by Michelle Choi
Atlanta’s Asian spa shooting spree gave us way too much to unpack… Someone hated an entire race to the point of violence. This shooter wanted to “fight back against China,” then mass murdered Koreans. He blamed Asians for his sex addiction (nah that’s a you problem, not ours). And most ridiculous of all, the police chief sympathized with this murderer, excusing him for having a “bad day.” Let’s call it for what it is: Racism.
In this time of pain, Sandra Oh compelled protestors to chant “I’m proud to be Asian.” While I’m proud of who I am today, frankly I’m not even comfortable in my own skin right now. Growing up in America has taught me that others tend to judge me by my race first, so the night before I started a new job in February 2020 I constantly felt on the verge of having a panic attack. COVID-19 was making headlines, and I was stressed about being Chinese and having to interact with strangers who might just see me as a disease.
Being self-conscious stemmed from my childhood where I’ve been told “you’re really pretty for an Asian,” insinuating that Asians are ugly. Or “wow I’m never friends with any Asians but you’re really cool,” insinuating that Asians usually are not. Most of these back-handed compliments happened when I was too young to comprehend them as anything but a compliment, but now I reflect on them as repetitive teachings to reinforce me to be ashamed of my race.
Unfortunately, many of us experience this at a young age when we’re beginning to understand ourselves, and comments like these sink deep into our psyche. For me this has served as the darkest parts of my self understanding, as if race was my main flaw. Since then, I’ve grown to be more discerning and confident, but that confidence can feel like a mask because the deepest and most vulnerable part of me is still struggling to unlearn the lessons instilled in me as a young girl.
These aren’t isolated incidents. As i got older, they became more sexualized. I cannot count the number of guys that have made me cringe as they told me they “love Asian girls,” this annoyingly familiar concept of Yellow Fever. One time, I recoiled when an overweight white guy told me I’m his perfect girl “because I’m Asian.” Another time, I was terrified when a friend’s friend grabbed me while asking if it’s true that “Asians have tight p******.”
We’re fetishized in a different way, objectified as exotic and submissive. We’re aggressively pursued by men who somehow feel entitled to Asian women’s bodies. They do not understand that being sexualized just on race alone dehumanizes us.
I used to stay quiet on this, dismissing racist incidents as people just being ignorant… but being quiet has left me angry and hurting. I want people to know that being a “model minority” with “positive” stereotypes still come with their own unique brand of pain. We’re still subjected to the collective trauma of racism. It’s a terrible tapestry-of-shit woven from micro aggressions like unintentionally racist remarks, “harmless” jokes, entertainment that reduces our race to a punchline. They toxify society by normalizing racism, paving the way for catastrophic events like the ongoing demonization of an entire race, and even assault and murder.
So before you make a race-based joke as dumb as kung flu (or even one you consider elevated), think about the poison you are feeding back into society. As we should all practice more sensitivity towards other human beings, the next time we witness racism rear its ugly head, know that it is our responsibility to stand up against it.
It might be scary to speak up, but what’s the point of having a voice if you’re going to be silent in the moments you shouldn’t be?