Anti-Asian Violence As Seen By Asian-American Musicians, Part 2

“Try being an amplifier… turn up their message”

Poster seen in Chinatown, NYC April 2021 (Art: Ron Hart, Photo: Jason Gross)

As a continuation of our previous article, we spoke to a group of more Asian American musicians to get their perspective on the recent violence against the API community as well as their ideas for combating this problem. 

They were also brave enough to share some personal stories of how they themselves have experience discrimination and even violence against them merely because of their race.



Lyrics Born

When you see the news about the recent Anti-Asian violence in the States, what goes through your mind?

It’s terrible. I feel unsafe, angry, and exhausted. Add this to all the other emotions every other American is feeling while living with COVID, and the stress is compounded. This shit has been happening long before I was born, but the rise of violence, death, and open hatred in the Corona-era is a direct result of the ex-president scapegoating us and normalizing anti-Asian sentiment by using phrases like “Kung-Flu,” and the “China Virus.”


What do you think is at the root of this violence?

Racism. Plain and simple. We’ve been targets since we first set foot on these shores hundreds of years ago. But again, the ex-president’s rhetoric has exacerbated it. 


What do you think is the best way to combat this problem?

For Asians, we need to educate, advocate and protect ourselves. Outside of our community, I would urge others to have conversations within your in-group about racism and how it’s literally killing people. It’s not enough for you to not be racist: Human-kind needs you to be anti-racist, especially within your own community, where you have credibility and people will listen to you.


Is there any incident/situation in your life that you could share about anti-Asian prejudice that you’ve experienced and how that affected you?

There isn’t just one. When you’re a person of color, racism is something you live with daily, hourly, sometimes minute by minute. I wish I could just turn it off, tune it out, and go about my life, but that’s not our reality. I was taunted with racial epithets every day from the time I was 4 until about 20, by kids, parents, teachers, coaches, drivers, passers-by, and others. And then there’s the “baked-in” racism we deal with in society. There’s a racist or racial subtext in almost every facet of American life for us that I wish I didn’t have to see or live with, but there is always that extra blanket or two on the bed.



Money Mark (Photo: Sandra Fernandez)

As we all know, this violence is nothing new but is ramped up by stochastic methods. The formal responsibility of this structured violence lies on the leaders of the nation, leaders of the states and local governments. Simply, we must take care of each other and not rely on the State. For some, this is a natural action but for others, it’s time to start being comfortable with being uncomfortable; be vocal, be active, emphatically act at all times. Be a teacher and student of peace. Use the power of love. 

Being of mixed race, specifically of Asian and Latin descent and living in the US, I experienced lots of personal racist attacks such as verbal abuse and some physical aggression due directly to my body appearance at nearly every age of my life. I learned techniques on how to steer that ugly energy into something artistic. I learned how to take the hurt and create strength from it. I’ve seen some very helpful techniques online recently. Some guides that help one stay alert and act/react intelligently. 

We cannot adopt this violence as a counter action. Creativity is necessary. 

Author David Neiwert, who wrote the book Alt-America, told Salon interviewer Chauncey Devega:

“Scripted violence is where a person who has a national platform describes the kind of violence that they want to be carried out. He identifies the targets and leaves it up to the listeners to carry out this violence. It is a form of terrorism. It is an act and a social phenomenon where there is an agreement to inflict massive violence on a whole segment of society. Again, this violence is led by people in high-profile positions in the media and the government. They’re the ones who do the scripting, and it is ordinary people who carry it out.”



David Pajo (Art: Ron Hart)

When you see the news about the recent Anti-Asian violence in the States, what goes through your mind?

My first thought is usually cowardice, depending on the situation. Bullying someone weaker only exposes a coward. Unfortunately, it just seems like an expected conclusion to a long-standing, overarching worldview.

What I mean is, I’m rarely surprised.


What do you think is at the root of this violence?

The idea that Asians are different than you.


What do you think is the best way(s) to combat this problem?

For now? A few things, maybe.

1) If you’re white or of European descent, shut the fuck up about your point of view. We get it. Just listen. To non-whites.

2) If you’re white and having trouble keeping your mouth shut, try being an amplifier. Non-whites are the guitar. Use your voice to turn up their message. Not yours.

3) If you’re black / white / red / blue / he / she / they / etc., let’s all try focusing on our similarities, rather than our differences.

4) Calling people ‘racist’ or playing the racism card is very severe. The constant use of it is numbing us all to the severity of the term. We need to redefine or invent some new words. Is it racism happening or is it prejudice? ‘Privilege’ aka ‘white privilege’ is a modern phrase that has changed my life. We need to be more specific and more thoughtful about our terminology. “But I don’t know what to say anymore! First it’s this, and then that!” No sympathy here. Deal with it, brother.


Is there any incident/situation in your life that you could share about anti-Asian prejudice that you’ve experienced and how that affected you?

I grew up in Kentucky at a time when there was not a significant Asian community. There isn’t a specific instance of prejudice, just an overall feeling of never being accepted—fully or barely—because one is different. That feeling is omnipresent in the sense that you get it from the black guy who yells “oriental motherfucker!” at you as well as from the blue-eyed friend that thinks you’ll probably get along with his other Asian friend.

My entire life, I always forget that I’m different. Everyone else reminds me.



Ellisa Sun (Art: Ron Hart)

When you see the news about the recent Anti-Asian violence in the States, what goes through your mind?

I think the first thing that goes through my mind is deep sadness and anger. As someone who identifies as half Chinese, half white, I’ve gone through life as a very racially ambiguous person. But over the past year, I’ve felt much more aware of my Chinese heritage and incredibly disappointed by our country’s reaction to the anti-Asian violence during COVID-19. It’s really difficult not to feel hopeless and numb every time an incident gets reported or I see a headline about another hate crime against Asians. Sadly I think I’ve reached a point where I’m desensitized to it and it is to be expected. 


What do you think is at the root of this violence?

White supremacy, xenophobia and racism. I think some white people are deeply afraid of anyone who doesn’t look like them. I think some white people are afraid of their power structures being challenged for the first time, and their fear gets translated into angry acts of violence. It doesn’t matter if the acts of violence towards Asians are white or another race–I believe that the root of it is still white supremacy. If this virus were to have started here in the United States, say, by a white person who got sick or from an animal raised or owned by a white person, we wouldn’t see violence towards white folks because they wouldn’t allow it to happen. It simply wouldn’t exist because of the sheer power of white supremacy in this country. Those in power are most protected. Just look at the coup in January 2021: the fact that this mob of white rioters went freely into the Capitol building with virtually zero resistance from the state is a good example of white bodies protected. Meanwhile, Asian elders are dying in the streets for no reason. 


What do you think is the best way to combat this problem?

This is a really hard question, because as I said before I am feeling quite hopeless these days. But my first instinct is to say education and storytelling. I wish these ignorant people committing these acts simply understood that these Asian Americans are exactly like you. They are Americans. They may not look like you or have your same culture, but that is the beauty of America. We must learn to see each other’s entire humanity. We must see each other as human beings, not as outsiders or insiders. We are all the same skin and bone, and we each have a human right to live our lives freely. We must open our hearts towards one another to live in harmony, and listen to each other’s stories. 


Is there any incident/situation in your life that you could share about anti-Asian prejudice that you’ve experienced and how that affected you?

I had one incident actually before COVID-19 that really affected me. It was right after I moved to Nashville from the Bay Area, California. It was with a white female friend I met here in Nashville. I took a selfie with her and when we looked back at the picture, she said “Oh my God, I look Chinese in that photo! Take another one!” I guess because her eyes were squinty, she thought she looked Chinese and did not like that? I don’t know. Either way, it was insulting and disappointing. 

Then, in the beginning of COVID-19, before it hit the USA, I went to a bar and was chatting with a man outside. He asked me what race I am. I answered half Chinese, half white. In response, he said “you don’t have the coronavirus, do you?” This was obviously meant to be a joke, but this man was a stranger and it was inappropriate and not at all funny. 



Simon Tam (Art: Ron Hart)

When you see the news about the recent Anti-Asian violence in the States, what goes through your mind?

Anti-Asian racism in the United States, including violent and deadly attacks, isn’t new. I grew up in the early 1980s where it wasn’t uncommon for public violence to take place. One of the most notable events was the murder of Vincent Chin, a Chinese American who was beaten to death the day before his wedding by two men who thought he was Japanese. Those men paid a small fine but didn’t serve any time in jail. Like our current environment, there was strong racial animus towards Asian Americans. In the 1980s, it was because of the success of the Japanese automotive industry in the United States and how it impacted Detroit’s largest manufacturers. Today, it is because of stoked fear through the COVID-19 crisis and its economic fallout. I think this shows us that we have a long way to go before overcoming racial animosity in this country. 


What do you think is at the root of this violence?

This wave of anti-Asian resentment has been building for centuries, taking shape in many different forms: violent attacks with no repercussion, the incarceration of Japanese Americans, the banning of legal immigration from China, perpetuation of the model minority myth, exclusion of recognition in major forms of cultural arts, and of course, stripping the validity over our concerns of safety through the mislabeling of violence. I believe that the root of the current attacks lies in changes needed in the culture as well as our systems that perpetuate ignorance and hatred, while lacking in accountability. Ultimately, those conditions are driven by greed – and those in power are often incentivized to feeding into that ignorance and hatred in order to retain and grow power and wealth. 


What do you think is the best way to combat this problem?

Racism is a complex social disease that we have yet to cure. That being said, we understand its symptoms and how to treat it. Racism takes on three primary forms: systemic and institutionalized discrimination, cultural ignorance, and individual prejudice. Each of these support and hold the other, like spokes in a wheel. In order to completely dismantle the problem, we need to address all three. That means passing legislation and changing systems that are inequitable to begin with, embracing diverse and inclusive culture (the arts, how our communities connect), and working with individuals out of compassion and accountability. It also means playing the long game. While it is important to address immediate harm and to address wounds, we have to address underlying causes that brought us to this moment. 


Is there any incident/situation in your life that you could share about anti-Asian prejudice that you’ve experienced and how that affected you?

Difficult moments often provide opportunities to change, adapt, and grow. The violent and tragic murder of Vincent Chin helped launch a new era of Asian American solidarity through coalition building and the creation of new advocacy groups who have been doing important work. I’ve also been physically and verbally attacked for being Asian. I’ve used those experiences to help empower others, especially to find their artistic and political voices in order to change the culture that we’re in. In addition to performing in an anti-racist Asian American band for over a decade (The Slants), I recently helped launch a new nonprofit organization [The Slants Foundation] that is now mentoring artists to create works that help counter hate using artistic expression. It’s been powerful and inspiring – and provided community space for Asian Americans in this pivotal time.

Simon says: “we’re hosting an event called #RockAgainstHate to raise money and awareness on the issue. It’s taking place on May 6th and features a number of performers, actors, and folks working on anti-Asian racism. More information is available here.”


VIDEO: Lyrics Born & Cutso “ANTI-“

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Jason Gross

Jason Gross is the editor/founder of Perfect Sound Forever, one of the first and longest-running online music magazines. He has written for Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, Time Out, AP, New York, MTV, Oxford American, Billboard, MOJO, The Wire, and Blurt. Reissues and collections that he's produced included Delta 5, Essential Logic, Kleenex/Liliput, DNA, Oh OK and OHM –The Early Gurus of Electronic Music. He lives in New York with his girlfriend and 30 plush cats.

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