A Lot To Say But No Words To Do It

This week, the Atlanta shootings happened and I’ve been struggling with a mess of emotions. I have so much to say, but somehow can’t articulate any of it.

Twitter is not really the place for nuanced discussions. There are times I hate it (I only stay, because most of my writing community is there). I’m deeply uncomfortable sharing anything about my family for fear of misrepresenting them or violating their privacy. I’m hesitant to share my opinions, because when I feel deeply about a thing, my tongue gets tied, and my words get scrambled. And I live in abject fear of hurting someone by accident with an ill considered quip.

All my life, my family taught me: don’t rock the boat, work hard, be quiet in the face of hate, that political activism is for the bad kids (the mouthy ones who talk back to their elders). But living by those rules cannot protect you from racism or some white man’s ‘bad day’.

I feel like I’m still learning to speak.

The only place where I feel comfortable fully expressing myself is in fiction. There are millions of words of my rage, and catharsis, and showing THIS IS WHAT IT’S LIKE to live in a racialized body, to deal with intergenerational trauma and the horrors of colonialism, and yet, its possible no one will ever see them. I don’t think I am owed any kind of publication, despite how important those words are to me. Still… they’re my only words, and so most days it feels like I’m screaming and screaming, in the middle of the street, only no one can hear me.

To exist as an Asian in the Americas is to be seen as what you are, but not who you are. To be dismissed when you tell people about your experience of racism: it’s not that bad, it’s no big deal, it was a joke, he wasn’t going to hurt you…

What would it be like to be truly seen? Sometimes I think the only reason I keep writing is that hope that maybe someday someone will truly see me (and themselves too).

I’ve been mulling over the idea of ‘Proximity to Whiteness’ for a while now. Maybe it’s a real thing, but in the end it’s not really useful, because it’s still part and parcel of the ‘Model Minority’ stereotype. Asia is massive and brown Asians, Muslim Asians, black Asians, often get treated to the other side of that coin: the sex-worker, the nanny, the housekeeper, the terrorist. I once got salty on Twitter and quipped that ‘Proximity to Whiteness’ is only for East Asians, but the truth is, we all get treated by the side of the coin benefits whiteness most at any given moment. No amount of proximity to whiteness, assimilation, or hard work, can save you from hate or make white supremacists see you as a fully realized human being.

And this is why diverse reading can’t save the world. Yes diverse books are important, but anyone invested in white supremacy will not read them, and unexamined racism allows readers to come to all the wrong conclusions. Racism is taught at home and unless you’re invested in anti-racism there’s no stopping it.

The sheer amount of work it takes to try and to teach anti-racism to my children is boggling. It starts young. Though she’s biracial, my daughter could be my clone. When she was four, she told me she wanted to be white and blonde so she could be pretty. She couldn’t say where she’d learned this, only that it was true. Racism is in the air, absorbed by osmosis. We breathe it like oxygen.

And some days it all feels like a losing battle, especially when we live with my white in-laws. I no longer speak Tagalog, because when I started going to school, no one else spoke it. We haven’t seen my parents or Filipino family for a year, and for a child that’s an eternity. I feel like I’m failing to show my children how beautiful our culture can be when there is very little in the Western world that speaks to our cultural existence. Even Raya (OH MY GOD THE HAIR TEXTURE), while groundbreaking for a Disney princess, still doesn’t speak to us beyond its aesthetics.

But the alternative is to go with the flow, and that is to allow complicity in a racist/white-supremacist society. It means letting my children hate themselves, or think that they are lesser, and to fall for the same stereotypes that hurt them. I wonder sometimes if white families ever have these talks. Unless you actively work against racism, you’re marinating/growing/rooting in it. I am trying to give my children the words, the confidence to love themselves, to survive, and thrive despite it all – when I don’t even know how to do it myself.

My husband remarked that by next week, no one will be talking about anti-Asian hate anymore. Maybe he’s right, but I also think that this might be a turning point for Asian communities across North America. I don’t think that we will be content to be silent anymore. I am screaming into the void, but I am not the only one screaming – and there is comfort in that.

P.S. If you’re anti-Black, I don’t want to know you. Yes it is a problem in the Asian community, but if you look at the long history of North American activism, Black and Asian communities have always worked together. Our experience of oppression is not the same, but our struggle for justice is intertwined. Black authors and thinkers who have spoken up in solidarity (and it’s mostly you), and I’ve seen you, and I appreciate you.

6 Comments to “A Lot To Say But No Words To Do It”

  1. I feel for you; I see your struggle and your pain, and it hurts me to see it. The bit about your daughter – ouch! As a father that hits hits my heart so heavily. I grew up believing, firmly, that I was ugly, and unpleasant to look at, to be around. And that was bad enough without the deeply inset racism to exacerbate it.

    As a white man I’ve struggled with this, too. Being a member of the demographic group of people singly most responsible for the most reprehensible acts of racism and violence globally, I struggle with whether even to SAY anything at all, as though my silence is sufficient to signal my non-allegiance with that sort of hateful ideology. I struggle because it feels, once again, like it’s time for others to tell their stories, because this isn’t about me or my whiteness.

    But I’m learning also that silence is complicity. That abhorring racism isn’t enough, that you have to find it in yourself and root it out, and condemn it wherever you see it, and that this burden lands especially heavy on those of us who are white. I want my Asian friends (inasmuch as I have friends of any color at all, being the introverted recluse that I am) and my Black Friends, and my Indigenous friends to know that I, personally, flawed though I am, stand with you in solidarity – in this moment, yes, but always. I condemn racism in all its ugly forms, especially the insidious, nearly invisible kind that permeates our culture and infects my own thoughts.

    I can only hope that this inflection point gives us a chance to think more deeply about racism in our culture and to more aggressively root it out. I don’t know how, but I hope. There are too many for whom racism is not only the water they swim in, but the sustenance by which they live – too many who not only don’t question our society’s racist ideas, but actively, knowingly engage in overt racism. I don’t know how you reach these people. Hell, I don’t know how you reach the people who are merely comfortable in their ignorance.

    I KNOW people like that. I have FAMILY like that. And trying to address this just within my own family has proven painful and divisive, and I’ve made no progress at changing hearts and minds for the pain it’s caused. Which I say not for sympathy’s sake, but to illustrate just how difficult this work is; I don’t think my experience is unique. But it’s important work. And maybe, for me, simply not talking to my family anymore isn’t really the right path, like I thought it was.

    Much to think about. Much to consider. Much to do.

    1. T. S. Bazelli Author

      Thank you Stephen.

      “The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be anti-racist. Anti- racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it’s the only way forward.” Ijoema Oluo

  2. “And this is why diverse reading can’t save the world. Yes books help, but anyone invested in white supremacy will not read those books, or will take the wrong lessons from them.” 100% true.

    Thank you for writing so movingly about your feelings and experiences. I see you and I hear you, and I feel your pain. Sending you the biggest hug.

  3. There is so much truth and pain and realness here. I keep wanting to share my favorite lines, but honestly, that would mean copying & pasting about half the post. Thank you for writing this. I too want to gather my words, fashion them into some sort of shape resembling my aching heart, and put it out there for people to see… I just haven’t been able to do it yet. It helps to know that your story is here, that I can point to it, and say, THIS.

Comments are closed.