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.