Author’s note: I originally published this on my short-lived Tiny Letter on March 26, 2021. As we near the one-year anniversary of the Atlanta shootings, I wanted to share it again here.
I don’t even know where to fucking begin. I’m still unable to fully process what happened last week; I don’t have any words of wisdom, comfort, intelligence, or advice. What are you supposed to say when your worst fears come to life? Two days after the attack in Atlanta I was back at work and I thought I was going to be all bad-ass: rock my Sandra Oh “It’s an honor just to be Asian” shirt and blast all sorts of empowering power anthems. Instead I was losing my goddamn mind. I shied away from every white man who passed me on the street, I was scared of every customer, I couldn’t focus or feel safe. Would I be harassed on the street (again)? Were the people at the Chinese restaurant next door safe? Would Harvard be a target? I only got through the day with some grounding exercises from friends (lemme know if you want to hear them.)
But if I can do anything at any given time, it’s put together a list of books. It’s my job, and I’m good at my job, and little tasks for my job give me something to focus on — and the illusion of a semblance of control. At first I was throwing anything at the wall, until I saw Chanel Miller’s (excellent) memoir, Know My Name, on the shelf and realized — it had to be women’s voices. So much of the tweets and headlines I’ve seen talk about remembering the victim’s names and acknowledging the ways sexism is complicit with the racism that motivated the attack. Because violence against BIPOC women and non-binary queer bodies always include those two forces working and propping up the other. In the calls to learn AAPI and Asian American history, I thought it should start with centering on the voices of women in our community. We also included some books about Asian American history, as well as some books about sex work written by sex workers.
I have a lot of thoughts on reading lists, I see them both as performative displays and community resources. Books aren’t going to singlehandedly fix anything, but it’s not fair to discredit the power of stories. I said it on Twitter, but when your history and community is erased and ignored, the only way to learn is through books. But the most important part, and always has been, is what you do with what you read and learn. It’s the work you do after reading, books that assumedly spell out W-O-R-K. Reading lists, if curated well, should be resources not a to-do list.
While I haven’t read everything on there, I’m proud of our list. I’m proud that in my sad little capitalistic way, I could do… something? Gathering works from my community calmed me, gave me focus, and made me feel like I was contributing. I could uplift others and educate people on our history. And I’ve also been talking with my bookstore friends about how complicated it gets when your identities get entangled with capitalism, ie: it’s your job to sell books. What’s your role and voice when you’re also the de facto Face of Marginalization for a business? Lately I’ve been thinking about reading lists as forms of emotional labor because oftentimes it’s made by someone of that community aggregating resources for outsiders. What do reading lists for specific people look like when they’re compiled by someone of that community and not catered to the [outside] gaze? There’s no answers, of course. It comes back to reading broadly (all the time) while understanding a book isn’t the end-all-be-all. It’s a constant cycle for all readers; for BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and marginalized people working in the book world it’s (as my friend described it), “a Gordian knot of a quagmire.”
So here’s some links:
- Stop AAPI Hate a list by the Harvard Book Store
- #StopAsianHate a list by Books and Boba Podcast (also subscribe to them!)
- AAPI-Owned Bookstores a list by libro.fm
(As much as I love my job and store, please support AAPI-owned bookstores and please be patient as they deal with the onslaught of “I’M NOT RACIST I LOVE ASIANS!!!!!!!” orders right now.)
- A list of different Asian American community resources I’ve found over the years.
- Understanding books as the concept of “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors” described by Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop.