Last month, in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, a group of Asian American/Pacific Islander (AAPI) nonprofits in Seattle asked the city to sweep large homeless encampments in the Chinatown–International District neighborhood.
“Our neighborhood’s density and vulnerability are not new, and so the city should have been very alert for any sign of an encampment forming and taken swift action to help the unhoused as well as our community,” wrote the organizations in a joint statement sent to the City. One week later, over 30 officers from the Seattle Police Department (SPD) showed up at the encampments. They forced unhoused residents to gather their belongings, then sent in a garbage truck to trash anything left behind.
It has been widely covered in recent weeks that Covid-19 has overwhelmingly harmed Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities—the country’s most overworked, underpaid, under- and unemployed, overcrowded, underinsured, and under-resourced populations. These are the same people who are most likely to experience homelessness in Seattle, and encampment sweeps—in which their shelter and belongings are usually destroyed—only make their lives worse. The City had announced back in March that it would not remove encampments during the pandemic except under extreme circumstances. By early May, that policy seemed to no longer be in effect.
I am an active organizer around homeless issues in Seattle, and when I found out that AAPI groups had requested the sweep, I was surprised and disappointed. I thought a sweep this large should have been protested by the residents and businesses of the Chinatown–International District—not initiated by them. How is it that our AAPI community could be responsible for perpetuating this kind of harm?
But the truth is, Asian Americans have long been used as a tool by white supremacists to justify systemic racism against Black people. Some Asian Americans have internalized those messages, too: For them, living the American dream has also meant being anti-Black.
I started dating my first real girlfriend when I was in the 10th grade. She was Korean American and a couple years older than me; she would bring me free sushi from the restaurant her parents owned and drive us around in her mom’s Lexus. We dated for 11 months—until she abruptly dumped me.