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W. Todd Kaneko


It’s 3am and before tonight, I was writing about the anti-Asian feelings COVID-19 has ignited in America—there was that guy dragged off a bus for looking Chinese, that woman doused with acid when she stepped outside to take out the trash, all that aggression aimed at people who look like me because of the rhetoric linking the virus to Asian people.

We wear masks when we go out in public, consistent with social distancing rules issued under Michigan’s stay at home orders. My wife made me a mask with butterflies on it, a simple thing to keep me safe when I go for groceries. And I feel safer wearing it—my hat, my glasses, and the mask obscure my obvious Asianness. My son is biracial and passes for white, which makes me feel better about his safety when he is out with his mother. It feels weird to say that out loud, but I’ve been thinking it since he was born.

I haven’t slept well in quarantine. My wife is pregnant and I am wary of taking up space in our bed that she might use to make herself comfortable. My son is a bed hog and kicks me in the back while he sleeps. I’m worried about how my children will survive in a world where they might be so easily hurt by an uncovered sneeze, by a virusy handshake, by a boot to the face because they are Asian American, dirty, foreign. Most nights, I move from bed to bed, reading on my phone until I manage to fall asleep.

On my phone now: another night of protests after the murder of George Floyd and so many other black people by police, a night in which police violence has escalated against protestors and journalists in cities across America: Seattle, Atlanta, Columbus, New York, Louisville, Detroit, and I could keep listing cities but there are a lot of cities and a lot of violence. I scroll through photos of police with their badge numbers covered by tape like they were planning bad things when they left the precinct. Police assaulting nonviolent protestors with chemicals and batons and police cars. White people destroying property and throwing debris at police and leaving black people to deal with the fallout. My son is passed out in the dark next to me while downtown Grand Rapids is injured and ablaze about a mile and a half away from our front door.

Asian Americans on my social media feeds have been calling for the rejection and destruction of Asian anti-blackness, the way Asian Americans have long used the model minority myth to position ourselves against and above black people and black communities, a silent complicitness with racism to avoid being racism’s target. One of the officers involved in Floyd’s murder was Hmong American and people have been on one hand using his actions to denounce the ways we passively participate in racism, and on the other hand positioning him as the Asian American responsible for murdering the African American. How I am isn’t a question I can answer right now, in this particular moment. I don’t have an answer, but I’m worried for my cousins in Seattle who are black and Asian. I’ve worried for thirty-plus years now and it still feels weird to say it aloud.

My wife will give birth this Fall and we aren’t sure about hospitals or how the virus will affect childcare for my son during the procedure. I learned to cut my son’s hair the other day and shaved my own head into a mohawk because he likes it. I cook for my family most nights because I love them. I am safer inside my house than I am outside of it, and I am worried for all those people out there I cannot save. I’m going to text my cousins in the morning like I’ve been meaning to since quarantine started. Tonight, my city is hurting and at some point, I will mask up and go outside to survey the harm. It seems like a different world out there but also the same damaged America I’ve lived in all my life. But you know—there’s also a pandemic on now.

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All images other than author photos and artist artwork ©Matthew Batt 2020