Oakland Community Activist Shirley Gee in The Try Guys YouTube Video, “We Need to Talk About Anti-Asian Hate”

An Asian American mom is in the middle between her two grownup sons
Sean P. Fong, Shirley Gee and Ryan Gee. Photo courtesy of Shirley Gee.
An Asian American man wearing a tie-dye shirt that says "Oakland Roots" and a woman with a bob haircut and grey hair sit together on a couch.
Community activists Sean P. Fong and Shirley Gee are interviewed for a Try Guys YouTube video on anti-Asian hate.

In March, the popular YouTube Channel The Try Guys shared “We Need to Talk About Anti-Asian Hate,” a video that has now reached nearly two million views on YouTube. The hour-long video was hosted by Eugene Lee Yang who expertly navigated viewers through the historical context of Asian hate while in conversation with a number of community activists such as Asia Jackson, Annie Tran, Dr. Simran Jeet Singh and more. The ambitious video is broken down into segments, including yellow peril, policing, voting and representation, Asian and Black communities, and other topics.

Part 6 of the video (starting at 31:11) goes into the subject of policing. In this section, viewers hear from Shirley Gee, executive director of the Vietnamese American Community Center of the East Bay, based in Oakland, and her son Sean P. Fong, a community activist in Oakland and San Leandro. Gee recounts her own experiences with law enforcement and serving on the police oral board in Oakland. Many law enforcement agencies include an oral board in the hiring process which is an interview process to ensure that officers are community-oriented. “Making sure officers lived in Oakland was an important consideration and understood community policing” Gee says in the video. Besides Gee and her son Fong, another important Oakland voice included in the video is councilmember Carroll Fife.  

After the release of the video, Oakland Voices spoke to Gee to learn more about her perspective on anti-Asian hate, policing and insight on how the community must stand together during this moment in time. “I think the thing we need to focus on right now is how we deconstruct that hate barrel,” Gee told Oakland Voices. That hate barrel is who white supremacy decides to target and how hate and violence is perpetrated. Gee reminds us that this moment of hate against one another is a direct reflection of our own discontent as a society. That discontent turns us into the foot soldiers of white supremacy when we as communities of color perpetuate violence against one another, she said. “It’s important to recognize that there are 18 million of us in the country and we constitute 60% of the world population,” Gee said, referring to the number of Asian Americans in the United States.. Despite the mis- and under-representation of Asian Americans in this country, the global collective ancestry and Asian diaspora is mighty. “I don’t like for us to think of ourselves as victims, we’ve just been victimized,” Gee said. 

Speaking more at length to her section in the video covering policing, Gee noted that bolstering community safety does not need to involve more policing. It can instead look like instituting new safety measures, more education on how to properly report crimes, providing our communities with more agency and more. She also raised the important point that if  institutions, such as law enforcement, continue to not protect our communities, the rise in people deciding to arm themselves will continue. “How do we make people more responsible if that is the route they choose to go in?” Gee asked. 

Aside from her contribution to the We Need to Talk About Anti-Asian Hate, Oakland Voices asked Gee about how the Vietnamese American Community Center of the East Bay, located at Clinton Park in the Eastlake neighborhood of Oakland fits into all of this. “Our job (at VACCEB) is to not only be a safe haven for refugees and immigrants, but also a place of education, so our clients know  what their rights are,” Gee said. VACCEB primarily serves the Southeast Asian immigrant and refugee communities in Oakland. Over the past four years and due to our former administration, the center has been engaging in advocacy to fend off the scapegoating and attacks of the immigrant communities they serve. “We’ve been adamant about not letting ICE on our premises,” Gee said.  

How can anti-Asian be combatted? The first step Gee believes is to “educate outside of our community.” Creating safety programs and deliberately creating opportunities for cross-cultural communication and conversation are crucial. “It’s unfortunate that if you’re a person of color, you have to be in a perpetual state of vigilance all the time,” Gee said. She stresses that communities of color must recognize the social constructs set to divide us. 

We Need to Talk About Anti-Asian Hate opens with defining Asian American and explores how various Asian stereotypes took shape. Racism and fear are discussed around important moments in history. Viewers will also learn about model minority myth evolved and the civil rights movement, a momentous time that bolstered unified activism among Black and Asian solidarity.  

Although condensed, viewers can learn about the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the bombing of Pearl Harbor and subsequent incarceration of Japanese Americans, the murder of Vincent Chin, the Third Liberation Front, the L.A. riots, the killing of George Floyd and more. Perhaps the most important question host Eugene Lee Yang leaves viewers with is “When will Asian narratives be ubiquitous enough that we don’t feel the need to present as exemplary?” 

Author Profile

Iris M. Crawford, is a poet and social justice advocate. Hailing from New York City, she is a first-generation Guyanese- American. Her journey has allowed her to empower communities through health care advocacy, education and environmental justice. In 2018, Iris was selected as a semi-finalist Fulbright Scholar for an English Teaching Assistantship in South Africa. She also just became a resident of the 2020 Shuffle Collective Literary Arts Residency where she will be working to strengthen her creative work, gain skills to continue growing professionally and build community. She earned her BA in Political Philosophy and African American Studies from Syracuse University.

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