Tahseen: We don’t really talk about how much of an impact Asians have had on America itself. They immigrated into the U.S., and they helped build so much of what America is today, and yet nobody talks about that. We’re a part of America, too.
Briahna Joy Gray: This is Hear the Bern, a podcast about the people, ideas, and politics that are driving the Bernie Sanders 2020 campaign and the movement to secure a dignified life for everyone living in this country. My name is Briahna Joy Gray, coming to you from campaign headquarters in Washington, D.C. This week, for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we focus in on some of the issues relevant to Asian American voters, including our roundtable of AAPI rock stars from Bernie HQ. I also talk to author and activist Arjun Sethi, about the Trump era’s epidemic of hate crimes and to Christine Chen of Asian Pacific Islander American Vote about the growing power of Asian-Americans voters. Now, I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t realize May was AAPI Heritage Month. It was even news to some of our AAPI panel.
Tahseen: I think that sometimes we ourselves don’t get hyped up about our own months or whatever. I don’t think we even created this. I don’t even know who created this month. I didn’t know it was this month.
Briahna Joy Gray: That was Tahseen, a video producer for the Bernie Sanders campaign, who is of Bangladeshi descent. Now, she’s obviously being a little tongue-in-cheek, but her joke made me wonder. What are the origins of AAPI Heritage Month? Well, it began in 1977 as Asian American Pacific Islander week, when Norman Mineta, the first Japanese-American mayor of a major U.S. city, San Jose, co-founder of the Asian American Pacific Islander caucus, and longest-running Secretary of Commerce, introduced a resolution in the House. Why May? Well, the first people from Japan to immigrate to the U.S. arrived on May 7, 1843. The Transcontinental Railroad, which was famously built predominantly with the labor of Chinese immigrants, was completed on May 10, 1869. But those were hardly the first Asian immigrants to North America.
The first immigrants came from the Philippines on a Spanish galleon in 1587. By 1763, a group of Filipinos established their first settlement on the outskirts of New Orleans. But the first substantial waves of immigration to mainland U.S. happened around the 1850s, during the California gold rush. What happened next might feel a little familiar. In fact, the nativist sentiments simmering today at the instigation of our regrettable Commander in Chief sound disturbingly similar to the hateful rhetoric that percolated into the American mainstream after Asians began immigrating to the U.S. in larger numbers. Over the course of the late 19th century, hostility against Asian laborers grew, and violence, including hangings, intensified. In 1875, Congress passed the first immigration law intended to restrict Asian immigrants. It identified forced laborers and Asian women as “undesirable persons” to be barred from entering the country. In fact, it was a near total bar of Chinese women from the United States, meaning male laborers could not be reunited with their families. This was followed infamously by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which barred nearly all immigration from China. This law was the first immigration law to bar immigrants on the basis of race or national origin, but we all know it wasn’t the last.
Donald Trump: Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.
Briahna Joy Gray: As it turns out, concern about growing nativism, xenophobia, and outright hostility against immigrants was repeatedly raised as a key concern when I asked my coworkers about their political priorities.
Tahseen: I think it’s a huge issue, because my family back in Bangladesh, my parents’ family, they’re still stuck there. I think they’ve been in the system for over a decade, almost I think, maybe almost two decades. It’s crazy because I think they got one letter about four years ago saying, “Hey, you might be considered to be able to immigrate into the U.S.” They’re holding onto that letter still to this day. I’m like, “Hmm. I don’t think you’re coming anymore. It’s not happening.” Honestly, they need to start looking into other options. But the fact that it takes two decades, or 12 years to get into the States, that’s crazy. There needs to be some kind of… I don’t know… change.
Briahna Joy Gray: One of the statistics that we learned in another interview on this program was that one out of every six undocumented immigrants in America is actually of Asian descent, which is something that I didn’t really realize, not the picture of immigration that we get. I wonder, with all of Trump’s nativist, racist lingo, obviously, how much is immigration an issue for you guys and also when you’re in conversations with your family and broader communities?
Yong Jung: The undocumented issue, in particular, I think it’s definitely a challenge that is really unseen outside of our communities, but it’s very present and it exists.
Briahna Joy Gray: That was Yong Jung, a constituency organizing director on the campaign.
Yong Jung: I think this is connected to the broader issue about how the Asian-American constituency is really diverse, but this is one thing that really binds us together. It also is a way where we can come together to fight Trump’s xenophobia and also fight for a country where all of us belong, too. The Asian American constituency has so many languages. We have so many ethnic backgrounds. We have different religions. It’s really hard for us to have and create a shared identity, but we do have a lot of similar struggles from immigration to health care to language barriers. We all want to create a place where we feel like we can belong. I think that those are some things that bring us together.
Briahna Joy Gray: What do you guys make, given the diversity of the Asian American community, given the enormous size, and breadth, and diversity of the Asian continent, what do you guys make of AAPI month? Because sometimes I feel often, as a black American, that there are times when we just kind of create the… like we reason from the black version of things and make versions for other groups. There isn’t always a direct translation. It doesn’t always come across the same way. I’ve experienced having to rustle up my Asian American colleagues at my law firm, et cetera, to be, “Okay. What are we going to do for AAPI month?” They’re like, “I don’t know, whatever the white people want to do.” What do you make of this?
Yong Jung: I think that’s true. I think that sometimes we ourselves don’t get hyped up about our own months or whatever. But at the same time, it’s kind of like we do need to rally together and kind of be part of these conversations. But I also kind of feel like AAPI month is… I don’t know, maybe I’m different. Within the South Asian community, we don’t really talk about it that much. I feel like it’s very East Asian or Southeast Asian. They’re having these conversations. I think there’s even a disconnect between East Asians and Southeast Asians. We’re kind of the same, but we’re really not at all. I don’t know… not at all, but you know what I mean.
Mia: Even if you think of like the through lines that might connect sort of all of our experiences, whenever there’s another month for another ethnic group, or minority, or what-have-you, it’s always a reminder of the extent of imperialism in this world and how all of that has shaped the trajectories of our families and where we come from. America as the net catch for a lot of that is, I think it’s really important to acknowledge.
Briahna Joy Gray: That was Mia, the campaign’s powerhouse video director and a big part of why you’re able to listen to this podcast right now.
Mia: I remember in college I didn’t feel I was completely represented by the Asian Students Alliance, so I made a Southeast Asian Students Alliance, but we still partied together. It’s important to create the spaces and create those dialogues that you have with each other. If it takes a month to do that, okay.
Briahna Joy Gray: There are 48 countries in Asia where over 2,300 languages are spoken. That diversity is represented among Asian Americans, as well. That presents certain challenges with respect to better outreach. It seems that many politicians simply don’t try at all, an issue I brought up with Christine Chen of APIAVote.
Christine Chen: Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote is a national organization where we work with local Asian American Pacific Islander non-profits to help build their capacity to increase voter registration, voter participation in elections every year, as well as preparing us for the 2020 census.
Briahna Joy Gray: Okay. What does the landscape look like in terms of voting rates and registration rates? What are the kind of barriers that you encounter?
Christine Chen: In the past, we had one of the lowest voter registration rates. But a lot of it is, if you look at our history, it was only in 1952 that Chinese Americans were finally able to have immigration policy lifted so that way they could actually immigrate and become citizens here in the United States. If you look at this population, it’s only more recently that people are becoming U.S. citizens, and that they’re actually trying to register. We really saw that development, really, in the last decade where now we’re working with non-profits in 27 states where they’re actually doing regular voter registration efforts and talking about the issues. Part of it is also that almost 80% of our community are first-generation immigrants. That means we actually need to demystify the voting process and democracy. Knowing that voting rights laws are so different in each state, it’s also about educating our top leadership about all of those rules and regulations, and making them also understand that as a 501(c)3 organization non-profit, that you’re allowed to do this type of nonpartisan work.
Briahna Joy Gray: What are those conversations like when you’re engaging in these communities or door knocking, and you’re talking to people who might not have had a past history of being active voters, who might have immigrated from a country where there wasn’t the same kind of access to the ballot or democracy that we have here? What kind of stories do you hear?
Christine Chen: Well, first of all, a lot of people when we first register them, they’re actually thanking us because this is the first time anyone even approached them to actually ask them to register to vote. That also tells us that there is not enough outreach, and work, and engagement with the Asian American Pacific Islander community. Also, I think in terms of whether or not, how do you engage them? Well, our community, they don’t like to necessarily label themselves as progressives, or conservatives, or Democrats, or Republicans. It’s really about that relationship-building that they have with a particular candidate, with a particular party. It’s also about are you addressing the issues that they care about, and not only during election season, but also year-round? When they’re out in the community, are you asking them to engage in their town halls? Are you also providing language assistance for those who need that? Understanding the complexities, but also understanding that our community is growing, especially since the 2010 census.
Briahna Joy Gray: I asked the HQ crew about what, for many Americans, is the simplest and most direct form of outreach, talking to your own family.
Do you guys have conversations with your parents or other family members about Bernie?
Tahseen: Yeah, definitely. But the thing is, since my parents are immigrants, they really don’t understand who Bernie is and what he stands for. They love him, and they love him probably the most out of all the other candidates, but at the same time, they’re immigrant parents that are kind of jaded. They always think that, “You know what? We have hope, but we’re not really sure if what we want will ever be represented, will ever actually come true.”
Briahna Joy Gray: I see a lot of nods.
Yong Jung: Yeah. I mean, yes. I also think that my parents are really excited that I’m working on the campaign. We have a restaurant in Brooklyn Heights, so they’re like, “Get me a Bernie poster. I want to put it up on the restaurant,” which I think is so cute, because they aren’t really involved in politics that much. I think there’s a responsibility, for especially second-generation Asian Americans, second-generation immigrants, to talk to their parents about why they are super excited about Bernie. I think if we actually have real conversations about why our life will be better, why their life will be better, then they’re going to be super excited about it, too. They are connected to a network that we aren’t connected to, so I really encourage all of us to have those conversations because our parents trust us.
Briahna Joy Gray: Christine Chen told me that, as the fastest growing ethnic group in the United States, Asian Americans are shaking up elections all over the country.
I read something like the Asian American population has grown by 70-odd percent or something like that since 2000.
Christine Chen: Yeah. Actually, in Nevada and Virginia, they have even grown up to 167%.
Briahna Joy Gray: That’s wild.
Christine Chen: That has really changed the political landscape of those particular states. Even when I look at the last two or three presidential cycles for Nevada, Filipino voters, Asian Americans voters, along with Latino voters, are really making an impact in Nevada. We’ve seen that in terms of local races, state-wide races, as well as the presidential. Even in 2016, we had organizations conducting caucus training programs, as well as in Iowa. Now, going to this election cycle, we’re seeing presidential candidates actually reach out to the Asian Americans voters in Nevada to meet with them early on. That, actually, I have never seen that in previous cycles.
Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah. I was reading that only 29% of Asian Americans have been reached out to by a political party… by either political party… compared to something like 44% of white voters. It just seems like, to be just really politically craven about it, like cards left on the table.
Christine Chen: That’s correct. For APIAVote, we focus on bringing in new registrants into the election cycle, but also, we reach out to those that are typically not touched. We actually send them regular mailers in language. We conduct phone banking, and then for some areas where we have the capacity, to actually also door knock. What we found in 2018, even though we saw an increase of voter participation, we still got calls from voters saying, “Hey, I got your mailer. I don’t even know who is on my ballot. Also, is there information about these candidates?” We know that parties and campaigns are actually not reaching out to them.
Briahna Joy Gray: I read a lot about how the diversity of the Asian American community, including a lot of economic diversity, ends up disguising the extent to which discrete populations have very different priorities from other populations. There is kind of a model minority methodology that says Asian Americans are doing so well in all these respects, that kind of erases what is going on with certain groups. Can you talk to that a little bit?
Christine Chen: Right. I think that’s why we need to dig deeper in terms of the issues and how they actually impact particular populations within what we call the Greater Asian American Pacific Islander community, which really encompasses 49 different ethnic communities. But based on all of our polling that we’ve been doing since 2012, every two years, economics, health care, education, they actually continue to be the top level. These are still the same issues that many other Americans also care about. What we’ve also seen is that typically, even though they come from different ethnic populations and they may have been here different generations, when you actually poll them on issues, they actually all lean pretty progressive on a wide variety of issues, everything from immigration, to health care, to the role of government. Actually, a lot of people don’t realize that Asian American voters believe that and support a larger government and more services.
Briahna Joy Gray: That certainly seemed true of some of the folks I spoke to at HQ, who emphasized issues like health care and education when I asked them about their priorities.
Yong Jung: Well, it starts with my parents-
Briahna Joy Gray: That’s Yong Jung again.
Yong Jung: … I always thought I’d become a doctor, because my parents didn’t have health care for most of their life. Bernie is fighting for health care for everyone, and staunchly Medicare for all. I think that separates him from the rest of the pack. If Bernie is elected, then my parents’ life will be better.
Tahseen: Education, I think that education is so important in our communities. Bernie probably has the most progressive policies on education.
Briahna Joy Gray: I’m going to interrupt Tahseen here to correct that, probably, to a, definitely. Bernie recently announced his Thurgood Marshall education plan, which has been described as the most progressive education platform in modern American history. It triples Title I funding to at-risk schools, appoints federal judges to enforce the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and guarantees teachers wages of at least $60,000 a year, a major increase over the current starting salary. In concert with the recommendations of the NAACP, the Thurgood Marshall plan also ends federal funding for for-profit charter schools, which exacerbates segregation and siphons dollars away from the public education system. Under Bernie’s plan, teachers running GoFundMe’s on Facebook for essential school supplies would become a thing of the past. But I digress.
Tahseen: He’s not only helping low-income African American and Latino communities, but he’s helping our communities, too. The thing is, I think, as Asian Americans, we also have to remember to be more inclusive of other low-income communities. I think that we need to do a better job at that. We kind of isolate ourselves, but I think that education is so important, and to be part of a campaign or to vote for someone who is voting for your kids.
Briahna Joy Gray: Mia emphasized both Bernie’s progressive immigration platform and his support of labor interests as important draws to the campaign.
Mia: Everybody knows somebody in our communities who is trying to… the phrase is bring someone over… trying to create that network for them to enjoy the benefits of living in this country. I think what you’ll find… and my pitch to them would be, Bernie is hyperaware of the importance of that in creating the American fabric that we all want to see. Additionally, of course, his stance on labor and making sure that workers are treated fairly, that’s really important for anyone coming into this country without a network. They’re most likely going to be working jobs that either are paying maybe even minimum wage if they don’t have the language background or the educational background that’s required to have a more elite-paying job. So that would be my pitch.
Briahna Joy Gray: African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinx Americans, and Native Americans all rank the economy, health care, and education among their top priorities. But framing can be such an important part of whether various groups feel spoken to and heard. I asked Christine Chen whether she had any insights with respect to the messaging that’s most effective in her experience.
I’m curious whether… I know that when I’m talking to black voters and kind of reading a discourse with black voters, there is this sense that despite the fact that with us, as well, polling shows that our priorities are health care, jobs, and the economy, just like general American voters. There’s a way in which there’s like a real hunger for those issues to be framed in a certain way that shows that a candidate is interested specifically in reaching out, and specifically kind of catering policy with us in mind, rather than incidentally. I wonder if that’s something that you see, as well, or something that’s kind of unique to my own African American context?
Christine Chen: No. I think, as all other Americans, we all care about those particular issues, but they all impact us in different ways. For instance, even though immigration isn’t on the top of the polling data, the thing is a large percentage of our community are first-generation immigrants. Immigration policy is going to impact the way we view the economy, in terms of access to education or to health care. Also, in terms of when you look at are you third-generation Japanese American, to first-generation Chinese American, or Hmong refugee, or Vietnamese refugee, where some of them are also dealing with deportation issues right now, especially in the Southeast Asian community.
Briahna Joy Gray: Visibility, or rather a lack thereof, was a theme of sorts throughout this week’s interviews, including during my talk with Arjun Sethi. Arjun is the author of a new book called American Hate: Survivors Speak Out.
Arjun Sethi: Often it seems like mainstream media is more interested in humanizing white supremacists than they are giving a platform to survivors of hate violence. What I did in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election was travel the country and meet with survivors of hate violence in their homes, houses of worship, workplaces, and documented their stories. I met with Muslims, black folks, Jewish folks, queer folks, trans folks, Latinx, Arabs, Sikh American, undocumented folks, because all of these communities have experienced a vicious uptick in hate violence, bullying, discrimination, really ever since Donald Trump announced that he was running for President of the United States.
Briahna Joy Gray: Here are the stats. The FBI reported 7,175 incidents of hate crimes in 2017. That’s the most recent year for which there is data available. The number of offenses present a 17% increase from 2016, and an uptick for three consecutive years from 5,479 incidents in 2014. But, according to Arjun, that number doesn’t even begin to capture the reality on the ground.
Arjun Sethi: The FBI releases an annual report documenting the total number of hate crimes the preceding year. In 2018, the FBI released a report documenting hate crimes in the year 2017. They reported a steady uptick in hate violence. They documented somewhere around 8,000 hate crimes, which is a large number. But, the true number of hate crimes is actually closer to 250,000 hate crimes. Why does that gulf exist, 8,000 versus 250,000? It’s because the FBI report relies on voluntary reporting by local police. It’s not mandatory, so most police departments don’t bother reporting, or they report zero hate crimes. So, believe it or not, the 2018 FBI hate crime report doesn’t even include the murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville.
Briahna Joy Gray: Oh, wow.
Arjun Sethi: That’s how deficient the data is. Furthermore, we know from community organizations who track this information, who work with targeted folks every day, that they are experiencing a record number of intakes of people, again, whose houses of worship have been vandalized, people who are experiencing threats on the street, or in some cases have even been assaulted, or experienced worse.
Briahna Joy Gray: So, I asked Arjun, is it fair to blame Trump for this?
Arjun Sethi: I mean, I think I would sort of phrase it and say Donald Trump has done everything in his power, seemingly, to intensify hate in this country, whether it’s his rhetoric-
Donald Trump: They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. I love the old days. You know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks. I’d like to punch him in the face, I’ll tell you.
Arjun Sethi: … whether it’s his courting of white supremacists-
Donald Trump: I think there’s blame on both sides, but you also had people that were very fine people on both sides.
Arjun Sethi: … whether it’s his policies. Look, if the President of the United States is going to ban Muslims and refugees, roll back protections for transgender students, roll back and encourage the recision of Title IX protections, separate and cage undocumented families at the border, it’s going to put a target on our collective back. I will tell you that we should not be afraid to call this President what he is, which is a misogynist, a racist, and a white supremacist who has emboldened and intensified hate in every facet of American life.
Briahna Joy Gray: But enough about Trump. Arjun is right. The stories we don’t hear enough of are the victims’ stories.
Arjun Sethi: Sometimes people think that hate is a blue state problem; it’s a red state problem; it’s an urban problem; it’s a rural problem. Hate is an American problem. I went to places like Tulsa, Oklahoma; Providence, Rhode Island; Victoria, Texas; Whitefish, Montana. Here we are sitting in D.C. One of stories that I include in the book is a story of Taylor Dumpson. Taylor Dumpson is the first black woman to ever be elected student body president at American University. The day that Taylor takes office… April 1, 2017… nooses are found hanging across campus. You might look at that headline and think it was a throwback to 30, 40 years ago. That happened in D.C., miles from the White House. That’s one of the stories.
Another story is the story of Jeanette Vizguerra. Jeanette Vizguerra is Latinx, undocumented, one of the first undocumented immigrants to take sanctuary at a house of worship during the Trump Administration. She talks about how she had to part ways with her three U.S.-born children because she feared Donald Trump and ICE would tear her family apart. Not only did she experience the threat of state violence, but she also talked in her testimony about how when she took sanctuary in the First Unitarian Church in Denver, Colorado, people threatened to blow the church up because they had given her sanctuary.
One of the other stories in the book is the story of Destinee Mangum and Walia Mohamed. They were the two young black women who boarded the MAX train in Portland, Oregon, in the summer of 2017, when a white supremacist… who was known to police, who targeted a black woman just days before… started insulting them and targeting them on account of their appearance, on account of their race, on account of their faith. The two young women, after being insulted, after fearing for their lives, went to the back of the train. Three upstanders intervened. Two of them were stabbed to death. The book is the very first time that Destinee Mangum and Walia Mohamed tell their story together. One other story I will tell you, another example of how state violence leads to hate violence. The very same night that Donald Trump, in January of 2017, said he was going to ban Muslims and refugees from entering the United States and signed that terrible executive order, a mosque in Victoria, Texas, was burned to the ground. The spokesperson for that mosque, Shahid Hashmi, tells his story and the story of the Victoria Muslim community in the book.
Briahna Joy Gray: I asked Arjun, who is Sikh and wears a turban, whether he encountered any personal hostility on his travels across the U.S. to meet with victims. Sadly, the answer was, yes.
Arjun Sethi: I was in Tulsa, Oklahoma, meeting the family of Khalid Jabara. Khalid Jabara is an Arab-American who was murdered on his front doorstep by a white supremacist who lived next door, in August of 2016. Right after interviewing the family in their family home in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I was driving to the airport, and someone was tailgating me. I didn’t really know where I was going, driving a little slow. The car then pulls up to my left. When the person in the car saw my face and saw I had a beard and turban, he became enraged. He started mocking me. He started parroting and sort of mimicking my turban, pointing at me. I was genuinely scared. I immediately pulled over to the side of the road.
When I went to Whitefish, Montana, to meet Tanya Gersh… Tanya Gersh is a Jewish American who was viciously cybertrolled on account of being Jewish. Right after the Presidential election, she received somewhere between 800 to 1,200 menacing voicemails, emails, text messages. Not just her, but her entire family. When I went to Whitefish, Montana, truthfully, I didn’t feel comfortable. I would often buy my frozen dinner… it didn’t taste very well, to be honest… but I would buy a frozen dinner at a local market and warm it up in the hotel. Then the last night I was there, I’m standing in line at the grocery store, and a cashier and a customer in line stared me down. I will tell you, some years ago, I might have been open to having a conversation with them about who am I, and what I believe, and how I belong here, and how this is my country, too, but truthfully, in this moment, I thought maybe one of them was packing a gun. I thought maybe one of them would just hit me. I had to just move to another line and protect myself, because that’s what I felt like I needed to do to sort of extricate myself from that situation.
Briahna Joy Gray: Gosh. It’s so unnerving and so disappointing to hear, and I’m sorry for that. Amazingly though, Arjun’s focus and the focus of many other survivors he spoke to wasn’t on retribution or vengeance, but on restorative justice.
Arjun Sethi: Survivors in community organizations want hate crime laws, not because they want to add time to already lengthy prison sentences, not because they want to lead into mass incarceration, it’s because calling crimes motivated by hate, hate crimes, allows us to see the intersection among these crimes. We can no longer dismiss them as isolated, as aberrations. Instead, we can dig to the roots, which are often white supremacy, anti-black racism. I found that a lot of survivors actually want things like restorative justice. The first story in the book is the story of Asmaa Albukaie, a Syrian refugee to be resettled, first Syrian refugee to ever be resettled in Boise, Idaho. She talks about how one day her young Muslim son was walking in downtown Boise when someone asked, “Are you Muslim?” When the boy said, “Yes,” he was punched to the ground. She was invited to court by the judge in the sentencing hearing. That sometimes happens. The judge asked her what would be an appropriate sentence. She said, “Your Honor, the suspect who hurt my child won’t learn about Syrians, refugees, or Muslims in jail. He should work with them in the affected community. He should work with Syrians. He should work with Muslims.”
I found that many survivors are open to restorative justice so long as there is accountability. I will tell you, often communities of color, in particular, are asked to carry this burden of reconciliation, of restorative justice in a way that while folks aren’t. I think it’s really critical that we also emphasize accountability alongside restorative justice.
Briahna Joy Gray: What does that look like, if not leading into mass incarceration?
Arjun Sethi: Well, it can be very different things. There are some survivors who are open to actually having conversations with communities who disagree with them. In some cases, we’ve seen survivors actually be open to having conversations with people who in some cases have harmed them. Again, there isn’t one single answer. Every survivor is sort of in a different place, but often they are open, again, to those conversations, or, again, in some cases they recommend community service. They recommend education. Dyne Suh is the Asian American who famously in a viral video was told that she couldn’t stay in an Airbnb because she was Asian. She was stuck in a snowstorm. This was a viral video-
Briahna Joy Gray: I do remember that. Yeah. Yeah.
Arjun Sethi: … so, I spoke to her in the context of the book. She ended up having a negotiated mediation with the person who discriminated against her. Part of the settlement in that case was for the person who discriminated against her to take a course and write a paper in Asian American studies. We’ve seen all these extraordinary examples, whether it’s having difficult conversations, whether it’s community service, or just educating oneself and trying to remedy one’s ignorance.
Briahna Joy Gray: What’s really funny is I’ve read about this in the past, the extent to which one should want to, or try to, or see it as a valuable thing to do, having conversations with racists, having conversations with people who are your political opposite. There is one strain of thought that says this is not a burden that I should have to shoulder. Phrased in that kind of conditional tense, I agree. It’s not a burden you should have to shoulder, and no one person should feel responsible for doing so. If you’ve got other things going on, life happens. No individual marginalized, person from a marginalized group, should feel responsible for taking that on. But I do find it interesting that there has been a tone of late that says to talk to the person who you need to convince to stop hurting me, is somehow not in my own interest.
It’s an interesting shuffle. I have always felt almost a responsibility to do that sort of work. I feel compelled to engage with those who differ from me, in part because I have such confidence in my ability to sway them, because I have such confidence in my political position, and my personal position, and my equality. I feel like… maybe perhaps naively… a belief in the fundamental goodness of humanity. We’ll see how long that lasts. But at least right now, that exposure, and education, and things like that are incredibly powerful, and studies bear those results out. I don’t know if in the process of writing this book, have you felt more or less confident in the ability to kind of effect change and change people’s minds through those kinds of, if not one-on-one engagements, then writing books like this, sharing stories, exposing people to diversity and differences?
Arjun Sethi: You’re right to point out that out. There’s a huge tension. My position always is I will never compel anyone to do anything that they’re uncomfortable with. For people who feel like they shouldn’t shoulder that burden, they shouldn’t have to. I can tell you that, for example, in this book, I don’t give any time to white supremacists, because as far as I’m concerned, they’ve already had enough time in the media. They’ve already had their day in the sun, going back decades and centuries. But I will tell you, just as you’ve pointed out, there are lots of survivors of hate violence who are open to having these conversations. I will tell you, if survivors of hate violence want to have these conversations, we have to let them have those conversations, so long as they feel safe, so long as they are comfortable, and so long as they are aware of the consequences of having those conversations.
I will tell you, I think it’s an extraordinary act. Look at Asmaa Albukaie, for example. This is a Syrian refugee who lost her husband in the Syrian civil war, took four flights to get here from Egypt with her two young sons. If there was anybody in the world who could have bought into mass incarceration, it was her, and she didn’t. Again, I found that repeatedly throughout my work. I think it is extraordinary that folks are pivoting away from mass incarceration, and pivoting away from just this sort of full-fledged demonization. But, the other sort of flip side of it, I think it’s also really important for white allies to step up.
An example I give in the book is not too long after Charlottesville, there were sister white supremacist marches that were planned for two cities in Tennessee. It was interesting because the Black Lives Matter chapter came out around that time and put out a really powerful statement saying that they would not be joining the sister opposition protests to those rallies, because it was white America who would let these white supremacists in, and it was the responsibility of white America to show them out.
We’ve also seen extraordinary examples of white allies doing the right thing, and having some of those difficult conversations in spaces, frankly, that I can’t access. That’s the thing. I talked about some of the hate I experienced in places like Whitefish and places like Tulsa. Even if you were open to having some of these conversations, maybe you could have them, but I will tell you, there are certain places, I just don’t think it’s safe for me to go. It’s really important for white allies to do some of that difficult work, and to go into those spaces where they have those privileges, so I think we need both.
Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah, we can’t all be… I forget the name of the… there’s a black man who tells the story of how he has something like 11 Ku Klux Klan outfits hanging in his closet because each one represents a KKK member who he has talked out of being a white supremacist, and they gift him over their robes at the end.
His name is Daryl Davis. He has a great TED Talk called… get this… Klan We Talk?
Daryl Davis: I have some of the robes here with me.
Speaker: This is my first time seeing these up close.
Daryl Davis: This belonged to an Imperial Wizard, which means national leader. I tried it on to see what it felt like, looked like.
Speaker: You put the KKK robe on?
Daryl Davis: I put the Klan robe on and the hood to see if I felt powerful. I wanted to see if they had that kind of effect. I went and stood in the mirror, and I looked stupid, so I took it off.
Arjun Sethi: I’ve seen his talk. Yeah.
Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah. I mean, no one’s expecting anyone to go quite into the fire like that. It’s always an interesting conversation for me, because I often that people that are kind of closest to the harm are most invested and kind of willing to take on some of that burden, because they perceive it as a direct… I believe, this is my psychological interpretation of what’s happening… is they see it as directly impactful. If they’re not going to fight, who is going to do it? It’s like there is almost more self-interest and buy-in.
Arjun Sethi: It’s also so counterintuitive, but I think it also shows the power of forgiveness, the power of human mercy. One of the stories I tell at the very end of the book is the story of the Sikhs of Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Some years ago, in August, a white supremacist stormed a Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and murdered six Sikh worshipers. The next day, when the Sikh community gathered to recite their holy prayer, they asked their creator… they’re a monotheistic faith, for forgiveness, and for salvation, and for safety, and health for the six folks, six Sikhs, who had passed away, but also for the shooter. They prayed for the souls of seven people. The media was stunned, because they hadn’t seen anything like that. I have found that there is this extraordinary capacity for forgiveness, for mercy. It’s something, actually, that inspires me. It was part of the book and the project that sort of most shook me to my core.
Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah. To be clear, those people who are not there, and are still angry… because there is this kind of media narrative that also happened that says these people forgave. I think the same thing happened… the shooter, Dylann Roof, the congregation forgave him, and then a lot of other people were like, “Well, we don’t.” There’s no wrong.
Arjun Sethi: There’s no wrong. There’s absolutely no right or wrong. Everyone has their own history. I will tell you, every survivor I met is in a different place. I just think that there has to be… there’s a spectrum. There has to be room for survivors, for community organizations who want to do this work… and are doing it successfully. Just like the gentleman you described who has all of these Ku Klux Klan outfits hanging in his closet. I could never do that work, but it’s extraordinary that there is somebody who is capable of doing it.
Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah. Yeah. Well, I really have appreciated this conversation. I learned a lot. I want to give you a chance to say anything that you might have missed, and to give viewers and listeners an opportunity to engage with any groups or take any action that you think would be helpful given this kind of aggressively increasing hateful climate that is being stoked by our current Commander in Chief.
Arjun Sethi: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s really important, again, to call a spade, a spade. Whether it’s Stephen Miller, whether it’s Stephen Bannon, whether it’s Donald Trump, to call these people what they are, which are white supremacists, racists, misogynists. I think it’s really important, again, to be an ally to survivors, make sure survivors are telling their stories. Guess what? Survivors shouldn’t just be telling their stories in American Hate. Hey, there should be city council hearings, state hearings across this country. They should be able to testify and give these testimonials in state legislatures across this country. That’s something you can immediately do, in addition to making sure that your representatives are also capturing accurate data about hate crime.
For folks, again, who are interested in engaging further, you can definitely check out the book. Every survivor in the book is unbelievably… again, surprisingly to me… is hopeful and optimistic about the future of this country. There’s a lot you can do, and the book will direct you in that way.
For other folks who are interested, one of the questions I often get is, “Can we see photos of the survivors?” A lot of them weren’t comfortable including their photos in the book, but there’s an Instagram account associated with the book, and there are lots of photos of the survivors on that account. It’s called survivorsspeakout, for those who are interested. Thank you so much for having me, and thank you to Bernie Sanders for being one of the very first, if not the first, sort of national representative to specifically call Donald Trump a racist and a white supremacist, while other folks are equivocating, saying, “I don’t know what’s going on in his head,” or, “I can’t pry into his mind.”
Bernie Sanders: We have a President… and I say this without any joy in my heart… who is a racist.
Arjun Sethi: He was somebody who really just said he is what he is. We know that he is a racist and we know that he is a white supremacist.
Briahna Joy Gray: Arjun wasn’t the only one that felt that way about Bernie. This is Tahseen.
Tahseen: Honestly, I was never really that into politics, so for me this is very new. Bernie has always been the only politician that has kind of been on the right side of left things. He’s always been on the side of justice. I feel like, even as a presidential candidate, he cares more about the people than the presidency itself. He’s always just fighting for the people. That means a lot to me.
Briahna Joy Gray: And this is Yong Jung.
Yong Jung: Trump and the Republican Party use racism, and bigotry, and xenophobia as a way to divide working people, for us to come together and fight against the billionaire class. I think Bernie talks about that and how much is at stake when that happens, because that impacts our families, and that impacts our lives, and our livelihoods. My pitch is that Bernie is the working-class champion. If we want to make our lives better, and our children’s lives better, and our parents’ lives better, Bernie is the candidate to do that.
Briahna Joy Gray: Mia also emphasized his respect for human difference and the belief that that difference is never an excuse to deny human dignity.
Mia: I decided to work for Bernie because the values that I embody are all of the things that he fights for, because he acknowledges this concept that a person can be like a braided person, that Americanness is a flow of a lot of intersections
Briahna Joy Gray: A braided person. Well, if that’s not the most beautiful description of intersectionality I’ve ever heard. I think I’ll leave it there.
Bernie Sanders: All of you will remember. Several years ago a racist walked into a church in South Carolina and shot people down in cold blood. Today a racist, as we understand it, walked into a synagogue in Pittsburgh. If this country stands for anything, it has got to stand for the right of people, whether they are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, to live their lives without bigotry, without fear.
Briahna Joy Gray: Let us know what you think at [email protected], or send us a tweet with the hashtag #HearTheBern. If you haven’t already, please take a moment to rate, review, or like us on Apple Podcasts, SoundCloud, or wherever you’re listening. Transcripts will be up soon. Till next time.
Bernie Sanders: This morning, I had the opportunity to meet with members of the Muslim community at the Islamic Center of Southern California. We were all shocked and disgusted by the mass killings last week of 50 Muslims in a mosque in New Zealand.
As many of you know, I am Jewish. My father’s family was wiped out by Hitler, and I grew up in Brooklyn many of the people had Nazi identification from the concentration camps on their arms.
Crying, when I would read books about the Holocaust, these picture books of what happened at Auschwitz and the other concentration camps, and tears would stream down my eyes.
I never could understand why would people do such terrible and horrible things to people. Then you get a little bit older. You study history, you study our own country and what happened to the Native American people. We study about the abomination of slavery and the segregation and racism that our African-American brothers and sisters experienced. And after all of that suffering, one might have hoped and believed that maybe just maybe the world would understand that we share a common humanity.
Superficial differences. Your religion may be different than mine, but we share a common humanity, and it is so very disturbing to me that in recent years we seem to be moving in the wrong direction. We seem to be moving toward tribalism.
I was thinking so hard about what I could say about the tragedy of New Zealand. I wish I could tell you something profound and I, I just can’t. The only thing that I perhaps can say is out of that terrible tragedy, where people were slaughtered because of their religion, is that now is the time as never before for us to stand up to hatred of all kinds.
As president of the United States, I will not have kind words to say about authoritarian leaders around the world who espouse bigotry and hatred.
This nation in fact will be a leader in bringing our people together regardless of their religion and to create a world in which love will conquer hate.