- The Coalitional Imperative of Asian American Feminist Visibility
while conducting a routine patrol, Peter Liang, a Chinese American New York City police officer, accidently fired his gun in the stairwell of the Louis Pink projects of Brooklyn, New York. The bullet ricocheted off the wall and struck Akai Gurley, a 28-year-old black father, who had entered the stairwell with his friend after giving up on the notoriously malfunctioning elevators. According to reports, the bullet "tore through [Akai's] body, fractured his third rib, nicked his sternum, and pierced his heart and diaphragm."1 Akai immediately fell onto the cold concrete floors as blood poured from his chest. His friend ran to his aid and began to pump his chest while Officer Liang debated whether he should report the shot to his superiors. Upon realizing that he had shot Akai, Officer Liang ignored his duty to provide assistance and call for aid. Instead, he continued to fret out loud about the potential impact this incident would have on his career prospects. Shortly thereafter, Akai Gurley was pronounced dead, leaving behind his 2-year-old daughter, fiancée, mother, and community of family and friends.2
As a result of his actions, Officer Liang was indicted for second-degree manslaughter. His indictment was the first in ten years for an on-duty shooting by an NYPD officer. Chinese Americans organized nationwide protests over the indictment. They charged racism against a court system that, in their terms, was using an Asian American as a "scapegoat" for its failures to indict previous white police shootings of unarmed civilians.3 Chinese American political visibility emerged in these nationwide protests against the criminal justice system, but only as the system "unjustly" impacted the Chinese American community. In OiYan Poon's terms, their visibility in political protest was insularly focused on "justice for just us."4 At the same time, protest signs stating "Peter Liang Deserves Justice Too" communicated a demand for recognition of Chinese Americans as an aggrieved minoritized [End Page 115] community just like black peoples.5 This demand for inclusion among the ranks of the racially oppressed, for which black peoples are a central marker, did not translate readily into gestures of solidarity with black peoples. Instead, the "us too!" appeal for visibility reinforced the racist optic of black people as taking up too much space—and, therefore, as unjustified—in their demands for justice. Protest signs stating that "Peter Liang Deserves Justice Too" implied that justice for Akai Gurley's family and community was eclipsing or countering justice for Peter Liang. Proximity to blackness ("us too!") became a portal to Chinese American visibility, the corollary of which was the dismissal of accountability for the murder of black lives ("justice for just us!").
Using the Liang case as a departure point, this essay revisits Mitsuye Yamada's charge that Asian American women "raise our voices a little more" to combat what she calls our "unnatural invisibility."6 Passive resistance will not suffice, Yamada suggests, because it reinforces the Orientalist stereotype of the "submissive, subservient, ready-to-please, easy-to-get-along-with Asian woman."7 Yamada's call for greater Asian American visibility in feminist and people of color politics is a common refrain when addressing Asian American political identity. Claire Jean Kim frames the problematic of political invisibility in terms of "the uncertainty about where Asian Americans fit into the racial order, where they stand politically, and whether Asian Americans are really 'people of color' or not."8 This persistent historical ambiguity of Asian American political identity, Kim argues, "sometimes leads other minority groups, especially blacks, to overlook or distrust [Asian Americans] as potential coalition partners, thus complicating the task of coalition building."9 The Chinese American protests against Officer Liang's indictment for killing Akai Gurley justifies black people's distrust of Asian Americans. They expose the complications of any appeals for visibility that do not actively and consciously disrupt the white supremacist state-sanctioned racial constructions of Asian Americans as the "good" or "model" minority relative to black peoples as "bad" or "problem" minorities. Given this, we can understand the "unnatural invisibility" of Asian American peoples, generally...