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Unlearning Scarcity,
Cultivating Solidarity

A Toolkit for the Asian American Community

The two overarching objectives of this initiative were to:

  1. Examine the root causes of scarcity mentality within the Asian American community, and how it differs from the mainstream understanding of scarcity mentality that centers on white Americans.

  2. Offer relevant frameworks and additional context for Asian Americans to address scarcity mentality within their own lives and their communities by developing, and engaging in, sustainable solidarity practices.

Initiative Overview

 

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Scarcity mentality is the idea that everyone exists within a spectrum of competition. This mindset assumes there are finite resources (tangible and intangible), and that every resource obtained by one person or group comes at the expense of another. We all experience some level of scarcity mentality at both an individual level as well as a group level; however, we propose that what is generally understood as scarcity mentality here in the United States is presented through a white-centric lens, and does not take into account the history of unequal power dynamics.

Consequently, mainstream “solutions” for addressing scarcity mentality not only remain ineffectual for marginalized identities, but work to actively suppress a deeper understanding of race relations and uphold white supremacy. We reject popular psychology suggestions of overcoming scarcity with an “abundance mindset”, and instead propose that investing in, and committing to, intra and inter solidarity practices are necessary for long-term dissolution of the scarcity mentality.

 

To do so, we must first acknowledge that scarcity is not a personal problem and cannot be solved alone. Given our focus on the Asian American community, we unpack how scarcity manifests within the Asian American experience using Professor Iris M. Young’s five “faces” of oppression framework: exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism, and violence. We then build upon Young’s framework with Professor Claire J. Kim’s theory of racial triangulation to examine how dominant groups weaponize marginalized groups against one another to delay change while maintaining their own sociopolitical and sociocultural power.

By learning about and naming the ways in which oppressive norms have been constructed by dominant identities, we can build upon the tools and knowledge that academics, activists, and leaders before us have successfully implemented. We recognize that solidarity requires upkeep, and provide suggestions on how to hold yourself and others accountable for a lifetime’s work of sustainable solidarity.

"Most people are deeply scripted in what I call the Scarcity Mentality. They see life as having only so much, as though there were only one pie out there. And if someone were to get a big piece of the pie, it would mean less for everyone else."

- Stephen Covey

 

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We started by bringing together a diverse group of Asian Americans to explore the question "How can Asian Americans unlearn the scarcity mentality and cultivate solidarity within our own & with other marginalized communities?" Our findings are split into two parts: the first examines the root causes of scarcity mentality within the Asian American community, and how it differs from the mainstream understanding of scarcity that centers white Americans

Some key takeaways:

  • The idea of scarcity is intentionally weaponized by dominant groups in power to justify the unequal distribution of resources and maintain power while diverting attention from larger systemic issues.

  • The false narrative of scarcity hinders inter-group solidarity by actively pitting marginalized groups against one another and obscuring the root causes for inequality. 

  • In particular, the Model Minority Myth undermines the need for dialogue and analyses centering Asian Americans’ unique challenges. It also focuses on the idea of individual responsibility to effectively utilize scarce resources, versus questioning why scarcity is so prevalent for marginalized groups.

  • The framework of racial triangulation explains how white Americans specifically wield cultural, racial, and political power over Asian Americans and Black Americans.

The second part of the Unlearning Scarcity, Cultivating Solidarity toolkit offers relevant frameworks and additional context for Asian Americans to address scarcity within their own lives and their communities by developing, and engaging in, sustainable solidarity practices.​ In particular, it explores the idea of transformative solidarity as an ongoing effort to disrupt the status quo.

Some key takeaways:​

  • Transformative solidarity requires daily work to disrupt the status quo by acknowledging our own privileges, and resisting opportunities to engage in structural inequities that benefit us.

  • Instances of inter-group solidarity have been systematically erased from history ​to create a sense of powerlessness within marginalized groups, while normalizing ongoing systems of oppression.

  • Solidarity is a process that takes many forms, so find what works for you. This could be forming accountability groups within your personal or professional circles, finding ongoing ways of supporting those who are doing the work of educating and leading, and building in time for self care.

The complete Toolkit for Unlearning Scarcity, Cultivating Solidarity in the Asian American Community is available here, complete with a glossary of definitions; recommended articles, books, podcasts, films; and additional suggestions for incorporating sustainable solidarity practices in your everyday life. 

“My family and I knew that white power and wealth were just unattainable...so as a result it became a class struggle between Asians... [about] which families could afford good tutors, who got into the best schools.”

- Experimental Salon participant 

“[Solidarity is] not just standing up for someone with a different identity and might not have the same privileges...but looking to actively dismantle [systemic obstacles they face] using our own privilege.”

- Experimental Salon participant 

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Learn from the Community

Our methodology is rooted in centering the ideas, needs, and suggestions of those most impacted by existing problems. In 2020, we gathered a group of diverse Asian Americans* via our Experimental Salons small-group discussion model to understand how scarcity mentality manifests in their lives, and how it affects their relationships.​ Our participants were located across the U.S., with a wide range in age, identity, cultural background, and professional careers: from installation artists, epidemiologists, and chefs to sex educators, marketing experts, and media entrepreneurs. 

*We use the term Asian American(s) in this document to refer to any Asian-identifying individuals who are living in the United States. We recognize and respect some may have mixed identities and/or may not identify completely with “Asian” or “American”, and are aware these two terms can be unnecessarily limiting for certain Asian-identifying communities in the U.S. If there are terms you think are more inclusive for everyone, we would love to hear your suggestions.

 

Additionally, we chose to not use the term “AAPI” as we accept and agree with the critiques of it conflating Asian American and Pacific Islander identities that each deserve nuance. While we do utilize Pacific Islander examples in this document where there are overlaps in the Asian American and Pacific Islander experience, we acknowledge our own limitations in fully capturing the unique history and struggle of Pacific Islanders.

Create Resources

Based on our learnings from our Experimental Salons, we launched our two-part Toolkit for Unlearning Scarcity, Cultivating Solidarity for the Asian American Community in September 2020.  

This toolkit offers an in-depth look at why and how scarcity mindset manifests in Asian American community with suggestions and recommendations on incorporating solidarity as an everyday practice. We are regularly updating the toolkit with additional quotes and ideas from community members as we host participatory events on the topic of scarcity and solidarity.

We have also built off the learnings of our toolkit in our Under the Magnifying Glass newsletter, which examines social justice through the lens of pop culture. Our first issue explored the concept of involution, Naomi Osaka's withdrawal from the French Open, and feeling of languishing using the throughline of scarcity and capitalism.

 

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In addition to our Salons, we also hosted public community events open to anyone centered around the topic of scarcity and solidarity. We believe that creating spaces for open discourse is instrumental in acknowledging the oppressive norms constructed by dominant identities so that we can collectively work together to overcome them.

We hosted a virtual Storyslam with Slant'd to examine the different manifestations of scarcity within the Asian American psyche. On Clubhouse, we brought together a diverse group of individuals to share their stories on the topic of Building Sustainable Solidarity Practices for BIPOC. And most recently, we invited clinical social worker and therapist Canh Tran to speak on Moving Beyond the Trauma of Scarcity.

 

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Our work unpacking the scarcity mindset and advocating for sustainable solidarity practices among BIPOC is far from over. In addition to offering events for community members to support one another and continue their conversations independently, we are continually providing social justice resources for the community, hosting more group learning events, and publishing newsletters on related topics.

Using the foundation from our past work, we also work privately with organizations to host internal seminars and workshops on scarcity mentality, solidarity practices, and the Asian American experience.

Support Our Work

If you have learned something from our resources and public programming, please consider supporting us as a monthly Patreon member or through a one-time donation. We are a small nonprofit that offers all of our resources, content, and events for free because we believe in disrupting the existing pay-to-play model of knowledge and access. That means all of our work is funded by our community of generous donors, and every dollar of support makes a big difference!

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