Drawing together disability justice, Asian American studies, and feminist/ queer-of-color labor analysis, this collaboratively authored essay forwards an anti-work manifesto shaped by our lived experiences as sick, disabled and queer Asian American scholars laboring in the academic-industrial complex. This essay offers a two-part intervention: first, it aims to expand nascent conversations on disability politics and its relationship to racial capitalism, and second, it puts forth a critique of the Asian American emphasis on achievement as an instrument of belonging and potential inoculation against racialized violence. It also unfolds in two parts: first, a section on why we refuse work, and second, a section on how to perform this refusal.

As we come to this essay from our respective positionalities in contingent, tenure-stream, and tenured academic loci, as well as from our shared investments in feminist and queer frameworks, the first section mobilizes feminist and queer disability analysis to interrogate the fraught investments in work shared across Asian American and Disability Studies, addressing the complexities of gendered, contingent, care, and service work within the academic landscape (and particularly as we have experienced them). The second section offers a survival guide for navigating the labor demands placed on racialized, queer, and/ or disabled scholars, channeling Asian American rage to move beyond saying "no" and toward saying "fuck off."


This collaboratively authored essay forwards an anti-work manifesto shaped by our lived experiences as sick, disabled, and queer Asian American scholars laboring in the academic-industrial complex. Here, we offer a two-part intervention: first, we aim to expand nascent conversations on disability politics and its relationship to racial capitalism, and second, we critique the Asian American emphasis on achievement as an instrument of belonging and potential inoculation against racialized violence.

We consider the call for a refusal of work, drawn from the autonomous Marxist tradition, and think through its legibility and traction under 1) a critical disability rubric wherein disability is understood as the antithesis of productive labor, and 2) an Asian American and critical ethnic studies rubric wherein racialized and gendered labor, abstracted and invisibilized under the imperatives of racial capitalism, is not recognized as valuable labor. We believe in the urgency of an anti-work politics and practice, particularly within the increasingly unforgiving context of a post-welfare and mid-COVID (United) State(s). And yet, inspired by the Women and Performance issue "Performing Refusal/ Refusing to Perform," we also want to consider how this particular mode of refusal operates at the limits of labor, in which, to quote issue editors Lilian G. Mengesha and Lakshmi Padmanabhan, a "refusal to work…demands a conception of refusal including and extending beyond Marxist critiques of labor exploitation." 1 Like Mengesha and Padmanabhan, we are invested in tracing the "everyday forms of inaction, inscrutability, and non-productivity" that emerge under the conditions of what they term "racialized exhaustion," a state of being where disability and race intersect. 2 That is, while Marx has spoken to the profound alienation produced through waged labor, distinguishing this category from work, our manifesto addresses the alienation and exhaustion generated by racial-gendered forms of unwaged labor (i.e., the care and emotional work that we are often expected to perform). In this way, we find this particular distinction less generative for our purposes.

To clarify our terms, we turn to Kathi Weeks's 2011 monograph The Problem with Work: Feminism, Marxism, Antiwork Politics, and Postwork Imaginaries. Here, Weeks engages and elaborates upon the "refusal to work," a concept that challenges the over-valorization of the work ethic and traditional work values. She describes these values as "[preaching] the moral value and dignity of waged work and [privileging] such work as an essential source of individual growth, self-fulfillment, social recognition, and status." 3 Far from just a way to make money, waged labor (in this model) becomes central to one's self-worth and identity, a narrative of work that, once internalized, renders workers "supremely functional for capitalist purposes." 4 The refusal of work, then, might entail 1) a critique of work ethic as the primary determinant of human value and 2) a practice of reclaiming our lives and our time from work's monopolizing structures, to name two possible modes of refusal and critique.

Yet, as disabled and queer Asian American scholars, we also ask: what political traction does the refusal of work hold for those who have typically been refused as workers? For those whose work, due to the racial and gendered divisions of labor, is both chronically undervalued and underpaid? To attend to the first question, disability's relationship to labor has, at the definitional level, been one of exclusion. As Brendan Gleeson and Sunaura Taylor have observed, with the emergence of the industrial period, disability began to describe an individual's inability to work and produce at socially necessary rates. 5 This meaning is further calcified in current SSI requirements for disability benefits, which require a proven "inability to engage in substantial gainful activity" or work that brings in a certain dollar amount per month. 6 Further, in our work-obsessed culture, the conflation of disability with the absence of productivity has justified, for many, the devaluation of disabled lives.

The category of Asian American, too, has emerged in terms of its relationship to labor and racial capitalism. Asian Americanist scholars have long observed the exigencies of industrial and global capitalism that have coerced Asian migrants in search of jobs, from the "empire of care" shaping the supply of Filipinx nurses to the U.S. to the immigrant Asian garment workers toiling in California sweatshops. 7 These examples make clear how the "racial division of reproductive labor," to borrow the language of Evelyn Nakano Glenn, is central to the "distinct exploitation of women of color" as well as the production of racial-gendered hierarchy. 8 Both of these contexts–Asian Americanist and disability critique–thus bespeak the false promise that hard work can confer dignity and value onto those who perform it. Under these lenses, work emerges instead as a site of potential humiliation, exploitation, and/ or exclusion for those both able and unable to participate.

In generating an anti-work manifesto from Asian American and disability perspectives, we diverge from a line of disability thought–derived primarily from the disability rights movement–that emphasizes gainful employment as a central pathway to political liberation. We further note that the long history of labor and racial capitalism that informs "Asian American" is a precursor to the very image of the model minority. Though we do not wish to write at length about the model minority narrative, we will briefly gloss the term and place it under the lens of disability critique. What erin Khuê Ninh has described as the "blinding glow of achievement and hyperfunctionality," the model minority framework casts Asian Americans as hardworking success machines and, as such, embodied evidence that racial discrimination no longer affects socioeconomic advancement. 9 Of course, many politicized Asian Americans have identified this narrative as one designed to pit minoritized groups against one another, and yet, the over-valorization of work and achievement inherent within this trope rarely falls under question. Indeed, we believe that the enduring attachment to hard work has possibly stifled conversations around disability and illness in Asian American circles. As James Kyung-Jin Lee has recently argued, disability offers unwelcome proof that "model minority bodies not only can, but do, fail eventually." 10

We thus rebuke the model minority mythology that not only lauds Asian Americans for our talent as hard workers, but that, true to form, posits work as key to our salvation and proof of our value within the United States. Revalorizing histories of erased and extracted Asian American labor, as some projects have done, may inadvertently co-conspire with valuations of work over the generations that can function as ableist ancestral mandates today. Instead, this manifesto offers a tentative answer to Sunaura Taylor's query in "The Right Not to Work," where she asks: "Shouldn't [disabled people], of all groups, recognize that it is not work that would liberate us … but the right not to work and be proud of it?" 11

Of course, we recognize that, as long as work remains the primary way to access food, housing, and basic survival, not everyone is equally positioned to refuse it. Following this, we honor those who struggle for better pay and protection within the context of waged and unwaged work. In particular, we acknowledge how the COVID-19 pandemic has further widened the rift between protected classes of Asian American laborers–those whose workplaces enable them to work from home indefinitely–and unprotected migrant workers forced to risk viral exposure daily in exchange for wages.

We also recognize our position as highly educated knowledge workers, even as the three of us differ in our levels of security within academia, and do not wish to compare ourselves to workers with less protection. Scholarly work in higher education, while it often varies greatly in pay, workload, and security, nonetheless falls into the category of white-collar, professional labor, and so our claims throughout the rest of this piece do not reach outside of this scope. To be clear, our manifesto emerges from the particular labor context of the academy and our specific perspectives as queer, disabled, and Asian American scholars in American colleges and universities. It thus constitutes but one offering among the growing chorus of many others refusing work in these exhausting times.

Part 1: Why We Refuse Work


I don't like to work. It was even difficult to work on this piece. A manifesto, even a crip one, requires work. And nobody has time for that.

At the time of this writing, we are almost two years into the pandemic. I don't know how we're all still working. I think some of my colleagues have actually increased their work during this time, a feverish, anxiety-laden burst of productivity.

My co-writers and I joked in our Zoom planning meeting about the irony of work on antiwork taking so much work. Each of us knows, deeply, as disabled academics, that work will not save us, that it will not prove we are worthy, or good, or that we belong. Each of us has failed to work and seen work fail us; we have definitely seen the way institutionalized work defines and destroys us. And yet. We keep working.

I'm worried that Asian Americans don't know how to stop working. Racially shaped by what erin Khuê Ninh calls the genre of the model minority, I'm worried we don't know how to stop valuing ourselves by our productivity and our contributions. 12 I'm worried we cling to the myth that our institutions are meritocratic because we want to believe working hard will allow us to reach safety. We think work—working hard, doing particular kinds of work, achieving particular kinds of successes—will inoculate us against racialized violence. We think we can work our way out of vulnerability.

The success frame is alluring, even for academics.

Because we want to believe we deserve the things we've accumulated or strive to accumulate. We want to make sense of a world that asks too much of us and tells us to like it. We need to believe that there is a way to survive, to succeed, to be happy. In fact, we are surviving and succeeding. We are happy. Aren't we?

We are afraid we are nothing, will have nothing, without our work. And so we work, even as working is slowly, sometimes quickly, killing us.

I don't like to work. But let me differentiate between the different kinds of work that I do. I am a contingent professor, teaching courses on a contract basis at several universities. I also do public speaking: giving talks, facilitating workshops, and guest-spotting on podcasts. I'm also a writer and a scholar, working on essays and book projects, presenting at conferences, and consulting with orgs. I also make cool shit, like original tarot cards, a hacked DSM, curse advent calendars, and interactive self-care pop-ups. I bake. A lot. And I'm a mother of three humans and, currently, five(!) cats. All these different forms of work come with differing experiences of vulnerability, exploitation, legibility, and recognition. They each live in their own web of expectation, meaning, obligation, and reward. They exist in my body differently. They preoccupy my mind differently. They weigh on my spirit differently.

But there is one through-line that holds if not all the time at least a significant part of the time: most of this work I actually enjoy. And yet I still don't like to work.

Because I want the ability to be without doing. I want permission not simply to rest but to opt out. Whenever the fuck I want. I want to carefully, intentionally, curate what I put labor towards, by assessing not how they make me worthy but how those labors themselves might be worthy. My time and energy and capacity—my spoons—are precious, and they are mine. And I want permission to hoard them! I want permission to not expend spoons simply because I don't want to. I want my ability to live, to be fully human, to have love, to be in community, to make meaning, to have joy, to be safe, to have autonomy, not tied to my ability and willingness to work.

I want to be able to be lazy.

I want you to be able to be lazy.


Even as I write against the promise that work will save us, it is so hard to believe myself. Work has been the way I made bids for love from my mother, my teachers, my employers. It is the way I tried to insulate myself from the racist indignities of daily life, the penance I paid for having visibly disabled hands, my way out of a suburb and a family committed to misunderstanding me. I wanted to read and write my way into security, into prestige, into a world that would no longer hurt.

At seventeen, I was starved for safety, protection, and love. I thought work was the way to get these things. Sometimes, I still do.

But–I know now that the university–or any employer–will never love me back, at least not in the way that I need.

At thirty-five, I have found my way into (some) financial stability, love of all kinds, and a world that doesn't hurt most of the time. I have created crip, queer, feminist, and anti-racist support webs across time and distance, made up of people who do not expect me to pay penance for who I am. Aside from the financial stability piece, I did not find these things through work, though my newfound stability did give me some of the resources to challenge my self-defeating beliefs around productivity. I want everyone to have enough time and space to not only realize that work sucks (though I think many people already believe that, time and space notwithstanding), but also to imagine and create a world in which people can live happily outside of work's totalizing structure–where productivity and labor are not preconditions for survival.

Somewhere between seventeen and thirty-five, I began to realize that my investment in the sanctifying promises of work—the belief that work would make me a better person—was the ideological foundation of my tendency towards over-work, as well as my ability to withstand abuse and exploitation within the context of employment. I cannot entirely locate the source of this insight, though it may have emerged somewhere between the scarifying process that is the academic job market and the untimely death of my best friend from brain cancer in 2019. This was a loss that both ravaged me and caused me to totally overhaul my value system–disaggregating, piece by piece, what belonged to the academy and what belonged to me.

What I am trying to give back to the academy: the value of self-sacrifice through work, the virtue of "publish or perish" (because who needs to read all of that), my insomnia, the violence of comparison, the stigma against collaboration (at least in the humanities), endless portability and capacity to move/uproot, boring "professional" dress, and the "Workday" platform. Finally, of course, I want to give back racialized exhaustion, though this feeling is not the sole province of academia.

I want to linger on this concept for a moment, as I think racialized exhaustion brought the co-authors together even as it prevents us from working on this very document. The tiring effects of the so-called "minority tax" are well known to racialized faculty—we work overtime to support our students through the institutional trauma they accumulate as they move through college/ university life. To support them in addressing the systems of oppression that many previously could not name. To navigate the micro- and macro aggressions that have become the conditions of our everyday lives. To navigate the inner sensorium of self-doubt caused by years of "presumed incompetence" and dismissal. 13

And when we are sick, when we need time off, we are often treated with less regard by the institutions that employ us. In "The Shape of My Impact," Alexis Pauline Gumbs writes about holding in her hands the denials of medical leave issued to Audre Lorde and June Jordan from their respective universities:

"The universities that employed June Jordan, Audre Lorde and so many others, watched cancer eat away at our geniuses, as they simultaneously ate away at black women's labor. An institution knows how to preserve itself and it knows that Black feminists are a trouble more useful as dead invocation than as live troublemakers, raising concerns in faculty meetings. And those institutions continue to make money and garner prestige off of their once affiliated now dead faculty members." 14

These records helped to spur Gumbs's decision to leave academia, to explore an unaffiliated intellectual life not bound by the demands of institutions. Her reflections on Lorde and Jordan remind me that–not only will institutions never love you back—they also operate as active mechanisms of disablement against Black women and queer academics in particular. Not only does "the university not intend to love [you]," as Gumbs puts it, but it can actively shorten one's life, whether through the unboundaried extraction of labor or the active denial of care. 15

I want to now delve further into the problem of diversity work in the corporate university. In this context, anti-work disability politics would attend to the intensified expectations of work and productivity marshalled through the demands of diversity, equity, and inclusion, an assimilationist rubric that generates a massive yet invisible workload shouldered disproportionately by marginalized faculty. Here, I ask: how does the refusal to put in work—by institutions, by university administrations, by faculty unmarked by race, sexuality, class, and gender—in fact generate more work for minority faculty?

To address these questions, I turn to a 2016 special issue of the Asian American Literary Review titled "Open in Emergency." 16 Edited by one of the authors of this piece, Mimi Khúc, this issue explores the topic of Asian American mental health. As such, it attends to racialized exhaustion as a question of mental well-being and, by extension, a question of disability. For those unfamiliar with "Open in Emergency," this issue of the AALR explodes the form of a traditional literary journal; it comes packaged in a box that contains a hacked Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (henceforth "DSM"), a deck of tarot cards, a testimonial tapestry, a pamphlet on postpartum depression, and an envelope holding a bundle of mother-to-daughter letters. And just as "Open in Emergency" dismantles and re-articulates the book form, thus implicitly contesting the linear and cohesive narrative as an adequate vehicle for mental health testimonials, so it also dismantles regimes of medical authority that understand so-called mental illness as a problem of the individual person.

In response to these dominant narratives, the issue frames Asian American mental illness as an understandable response to structural oppression particular to Asian American experiences: the forces of racism, war, dislocation, forced migration, labor exploitation, and immigration, to name a few. More relevant to this manifesto, "Open in Emergency" also addresses the relationship between the good worker and dominant understandings of mental health and wellness. For instance, the opening essay of the hacked DSM, "Belief in Mental Health" by trans femme writer Kai Cheng Thom, cites as a point of reference the World Health Organization's working definition of mental health, in which the phrases "realizing potential," "working productively and fruitfully," and "making a contribution" figure prominently. 17

Cynthia Wu's essay "Diversity Work," another entry in the issue's reconfigured DSM and the focus of this section, similarly brings questions of work, disability, and racialized exhaustion to the forefront of Asian Americanist concern. Recounting her debilitating experiences performing diversity work across several academic institutions, Wu's entry employs metaphors of dirt, cleanliness, and order to illustrate the physical and psychic toll of performing such unacknowledged (and might I add, unremunerated) labor. In the particular institution we shared, she notes how her body, "Asian-raced and genderqueer—feels profoundly dirty." 18 She continues: "At that college, I'm in the closet. I'm still dirty, however. Any broom will eventually get to that point if it's used enough … The stories from the mouths of students of color weigh my bristles down. Muck and dust become me." 19

Wu's broom metaphor illustrates the literal domestication of marginalized (and potentially insurgent) subjects through diversity demands, through which we become an instrument of labor performing the university's dirty work. She further notes how, as university brooms, minority faculty function as living repositories for the grief and exhaustion of marginalized students. By highlighting the instrumentalization of faculty of color as a means of sweeping institutional violence under the rug, the essay "Diversity Work" illustrates the burden of labor produced by university administrations refusing to do the real work of structural change.

I want to further suggest that Wu's essay frames diversity work in the corporate university as part and parcel of racial capitalism, which legal scholar Nancy Leong describes as "the process of deriving social and economic value from the racial identity of another person." 20 Indeed, the dirty work described in Wu's essay, and diversity work more broadly, is the process by which universities derive value—in this case, the appearance of institutional change—from the undervalued labor performed almost exclusively by faculty of color, who have been hired to serve this very function. As many scholars have observed, this type of diversity work is further undervalued in part because it is the kind of work that cannot be documented on CVs and annual reviews, thus rendering the workload of marginalized faculty seemingly equivalent to that of unmarked faculty. In Alien Capital: Asian Racialization and the Logic of Settler Colonial Capitalism, Iyko Day identifies this process as the "principal violence of capitalism," that is, "very way [capitalism] abstracts (or renders homogenous as commensurable units of labor) highly differentiated gendered and racialized labor in order to create value." 21 That is, through the unquantifiable work of serving as emotional custodians for the university, the "unequal labor" of faculty of color "takes on the appearance of symbolic equivalence." 22 What implications, then, does this relation between race and abstract labor carry regarding the imperative to refuse work? To revisit one of the questions that began this manifesto, how does one refuse work when work, because it is racialized and gendered, is not even legible as such?

An anti-work disability politics, which I believe Wu's essay gestures toward, offers one possible avenue of response. Consider, for instance, the genre of diagnosis that frames Wu's essay as an entry in the AALR's hacked DSM. Diagnosis, for many scholars of disability studies, represents the tyranny of medical authority over disabled lives: 1) Because it suggests cure and medical intervention as the only acceptable response to disability, 2) Because it locates the "problem" of disability solely within the diagnosed individual, and 3) Because it positions the medical industrial-complex as the primary authority to narrate disabled lives and bodies. As a narrative genre, then, diagnosis performs a type of epistemic violence, in that it determines the field of knowledge through which we might understand disabled experience, and forgoes systemic analysis in favor of explanations rooted in individual pathology. However, Wu's entry re-directs the narrative work of diagnosis, turning it outward toward the identification of structural oppression, the symptoms of which are unremunerated, unacknowledged, and unvalued diversity work. In this way, Wu's "Diversity Work" diagnoses the problem of racialized exhaustion as a problem of unequal labor, endemic to a university structure parasitic upon our empathy.

The refusal of work, then, becomes a practice of re-direction, shifting the burden of labor from marginalized faculty to the university systems that deny the emotional, structural, and material support necessary to uphold their most vulnerable students and workers. In this context, to refuse work is to refuse the fatigue that debilitates faculty of color and that has somehow become an unquestioned feature of our jobs. Returning to the concept of racialized exhaustion, to refuse work further entails actually honoring the feeling of exhaustion, understanding that sometimes we will surrender to it, and that surrender, in all of its "inaction, inscrutability, and non-productivity," is in fact a viable survival strategy and political gesture in a world that profits off political alertness, when in fact all we want to do is take a nap. 23


How do I come at anti-work? From the side, perhaps?

I've been dreaming of retirement since I was about 14 years old. This may or may not be in relationship to the fact that I coped with being one of few Asian kids in my central Illinois town by imagining myself as an elderly, hirsute Chinese man who sat, hands folded, in reticence and hard-won wisdom. But think about that clash of images. A fantasy of retirement, I think, was never about sitting back with a pension and golfing. It was more about playing cards with my peeps in a tank top, shorts, and flip-flops. Ultimately it was a fantasy about rest, embodied, meaningful rest, because I think I came into the world with a busy, and heavy, head and heart. Rest is also dreaming, and spiritual activation. If meditation has a trace for me as a way to change how time is experienced, then for me, anti-work is centrally about how I live within time, wanting that time to be enfleshed with the many worlds I know my life (and life) is, allowing the slowness that I need to collect overwhelming sensation, let it circulate, and thus prepare myself for the next moments of exposure, exposure that may well be worth it. And so many of us carry racially-borne trauma that makes exposure so much harder to come to willingly. Only so much of this is in my control. The worlds I write of here are about speculation; they are also about diaspora, and contact – being fully in touch with the ways my existence and my world of care stretch across communities, times, peoples, lands, carceral spaces, institutions. I've been straining, and yearning, and turning, and learning, towards better relationship.

And yet the conditions of work I am seeing, both for myself and for others—nearly all others—seem to increasingly separate from conditions of living, even as the conditions of work grow and press upon our lives – yielding, on the whole, less livable lives over time. I am not sure what I mean by "our" here – take any slice across stratified labor and dynamically work expands for all, but differently, and presses on life for all, but differently. It is a teleology of capitalism. Labor is not the same as work, but I also don't know what work is anymore. If the above is true, then the bar for where anti-work needs to happen keeps shifting away from where it used to be. I have a job, and it comes with activities I love, encounters I am profoundly grateful for, exchanges that can still be collaboratively made as loving conveyance rather than instrumental application. The job comes, too, with security, a paycheck that unbelievably reads "indefinite" under the pay period. But my job also sends me laborious surveys asking me to qualitatively and quantitatively assess what diversity, equity, and inclusion work I am doing. The questions are preposterous, given that the work is daily, and soaked through with investments in justice and care. Under what conditions does this institutional alienation come to happen?

Like so many, much of my work isn't sitting warmly in the terrain of avocation. Instead, it feels like a means of familial securing, including a cushion for my now-elderly parents, where generational wealth isn't there. And some of that is about diaspora. So, I am thinking about Asian American work as a basis for Asian American anti-work. In a recent discussion with other Asian queer friends, we talked with some mirth about who among us – us or our parents – "are the boss of" whom. There was some teasing mention of my filiality when I mentioned that I want my parents to be comfortable. But I want to say - against these renderings, and against stereotypes as well: I do not regret my care for them. I feel they have lived immense lives. I want them to thrive, and I want to continue to grow the friendships with them that I so cherish. Anti-work (as it shifts and shifts again) means augmenting the practice that I am still trying to secure for myself about turning away from capitalism's sublimated demands (largely in academia, but also fully infusing life's temporalities) and towards my parents, towards my brother, towards my other families, my crip, queer, and trans of color people, towards holding space when its occupants are not fully known. Towards those I am still shy about meeting. Towards all the political junctures that feel important to me, at the point of decisions, where such decisions are possible.

Asian American anti-work, actually, has been kind of fun to think about. The three of us have, in our zoom chats, laughed well and heartily about the possibilities. (You probably aren't getting half of them in this article; the rest have been bleeped out in spite of themselves.) "Anti" can bleed past "work" into "Asian American" and "Asian," here, and that's part of our project; disaggregating "Asian" is important for an economy that radically segregates Pacific Islanders and Southeast Asians from East Asians, by and large, and not so simplistically either. I will say that I have been told by a well-known white disability studies scholar repeatedly, almost reflexively (and in disability studies contexts): "you are the gentlest person I know." We are, nominally, two crips. And yet this is, I would insist, a frame of recognition that renders me compliant, makes me someone they can "count on," bastes my racial anger in a white paste, subdues me in a way that feels seriously fucked up. It seems unimaginable to this white queer that I have worked so, so hard to get to a place of nonviolence (or attenuating violence), to unlearn some of the transgenerational stuff that I carry. My impulse which I've repressed, each time, has been to shout "Fuck off with your gentleness fucking bullshit!" And while I don't believe so much in my daily practices in saying "fuck off," and I also don't tend to call out, I also do want to say "fuck off" (printing this is doing that, sort of) to interrupt the free flow of such statements and beliefs and also to interrupt my own whispered management of them. I want to cultivate a series of manners (anti-manners!) in this non-equitable racial world that raucously reject the Asian handmaiden, reject the silent figure, reject the imagined Asian witness condoning white violence, and remember the Asian crip who not only won't take shit but also won't pass it on to others. This mess that is repeatedly handed to us, is the often unacknowledged traffic of Asian American work. This isn't new (to Asian American studies, for example), but it bears reframing in the context of crip politics.

And here is where I reach a quandary when I posit Asian American crip anti-work. Saying "no" from a tenured position in academia usually means that someone else in a less secure position will have to do it. With the pandemic ongoing, I found that I had been assigned an unventilated, pitched lecture hall (with me at the bottom) for a 72-student class on animality, race, and disability (that happens also to formally serve campus ethnic studies requirements). This was unacceptable for my level of health vulnerability, yet the administration informed us there was no recourse except to go online by way of a single and exclusive dependency on the ADA (that's another "fuck off or fuck off," by the way), and thus by way of appointments with my Asian American doctor who was, because of COVID, doing her own fucking off (retiring) and unavailable. Like thousands of others, I found myself in a corner. I realized that I could use a course release that, by and large, only tenured people have access to, as perks for doing certain kinds of "extra" labor, unlike their insecurely employed colleagues who are also doing all kinds of extra labor. Should I have insisted on deploying the ADA, which I still might have been able to do? I'm not sure. Like DEI, the compliance-based bureaucratic rendering of the ADA during the COVID pandemic as the fallback for differential health - do it or don't do it, it's your problem - is a laughable shadow of our justice dreams and commitments. In this case, my already underresourced department of Gender and Women's Studies withdrew the class, and so it "paid the price" of losing 72 head counts that would help calculate its teaching budget for the next year. There seems no way to "win" this except to keep fully aware of this internal academic labor economy, and to keep advocating not only for the extension of such privilege to my colleagues but also the removal of the hierarchized perk system that I am now benefitting from. Anti-work is anti-capitalist activism, which itself means identifying how capitalism is at work and how it arranges racialized labor.

Part 2: How to Not Work
Or, How to Say Fuck Off

  • Sometimes you really just have to say, "Fuck off."
  • Estimate how long something will take. Then multiply by 1.5. At least.
  • Be unfashionably late.
  • When someone emails you again because you haven't responded yet, don't start your response with an apology—say, "Thank you for pinging me again!"
  • Schedule joy in your calendar.
  • Look at your calendar and say to yourself not "where can I squeeze in time for myself" but "where can I squeeze in work between all the things for myself."
  • Get rid of grades. 24
  • Create assignments you want to read/watch/listen to.
  • Let your students be unwell—this actually takes less work than forcing them to constantly perform wellness.
  • Rethink "rigor" outside of traditional scholarship and pedagogy.
  • Ask yourself: Do I really want to train my students to be good workers under capitalism? Or do I want to teach them life-giving, insurgent values and practices beyond what capitalism can offer? Adjust your pedagogy accordingly.
  • Model good boundaries with work for your students (and for others). This might look like answering your email sparingly and only within business hours, openly sharing how much you prioritize rest (instead of telling everyone how little sleep you got the other night), openly living a joyful life.
  • Be a cat. Sleep a lot, demand for your needs to be met, be in community as you want and need, maintain firm boundaries. Occasionally, take care to meticulously, perhaps even obscenely, see to your hygiene needs.
  • Be as bad at work as possible, especially if your job is thankless and underpaid.
  • It's ok for people to be disappointed in you.
  • It's ok for people to be mad at you.
  • Follow the Nap Ministry, Black Power Naps, and other groups and projects advocating for the radical reclamation of rest.
  • You don't owe your colleagues your friendship and emotional labor. Professional relationships and collegiality are not the same as friendship—it's ok to set boundaries with co-workers.
  • You don't owe white people your friendship. Give yourself permission to set boundaries and keep distant from white people, even/especially the well-meaning ones.
  • Be a bad child. Work will not make you the good child you think you need to be.
  • Say no to things you don't want to do. Say no to things you want to do but don't have the capacity to do—desire is not enough to be sustainable.
  • Practice saying: "I don't have the spoons for that right now."
  • Regarding COVID-19 and its attendant wave of anti-Asian vitriol, refuse to engage in the racial politics of contamination while still keeping people safe.
  • Remember that white people have been refusing work for centuries, and that white supremacy and racial capitalism are in part the extraction of labor from racialized populations in order to fortify whiteness and capital.


  • Choy, Catherine Ceniza. Empire of Care: Nursing and Migration in Filipino American History. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003. https://doi.org/10.1215/9780822384410
  • Day, Iyko. Alien Capital: Asian Racialization and the Logic of Settler Colonial Capitalism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016. https://doi.org/10.1515/9780822374527
  • Gleeson, Brendan. Geographies of Disability. London: Routledge Press, 1999.
  • Glenn, Evelyn Nakano. "From Servitude to Service Work: Historical Continuities in the Racial Division of Paid Reproductive Labor." Signs 18, no. 1 (Autumn 1992): 1-43. https://doi.org/10.1086/494777
  • Gumbs, Alexis Pauline. "The Shape of My Impact." The Feminist Wire, October 29, 2012. https://thefeministwire.com/2012/10/the-shape-of-my-impact/
  • Gutiérrez y Muhs, Gabriella. Yolanda Flores Niemann, Carmen G. González, and Angela P. Harris, eds. Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia. Logan, UT: Utah State UP 2012.
  • Khúc, Mimi, ed. "Open in Emergency," Special issue, The Asian American Literary Review 7, no. 2 (Fall/Winter 2016).
  • Lee, James Kyung-Jin. Pedagogies of Woundedness: Illness, Memoir, and the Ends of the Model Minority. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2021.
  • Leong, Nancy. "Racial Capitalism." Harvard Law Review 126, no. 8 (June 2013): 2153-2226. https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2329804
  • Lowe, Lisa. "Work, Immigration, Gender: New Subjects of Cultural Politics." Social Justice 25, no. 3 (Fall 1998): 31-49.
  • Mengesha, Lilian G. and Lakshmi Padmanabhan, "Introduction: Performing Refusal/ Refusing to Perform." Women and Performance 29, no. 1 (Jan 2019): 1-8. https://doi.org/10.1080/0740770X.2019.1574527
  • Ninh, erin Khuê. "The Model Minority. Asian American Immigrant Families and Intimate Harm." Kalfou 1, no. 2 (Fall 2014): 168-173. https://doi.org/10.15367/kf.v1i2.38
  • —-. Passing for Perfect: College Imposters and Other Model Minorities. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2021.
  • Robinson, Cedric. Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1983.
  • Stommel, Jesse. "Ungrading: A Bibliography." March 3, 2020. https://www.jessestommel.com/ungrading-a-bibliography
  • —-. "Ungrading: An Introduction." June 11, 2021. https://www.jessestommel.com/ungrading-an-introduction/
  • Taylor, Sunaura. "The Right Not to Work: Power and Disability." Monthly Review, March 1, 2004. https://monthlyreview.org/2004/03/01/the-right-not-to-work-power-and-disability/
  • Thom, Kai Cheng. "Belief in Mental Health." The Asian American Literary Review 7, no. (Fall/Winter 2016): 4-12.
  • Weeks, Kathi. The Problem with Work: Feminism, Marxism, Antiwork Politics, and Postwork Imaginaries. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011. https://doi.org/10.1215/9780822394723
  • Wu, Cynthia. "Diversity Work." The Asian American Literary Review 7, no. 2 (Fall/Winter 2016): 40-42.


  1. Mengesha and Padmanabhan, "Introduction: Performing Refusal/ Refusing to Perform," 2.
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  2. Mengesha and Padmanabhan, "Introduction: Performing Refusal/ Refusing to Perform," 2, 1.
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  3. Weeks, The Problem with Work, 12.
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  4. Weeks, The Problem with Work, 12.
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  5. See Brendan Gleeson, Geographies of Disability (London: Routledge P, 1999) and Sunaura Taylor, "The Right Not to Work: Power and Disability."
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  6. Social Security Administration, "Substantial Gainful Activity."
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  7. See Catherine Ceniza Choy, Empire of Care: Nursing and Migration in Filipino American History (Durham: Duke UP, 2003) and Lisa Lowe, "Work, Immigration, Gender: New Subjects of Cultural Politics."
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  8. Evelyn Nakano Glenn, "From Servitude to Service Work," 3.
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  9. erin Khuê Ninh, "The Model Minority," 168.
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  10. Lee, Pedagogies of Woundedness, 3.
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  11. Taylor, "The Right Not to Work."
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  12. See erin Khuê Ninh, Passing for Perfect: College Imposters and Other Model Minorities (Philadelphia: Temple UP, 2021).
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  13. See Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia, eds. Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs, Yolanda Flores Niemann, Carmen G. González, and Angela P. Harris (Logan, UT: Utah State UP 2012).
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  14. Gumbs, "The Shape of My Impact."
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  15. Gumbs, "The Shape of My Impact."
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  16. "Open in Emergency," ed. Mimi Khúc. Special issue, The Asian American Literary Review.
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  17. Kai Cheng Thom, "Belief in Mental Health," 6.
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  18. Cynthia Wu, "Diversity Work," 40.
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  19. Cynthia Wu, "Diversity Work," 40.
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  20. Nancy Leong, "Racial Capitalism," 2152. See also Cedric Robinson, Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1983).
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  21. Day, Alien Capital, 9.
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  22. Day, Alien Capital, 44.
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  23. Mengesha and Padmanabhan, "Introduction: Performing Refusal/ Refusing to Perform," 2.
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  24. Jesse Stommel and others have written about "ungrading," a movement to chuck traditional grading practices and replace them with processes of feedback, reflection, and self-evaluation for "a pedagogy that is less algorithmic and more human, more subjective, more compassionate."
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12/4/2023: Corrected author's name to Mimi Khúc.

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