How the Rules of Racism Are Different For Asian Americans

Matthew Salesses reflects upon the moment he realized he was not white, and explores the ways in which racism against Asian Americans is nearly invisible in our culture.

My senior year in Chapel Hill, I finally got up the courage to take a course in Asian American literature. Stupidly, I treated it as a little experiment. As an adoptee, I had grown up with white parents in a white town in rural Connecticut. My only knowledge of Asian culture was Chinese food and, when I was growing up, a number of meetings of adopted children that still haunt me, though I realize that my parents had my best interests at heart. They had taken me to these meetings for connection, but what I remember was the disconnect: the awkwardness of forced interaction between children who thought of themselves as white and didn’t want to be shown otherwise. We hated being categorized as adoptees, or I did and I read those feelings into the others, who to me did not seem friendly, or familiar, only more strange for their yellow faces.

Those meetings made me feel classified by my parents as other. One of the things I most remember from that time (and from books like We Adopted You, Benjamin Koo) is the common experience that the adopted child has when one day he looks into the mirror and all of a sudden realizes that his skin color is not the same as his parents’. Up until that moment, he sees himself as white (in the case that the parents are white). I saw myself as white. When I closed my eyes, or when I was in a conversation and seemed to be watching from above, I was a skinny white boy, a combination of my parents, just like other kids. Sometimes, if I am being honest, I still catch myself looking down at my conversations with white people and picturing myself, in that strange ongoing record in my head, as no different from them. As a boy, the one thing that nagged at me was the flatness of my nose. I was constantly tugging on it, thinking that I could stretch it out and thereby gain acceptance.

But let me pause here for a moment. This is going to be a difficult essay to write, and I want to prepare myself—and you, reader—by coming at this topic from a larger angle.

It seems to me that a similar type of self-contextualizing (through race) happened on a grand scale in Asian America as Jeremy Lin took over sports news and much of AA media references last spring. With Lin’s rise, there was a feeling, a swelling collective feeling, that we Asians were no different from the other people we see on national TV, almost exclusively white and black. That we were Jeremy Lin, able to play as well as they in “their” arena, the ability of Jeremy Lin pointing to a potential in all of us. The writer Jay Caspian Kang said something to this effect in his Grantland article: “The pride we feel over [Lin’s] accomplishments is deeply personal and cuts across discomforting truths that many of us have never discussed. It’s why a headline that reads ‘Chink in the Armor,’ or Jason Whitlock’s tweeted joke about ‘two inches of pain,’ stings with a new intensity. Try to understand, everything said about Jeremy Lin, whether glowing, dismissive, or bigoted, doubles as a referendum on where we, as a people, stand.”

When the disparagements came—as we feared and maybe suspected they would but hoped they wouldn’t—it was like that first time looking in the mirror. We realized that for all of Jeremy Lin’s accomplishments, we as Asians are still different, are still seen differently than other races by the vast majority of Americans.

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The truth is, racism toward Asians is treated differently in America than racism toward other ethnic groups. This is a truth all Asian Americans know. While the same racist may hold back terms he sees as off-limits toward other minorities, he will often not hesitate to call an Asian person a chink, as Jeremy Lin was referred to, or talk about that Asian person as if he must know karate, or call him Bruce Lee, or consider him weak or effeminate, or so on.

Bullying against Asian Americans continues at the highest rate of any ethnic group. I remember, when I was taking the Asian American literature course, an article in a major magazine that ran pictures of (male) Asian models above the tagline, “Gay or Asian?” I remember a video that went viral last year in which people explained why men prefer Asian women and why women dislike Asian men. Some of the women on the video were Asian American.

♦◊♦

As I said, I was treating the AA literature course as an experiment. There were a few white students in class who laughed at the “Gay or Asian?” tag and found little offensive about it, at least until pressed. Maybe the first sign that my experiment was working was the anger I felt toward them. The test, you see, was secretly how Asian I was, or maybe whether I was Asian at all. It was something to do with discovering myself, and how much that self was formed by my birth, which I knew nothing about, and by my birth mother, who had abandoned me, and by the country that had raised me while leaving scars of unknown origin on various parts of my body.

College can be a chance to remake oneself, or to get closer to the foundation of oneself that one gradually moves away from under the influence of peers. I had, in fact, as soon as I got to UNC, attempted to join the Asian American club, but I couldn’t get over how cliquish they seemed, embracing their strangeness, while the truth is that I was trying to get away from those differences. Soon I found myself, with this second chance, once again trying to be accepted by people who looked like my parents, telling myself I didn’t want to be Asian if this was what being Asian meant, being birds of a different feather, expected to be an automatic friend because of race. I had, as you can see, my excuses.

Yet somewhere inside of me, I must have felt that I was growing further from myself. Racist jokes were told with alarming frequency for a school billed the “most liberal in the South,” and I was friends with two groups: one mostly white, mostly Southerners in the same dorm; the other mostly black, with whom I played pick-up basketball. They joked without censor. I had a girlfriend whose aunt and uncle lived in North Carolina, and when we went to visit, they would say that at least I wasn’t black, often before some racist diatribe. This seemed the predominant sentiment then. At least I wasn’t ____.

I was taking the AA course to find out what I was. I hadn’t read much Asian American literature at that time—I think almost all I could add to the class discussion was Michael Ondaatje—and a couple of books planted seeds in me then that would grow into a certain self-awareness later in life. I will always be grateful to Don Lee’s story collection, Yellow. In Lee’s stories, Asian American characters experience racist incident after racist incident, but these incidents are mostly background to their lives as sculptors, surfers, lovers, etc. The characters are very much of the world in which they live, the world in which I lived and a different world than the one in which white people live with the privilege of their color.

In class, the white students were incredulous. They claimed such acts of racism could never happen with such frequency. Yet if anything, to me, the racism seemed infrequent, and with minimal effect on the characters’ lives. I had grown up constantly wavering between denying and suspecting that my skin color was behind the fights picked with me, the insults, the casual distance kept up even between myself and some of my closest friends. Sometimes—in retrospect: oftentimes—these incidents were obviously rooted in race. I have been called “chink” and “flat face” and “monkey” many many times. And it is the context of these words that make a child grow uncomfortable with who he is, that instill a deep fear in him. (As a side note: I am married now to a Korean woman who grew up in Korea, and when I mentioned the “flat face” slur to her, she said, “but your face is flat.” Yet how different was this from the leering way it was said to me as a child, something she hadn’t felt as a Korean in Korea.) I was afraid, back then, of myself, as if there were a little Asian person living within me that was corrupting my being, taking me away from the white person I thought I was.

There are still incidents from those days that I cannot get out of my mind. I remember watching, in one middle school class, a video meant to teach us that blackface and sculptures of big-lipped black people and stereotypes of watermelon and fried chicken were wrong. Later that same year, one of my best friends drew a picture of a square with a nose poking off of one side. I knew this was me even before he said it. Sometimes my friends would ask me to do the trick where I put my face against the table, touching both my forehead and my chin to the wood. I thought of this as a special ability, but underneath, I knew I should be ashamed.

I would bet that this friend does not remember drawing me in that one science class. We often drew together. He was in all of my classes that year, as we were allowed two friends to share a similar schedule, and I was the only one who requested him. That he wouldn’t remember this drawing is part of the problem, I know now. He thought of the picture as a joke, though I had never seen him draw caricatures or draw anyone else so simply. Surely a part of him knew what he was doing but didn’t stop him. There was no video to tell him not to—there was no one to tell him not to, even me. I pretended it didn’t bother me.

That was the same year my closest childhood friend suddenly cut me off. We had been inseparable, but at the start of that school year, he made fun of me and seemed to use this attack to springboard into popularity. I spent many nights during those first few weeks of school crying myself to sleep, not understanding why we weren’t friends anymore. It is a wound that still hurts—as I type this, I find my face heating up and my breaths deepening. I still don’t understand completely, but I can point to the fear that this was due to the color of my skin, more than anything, as an indication that it indeed was. I understood even when I didn’t understand, as children can.

In response to the students who didn’t believe the frequency/viciousness of the racism in Yellow, the professor showed us an interview in which Lee says every incident in the book has happened to him. Or perhaps I found this interview later, I don’t remember now. As a matter of research, I thought I would ask a few Asian American authors I know about racist incidents in their books that are based on events that happened to them. Earlier this year, Salon ran a piece by Marie Myung-Ok Lee about a bully who made it into her novel and whom she finally, after many years, confronted. I heard from several writers about experiences making it into their books: how they were unable to get away from writing about those experiences, as unable as they were to stop thinking about them, but hardly anyone seemed to want to call out those past attackers. I spoke with one writer about the condition of anonymity, as the people who had hurt him most were those closest to him.

I think what all of this says to me is that 1. these things happen to all of us, and 2. they leave the type of mark that we cannot escape, that we return to again and again, as writers do.

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A few years after UNC, when I was an MFA student at Emerson College (where Don Lee got his MFA and then later edited Ploughshares and taught), there was a rumor going around that in the original workshop stories from Yellow, the characters were white. That Lee made them Asian later. I’m not sure the truth of this statement. In fact, I’m not interested in the truth of it. I’m more interested in the fact that this was a rumor at all. This was something people wanted to talk about, and talked about as if the truer versions of the characters were white. If Lee did use white characters, originally, he is not alone. I know many Asian American writers who refuse to write about Asian Americans, out of a fear of being typecast, or a fear of being seen as “using” their ethnicity, or a fear of being an “Asian American writer,” or something. And really, I understand that. I have been one of those writers. This may not come as a surprise, at this point in this essay, but for a long time, I wrote only about white characters. I wrote about them because I grew up with people like them, but also because they were the people in books and because I, too, feared the label, or at least told myself I did. What that fear really is, it seems to me now, is a fear of not being taken as seriously as the White Male Writer, who has so long ruled English literature.

The breakthrough came when I started to be able to read my own stories objectively. Something was not making sense. Why were my characters who they were? I inserted plenty of flashbacks and backstory to try to “explain” them. But in the end, I realized that what they were missing, in many cases, was a crucial piece of me that had gone into them. They were Asian, like me. Many of them were adopted, like me. The original characters were not the true characters. And “changing” them to Koreans made everything make sense.

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For my day job, I organize a seminar at Harvard on the topic of Inequality. I attend these talks both out of responsibility and out of interest. But after two and a half years, I can only remember Asians being mentioned twice, once in direct response to a question by an Asian student. I remember sitting beside another Asian American student and listening to a lecture earlier this year. He said something like, “Nobody ever talks about Asians,” and I said, “Asians don’t exist in Sociology.” We both laughed. It was a joke, but it stung with a certain truth. The time Asians were mentioned not in answer to a question was in reference to university admissions—a heated topic now in the AA community—as numbers show that students of Asian descent make up a disproportionately large percentage of admissions to top schools.

Often I have heard Asians talking about these percentages with pride, even in responding to racism. If attacked, they “point to the scoreboard” of college admissions. Yet it is a very real complaint that Asian descent seems to count against us in those same admissions numbers. Both Harvard and Princeton are currently under investigation on charges of racism toward Asians, whose grades and SAT scores, on average, must be higher than those of other races in order to gain admissions. Many Asian Americans are responding by marking the box on applications that declines to indicate race, something I cannot help but read symbolically. I confess that I would give my daughter that exact advice, in admissions: not to reveal her race. The accusation is that schools have capped their “quotas” of Asian students, and this is why Asians need to score higher, because they are competing amongst themselves for a limited number of spots. Most Asians accept the unwritten rules, pushing themselves or their children harder. But why should they, in a country that prides itself on equal opportunity?

To bring up college admissions is often to be met with the complaint that we should be happy with the success we have. In fact, success is often used as a justification for why Asians are ignored in discussions of inequality. I was forgetting a third mention of Asian Americans in the seminars: as a group other immigrant races should look toward as an example of successful assimilation. Why aren’t we happy with our disproportionate admissions and the many children who grow up to be doctors and lawyers, pushed by their parents? (The more sarcastic answer: why aren’t white people happy enough with EVERYTHING?)

Jeremy Lin, early in his success, was called out by boxer Floyd Mayweather as only getting the attention he was getting because he is Asian, since every day black athletes accomplish what Lin has and receive no fanfare. Or something to this effect. Other journalists responded by saying Lin is getting the attention because he worked so hard and is the ultimate underdog. Both these points, it seems to me, have a lot to do with race. Why was Lin an underdog, ignored by scouts when he had succeeded at every level and outplayed the best point guards he faced (see: John Wall, Kemba Walker)? Writers always seem to mention how hard Lin works, and often mention this as a trait of Asian Americans. They mention that he went to Harvard, how smart he is. They mention that he is humble. When I wrote about the “Chink in the Armor” headline here, a commenter responded by pointing to Asian Americans being too respectful to speak up against racism. This respectfulness, he said, was something he admired about Asians.

AP Photo

It is hard to call someone who thinks he is complimenting you a racist. But the positive stereotypes people think they can use because of their “positivity” continue (and worsen) the problem. Thinking you can call an entire race “respectful” is thinking you can classify someone by race, is racism. Which is what is happening to Jeremy Lin when he is called “hard-working” instead of “skilled,” when his talent is marginalized by a writer who sees him as the Asian American stereotype, the child of immigrants who outworks and outstudies everyone else. Mayweather has one point, at least—other athletes work as hard or harder than Jeremy Lin. I’ve seen the videos of Lin’s workouts, how intense they are, how long, but this is not unusual for a basketball star. Read about Kobe Bryant’s work ethic, or Ray Allen’s, either of which put Jeremy Lin to shame. Jeremy Lin is the success he is because of his individual talent, not because he is Asian American. His ethnicity, I would have to argue, was only a factor in him having to “come out of nowhere,” since that was where Asians have been relegated to in sports.

After ESPN ran the “Chink in the Armor” headline, the writer of the headline made a very defensive apology in which he claimed to be a “good person” who didn’t know the weight of the word he was using. He was fired, and this apology came afterward. When he was first fired, I felt sorry for him. I didn’t think he deserved to lose his job but then his defensiveness came and took that sympathy away. Some on my Twitter feed suggested he didn’t know the term because of his young age. He was 28. I was 29. “Chink” is a very common term, probably the most common slur against Asians, and this was a writer and (I’m assuming) a reader who made his livelihood online. I find it impossible to believe that he hadn’t come across the term in some way. It bothers me to see people make excuses for him. “I’m sorry, but” is not “I’m sorry.” If you believe you can get away with the excuse, then what is that telling me?

♦◊♦

A few years after I graduated from UNC, I decided to go to Korea. I had never been back. I was still writing white characters, though I had let a Korean American slip into my novel in a supporting role, a character who never finished his sentences, who was always cut-off or cutting himself off. I was still searching for that Korean part of me. I had spent a long winter in Prague as one of the only Asians in the city, strange in a strange land. In Korea, I fell apart immediately. I ended up losing twenty pounds in two weeks, and I would have run back to the States if not for meeting my wife.

But then a strange thing happened. I got used to seeing Koreans, and was surprised whenever I saw a white person. And after some time, not like the sudden realization in the mirror but a gradual process, I began to see myself as a person from this country. I wrote my first story with a Korean character, and something in it, the vulnerability, the honesty, clicked. In Korea, I had different differences than in America. Not that race was out of the picture—the biggest shock to people was my culture, in spite of my skin color, my inability to speak Korean—but it was like looking at race from the inside out, the opposite of how I had been forced to see myself my whole life. It was a lesson: that I had control over my differences, that I could choose to build them up or break them down, that they were not simply genetic, something that had never been true in America.

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Originally appeared on The Rumpus, where you can find Part II: “Different Racisms II: On Jeremy Lin and Singular Models”

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photo of man in black by Shutterstock.com

Also read: What I would Like to Tell Adoptive Parents: A Letter From an Adoptee by Matthew Salesses 

About Matthew Salesses

Matthew Salesses contributed to the very first day of The Good Men Project. He writes the "Love, Recorded" column about his wife, baby, and cats. He has written for The New York Times, NPR, the Center for Asian American Media, Salon, The Rumpus, and others. He is the author, most recently, of Different Racisms: On Stereotypes, the Individual, and Asian American masculinity. See more at his eponymous website. Contact him via email or @salesses.

Comments

  1. I know how you feel bro. When I was in high school in the 90’s that shit didnt fly with me. Anyone talk shit or make asian jokes got their ass kicked.

  2. I am Korean-American, adopted too, and racism is alive against Asians, even us “white” Asians. I am sadly the victim of malice and racism against my white sister in-law and brothers in law. They all vote Liberal and externally put on an image that they care about subgroups that are nonwhite, being activists and getting photo ops with minorities, but they see minorities as little objects or pets to parade around with so they appear to be “tolerant,” but when diversity comes into their own backyard, my mere presence has cause WWIII. They have only met me for five minutes and that was six years ago, but since then they have put demands that I not be invited to any family gathering. There is constant Gossip, bullying, and diminishment, as well as invective hurled toward me. My husband has been in the outs and the subject to extreme ridicule and diminishment. I am college educated person, hard working, and not ugly – I used to model for NASCAR and Suzuki. I now work at a hospital where I deal with ill patients, and I get glowing reviews from my supervisors. I just don’t know why I’m the subject of so much ongoing hate and exclusion. They find any way to sabotage me. When they visit, I have to go to another hotel room, or even campground and wait for them to leave, but I clean for them and then clean after they leave, do their laundry, make their beds, cook and bake items for their stay. Now, I have to care for their aging parents, because they refuse to do it since they feel “above it.” All while they continue to bully and campaign against me. I had hope things would get better but they have only gotten worse over the past 6 years. All I want to do is love them, but they refuse to let me into the family or expose me to their picture perfect liberal kids. They all only hang out with powerful, liberal powerful white people, while secretly their personal lives tell a different tale. No one addresses the level of extreme intolerance against Asians, and yet, we secretly have to be saints on the background.

    • Hi Michelle, it’s hard to tell from just merely reading what you’ve said here, but I think your submissive and timid behavior is encouraging them act more in nonsensical way. I think you shouldn’t think too much, but speak out whatever you want toward your evil family members. They are hypocrites, to say the least, and could be even considered harassment. Don’t put up with those nonsense. Fight!

  3. Racism is deep in the us Europe and western countries. Its a complex issue that is multifaceted to why racism towards Asians is so prevalent. One lady got it right racism is a psychological tool to cow and make the targeted enemy submit. Its why Asians can’t get prominent roles on tv, merchandise , positions of power. The white race has neutered the spirit of Asians by skewing them psychlogically. White rulers create this false hope of work hard and suceed but only the whites get the successes of power commerce and glamour across the world. Its a psychological game to mentally toy or abuse the Asian victim. The success of whites is also innate and intuitive to the western kind. So in a way whites are flouting and trumpeting their perceived dominance over all.

  4. @Elle_Reezy says:

    This is a great essay, every story of how racism makes some feel should be shared. This is one that I’d find useful in talking with students about how racism is normalized in society and how that affects people’s view of themselves.
    However, I do not see the grand difference in the racism Asian American’s face and racism that other groups encounter in society. I understand that stereotypes about Asian Americans are often “positive pigeonholing”, but the personal sting of and shame the author describes is the exact effect racism has on just about every person that’s felt it.
    Racism, as an institutional tool of oppression, is a renewable resource. The methods of application have not changed since the British occupation of Ireland. Racism makes people feel otherized, and by that I mean inferior, to the norm which is often whiteness. It breeds feelings of shame, inadequacy, and the target has to go through psychological re-discovery of self-worth and value. This is the people who are the would-be victims of racism unite against it. By seeing the common intended effect, not matter how varied the application of racism seems.

  5. I’m not Asian (or white), but I thoroughly, THOROUGHLY enjoyed reading this. Any minority in the United States growing up in a predominately white neighborhood can relate to many of the confusion and internal struggles you’ve experienced. Even though I’m not Asian I was able to feel for your situation. I hope that more people will come across this article.

  6. ogwriter says:

    There is one major problem with this article and that is the lack of context present. When one reads this article one doesn’t consider the amount of racism emanating from the Asian community towards others. But then again this sort of denial is commonplace in this scenario. Unfortunately, this type of slant, Asian’s only exist as victims, doesn’t actually encourage finding real solutions, which would take real reflection

    • This is just one article by a writer who has written much more. What’s more, he is focusing on his personal experience. Is it really fair to expect one writer to write an analysis of all things racist in the Asian experience in a brief article?

    • Well duh…great detective work there Sherlock!

      Guess what? Same racist attitudes comes from Blacks, Latinos, or any other race. Reverse racism happens everywhere ogwriter.

      If you go knock the credibility of this article or damage done to entire population of minorities just because “some individual Asians can be just as racist back” then you’re being dense. And a blind douche.

      Go ahead and blame the victim sir! An entire race. Good job!

  7. Alice Zindagi says:

    I will never know what it’s like to be Asian, but having grown up in a heavily Asian community, I’ve seen the impact of a lot of the racism first hand. It’s horrifying, some of it. The sad fact remains that over fifty percent of Asian children are the targets of these racist bullies:

    http://www.abcsofattraction.com/blog/the-racist-bullying-crisis-why-54-of-asian-american-children-are-targeted-by-bullies/

    You’d never run around spouting off about “nig***” this or “wetback” that, but a lot of people wouldn’t even blink twice about calling someone a “chink” and making jokes about martial arts, math whizzes, and tiny penises. I look forward to the day when this is no longer acceptable, perhaps in my children’s future or soon enough that they’d never have to face it in the first place, but these things hurt. A lot. Years of stereotypes and social rejection don’t exactly make for a crop of socially confident Asians.

    • Since1619 says:

      African Americans and Latinos are not openly called names sometimes because they rarely give “respectful” responses to their name callers.

  8. ogwriter says:

    …of course the rules of racism are different for Asians Americans, but it’s the same game played on the same field as every other group affected by racism.

  9. TheBadMan says:

    Why hasn’t racism affected asians and jews abilities to become professionals at the top of their fields?

    • This question over-simplifies a lot of what actually happens in America.

      While it’s unfortunately common for “Asians” to be described as some kind of singular group, there’s great diversity in the experiences of Asian Americans. The “professionals at the top of their fields” tend to come from a particular subset: those who voluntarily emigrated from East Asian nations and benefited from the financial and educational resources of their parents. Other Asian groups who did not benefit from the education and financial resources of their parents (and left Asia as refugees instead of emigrants) have experienced greater economic difficulty (the Hmong refugees come to mind).

      This intra-Asian disparity is described fairly well in Robert Takaki’s “Strangers from a Different Shore,” which is also a fairly easy read.

      However, even looking at descendants of East Asian immigrants, there are still major barriers.

      Speaking from personal experience in my own field (law), there is a great deal of debate over the ability of Asian attorneys to excel at major law firms in fields other than intellectual property. Often times law firms will boast about how many Asian partners and associates they have, but when you look at the break-down, they’ve all been pigeon-holed into working on patents. This is not only disturbing in its own right, but is also concerning because it seems to mirror the racist stereotype of “Asians are only good at math and science.”

      So, sure, there are Asian partners are major law firms, and that sounds like “professionals at the top of their fields,” but the reality is that there are real barriers to advancement which still exist.

    • Top of which field?

      Asia Society: The Mythical Rise of Asian Americans
      https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/the-mythical-rise-of-asian-americans?barrier=true

  10. As an Asian American adoptee, I want to thank you for sharing your experiences. US adoptions in Asia are fairly new, and it’s a tough subject talk about, so it’s refreshing to see more insight on the adoptee’s point of view. Thanks again.

  11. Anonymous says:

    The bottom line is, we need to speak up more and not take racist crap from people, learn to draw the fucking line, that is our responsibility. People are entitled to do it and speak their minds and call us Chinks or flatface or whatever. you just have to speak up against it or, if you feel it puts you down. DONT NO BE AFRAID OF CONFRONTATION. I obviously will not. And I suppose we need to be a little more… not rude? but a bit more audacious. Someday well have breakthrough Asians that are flat out Tucker Max, or The Situation types, to change Social expectations …but why wait? We all have a little audacity in us, and we just need to take more social risks. Self defense is important too, like mma or whatever.

    One thing that pisses me off is that even some Asian American women speaks against their own race and mock Asian men. It just goes to show you how hypergamous women are. But at the same time, i still see a lot Asian guys that need to man the fuck up and stop playing League of Legends and go out to meet women. so… who’s right, who’s wrong? Whatever. It is what it is.

  12. There could be more solidarity within the AA community. Sad how within the Asians, people from one region look down on others from another regions, light skin v. dark skin, and so on.

    • How is that any different from Caucasians? People from England, France, and Germany often look down on each other despite all being European. Even within a single country this can be the case. Take America for example. People from one region often look down upon others from other regions (North vs. South, City vs. Country, the list goes on) despite all being white.

  13. I’m really glad I found this article. I’m Filipina-American and grew up in the mountains of Appalachia. I never thought of myself as white, but I’ve had a lot of people over the years tell me I “might as well be white.” If you’re white and have ever said that to someone, I’m here to tell you that’s shitty. It’s not a compliment. I don’t want a pass to your “white enough” club because that implies I’m otherwise not Asian/brown enough. That doesn’t apply to Asians exclusively; I hear people say all the time that someone “acts” white as if they get to define who/what another person is (white privilege at its finest). I don’t care if you’re white and your skin is darker than mine. I’m brown and that’s that. Yes, I’m Filipina. Yes, I’m Asian. And, yes, I’m brown.

    I realize this post might come off as angry or overly aggressive, I assure you I am neither. I’m exhausted and saddened by the level of ignorance that still exists in the 21st century and sometimes bitter that I feel like I have to educate people every step of the way.

  14. Magnificent article reeking with the hurt of the vicious racism you have endured & the ugly collectivism used to victimise Asian Americans. My beloved, brilliant, lovely God son is Japanese Irish living in London & I’m sickened thinking how he will be treated.
    The most understated line in the article “.. in reference to university admissions” is one of the most important. Racial quotas in College admissions are rank, vile racism which victimise Asian students.Justice demands that college admission systems must be simplified & made colour/race blind.

  15. Well written, and obviously written with deep feeling. I sympathize with your plight.

    That said, you ever hear of a white person trying to assimilate in Asia? I’m passing along hearsay, but the gist I got is that entire communities will band together to point and laugh at you in the streets of rural areas if you try to live there. If we’re playing “us” and “them”, I’m actually quite proud our stupids are (at least a good slice of the time) shamed for their racism.

    This does not reflect on you personally of course; you were entirely raised in this culture and are not to blame for the actions of “genetically similar” people. That said, when you hoist a flag, you’re wearing its colors.

    • Fuchsia Dunlap’s book, “Shark Fin and Black Peppercorn”, is about her experiences living, eating, and cooking in an out-of-the-way province in China as an Englishwoman fluent in Chinese….language is only one of the barriers she must overcome in her quest to know more deeply about her culinary passions….

      Many of her stories deal with the familiar scenario of the weirdness of a curious Englishwoman who is fluent in a strange regional dialect in China interacting with the locals…she reports all the terrible racist, sexist, and culturally ignorant comments that she hears daily….really interesting stuff!

  16. Yes, the author speaks if the very real experience my own Asian-American husband has shared with me throughout our married life. I always wondered why, when we lived in Memphis, everyone we met remembered us. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but y husband pointed it out right away: we must have been the only Asian/Caucasion couple they knew. And now, living in the DC suburbs with two children who are adopted from China, surrounded by Asian immigrants, I find myself pointedly discriminated against by a subset of Asians in our neighborhood who can’t accept/don’t like/whatever the fact that a blonde Caucasian woman could ever parent two Asian children properly. I now know exactly what my husband has endured his whole life. And I feel sorry for those people out there who can’t see past the color of our skin or shape of our eyes or whatever perceptions they have of our outsides that makes them so unhappy, uncomfortable, uneducated to the fact that we are happy, we love each other, we are a family. That’s all we see. Or care about.

    • Thank you for sharing a uniquely intimate portrait of a very complicated, highly likable, thoughtful soul. As an American of Asian descent, I have grown from the writing in this article as well as the comments that surround it. I currently struggle with my attraction to women with caucasian features, and at the same time, resent myself because I am also aware of the conditioning and positive cultural associations that are associated with white skin, associations which I find are nearly impossible to break even though I rarely watch television and no longer read fashion magazines to look at models.

      Kudos to Brenda for her thoughtful reply; I understand as I would often feel guilty when people seemed to project ill-will toward a former fiancee of mine with the phenotype you describe. I sincerely wish you, your husband, and your children all the love, happiness, and understanding in the world. From my own experience, you might find that Hawai`i is a great place where inter-racial coupling is very common and therefore less subject to scrutiny.

      To the writer of this article: your heartfelt and thoughtful words have affected my own writing. I hope to meet with you one day. Blessings, -a friend in the sf bay

  17. A very good article just two points I would like to make:

    1) Is it possible that *part* of the diifficulty that comes from writing about oneself as an Asian person stems from the fact that Asian cultures themselves deemphasize the self and/or revealing one’s thoughts and feelings to strangers? (unless you don’t agree with those characterizations) Also Asian cultures tend to be conflict-avoidant, interrogating white privilege necessarily involves potential conflict (if no other kind then at least internally). So not everything is external oppression.

    2) The most interesting line in the article was when he questioned why whites aren’t satisfied with *everything*…however he had to qualify it as the “sarcastic answer”…why not just say it straightforwardly? It seems there is an element of self-negation in his psychology [” I’m Not Saying, I’m Just Saying”]; I would encourage the author to have more confidence in expressing his private ideas and feelings, they are very likely the most interesting things he has to say.

  18. This article really hits home for me as well. One thing i would like to add is that this whole racsim again Asian American has even penetrated into our own Asian American becoming hypocrites ourselves.

    We want justice for racistsm but at the same time we label many new Asian immigrants “FOBS” (fresh off the boat) because their English isn’t as good as our native English speakers!! I’ve lived in the U.S. for well over 16 years and yet many fellow Asians refused to accpet me as a CHinese american due to my foriegn name! We really should stop pretending and blaming the fault on “White people” and start to look inside ourselves to accept who we our as a collective group of people here in the U.S. instead of blaming our own insecurities on the white majority of this country!!!

    • John Anderson says:

      At least for me fresh off the boat wasn’t a racial, but a cultural thing. We would use that term to describe only fellow Filipinos, who haven’t yet acclimated to the U.S. At least in my group it was never directed against another Asian group like the Vietnamese or Cambodians. The last time I heard it used was a couple weeks ago. We entered a Filipino store that had Filipino spelled with a Ph. Someone mentioned the owners must be fresh off the boat.

  19. SnottyNozeBratt says:

    Hi Matthew, my folks raised me color blind in so far as they NEVER once said or did anything to prejudice me against other human beings, regardless of color.

    The current fad of race seems entirely conjured by politicians seeking a base and pandering to the worst in human prejudice or media outlets who sell their soul and CREATE controversy by their articles that might otherwise not exists. If color isn’t OK, it is fashionable to push prejudices against others for their believes or against older women and fat ones. These are no punches pulled A-OK in every media outlet.

    Just for the record, next time you meet a human, it may be someone who never notices your color only your character. Prior to the last few years of baiting and slanted media articles and political manipulation I would have said that was the majority of people I have ever know.

  20. I think too one of the difficulties is “racism” the word itself has taken on the import of a slur, or epithet. Once one person says to another “you’re racist” or sometimes even “that’s racist,” space for rational discussion quickly closes.
    It’s a heavily loaded term in this society, by which I mean U.S.
    Maybe with reason, but if we want to foster understanding (and not just proving that we’re right) I think it makes sense to pay attention to what words we use and why.

  21. This was interesting to read. While reading it, I kept thinking of a Japanese friend I had in college. I brought home to hang out with me over Thanksgiving since she couldn’t go home, and after walking all of one or two blocks, a black guy started making “Ching Ching Chong” noises. I just glared at him. There are Asian people in primarily black neighborhoods all the time (usually not living there, just doing business there — primarily restaurants and beauty supply stores) so for some reason I didn’t even expect anybody to take a second glance at her. But the reaction to us walking down the street made me pay more attention to the fact that while it’s fairly common to see Asian people, I seldom see them hanging out. I went to two colleges and a high school that was pretty diverse so I tend to look for someone unlike me in a room. Why? I just like to learn about other people. But during my college years, I realized how odd that was to many. I realized very quickly that more often than not, people tend to befriend those who look and act like them and don’t seem to have any desire to meet other cultures. It’s bizarre to me. This cliquish attitude makes me even more sturbborn about knowing other cultures. It’s the reason I’ll always say yes to going to a powwow or a Native American meeting about protesting hockey team names or going out with previous co-workers to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day or learning how to make traditional Japanese food with my old friend. I think the only way to get over racism is to actually LEARN from the people you know nothing about instead of that “they/us” attitude.

  22. I’m a bit pleasently surprised by the pan-Asian solidarity exhibited here….
    Early on I learned to wait until any new Asian acquaintance self-identified because just like the rest of us a lot of them hate the hell out of their neighbors and will lecture you to death about the facial shapes, skin tones and body types of inferior races- so don’t guess…..
    Which honestly puzzled me a bit at first until I started reading history & anthropology.

    • wellokaythen says:

      And in China I saw even within the Han majority some nasty comments by those with lighter skin about those with darker skin. That’s partly a class phenomenon, because darker skin supposedly marks you as a peasant, someone from the countryside and therefore not to be trusted. You can have racism within the same “race.”

      Just another reason why racial categories are so silly. In the West, “they” are “Asians” in race, while in this place many Americans call Asia that no one in Asia calls Asia, the Japanese “race” is NOT the same as the Korean “race.” I suspect South Koreans even have racist-like attitudes towards North Koreans and vice versa.

      You could interpret pan-Asian sentiment in the U.S. as evidence of anti-Asian racism, actually. When people get treated all the same, they start to put aside their differences and identify with each other. The behavior of European Americans towards Native Americans did wonders for creating a pan-Native identity that had never existed before….

      • Yes I enjoyed the Chinese women wearing ski masks at the beach pics last month….
        Sort of similar to the “paper bag test” amongst US Blacks…
        A few years ago one of my sons played on a team that was about 1/2 Anglo & 1/2 Hispanic- the Anglo Mommies were on the sidelines catching rays while the Hispanic Women were under umbrellas trying to stay pale- some how I found this hillareous.

        In Re the Amerinds getting cooperative , as far as I know, by the time they gelled it was in time for the “Little Big Horn Last Hurrah Tour”

      • John Smith says:

        wellokaythen, I really hope you see the irony of talking about ” the West” meaning the US then talking about Asia being a big place. Only the US (and not the whole US at all) seems to want to lump the whole Continent as one. Mostly we are well aware that if you get Japan and China confused it will not go down well at all…

    • John Anderson says:

      I think a lot of that has to do with numbers and the common denominator. When you have 5 Asian people from different nationalities living in a white neighborhood and they’re getting picked on, they’ll band together because they need to. People are social. A lot of us second or third generation Asian Americans get along with people of all races. When you’re the only Asian in a class, you still need friends.

      I remember when I was younger I used to smile when I heard that Asians were the fastest growing segment in the United States. I said things will change in 20 or 40 years. Now I don’t look forward to it. The actual isms will remain unless we address them. The bullying and receiving groups will change. You’ll see more division in the Asian community as the individual ethnicities no longer need each other to feel safe. Like I said, I never considered myself white, but when I went to the Filipino clubs, I was reminded of how white I was.

      A few years ago, an Asian friend reported that another friend was being picked on at school because she was white. Another white friend reported feeling somewhat out of place when she went to Hispanic friends parties. I think the changing demographics allow us an opportunity to appreciate different cultures more. I hope that it ultimately brings us together instead of driving us apart.

  23. Thank you, thank you for wriitng this! Never have truer words been spoken.
    In my childhood I was surrounded with friends of all races.
    In high school I had pretty much only Asian friends, and as a college student I still struggle as the “odd one out” in a group with white or black classmates, because I acutely felt my differences.
    People kept expecting me to be “quiet, smart, and artistic” so that is slowly what I was molded into, never mind the fact that I was not at all the model Ivy-League student I “should” have been.

  24. The most interesting documentary I’ve seen on this topic is Slanted Screen: http://www.slantedscreen.com Most Americans are unaware that the FIRST Hollywood sex symbol (before Valentino) was Sessue Hayakawa. This caused an uproar in US society…and you can see what happens next,– de-sexualizing Asian men, only giving roles as Chinese railroad workers, submissive kitchen chefs, and the whole 9-yards of stereotypes. We all have heard of Rudolph Valentino and Charlie Chaplin, but Hayakawa…most have not. As a Korean American, with a brother and cousins who played football, basketball, and rugby in southern white schools in NC, I’ve never thought of Asian men as anything “less-than”. Most Asians in this country are first generation, so we lack a certain power in our collective voice…but as we can tell by your article, this voice is getting stronger and there are more and more Asians in this country calling BS

  25. When I first moved to a new school in the South from a more-advanced school in the North, none of the kids liked me. They made fun of me because I was smart and in the advanced classes. I didn’t have any friends and got picked on and called “weird”. The only person who befriended me was a Vietnamese boy named Chuong. He was my best friend for 2 years until I moved away again. His friendship always meant so much to me. As I got older, the stereotype that Vietnamese people were nice and warm people stuck with me. In a new high school, I had no friends and was overweight. One day a boy made mean comments to me. A Vietnamese boy in my class stood up for me. Again, that stereotype that I had that Vietnamese people were warm and kind stuck with me. Over a decade later, I have been with my Vietnamese husband for many years now. His name is also Chuong. He is the warmest, kindest man I have ever met. I guess if my experiences make me stereotype, at least I think it is in a good nature. I’ve never had better friends or people treat me as well as Asian people have. .. and I guess if that statement is racist, then I don’t mean any harm…

    I think this is a wonderful article.

  26. Yeah, white people are usually pretty ignorant.

    • John Anderson says:

      I wouldn’t say all or even most are ignorant. When I permanently came over with my family in the 70s, there were quite a few more. I think a lot of the ignorance was due to not having Asians around or arising from stereotypes associated with Vietnam. That changed a lot over the years. One guy in the dojang admitted that if he hadn’t known us, he would have started a fight with us if he saw us on the street and deservedly gotten his ass kicked. The neighborhood changed a lot over the 30 years I was there. It became more Hispanic. The gangs became more vicious and they consolidated so you had one big gang instead of several smaller ones. When we left, many people who wouldn’t pee on my head if my hair was on fire 30 years ago, expressed regret that we were leaving. They knew they needed all the good people they could get. People change. People grow.

      As far as usual, I’ve been working at my job for over 16 years. I interned with my boss when I was in college. Over the 25 years or so that I’ve known her, I guess people are entitled to one mistake. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t hurtful. That just means that it’s not worth dwelling over. I think most people (white people included) are usually respectful of others. Sure growing up Asian in a white neighborhood in the 70s was tough, but really, would I rather not know how to defend myself. It sucks that you have to push yourself harder to get an equal chance, but is mediocrity really a better alternative to excellence?

    • wellokaythen says:

      Hey now, some of my best friends are white people. : – )

    • Hoquiamite says:

      It’s not ignorance. as in South Pacific, “You’ve got to be carefully taught”.

  27. A co-worker (who is black) once said to me, in front of all my other co-workers (all white) that “All you chinese people look alike”

    To which I responded by saying “Because all you black people are too stupid to tell the difference”

    • Hoquiamite says:

      My wife, of Japanese descent from Hawaii was stopped in the grocery store in Hilo while we were on vacation by one of her High School classmates who recognized her from 30 years earlier. On the way to the car, she turned to me and said “I don’t recognize him. They all look alike to me”.

      • John Anderson says:

        Was she one of the popular kids? When someone with an elevated profile like the school’s quarterback rmeets the average socially awkward kid, their is a chance he is recognized and remembered, but will not remember the other person.

  28. Your words glide down my screen as if I am reading my own journal except it is another/your voice that someone captures all the random incidents, stares, slurs etc. that made us who we are and aren’t as KADs. I just wish I had your article in my “tweens”. I would have had validation and would not have the need to heal because I would have known that I am not alone in my experiences and in my existence as an invisible yet misunderstood and resented Asian girl/woman. Thank you for being real and for going there and for sharing and for articulating and for uncovering and for that 6th and 7th sense of societal survival and underlying sentiment. I wish we had more Asian Americans out there, especially adoptees who do not run from the truth because it’s not helping anyone but perpetuate it as you kinda said but in another way. Peace & blessings, “Kim Yun-Sook #3699”

  29. Thank you for this thoughtfully written reflection. I’m Chinese-Canadian living in Vancouver, Canada. Growing up Asians were the minority, but over the past 20 years, the demographics have changed. At university, 40-50% of the students were Asian. It is interesting to observe that the cases of racism towards Asians here have diminished as the numbers of Asians have grown.

  30. Hi wellokaythen –
    Yeap, these categories are absurd.
    And yet on a daily basis black people are discriminated against based on the color of their skin/how they talk; so are Hispanics; and as this article & responses make abundantly clear, so are Asians.
    May have been Federico Garcia Lorca who said essentially, this race thing is silly. It’s in our multi-race-itude that our greatest riches exist.
    But. How are we to provide equal opportunity to those who maybe didn’t get the best initial education, due to low familial wealth (dearth of employment opportunities, socio-economic risk factors generally) – how to adjust for talent when standardized testing results often reflect the schools one went through & not the student’s intellectual ability?
    And if you do that, the “fair & equal for better or for worse” statute that’s written somewhere – someone tell me where, please; I’d like to read it – says by extension we need to adjust down if someone’s doing better than status quo no matter what the cause or circumstance. And, more, as you point out wellokaythen, if we *can’t* paint all members of the “one group” (in this case “Asian”) with the same brush…you know, it’s too much effort, we’ll just do it anyway.
    Seems to me the education system has a little catching-up to do when it comes to treating students equitably.
    And yet – where do we start, or stop? Some public schools are star institutions; and some completely fail. Neighborhoods vary on a case-by-case basis. Socio-economic trends are just that – they can’t be extrapolated to define each student as (s)he comes.
    So, let’s hear some thoughts…

    • wellokaythen says:

      And, just to make it more complicated, some racial or ethnic groups have overcome historical mistreatment faster than others. So, what do we do with those who seem to have “made it” against overwhelming odds? If you went back to 1945 and had to guess what the future of Japanese Americans would be, you’d be amazed at their social and economic position by 2012. You probably wouldn’t believe it. Certainly not here in the Pacific Northwest, where most of the local Japanese Americans lost everything.

      Further complicating it is our increasingly online world. If you’re communicating with someone using an e-mail name or blog name or avatar, how do you really know that person is a particular race? I teach online classes in which I don’t know what anyone actually looks like. Maybe if I were interested in trying to guess, I could go by their names, but that’s not a good indication. If I were to extend different consideration as an instructor based on the “race” of the student, how would I do that if I have no good way of knowing what the “race” is?

  31. wellokaythen says:

    I taught at a university that used to have a very robust affirmative action policy, before a state law scuttled it. The Equal Opportunity Program reduced admissions requirements and increased financial aid to students in groups that were considered “under-represented.” According to the school’s calculations, people in the “Asian American” category were NOT considered under-represented.

    It didn’t matter that there were large recent-immigrant Cambodian, Laotian, and Indonesian populations nearby that were statistically under-represented. Nope, add up all the third-generation Chinese American and Japanese American students, and there’s “already enough” Asian American kids. From the standpoint of Admissions and the Financial Aid offices, to be Asian was indistinguishable from being white. This had the effect of pitting several subcultures against each other, and, effectively, privileging some specific minority groups at the expense of others.

    One effect of the end of the affirmative action policies was that a LOT of incoming students stopped marking any race boxes at all. Now, after “white,” the second biggest ethnic category on the campus is “none given.” The second biggest racial group on campus is basically “none of your business.” It doesn’t surprise me that other students are doing the same thing in other parts of the country.

    I can’t help coming back again and again to the fact that ultimately these categories like “white” and “Asian” are just so absurd. They are so arbitrary and slippery and undefined and constantly try to put people in boxes they don’t really fit in. There is real-life, horrible discrimination out there based on a total fantasy. Even the concept of “Asia” is an arbitrary cultural construct. Why are we as a society still acting like the emperor is wearing clothes?

  32. One thing that I first have to get out is the fact that we as a culture have put racism as one of the worst offenses in the court of public opinion. I think we’ve become way too reactionary to it. Basically, if someone is perceived racist, any and all other aspects of their character pale in comparison.
    I agree with CJ on this: racism is mostly a veneer that’s based in ignorance (which can be corrected) and personal hurts (which can be healed). I find that all other forms of addressing this issue are ineffective and sometimes more damaging.
    I live in the south and as an Asian some are prone to ask if I experience much racism. Truth be told, I had the same amount heaped on me when I lived in “enlightened” California. It really goes to show that we do need to grow and heal together.
    One other thing: let’s celebrate our differences. I’m culturally Asian American, I’m ethnically of Japanese decent. My experience is different from a first generation immigrant and fifth generation one. All three are very cool and to be celebrated.

    • John Anderson says:

      “I agree with CJ on this: racism is mostly a veneer that’s based in ignorance (which can be corrected) and personal hurts (which can be healed)”

      I don’t remember all the details probably because it was so long ago and it just wasn’t germane to the lesson learned, but one time one of the Filipinos in our group was harassed by a group of white guys. We were sitting with a white friend of ours when he told us what happened. The Filipinos immediately started complaining about white people. White people are this. White people are that.

      Then we noticed our white friend. We were like, but not you. We kept mentioning names of the white people who were our friends or were kind to us saying that we weren’t talking about them either. Then we stopped not because we ran out of names, but because we came to the conclusion that you couldn’t blame an entire group of people for the actions of a few.

  33. Racist response in my experience comes both from one’s personal limitations (which can be corrected by education) and private wounds – I don’t feel adequate, so I’m going to tear you down.
    The latter requires understanding of the abuser – & while the behavior is not to be condoned, addressing it from a place of understanding will ultimately be more effective.
    IMHO

  34. John Anderson says:

    I’m half Filipino and half white. Mt father died before I was two and I was raised by my Filipino mother. Although I look like my father, I never considered myself white. My oldest brother thought if himself as white, but is the only one in my family to do so. I was part of a small Filipino community in a white neighborhood. We got picked on by some people in the neighborhood. Quite a few more didn’t want us there, but weren’t going out of their way to drive us out. There were those though especially in my church, who were supportive. We handled the bullying the way Asians handle everything. We overcame not complained. Almost every boy I grew up with took a martial art, weight lifted or both.

    Back in the 60s and 70s you could petition to bring someone over so I was related to many people in the community or their parents / grandparents knew each other’s families from the Philippines. I rarely felt an outsider in my own community, but when I went to the Filipino club, I wasn’t welcomed. At least they could tell I was part white. Sometimes people don’t realize I’m half Filipino and that sometimes emboldens them to say something racist.

    My boss planned a trip to China and I asked if she would be stopping by the Philippines. She said no because all the women were whores and prostitutes. I told her I asked because I was half Filipino and could probably help her out if she did. She apologized explaining that her brother went through a bitter divorce with a Filipino woman. That was 12 years ago, but I still remember. Another time I was in a store. One clerk asked the other to flip him the receipt book. The other clerk started going on about how he wasn’t a flip until I told him I was. My friends, who were Hispanic, advised him to apologize right now before I jumped the counter as they slowly backed toward the door. He apologized.

    I’ve seen racism the other way too. Some Filipinos talk about the Pinpy, the people. The white guys in the dojang never seemed to make the top belts. When Asians beat us out in science or math class, I heard our parents make statement like that’s because he’s Chinese and you know they’re good in math. We stereotype ourselves like other people do.

    If one starts with the theory that everyone is the same and some people have less than equal outcomes, one assume that something prevented them from making it. Since Asians Americans as a group have been more successful than white Americans as a group as measured by earnings and educational achievement, people assume that they didn’t have the racism to overcome.

  35. Kirsten (in MT) says:

    Thank you for sharing this.

  36. I agree wholeheartedly with Joanna. Educate, educate, educate. Correct people’s ignorance! If I do not, who will? Yes it does get tiring at times, but passivity gives permission to racists, bullies and the ignorant to further perpetuate hate! We cannot afford to be passive.

    I struggled with speaking out against racism against Asians throughout my life. As a Canadian-born-Chinese, (now) young woman who grew up in a suburb with few peers of my ethnicity, I can relate to your post, Matthew. The U.S. and Canada are quite similar in culture.

    I find the statistics on bullying of Asian children in the states astounding. While there aren’t many studies on racial bullying of Asians in Canada, I’m no stranger to the fact that it does exist. I *do* see more diversity and greater representation in Canadian media and television, however, most of our top television shows are American. I stopped watching most television shows in my early 20s.

    After many years, I gained the confidence and harnessed the skill to correct peoples’ ignorance about Asians. I cared less about whether people saw me as “too serious”, because ignorant folks really do not understand the harm in racist jokes. It is REAL; and for them it’s a good laugh… but I am the one taking home the *hurt* at the end of the day.

    I find the above comment from Leia to be amusing, because I find it counterproductive to assume that other Chinese girls saw you as a ‘threat’. Personally, I believe this is a negative mentality to have.

    What does it accomplish if we only assume that others (especially women) are viewing us as competition? And why feel the need to have to *try* to fit in with the cool, white kids? I understand it’s difficult because whiteness is the ‘norm’ in North America. As much as it takes time to build pride and confidence in who you are, I am one to believe that you should NEVER let someone put you down, for being who you are. BE PROUD. Now I don’t mean be all loud, proud and annoying about it, but having a little bit of pride never hurt anyone. In fact, it can save your life. Easier said than done of course, but speaking out is empowering.

    One of my greatest struggles is getting other brother and sister Asians to support me in my own fight against racism. If we constantly are so critical of each other, or seeing each other as competition, how are we going to accomplish anything? I think the fear is, if I speak out against racism against my own ethnicity, does that make me appear self-seeking? Why should that matter? What is personal IS political, and it is impossible to end the fight without politics and radical advocates for change. So long as advocacy continues, racism will be inundated and we will no longer be radical.

    And if you didn’t get this from before… I strongly believe there are strength in numbers. Are you with me?

    This was an excellent post, Matthew.

    • “If we constantly are so critical of each other, or seeing each other as competition, how are we going to accomplish anything?”

      EXACTLY!

      It’s quite sad but i think deep down, there are still SOME (not all) of us Asian-American feel the need to exclude, put labels on other Asian immigrants due to them having poor English and see them as something not of our kind. See these new immigrants as competition in the job market, calling them “FOBS”. And when these Asian Americans feel they have been discriminated to keep saying it is the white people they are just being as guilty as being racsits as well.

      I just wish as Asians we come togther as a group.

  37. Joanna Schroeder says:

    It is truly from my heart that I say this, but I believe that we can teach people about tolerance, about racism and about discrimination, and it will make some difference. However, stories like this—from a writer’s heart being opened and laid bare and then contextualized—can change the world.

  38. Great essay…very meaningful to me as a fellow Asian…

    As an ABC, I feel caught in the middle, too….among Chinese-Americans, my spoken Chinese (depending on how tired or forgetful I am) can identify me as an American born (ie., not a true native speaker and therefore, not Chinese enough)…among non-Chinese people, really ignorant people may ask me where I was born (“New York!”) or say some of the hated words you mention above…

    Your essay made me think of the summer camp school bus days when I used to hear those awful names every day until my friends surrounded me and helped me fight back….even just one person who watches your back is huge! I grew up in NYC which allowed me to make a lot of friends, Asian and otherwise…but I agree, sometimes friendship can be colored by race….someone from HS just reminded me how I seemed not to hang out with the Chinese-American clique (I guess I wanted not to be identified as just one of the many,…plus I think some of the girls may have thought I was a threat to whichever boys they had their eyes on)….anyway, I still have a lot of the same Asian friends from HS as some of my closest pals and I think that helps to stabilize my identity (there are many of us, so I can just relax and be myself and not worry about being the representative of my entire culture)….But you are so right, …I do wonder sometimes about non-Asian people, if they ever see beyond that stereotype of the Asian flower they might have in their heads….

    • John Anderson says:

      “I grew up in NYC which allowed me to make a lot of friends, Asian and otherwise.”

      One of the things I’ve found out and so have my non-Asian friends is that being from a small community, I was forced to get along with people from other races and cultures. My friends are still surprised when they find out how many different groups of people I’m friends with. Having the ability to be friends with other groups is not a bad skill to possess. They thing that doesn’t surprise me and I always get a laugh at is when I bring a friend along to meet another group of friends and after the encounter they tell me how cool my friends are.

      • Yes, you are a cool guy, John…it comes across in your writing…

        My son is half-Asian, half-Caucasian, too…his closest friends have a diverse makeup, too, and I love seeing him hang out with his crowd of kids and laughing it up…I was so fearful for him, but I see he is quite well-adjusted socially for his age…and sweet! I don’t dare tell him the awful stories and torture I suffered on that summer bus and elsewhere…I can’t bear to overwhelm him with such negative, painful stories…I just talk about racial/ethnic hatred in terms that he can understand (like when Malfoy from “Harry Potter” calls Hermione a “filthy mudblood”)….and then we can both kind of laugh about such idiocy because it feels less personal….

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  1. […] the “Raising Asian American Voices” piece of the series, I came across the word, “chink.” Chink is a racial slur used towards Asian Americans. Within a couple days, I read the word in a book and in an article. My senses were heightened and I […]

  2. […] How the Rules of Racism Are Different For Asian Americans — The Good Men Project. […]

  3. […] this day, I always wondered why I never heard racist comments until I was in my mid-twenties. Was it because I only wanted to hear things that were only about […]

  4. […] How the Rules of Racism are Different for Asian Americans by Matthew Salesses […]

  5. […] How The Rules of Racism Are Different for Asian Americans […]

  6. […] as it is overplayed, and I’ve never once used it, but for the first time I will. Inspired by an article from Matthew Salesses, in which he poignantly and classily gives insight into the Racism of Asian […]

  7. […] read How The Rules of Racism are Different For Asian Americans by Matthew […]

  8. […] In this past week alone, I have come across several articles that have been eye opening: How the Rules of Racism are Different for Asian Americans, Thanksgiving: What’s Is All About, and 5 Things To Know About Blacks and Native Americans. I […]

  9. […] How the Rules of Racism are Different for Asian Americans by Matthew Salesses  […]

  10. […] “How the Rules of Racism Are Different for Asian Americans” (The Good Men […]

  11. […] “I had grown up constantly wavering between denying and suspecting that my skin color was behind the fights picked with me, the insults, the casual distance kept up even between myself and some of my closest friends. Sometimes—in retrospect: oftentimes—these incidents were obviously rooted in race. I have been called “chink” and “flat face” and “monkey” many many times. And it is the context of these words that make a child grow uncomfortable with who he is, that instill a deep fear in him.” How the Rules of Racism Are Different for Asian Americans – The Good Men Project […]

  12. […] How the Rules of Racism are Different for Asian Americans Matthew Salesses, a transnational adoptee, reflects upon the moment he realized he was not white, and explores the ways in which racism against Asian Americans is nearly invisible in our culture. Nom Wah Tea Parlor on Doyers St. Photo by Andrea Vocos […]

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