Performative activism fails your Asian peers

This Viewpoint was submitted anonymously by a College of Wooster student following the March of AAPI lives.


I am not going to go into statistics of anti-Asian violence in the last year. It is more than obvious that there has been a sharp rise in anti-Asian hate. What I will share is how I, an Asian-American, am feeling and have felt since COVID-19 became an issue in America. I am used to being told to, “go back to China” or asked, “when does your visa expire?” Usually I respond with a joke, because what else am I to do? Asians are taught to be quiet, and not take up too much space.

In Wooster, at the march on Friday, March 26, Zoe Seymore ’23 gave an impassioned speech about the experiences of Asians during COVID. Looking around me at the Wooster Square downtown, I saw a lot of performative activism. White people watching but not listening. White people lowering their heads but to look at their phones. White people looking elsewhere, instead of  where the speakers were bravely sharing their personal experiences. There is no such thing as “not racist.” You are either actively working to combat racism or are supporting racist institutions and structures. Complicit behavior is racist. Performative activism is racist. 

Marching for the lives of fellow community members deserves reverence and deep reflection. Not going to one march saying, “wow, Asians are scared… so anyway, what’s for dinner?” We do not exist to provide cultures and heritages to be exploited for your amusement. I have been spat at, physically attacked, verbally abused, had my heritage mocked and disrespected on Wooster’s campus and in the wider world. The most painful thing about this pandemic has been seeing people who looked like me die at the hands of people who look like those who raised me.

At the march for Asian lives on March 26, I wanted to walk up to that platform and speak but was too choked up with emotion hearing that what I was feeling was not isolated from other Asians. That my experiences were almost exactly the same as others who feared a society they called home. I am tired of living in fear. Racism allows billions of people to be categorized under one term. It allows the tragic deaths of innocent people. Speaking as an Asian American, we suffered alongside every other American during 2020. We lost those we loved, but from more than just a virus. We saw fellow Asians die due to a virus as well as hate. As a Wooster student, I had my senior year changed drastically like every other senior. But there have been too many times that I’ve been too afraid to cross Beall after a series of Tr*mp parades last semester. There have been too many times that I have felt isolated. Unsupported. And like I should be ashamed of my heritage because of a virus that I had no control over.

What can you do to be an ally? Listen. Learn. Empathize. See our collective humanity. I have never been so heartbroken than when sharing my experiences with people who did not listen, did not learn, did not empathize. The hardest lesson I have ever learned at Wooster is that some of my friendships are based on my cultural whiteness. That some of those around me will not see my race and therefore my experiences, traumas and pride. Despite my fear and heartbreak, I am still proud to be Asian. I am here. I am American. And I matter. #stopAAPIhate #StopAsianHate #ourstoriesourpower #WeAreNotAVirus