Stop DiscriminAsian (SDA) is a collective of art workers who discuss what it means to be Asian and Pacific Islander (API) with inclusive and post-oppositional principles; we discuss contemporary art world politics and what ways we can engage with the field to better represent API identity among trans/national imperial landscapes; we envision futures where API art workers are seen, treated with respect, and championed. And we come together out of emotional solidarity during the cavernous rupture that the COVID-19 pandemic has created globally and in the art world.
I am grateful and proud to be an Asian (biracial Korean and White American), Queer, and Non-Binary Art Worker who is a member of SDA. While the majority of our founders are East Asian American, the group has since expanded, as South and Southeast Asian Americans joined in our shared cause. As we grow, we continue to reconsider our scope and recognize our purpose to build Asian and Pacific Islander solidarity among art workers. While the larger global population is still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, a ceaseless optimism for a return to pre-2020 normalcy plagues many communities across the United States. Alongside the longing for the past is a dissonant desire to abolish the violent systems that have coded us to accept oppression that is hidden, direct, structural, and personal. After experiencing an increase in anti-Asian attacks and a lack of acknowledgment within our field, we began organizing Stop DiscriminAsian to build API community futures.
We say, feel, strive for the simplest future—to corrode xenophobic White supremacy, in all of its nuances, longevities, and gaslit prejudices.
But what does it take to dissolve the systems that historically and persistently subdue, disfigure, and depopulate us?
In the societal wreckage from which we are growing, the greatest impact against racial capitalism and xenophobia is the zeitgeist of community building informed by mutual aid politics.1 That is because our State, our Art World Subculture(s), and our Executives have failed our respective populaces because of dated validations of that is just how it has always been.
As a collective, we build our respective body politics to preserve that which we love – the hidden oases of art world culture where we are free – where we can build, support, and thrive for a future where we are understood beyond fragments of the model minority myth.
The pandemic created circumstances of survival and moral reckoning, in which many came together to reckon with the global and national culture of White supremacy, for which the Trump administration arguably became its contemporary platform. The larger global population is surviving waves of pandemic unemployment, economic opportunism by the global millionaire-billionaire 1%, the unethical hoarding of neoliberal ‘intellectual property’ that is the COVID-19 vaccine in the name of capital, and millions of premature deaths. Elements such as these intensify instabilities for all identity groups, including API communities locally and internationally. Although acts of violence against Asian and Pacific Islander groups have been historically well-documented in the United States, the rise in such acts during the pandemic overextended the tolerance of SDA members. As member Astria Suparak has voiced:
Although some of us have been involved in various types of activism, the racism and xenophobia advocated by the highest levels of government made our circumstances clear. We became less fearful of offending powerful white colleagues, and were emboldened to speak out at professional risk.
In April 2021, SDA published an open letter identifying anti-Asian racism and xenophobia in the context of cultural competencies needed within the art industry. This letter was spurred by the Atlanta shootings in March 2021, responding to the lack of acknowledgment of anti-Asian violence in our field.2
On March 16, 2021, Park Soon Chung, Hyun Jung Grant (maiden name Kim), Daoyou Feng, Paul Andre Michels, Kim Suncha, Xiaojie Tan, Delaina Ashley Yaun, and Yong Ae Yue were murdered with a semi-automatic pistol in 3 spas across Atlanta by a 21-year-old White man. This murderer has contested that his homicidal tendencies were a result of sex addiction in conflict with his religious beliefs; specifically, he conflated Asian women’s work with sex work. However, his motive and serial murders are currently still under investigation. The national recognition of this tragedy and future handling of its representation will affect the lives of API peoples in the U.S. and globally because of the great cultural influence of U.S. policy and legislation.
For many of us in the API community and of multigenerational immigrant families, Anti-Asian racism and violence have been socially normalized through microaggressions, aggressions, and rationalizations that are culturally polarized in American and API American lenses. So much so, that many of us in the API community and of multigenerational immigrant families have internalized anti-Asian racism and White supremacy in our bodies, which bear the need to decode and to surface related truths. For some, the simple acknowledgment that anti-Asian racism and violence exists today is difficult to see—a poignant reality for Asians and Pacific Islanders because of the complex silencing of our voices amidst the oppression of Western Imperialism.3
Publishing the open letter functioned as a manifestation of collective grief while meeting the need for emotional solidarity among art workers as cultural producers and protectors. Stop DiscriminAsian functions as a setting for community organizing and emotional solidarity for API groups in the art world. Because our needs to recognize our grief are not met by the art world systems in place; because our experiences are not fully understood by those outside of our community; because if we do not organize with our fellow API art workers to make space for our futures, we will only continue to be silenced. It is our mission and challenge to meet the needs of API emotional solidarity in this time of unstable identity politics that inflame multivalent violence. As scholar Jinah Kim has observed:
Politicizing the structure of grief simultaneously requires the recognition that the force of grief does not itself imagine or desire freedom. And yet it is impossible to think about grief and mourning without imagining freedom from loss and thus the impasses and the incommensurability facing the insurgent drive for freedom.4
And in grief amidst hopeful futures free of racially-motivated violence, over 1,000 API art workers and allies signed this letter in solidarity.
Among current Stop DiscriminAsian members, we are intergenerational from cusp Gen Z-Millenials to Gen Xers. We are an API amalgam of curators, artists, writers, educators, and art workers who champion one another in this densely White and heteronormative industry. As our future and initiatives unfold, we continue to strive for building a wider net of emotional solidarity for API art workers by simply being together while imagining opportunities for each other and for future members as we learn how to grow.
Our most recent project was a billboard exhibited in Los Angeles in collaboration with the civic-engagement artist organization For Freedoms. For this, SDA adapted film stills from fellow member Kenneth Tam’s work Silent Spikes (2021) exhibited this year at Times Square in NYC, the Queens Museum, and the Institute of Contemporary Art in LA. The billboard adaptation held the text “Asians have been here longer than cowboys,” evoking the history of sailors from Manila arriving on Chumash land on the California Coast (1587), migrants from India arriving and Filipinos establishing permanent settlements (1700s), and Chinese workers who created the railroad system connecting the west coast with the rest of the United States. In this project, we emphasize significance to be found in the perpetuity, inclusion, and joy of API identity.