Twitter-trending Claira Janover is best known for her activism and videos on TikTok, which went viral last summer. Here, she shares with us some of the 'behind-the-scenes' of her videos , her time at Harvard, and her plans for the future.
Alefiya: What does your Asian identity mean to you?
Claira: Being Asian is probably the most confusing of my identities, given that I don’t think there is any comprehensive effort in our history in America to personalize or identify Asian Americans. I think that they overlap, like there is no understanding of the diversity of Asian cultures and heritages and lineages. For me, I wasn’t raised by any Asian person- I was raised by my white mother and I grew up more Jewish than Asian culturally, but it’ll always be an unavoidable part of my identity because it is what everyone sees. It wasn’t really until college that I got to see the empowerment that comes from [being Asian]. Seeing the Stop AAPI Hate efforts has been really monumental and powerful too. So yeah, I don’t have an easy answer for what it means to be Asian or what my Asian identity means to me, but it’s definitely something that I’m gonna try and stick with to better and expand throughout my life.
Alefiya: How did you get into activism and how has your Asian identity influenced your activism?
Claira: Activism was really just a natural part of life because my mom was a union organizer activist. I think in highschool was when I started to become more educated and when I started to go out of my way to learn. I think that actually stemmed from experiencing sexism- white feminism was probably the first ‘activism sphere’ that I entered when I was young. Dress codes, body shaming, etc. That naturally progressed into racial politics like affirmative action, and BlackLivesMatter, which really became a movement when I was in high school. Going to a high school in a predominantly white area really compelled me to be outspoken because a lot of people didn’t have to think about these things, or talk about these things. I was never like that. In a lot ways, being around a lot of willfully ignorant people kickstarted my activism. And then in college, my activism became a lot more rooted in history and theory and I took a lot more comprehensive and grounding courses. It’s amazing to learn about contemporary issues, but learning about the histories of it all has been really productive for me. And obviously, in the past year, my activism has gone sort of ‘viral’.
Alefiya: Is it scary for your activism and for you to be in the public eye?
Claira: It isn’t scary, but it is new. I never really signed up for it. I didn’t join social media to become this ‘activist person’ that people knew about. I was kind of just on it and had my own opinions. It was different in that everything that I now thought, believed, or promoted was public and I had to maintain it and be prolific about it, which was all very new to me. Social media demands an entirely different type of person, or persona. But it also really wowed me, especially in terms of how much it got done, especially in the past summer with BlackLivesMatter and the election. There was so much change from social media activism and organization, which was really profound and very exciting to be a part of.
Alefiya: What has it been like to face racism and misogyny that is directed right at you?
Claira: It was a lot, but in a way where it was sort of a harmless a lot? There were just so many DMs, so many messages, so many comments. It sort of propelled me into this mindset of ‘I don’t have to be right, I just have to be not wrong’. I had to be right in a way that if my videos were to be sensationalized again, I should be able to stand behind it. I was struck by the racism that was coming at me- not because I hadn’t expected it, but because it was just so blatant. It was so amazing, in a terrible way, to see the thousands of comments that were calling me slurs and blaming me for COVID and anything else you can imagine, even rape and death threats. They were rarely ever focused on anything other than my gender or race. It just reminded me that nobody is ever going to look at me and not see an Asian woman. For a long time on Tiktok, there were these hate accounts made for me almost everyday and just commented on my posts constantly, and even harassed the people supporting me. I had hundreds of these accounts blocked, but they kept popping up. But I just tried to read it all with a grain of salt. If nothing else, this was just proof of the fact that what I was doing needed to be done.
Alefiya: Let’s talk about Harvard. What are you studying and what are your plans after graduating?
Claira: Harvard has been inarguably the best thing that’s ever happened to me. It was so different than anything I’d ever known. I studied Government and Psychology. I went in knowing I was gonna study Government because it’s all I did in high school and then started to realize that I had a huge new fascination with psychology and history. I had a great time. Harvard made me feel invincible in that for the first time, being Asian or a woman didn’t matter for my potential. I am currently finishing my last semester. It’s been a really strange experience doing this whole virtual thing and a very unique ending to college. I’m taking a year off and backpacking around the world- it’s a sort of response to this whole past year being very chaotic and insane. It’s also partially investing in various humanitarian efforts for vaccine distributions in third world countries. When I come back, I definitely have an intention in being involved with my communities and still being that outspoken person. Maybe something in politics or social justice from afar.
Alefiya: This sounds very cool! Where are you traveling to?
Claira: I’m starting in Iceland, then going to Switzerland, South Africa. Then various parts of Central/South America, particularly Argentina, Chile, and Peru. Maybe Jamaica before heading up to New Zealand. Then I’ll be visiting Asia before heading to the Middle East. And then I’ll be ending in Europe. So yeah, a lot of places.
Alefiya: One last question. If you could speak to younger Claira right now, what would you tell her?
Claira: Find courage in who you are and find value in everything you do. Being Asian is not a burden or a hindrance. It’s a lovely part of you.