with only pastels,

It’s the pretty-headstrong type of pretty and

Pretty water colors don’t produce purple

So I couldn’t personally understand Ross’ print

Not really.

Not fully.

My disconnect is child labor laws that protected my youth

That let me play before I produce

So while I stand behind my white woman fence

That stops me from relating

Black women are busy innovating, creating,

And building with no such

Barrier

Because Reproductive Justice

Pulls barriers up by the root.

Researcher as Artist

By Nicole Galloway

In “Criticism and Authority in the Artistic Mode,” Bonnie Dow (2001) make the point that textual or discursive research–especially rhetorical criticism–is more comparable to art than science. That is, knowledge is created rather than uncovered or discovered. This emphasizes the researcher’s (creator’s/artist’s) authority and responsibility.

Researcher as Artist by Nicole Galloway

Dow’s mention of “authority” over our own work reminded me a lot of feminist grounded theory. Instead of research being some far away, out of touch concept, it should be something that is personal. We are able to have a say and authority over our creations, and we are also able to have authority over how we use our own lives in grounded theory.

This artistic presentation channels the artistic value of creation that Dow talks about in the article. Thinking of rhetorical criticism in this way very much changes the perspective from something that is found (and thus, out of my control) to something that is created (and under my full authority). Part of my creative understanding, in this way, was the actual process of creating something through my own authority (partaking in the act that Dow describes), as well as the final created object. I understand my piece of art is more literally a piece of art than rhetorical criticism is, but I tried to highlight a similar idea.

WEO and Period Supplies

The Women’s Empowerment Organization, a student organization at Hope College, recently placed baskets of period products in the bathrooms across Hope’s academic buildings. This serves a felt need on Hope’s campus providing access so students can make it to their classes on time when the unexpected comes up.

Period Products available in Hope’s restrooms.

As a professor at Hope, I was surprised by the start of my menstrual cycle one day. I had no period products with me and had to drive home, canceling the rest of my meetings for that day.

In a society that shames menstruation, I felt inadequate and embarrassed. And I felt like a bad feminist for feeling inadequate and embarrassed!

These baskets are here for you and for me. They’re here to promote access to education, to decrease stigma, and to make our lives more livable.

WEO launched a donation drive (thank you to everyone who donated!!) and worked with Student Life and with Hope’s Physical Plant to ensure these baskets of emergency period products would not disrupt custodial work.

WEO is thrilled by the support for this project from across Hope’s students, admin, and staff.

What is Prop 3? Event

Women’s Empowerment Organization hosted an intellectual consideration of Michigan civics.

As Election Day nears and the intensity surrounding the midterm election grows, Proposal 3 seems to be on the forefront of many of the debates in Michigan. Proposal 3 asks voters if the state of Michigan should add an amendment to the state’s constitution protecting reproductive rights. A “Yes” vote adds an amendment to the state’s constitution protecting reproductive rights, while a “No” vote would prevent such an amendment at this time.

The “What is Prop 3?” event was hosted by the Women’s Empowerment Organization on October 27th in Cook Auditorium in the DePree Art Center, and the auditorium was at full capacity as candidates Larry Jackson and Kim Nagy, as well as Rivka served as guest speakers. All the candidates drew from their personal experiences to discuss the importance of this issue.

Rivka had a unique perspective, because having grown up in a strict, fundamentalist household, she formerly held traditionally “pro-life” views. She worked for organizations such as Right to Life and various pregnancy crisis hotlines. She was able to speak on how she has since learned the falsehoods of those past views, and she was able to expose the false narrative that anti-choice supporters push forward.

Nagy told a deeply personal story about a family friend who had to receive a late-term abortion due to a severe genetic abnormality. The family had already picked out a name and was super excited to welcome a new baby boy to their family, but after hearing about how much their son would have to suffer in pain with no chance of survival, they had to make the difficult medical decision that they felt would prevent the most suffering. Nagy spoke about how difficult their grief was, but how if they had been unable to make their own choice, it would have been even more difficult.

The trio also rebuffed anti-choice rhetoric that regards abortion as similar to slavery. The event was the first they had ever heard of this analogy, and all three were taken aback by the comparison, discussing how it was illogical and extreme. Nagy was also honest about how the rhetoric was a stunning example of white privilege.

All three also reflected on their personal experiences of parenthood, with Jackson having five children, Nagy two, and Rivka four. They reminded everyone that no one is “pro-abortion” and that everyone is “pro-life”; simultaneously, the government has no right to make medical decisions for individuals and their families.

The event also served as an important reminder to read through your ballots and do background research before voting. As Kim Nagy noted, other proposals on the ballot require voters to understand the existing precedent before voting on a possible change.

Overall, the event was a wonderful forum to address misconceptions about Prop 3 and the deep significance of the opportunity that voters have to make a difference this election season. It was also a wonderful opportunity to meet candidates in a more personal setting and have the opportunity to learn more about them as individuals and ask questions. Local elections and midterm elections truly matter, and it is up to voters to stay informed to make important decisions while exercising their right to vote. “What is Prop 3?” truly showcased how education, community, and politics can intersect in a productive way.

Feminist Visions and Marxist Critique

A student reflection

This week in WGS 350: Feminist Vision of Justice, we began reading The Politics of Everybody: Feminism, Queer Theory, and Marxism at the Intersection by Holly Lewis. Lewis makes the goal of her book very clear. She hopes to bring together Marxist theorists, feminist theorists, Marxist practitioners, and queer and trans feminist activists into dialogue that informs each group of the intersections between feminist and Marxist thought and practice.

Karl Marx

Before reading this, I had not explicitly considered how the word “everybody” can be politicized in a way that is both unsettling and provocative because of how the system of capitalism is rooted in ideological individualism that displaces blame onto “everybody” at the consumer level instead of on the capitalist system. I feel personally responsible for climate change when I use single-use plastic, when I eat large amounts of meat, or when I travel by plane, but Lewis makes me question whether my individual feelings of responsibility (and the small, specific actions I take to try to live more sustainably) are actually valid and helpful for real change. It makes sense that this is my primary framework for understanding issues, because like Lewis explains, capitalists not only control the means of production itself but also the means of communication. The power in the hands of capitalists reinforces the capitalist ideals that undergird society.

“Marxism requires a group from everywhere – which is also to say from nowhere in particular – to end a foundational historical injustice. In Marxist terms, everybody is a somebody and everybody belongs everywhere.”

Holly Lewis in The Politics of Everybody

In the next section we read, Lewis explores how Marxists view capitalism as a system of social relation that values profit over everything else. She distinguishes between proletariat’s (or laborer’s) exchange and capitalist exchange. Marx described the proletariat’s (or laborer’s) exchange as beginning with a commodity, which becomes money, and then turns back into a different commodity (C–M–C). For most laborers, their labor is the first commodity as mapped in this exchange. The money is their pay check, and this turns back into the second commodity–such as food, housing, entertainment, etc.

In contrast, the capitalist exchange begins with money, which becomes a commodity, and then turns into more money (M–C–M).

The Capitalist Exchange: money is invested, a commodity is produced and sold, and profit (money) is extracted for the capitalist

The capitalist exchange seeks to maximize profit and the commodity itself is the disappearing middle variable, which reinforces the importance of money and profit in a capitalist model.

When reading about this, I immediately thought of how education functions within the capitalist system. Students “invest” money to receive an education (the commodity) in order to extract profit (anticipated higher wages after a college degree). The learning experience itself is turned into the commodity of a degree. Students attend college because a college degree is an investment that can lead to maximizing profit through an increased salary that is offered to college-educated applicants. This exemplifies how capitalism is present in our educational systems and even expands to practically every aspect of society.

Money in exchange for a college diploma.

I think it’s interesting to consider the Hope Forward model in this context, as it is a new funding model that seems to challenge the capitalist exchange in some ways, while still functioning within the larger system of capitalism that is fundamental to higher education. The Hope Forward model is a tuition-free model in which current students’ tuition is fully funded by the generosity of donors. Hope Forward students make an open-ended commitment to “paying-it-forward” after graduation with the expectation for these students to make an annual financial contribution to Hope after graduating. However, there is no required amount or contract that holds students accountable for this exchange of money after graduation, instead the model emphasizes gratitude and generosity as the impetus for donating.

The Hope Forward model aspires to prepare students to pursue positive impact after college, instead of being weighed down by the burden of student debt. It implies that instead of pursuing increased salaries to pay off debt, students will be free to pursue meaningful endeavors.

Additionally, the Hope Forward model wants a student’s college experience to be a transformational relationship, not a transactional exchange. Each of these aspirations are very counter-cultural and seem to go against the capitalist system by making the exchange of money between students and the institution less of an emphasis, but the reality of higher education is that it still functions in a capitalist system. This model is not a “free-tuition” model that gets rid of the exchange, it just alters what the exchange looks like and the time frame of the financial exchange. Someone is still paying for a student’s education, it just isn’t the student herself. In this case, it is the donors and the profit extracted (via the capitalist exchange) from Hope’s endowment (i.e., the stock market). Then, once that student has graduated, she will pay for the next generation of Hope Forward students.

During the original application phases, this new model was advertised to prospective students as the “Pay It Forward” Program, which sounded very transactional because, in the capitalist system we live in, the word “pay” makes us think about money. I like that it was renamed “Hope Forward” because I do think this better represents the underlying values of the program and the aspiration to move away from a transactional model of a college education. However, I think it is interesting to acknowledge that it is still, in many ways, a transactional model, even though it emphasizes gratitude, generosity, and positive impact over profit which is definitely a step in the right direction. This is not meant to merely be a critique of the entire Hope Forward model, as this new model is definitely a step in the right direction that has the potential to positively impact the lives of students at Hope College and change the financial model of higher education. However, I think it’s important to understand how unless there is a more widespread and explicit rejection of the capitalist model, capitalism will continue to affect our educational systems and all aspects of society.

Solidarity with queer, trans, and intersex people is non-negotiable when it comes to the international solidarity of the working class.

Holly Lewis in The Politics of Everybody

Connecting back to feminism, I think it is necessary to think deeply about whether changes implemented actually accomplish what they hope to. It’s important to consider whether the way we think about things are still embedded with inherently capitalist ideals. I see Holly Lewis’s book being important in expanding everybody’s understanding of society so that real changes can be created, as she hopes to bridge the gaps between Marxist and feminist theory and practice by creating meaningful conversations between groups. Real societal change – whether it’s rooted in feminist activism, Marxist activism, or other activism – requires collaboration between all of these groups. It requires interaction between the systems, institutions, and individuals that make up society and thus affect how society functions. As Lewis argues, change requires everybody.

The Broken Promise of Academia and How to Move Beyond the “Ivory Tower”

By Kallen Mohr

So, you have found your calling in the social sciences. You find your classes interesting and the work important. You decide to continue in your academic studies to grad school and beyond, where you plan on enacting real change that will make a difference in the lives of real people. You share a passion for social justice along with fellow students. You become part of an institution that prides itself on diversity and service. You believe you have all the ingredients to curate your career in academia, a career that will be based on your deep, intrinsic values of community service, social justice, and advocacy. You believe in the potential of academia to serve more than its own interests. You believe in the promise of research to bridge the gap between action and inaction and bring society one step closer to fixing its oppressive systems. You believe, after all, in the promise of academia.

According to Emily Kane, a sociologist who conducts feminist and community-based research, the promise is soon to be broken.

Emily Kane’s story of attending graduate school for sociology, which she details in her publication “Getting to Know People with Experiences and Knowledge Far beyond My Own: Feminism, Public Sociology, and Community-Based Research,” is hardly a new one. Nor is the outcome of her story. She never left academia and she never stopped her research, as others have inevitably done, but after twenty-five years she says she “[has] a deeper understanding of obstacles.” This seems to be a recurring theme with those who enter academia with aspirations of change. The academy has long been a kind of “bubble,” distinctly apart and separate from anything outside of itself. And the bubble is not an easy one to pop. As Kane cites in her work, academia has become more and more “professionalized” in recent years with institutions pressuring academics to become as credentialed as they can, no matter how many hoops come their way. Add to this the pressure of churning out publications with regular frequency, and academic research becomes not a calling but a box that threatens back at you when it remains unchecked.

Now, more than ever, academia is all about the numbers game. How many donors? How much funding? How many PhD candidates? How many publications? How many students enrolled in your course? In such a culture that thinks solely in terms of “input” and “output,” burnout and disillusionment are free to run rampant. Any and all work quickly loses motive as well as meaning, and social justice work is no different. If working within the system of academia is a slog, it is no wonder that the academy continues to operate as a closed ecosystem. It is difficult enough to change what is already known, much less bring in people and ideas from outside the “ivory tower.” But perhaps there is still hope.

Obviously, there are many things that much change in academia, too many to list in such a short write-up. But one way to ensure that at least some of the promise given to young academics hoping to enact social change is kept is to conduct and publish research that is based outside of academia’s “bubble.” Engaging with public sociology, which emphasizes communication and collaboration with non-academics, and utilizing community-based research (CBR), which aims to produce research for the public, are just two steps on the way to promise-keeping.

Especially in the social sciences, like sociology and WGS, where people are our subject and our motive, our goal must always be to achieve justice and social change. In order to reach this goal and ensure that the promise of academia is upheld, we must climb down from our ivory tower and work with the people who are and will be affected by us the researchers. Maybe, one day if we’re lucky, the tower will become nothing more than a pile of old rubble.

The Socialization of Women’s Low Self-Esteem

By Erin Powers

It is no secret that women in western society face an epidemic of low self-esteem. There is a billion-dollar beauty industry that targets women in an effort to show them how to look better than the natural version of themselves. This is often done through marketing schemes that focus on women’s need to look good for men. The question then becomes why these schemes work and why women have such low levels of confidence. This seems like an obvious or natural question, but it isn’t.

Joey Sprague, in her book Feminist Methodologies for Critical Researchers, raises the idea that in methodology, “Research questions are more likely to explore the deficiencies of those in disadvantaged social positions than of those with social power” (Sprague 14). She goes on to give a specific example, writing,

“It has been much more common to ask, why women have so little self-confidence than why men have so little modesty.”

(Sprague 14)

This became a jumping-off point for me to evaluate why this statement is true, and what architecture has been put in place to support it. I think continued power dynamics where men are placed above women and women are expected to submit to and exist for the male in addition to the beauty industry are some of the largest contributors. Our capitalist society has socialized women through power dynamics and the beauty and fashion industry to have low self-confidence.

Our society, despite efforts for change and inclusion, still places the heterosexual experience of a feminine woman and a masculine man in the spotlight as the “norm” for gender relationships. Girls are taught to look and act a certain way to find a man so they can have “a good life.” Our world says you aren’t pretty unless he says so, and you must not be performing the role of a woman well enough if you are not in a heterosexual relationship. So much female value is found in whether you are in a heterosexual relationship or if you are receiving external validation from a man. Yet women are also told that confidence is attractive and being insecure isn’t “cute” even though we live in a power structure that gives us every reason to struggle with these feelings of insecurity.

Thinking about Joey Sprague’s question, I do wonder if we would find a better approach to this problem if we studied why men had such confidence instead of focusing on why women are so self-conscious. I think we would find that men do not have the pressure to change to appeal to women in the same ways. Yes, there are obviously male stereotypes of attractiveness, but one thing I’ve always noticed is that relationships, where the woman is more attractive than the man, are significantly more common than relationships where the man is more attractive. The continued power dynamics where women are convinced into needing a man is one of the reasons that women suffer from such struggles with self-esteem.

From a more Marxist feminist standpoint, we live in a time where the beauty and fashion industries are worth billions of dollars and are targeted significantly more toward women. Whether it is a company telling women they need to completely cover their face in makeup or change their hair to be beautiful or a company telling you how to “enhance” your natural look it is still focused on the consumption of a product. Women spend countless dollars and hours on wearing makeup every day and getting their hair done nearly every month. Even as efforts toward changing the reason why you are doing these things develop, and people claim it’s for me, not anyone else, it is still directly benefiting the capitalist beauty industry. The industry has developed an architecture that directly benefits from the continuation of women’s low self-esteem. As long as these industries make a profit from women’s low self-esteem, they will continue to exist and thus continue the cycle.

Sprague’s work in methodology inspired me to question the question of why women have such low self-confidence. Now the question becomes how do we change these power dynamics and industry structures to free women?

The Model Minority Myth, Relative Privilege, AAPI Experiences, and Why it’s All Oppression Anyway

By Carole Chee

As part of our studies on how to apply feminist theory in WGS 350: “Feminist Visions of Justice,” my classmates and I analyzed and discussed “(Trans)forming #MeToo: Toward a Networked Response to Gender Violence,” a journal article by Dr. V. Jo Hsu detailing the exclusionary characteristics of the #MeToo movement, the inequities of our judicial system, and the need for inclusive, ground-up approaches that center those most oppressed by systemic violence. Hsu, an assistant professor in the Department of Rhetoric and Writing at the University of Texas at Austin, focuses specifically on the unjust “criminalization” of marginalized peoples—especially that of transgender women of color—and uses the story of Nan-Hui Jo to exemplify the legal processes by which these persecutions are enacted (280). Jo, an undocumented Korean immigrant who fled and later re-entered the United States in efforts to defend herself and her daughter against domestic violence, was arrested and separated from her daughter based on racist and xenophobic arguments (Hsu 280). Rather than vilifying the abuse and trauma Jo faced, the courts vilified Jo. This example makes it clear that despite the existence of “model minority” sentiments, Asian and Asian-American communities are harmfully impacted by the dehumanizing generalizations prevalent throughout American legislation, judicial practice, societal ideologies, and history.

These sentiments, which make up the “model minority” myth that some marginalized groups—here, namely Asian Americans—are better than others, spread false, divisive ideology based on those groups’ ability to assimilate into white culture. Dr. Viet Thanh Nguyen, acclaimed author of The Sympathiser, explains in Time Magazine that while this myth may seem like a positive thing, it pushes Asian Americans “to be invisible in most circumstances because we are doing what we are supposed to be doing… until we become hypervisible because we are doing what we do too well.” The voices of AAPI community members are simultaneously uplifted and silenced, our “high” status balancing on a thin, splitting rope. Additionally, these lies only succeed in perpetuating injustice for all. As Nguyen explains, “no matter how low down we are, we know that America allows us to stand on the shoulders of Black, brown and Native people.” Kat Chow from NPR further describes this false racial hierarchy as a “wedge” that aims only to sow division among oppressed groups; although it grants relative privileges to Asian Americans, all it truly achieves is “minimizing the role racism plays in the persistent struggles of other racial/ethnic minority groups.” Our challenge is to recognize that privilege while also admonishing it, “to be both Asian American and to imagine a world beyond it, one in which being Asian American isn’t necessary” (Nguyen).

Until that reality is achieved, however, Asian community members are stuck in a double-bind; trapped between high expectations and the harmful raced characterizations that continue to exist.

Hsu is sure to point these out in the case of Nan-Hui Jo, explaining that District attorney Steve Mount’s portrayal of Jo as both a “manipulative illegal immigrant seeking to cheat the U.S. system” and a “‘tiger mom’ who was too competent to be a victim” refused her any chance at justice (279). “With a single phrase,” says Hsu, “Mount accessed notions of Asians as hypercompetent, emotionless, perpetual foreigners whose ambition threatened the security of ‘real’ U.S. citizens” (279). These hateful stereotypes, in combination with other generalizations—such as the “Dragon Lady,” or characterizing associations with disease—exacerbate the oppression faced by Asian individuals. These are most visible today in mass media and the anti-Asian rhetoric surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, but this hate has deep roots that contemporary ideologies and policies have only exposed and deepened.

The earliest influx of Asian immigrants into the United States took place in the second half of the 19th century, according to scholars H. Alexander Chen, Jessica Trinh, and George P. Yang. In their journal article entitled “Anti-Asian Sentiment in the United States—COVID-19 and History,” they explain that these immigrants were typically employed as cheap sources of labor for the mining, railroad, and agricultural industries; not only were these Asian immigrants pushed into dangerous and menial jobs, but they were also exploited and treated poorly. In their poor living conditions, outbreaks of smallpox and the bubonic plague were not uncommon, and thus Asian migration was tied to the idea of diseases (Chen et al.). Negative ideologies concerning Asian immigrants eventually culminated in exclusionary immigration policies, namely the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which denied immigration and naturalization rights from the entire Chinese ethnic group, and the 1924 Immigration Act, which effectively shut down immigration from other Asian countries (Chen et al.). These exclusionary policies cemented the anti-Asian sentiments already existent in America, criminalizing the very presence of Asian peoples in the country.

Even still, however, I’m acutely aware that as an Asian woman, I am far from over represented in the incarceration system. The numbers of Asian prisoners are low, and those of transgender Asian prisoners even lower. When seeking to enumerate the instances of sexual assault experiences by transgender women of color, a joint report from the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force failed to obtain a large enough sample size for Asian-American transgender women to present reliable data (168). On a greater scale, when comparing the number of incarcerations in the United States by race, Asians sit at a lower rate than other racial or ethnic minority groups (“Injustice at Every Turn” 163).

This is not to say that Asian and AAPI people are, by any stretch of the imagination, superior to or more conformable than any other racial group, but the embodiment of relative privilege here is certainly noteworthy. While people of color are all oppressed under the constrictions of this white supremacist system, it is vital to acknowledge the ways in which our differences are used to create division amongst ourselves. This is in no way a call for “oppression Olympics,” but a request for solidarity and understanding.

Works Cited

Chen, H. Alexander, et al. “Anti-Asian Sentiment in the United States – COVID-19 and History.” The American Journal of Surgery, vol. 220, no. 3, Elsevier Inc, 2020, pp. 556–57, https://doi:10.1016/j.amjsurg.2020.05.020.

Chow, Kat. “’Model Minority’ Myth Again Used as a Racial Wedge between Asians and Blacks.”

NPR, NPR, 19 Apr. 2017,

https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2017/04/19/524571669/model-minority-myth-ag ain-used-as-a-racial-wedge-between-asians-and-blacks.

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