*Please refrain from involving your politics in my story.
This has been a calamitous week for the lives of many Asian Americans. It has also been eye-opening; there are moments when we can transcend the tragedy, unify and lift up one another in validation.
I don’t recall the Asian American plight ever forefronting the media, or being the subject of collective discussion. In my limited time on this earth, this is the first. Our voices have been historically and culturally muffled. And even when our voices have cut through the layers of indifference, denial, prejudice — they rarely seem to attract and maintain an audience.
I’ve often written about my personal lived experience as a mixed Chinese woman living in the world, but seldom shared the full story with anyone; for many reasons. One being that I simply did not believe that my perception of struggle would be validated.
There were forces with the goal to disqualify me; some self-inflicted, like the guilt of growing up privileged financially (my grandfather was in the minority of immigrants who did achieve a form of the ‘american dream’), or the guilt of not being Asian enough because I am half, or the guilt of failing to take the time to learn Chinese and explore my heritage. And many were external. These feelings were also reflected back to me by people in my life; strangers, friends and lovers, who could not fathom how someone like me might feel pain and insecurity due to my Asianness. After a childhood marked by subtle denial and shame, I now wear my diversity proudly which can be mistaken for the absence of adversity.
I have been told not to dwell on my race because it seems to bring me suffering. How convenient would it be for white folks if every BIPOC simply ignored the distinctions in race that expose disparity… I am a victim of racism, but I try as hard as I can not to identify as one because while being POC is difficult, it is also a part of my identity where I find the most liberation, joy, insight, and perspective. Right now, I’ve never felt more proud to be of Asian descent and I’ve never felt so much unity in our communities — across ethnic and political belonging. The contrast between the polarity in our country and the unity is an odd paradox. It is a testament to the ways in which we are simultaneously failing and succeeding to hear one anther and see one another.
My mother is Asian and my father is white. They are either a symbol of victorious diversity, or the extremities of colonialism. They are incredible, in my opinion, because they are happily entrenched in a self-proclaimed ‘colorblind love’ — the endall achievement envisioned by most white people I know. And who am I to question their love? It works. Alas I am a product of biracial acceptance, a physical embodiment of triumph over difference. That being said, they have experienced their fair share of injustice. Strangers and close acquaintances have rashly stamped their prejudice on the togetherness of my parents, and they vividly remember each time. My dad is always deeply bewildered when it happens… my mom, not so much.
When I spent a month in Panama, my name was China. No matter how many times I introduced myself as Mari, my name was China.
In my adult years, I experienced acute racism in Spain and other European countries. This shattered my weak illusion that Europe was somehow more ‘enlightened’ than the states in this regard. After being undeniably incorrect, I constantly question the glorification of Europe in this country, and you should too.
I have been sexualized over and over again; the first time I do not even recall, but my parents do. They informed me that when I was a baby, I was referred to as “deliciously asiatic” by a family friend — a white man (it doesn’t take much research to learn that the Asian women have been historically and notoriously hypersexualized by white men). A person does not have to share what they are thinking in words because I can read sexual appeal through their eyes. My suspicions are commonly confirmed when the first question I am asked by a man is in regards to my ethnicity. So fucking cliché.
My first instinct is frustration, and then pity. But even those emotions are asking too much from someone who has just been beaten down by virtue of their race.
Throughout my life one thing has become clear; the astounding quantity of empathy one can give their perpetrators in a pretext of ignorance, at the expense of oneself.
I hate that word, ignorance. Because it feels too easy of an escape for people who have the resources to know better.
Each time a racist incident happens, I deal with it. They range from a spectrum of unpleasant to deeply disturbing; each being compounded by the one before it. Thus a cycle of victimization, anger, guilt, and compassion occur. Each time I rise.
This won’t be a list of the acts of discrimination that I have faced — for there are far too many, and frankly, I do not feel the need to prove to anyone the emotionally-injected, raw scenes that occur in this world that express intolerance. This is a fact of the human race and a fact of my story.
Rather, this is me telling you, reader, that you are complicit in anti-Asianness when you choose not to engage with our plight. You are complicit in anti-BIPOC when you choose not to engage with BIPOC plight. You’ve probably already read a number of bulleted lists on Instagram telling you exactly what you should do, and what we need to feel heard. Which is great.
I will say that I believe change starts with you; in your heart and mind — engage in our fight by thinking of all of the instances in which you may have disqualified the pain and the suffering of your Asian peers. Think about the instances in which you have mocked an Asian accent, our food, (until you realized it was your favorite cuisine in college) or referred to Asians as studious, nerdy, submissive, dainty, weak, sexually unappealing, sexually appealing… think of those times and now think about how you will be better by choosing not to perpetuate these stereotypes, and instead, make space for identifying and calling out injustice against Asians. Imagine how much energy we could harness if we focused on listening in order to diverge from our current understanding of the world, instead of defending our limited contexts.
You being intentional about anti-racism is just the beginning of the vastness that is cultural and racial cognizance. Show appreciation for our cultures; our elders, our lifestyles, our customs; give because you have historically taken; give without motivation of receiving.
I’ll close this in conceding that for the most part, I understand why people say what they say and do what they do; it is all a reflection of the insecurity of being a human being on this earth. It is easy to think — what have I personally done? And dismiss the actuality that every privilege you have been afforded is likely derived from classism and/or racism. I have pity for racist and ignorant people, because in reality, we are all ignorant in our own ways to the unknown realities of others. But life is long, and what I do not understand are people who actively choose not to open their minds to the wealth that occurs in reexamination of one’s perspective.
Momentum. These are opportunities for dialogue that not only function to reveal unjust differences in lived experience, but open up a world in which differences don’t define justice.