Who are your favorite thinkers, both in and outside of anti-racism? Why? And is there something in their work(s) that you wish they would’ve covered?
My favorite thinkers? I’m a giant fan of Audre Lorde. I found my voice as a writer in part through reading her. I’m also a great admirer of the work of James Baldwin. The Fire Next Time was written the year I was born, and I’ve been reading and rereading it for the last 30 years or so. Ella Baker and Septima Clark are organizers and strategists I have great admiration for. I was able to study Septima Clark some while I was at Highlander where she originated the Citizenship Schools in the 1950s. Those schools played such an important role in the Civil Rights Movement due in no small part to her brilliance.
Manning Marable was also a hero of mine, as was Derrick Bell. And I’m really inspired by the literature of the revolutionary movements of the 1960s. Even with their flaws, especially around issues of gender and sexuality, those leaders wrote for and about a social movement. They saw the world through the lens of hope and in terms of practical solutions, including just inspiring people, and not just in terms of criticism. What they left behind gives me the juice to be creative and keep working.
I’m very aware that I’ve only listed black people. The Hawaiian language was considered all but dead when I was a much younger person developing my politics. Nearly all of what was available in English about Hawaii back then was written by non-Hawaiians. And the resistance literature of Asian Americans was nowhere to be found. I feel I owe a great debt to African American intellectuals. What they created helped me to name my world and find a place in it as a racial justice advocate. If I hadn’t fallen into my life in social justice, I would probably be an agriculture worker now. Not that there’s anything wrong with that on its own, but I always wanted to express myself and my outrage at injustice, and they showed me what was possible.
All right…ChangeLab. What is it, when did you start it, how does it function, how do we support the work you do?
ChangeLab is not a non-profit, which is a funny thing because we don’t have any profit. We’re supported through an investment by a visionary in the private sector who believes in our mission and our strategy of breaking schema—in other words, of thinking and acting outside of the box where racial justice is concerned. We function as a grassroots institute for racial justice, with a particular focus on promoting authentic solidarity between Asian American communities and other communities of color. We’re right now summing up research we did with Asian American progressives that we’re hoping will open a dialogue among us about racism and racial justice that we want to continue through a series of cross-sectoral meetings we’re calling Thought Labs.
For now, folks can support us by following my blog
and talking back to me. Once our website is up and going, you can link to it through the blog.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Hmmm…well, I guess if I have the last word, I’ll just end by saying that I hope folks out there of all races who have ideas to share and stories to tell will speak up, write, perform, do whatever it is you do to express yourself and do it as loudly and as boldly as possible.The media creates a “truth” about society in which we are mostly missing except as one-dimensional stereotypes. Even progressive media makers too often draw the line around justice behind their own heels and in front of our toes. Yet we’re the ones with the least to lose and the most to gain from real, meaningful change. We’re the ones willing to take the risks, if only we can find one another and see that we aren’t alone in our oppression. Unless movements are guided by our spirits, they will ultimately fail. So pump up the volume. We need to boost the signal on racial justice.