If you know me, you've probably heard my story about being verbally and racially attacked at Disneyland when I was in second grade, and that my mom simply apologized. The man accused us of killing his father in WWII, and she apologized to him so as not to cause more of a scene and to protect us in case the man became physically violent. What I don't often talk about, but have been thinking about a lot, is the other man that was in line in front of us, who turned around to confront the racist and stop him from further verbally assaulting us. The trauma of that moment often overshadows that man's allyship in my memory, but I've never forgotten it. As the rise in anti-Asian attacks continues, escalating with this week's mass murder, amongst the daily attacks that continue, especially in the Bay Area, I've been thinking a lot about that ally at Disneyland and I've been thinking about bystanders in other situations I've been in.
I've seen many posts and comments circulate about all the bystanders in many of the attacks we've seen captured on video, along with the ask for people step up when they witness a racist attack. Being an ally and an active bystander by standing up against racist attacks when you witness them is important, but I also think it's important to remind everyone to do so minding their own safety and the safety of others. In the very least, if you witness a racial attack, call for help and report it. But many people keep asking me how they can be supportive, and while I wrote a blog on a few different ways, I keep thinking of another memory.
A few years ago, I was in a meeting with two other colleagues and we were listening to a pitch from a writer and his agent. The agent kept making remarks to me and about me that weren't sitting well with me. Then he said something that right away made me ask myself, "Did he just say that because I'm Asian?" At that point I was already fed up with him, but then I was livid and ready to leave the meeting. Still, in my head I kept wondering, "Did I just hear him right?" "Am I overreacting?" As an Asian American, much of the time, the racism we receive is subtle and it's micro aggression. Because of that, we're so often gaslit and told we're not being racially attacked, discriminated against, or fetishized when we know we are. Furthermore, we've always watched our parents and elders ignore and move on from such incidents. It's ingrained in our culture to not burden others or cause too much fuss over ourselves. And I've always wondered, why I'm worried about burdening or offending someone else when that person is burdening and offending me with pain and humiliation.
Getting back to the story though, I was quickly trying to think of a strong exit line, while trying to see if I could get out without making it clumsy, because I was sandwiched between my two colleagues around a small conference table. I didn't want to give the clown more to laugh at. So between that and questioning whether I heard him correctly and was overreacting or not, eventually I felt my time to storm out had passed, so I sat there miserably and stone faced, not letting him get any fake laughs out of me.
After that situation, I consulted my colleagues to see if I was crazy or not, some of whom were not there and not Asian, and right away confirmed my instincts, which made me more upset. I should have just walked out.
The reason I tell this story is because, if you are wondering how to be an ally, one way to do so is to shut down micro aggressive racism like this when you witness it. If you're Asian, we too have to be better about standing up for ourselves and each other. Also, to be clear, I'm not calling out these colleagues of mine or blaming them in anyway. For all I know, they could've been just as perplexed as I was. It's also possible they didn't fully register the racism, because I do believe if the comments were blatantly or aggressively racist, these colleagues would have said something (at least I hope they would've).
But before any of us can stand up to racism, especially the more subtle and micro aggressive forms of racism, we have to know what racism looks like. It's like abuse--we all know what physical abuse looks like, maybe even blatant verbal abuse, but do we know what emotional and financial abuse look like, or digital abuse? So, the other thing I want to ask everyone, Asian and non-Asian, is to ask your Asian friends about the times they felt targeted or maltreated because of their race. When were they the butt of a joke? Think about Asian stereotypes. What kinds of stereotypes do we assume and apply to Asians we know and meet. I read a great quote today from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who said "The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story." Stereotypes dehumanize us. So once we start to recognize the many ways Asians and Asian Americans experience racism, and take the time to ask and listen to Asian American stories, then we can do a better job of standing up for the Asian communities, and against anti-Asian racism.
Thank you for being here.