Weeks before the Atlanta spa shootings, someone asked if I felt safe, if my family felt safe. She was asking as a check-in during a steady escalation of violence and harassment of Asians in America. I told her that when you are not white in this country, you have always been cognizant you are not safe. When you are not white in this country, you are well aware you are in the spaces you occupy by permission only. And though it’s “nice” that there’s more awareness, this is not new.
I have suffered the indignities of being asked if I ate cats or dogs. I have lived with “ching chong” as the backdrop of my life. I have been asked where I am from. I have been asked to say a few words in Chinese at parties and bars. I have been told I should be good at doing laundry, or painting nails. Or math. I have been told Chinese skin is better than Korean skin and that men prefer that. My son is constantly called “Can’t See” by a classmate because it rhymes with his last name, and not once does another student stand up to the racism. These examples are routine humiliations Asians suffer daily in America. This is not new.
Asians have been put in a tight spot in America. We are saddled with the model minority status, stereotyping that we are no trouble or burden to society. We are quiet, and do not raise hell. We are hard working and smart. We are told we are a better “Other” group so we should be grateful and move along. We are told we are better than our Black and Brown brothers and sisters. This hierarchy of Other groups keeps us all down, keeps us all outsiders, while pitting us against each other. This is not new.
We have also been targeted for exclusion and denied our rights legally and socially because we steal jobs, we are immoral, we are disloyal. We are a yellow peril. We are objectified as hypersexual and subservient beings. We are a blank slate for the benefit of whiteness in America–we build railroads, offer dim sum carts (but not too exotic please, no chicken feet), or love you long time. We swallow all of that and keep our heads down, and do what we need to for a better life for our children. Don’t cause trouble.. Be grateful. Assimilate. Try to lose what is you: Be a little less yellow, be a little more white. This is not new.
And then an Asian friend screamed “WTF?” when Asians were recently assaulted in San Francisco. San Francisco. “How did this happen in a city with such a large Asian population?” she asked.
We are now being assaulted in the only places you’ve let us occupy. We played by the rules. You gave us permission to be here in this spot. We did not take up too much space. We did what we were supposed to do. You remind us about your permission. You remind us that this really isn’t our country too. That it never was. You are telling us we literally do not belong here. Where are you from?
That is why you ask me where I’m from. To remind me I do not belong here. This is why you strip me of my humanity by asking if I eat pets you love. This is why you make me a sexual object to fuck instead of respect. This is why you see my eyes and hair and tell me I am exotic. Because you want to remind me I am not like you. This is not new.
It is more than offensive. It is more than mere ignorance. It is more than daily microaggressions. It is white supremacy. Until we recognize that the dominant class in this country creates and perpetuates Other classes and denies Other classes’ full humanity and dignity, we are not afforded our full rights and humanity. The dominant class will continue to control our narratives and our spaces and our bodies.
When our humanity is taken away, we are in a world where a man murdered daughters, sisters, and mothers to remove a temptation. A temptation. To him, we are a pint of ice cream, a bag of chips, a beer, to be removed. To others, we are a weed, a pimple, dandruff, to be controlled. To others, we are interchangeable slates to absorb violence from the rage, frustration, and fear of job losses, pandemic restrictions, and uncertainty.
Anything short of advocating and action for dismantling social structures, constructs, and policies that keep Other groups separate and different is maintaining white privilege and power. Anything less than dismantling our current reality and re-imagining what humanity can look like is being complicit in white supremacy. Do not tell me you are sorry. Do not tell me that you are horrified. Tell me what you are going to do about this.
HOW TO HELP:
I’ve been asked by several people how to help. Great question. These are just my thoughts, and they are certainly not exhaustive. I welcome all ideas!
- Take active bystander training
- Be involved with rallies, protests, signs–provide visible support
- Call and email and write your legislators, local, state, and national, in support of anti-hate legislation, violence against anyone legislation
- Speak out against legislation and policies, local and national, that ultimately bias against a certain class even if the words in the legislation aren’t “racist”
- Call out and call in people who say or do racist/bigoted things and/or micro-aggressions
- Educate yourself and others about the history of racist policies and murders
- Don’t mind your own business when you see discrimination or bias or microaggressions in the workplace, in the bar, in the back of an Uber.
The goal is to move the needle to become a more just, more humane, kinder world where we welcome people to a place of belonging. Do the things that you can do to get us there. Do the things you are comfortable doing to get us there. There is no one right or wrong way. It is safer for some people to do certain things, and this may change over time. Donate your time and money and skills to groups that are active in making this world a place of more belonging. Your bandwidth, your availability, your wallet, will wax and wane through time. It’s a marathon: take water breaks, potty breaks, come with snacks, be prepared to stay a while. Come with friends.
Just do something.
In elementary school, some kids were screaming racist slurs at me on the bus, calling me a Gook. I had no idea I was supposed to be offended, as I had never heard that term before. My white friends jumped to my side. “She’s not a Gook!” That’s when I realized I was supposed to feel offended, so then I felt relieved. “She’s Chinese you dummy! She’s a Chink!”
Oh. Didn’t see that one coming. Moral of the story though: do what you can, when you can. Rinse and repeat. It doesn’t need to be perfect. We’re human, we’ll mess up and get things right. But each day, we can move the needle.
Edit: Once upon a time, I used to be really smart. I was always right. Time and experience has humbled me. People I respect and admire taught me about Grace. I’ve learned the very hard skill of listening and learning, while shutting up. I’ve learned to hold space for people. To that end, I jumped all over a meme that resonated with me, about white terrorism being the root of the violence against Asians. Turns out the meme crossed out “Stop Asian Hate” and AAPI leaders felt it dismissed and negated Asians, while putting white people front and center. There are reasons for and against this stance. AAPI leaders felt crossing out “Stop Asians Hate” and equating it with white terrorism, or just making this current movement only about racism in general was similar to people saying All Lives Matter in response to Black Lives Matter. I have learned that not hurting people is a value I hold more than being right or sharing my thoughts. I am grateful for this opportunity to practice humility, hold space, listen, and learn. I’ve changed the image to my blog post to reflect the more inclusive image. I am also widely advertising my mistake on social media because I think it’s important for me to show how messy I am instead of just talking about how people are messy. I want to be accountable and show my mistakes along with my accomplishments. I’m deeply sorry for minimizing and hurting my AAPI brothers and sisters. I will continue to listen and learn and do better. This work towards being anti-racist is hard and messy. Thank you for accompanying me on this journey.