Before we were in official pandemic lockdown, I was in an Uber where my driver was speaking to myself and another passenger about the coronavirus and how it originated because people in China eat “weird things.” It was late in the evening. I was tired and as uncomfortable as I felt, I didn’t have the energy to engage with racism. When do we ever have the energy for these types of conversations that happen over and over again? Sitting in the front seat I wondered if I had clapped back, what would happen to me? He clearly knew I was Asian when I entered the vehicle, was he testing me? What are the odds that we engage in a civilized conversation where we hear each other out vs. something that escalated further?
Too often in my life, I feel like I’m forced to make a choice. Do I want my voice or do I want my safety? As I read all of these [anti-racism posts] from other Asians and the statements they’ve put out, I think back to online bullies behind the screen. You can be tough behind a screen because of some anonymity. You can also be brave with your words behind a screen, but when faced with a real life moment, can you show up in the same way? In the last year, I am 0/2 on anti-asian racism directed at me.
I spend a lot of energy reflecting on these two moments. I replay moments like these in my head for no good reason other than wondering what could’ve happened that specific day if I had spoken up. I wonder if someday I’ll have a redemption moment – one in which I fight back with my words against racism or shut someone down so quickly they feel defeated or better yet embarrassed. My previous history doesn’t say much for my chances in this, but I remain hopeful.
Everyone wants to be the person that can have a quick comeback in any situation. Instead, these moments remind me of a more painful childhood. They were wasted years of being the punching bag for anti-asian jokes and hurtful racism. Why did I desire popularity so much and why did having friends feel like currency? The more I had, the richer my life became. If my friends laughed, so did I. But if your friends are laughing at you, you have to force your own laughter. I couldn’t afford to be friend-less so my only option was to continue to take it. Laugh it off and remind myself that it will end soon and hope that eventually we’ll all find something else to laugh at. Adult me knows better. If this ever happened to me now, I wouldn’t waste my time, but younger me was young and vulnerable. Having friends means you’re like everyone else. You blend in – it’s the thing that many of us have so desperately desired as Asian Americans.
Among friends, I’ve been referred to as “the easy target.” It was the response I got when I would ask “Why I’m being picked on” or questioning if we were actually friends? “Of course we are, you’re just an easy target”. Made to sound endearing, how silly of me to think that it was something negative when the attention was on me. As I see and hear this phrase now as the rationale between why [our elderly Asian are being murdered] and attacked, these words are piercing and painful. The label of “easy target” carried into my adult life, and has now spread to our entire race.
Though I feel very far from my childhood, [these string of recent attacks] remind me of the mental and emotional pain that I endured for many years. As an Asian American adult in my 30s, I feel scared and once again, small and weak. It’s the thing as of late that has put a target on our backs and fed into these harmful stereotypes. I hate this because Asian people are not weak and as we have seen in the last week, [they are resilient] and not afraid to fight back.
The sentiment is well-intentioned. Use your platform, use your voice, educate the people you know. However, there’s something else that’s not being said that deserves empathy and understanding. Those that are being impacted by these events are silent because we have had to be silent for a long time – sometimes for survival. Not all of us are ready to open these wounds yet and we need to allow space and time for people to get there. I understand the urgency in this moment right now, but we can’t force anyone. We all process on our own time.
I’m supposed to end my posts with a call to action. If there’s something you take away from this please know that this period of time where Asians have to constantly defend themselves against violence, hate crimes, and hate speech is hard for us. Some people may be like me and are more comfortable thinking a bit longer about things and being intentional that you miss your opportunity to act. It’s not always intentional, but a learned habit. If you are someone that witnesses – sees or hears any POC being attacked and you feel safe to do so, please step in. Speak up or use yourself physically to create space between the targeted and the attacker. That is allyship.
Author’s Note: This is my own personal narrative, I do not want to make assumptions about others’ experiences, pain, or trauma nor generalize the Asian American experience as a whole. I hoped to share a piece of myself and my story with you while understanding that everyone’s experience is unique despite the common thread of being Asian.
Resources to support Asian Americans: