This was one of the worst weeks of my life, and I knew (along with many other AAPI people) that this was going to happen.
I've had to relive my entire life's worth of racialized trauma in the wake of the tragedy that unfolded in Atlanta, GA on March 16th, 2021. An entire life of trying to assimilate. An entire life of realizing that I will never be seen as a full fledged citizen of this country. An entire life of thinking that my identity could be overridden by simply acting more white.
The tragedy has a class, racial, and gender component that cannot be separated from each other. When the sheriff declared that the killer was driven by his shame and his "sex addiction," it instantly took on a racialized, misogynist, classist connotation, knowing the lengths that white men will go to cast Asian women as hypersexualized, docile sex dolls, with massage parlors almost being short-hand for brothel (even if the massage parlors are, more often than not, legitimate massage parlors.) The murder of six Asian women take on a different tack when you realize that the murderer had to travel past many other massage parlors in order to reach his destination, an Asian massage parlor.
There's many people who have already commented on the long, bloody, oppressive history in the US when it comes to Asian-Americans, the more recent fanning of the flames of anti-Asian racism, and how it all added up to the event that happened this past week—this is nothing new. I'll instead talk about the feelings and thoughts I've had to contend with, feelings that I'm sure many other Asian-Americans have felt over the past few days, though I can't speak for anyone else but myself.
I keep thinking back to several microaggressions and overt displays of racism when I was growing up.
My dad had the security called on him at a grocery store across the street from our house in a predominantly white neighborhood in Seattle because he had his hands in his pocket.
I remember a runway show at a small independent vintage clothing store in Seattle that had a white guy dress in a kimono, and someone else do a bad dub of them saying “YOU NO DO THAT HERE.” I felt absolutely isolated as everyone around me laughed, in a supposed progressive neighborhood in a “progressive city” in a “progressive clothing store.”
EDIT 03/23/2021: The event in question was, in fact, intentionally based on Breakfast at Tiffany's, which means that the character that the white guy was playing was none other than Mr. Yunioshi, infamously played by Mickey Rooney and a very well known example of yellowface in US media. Source: https://www.capitolhillseattle.com/2012/12/after-serious-car-crash-put-10-year-party-on-hold-pretty-parlor-ready-to-celebrate/
I was called a gook in the most passive-aggressive, Seattle way possible by a middle aged white lady at an elementary school I was volunteering at while I was in high school.
Depending on who you talk to, Filipinos can code anywhere from Chinese to Latino, along with the racialized slurs and violence that comes with either side of that. Whenever I've worn a hoodie in Seattle (very common for the mild sprinkles that Seattle has year-round), I occasionally code as "Latino" - this has lead to people saying they're scared of me when I looked out windows while on the bus, to bus drivers not allowing me on the bus. Because of the dehumanization of BIPOC in this country, we've had our own "George Floyd moment" - a 30 year old Filipino Navy veteran who was murdered by police via knee on the neck. The other end of this are the anti-Asian microaggressions that so many of us are familiar with: where are you really from, comments about our eyes, common misspellings and mispronunciations of our names, the application of the Model Minority Myth to explain our successes and the Yellow Peril Myth to explain how we're "taking over" and to keep us in our place... the list goes on.
I've always shrunk into myself in almost all aspects of American society. I've shrunk my voice, shrunk my Filipino identity, and shrunk myself physically when I'm potentially in the way. These days, I've learned to push back on the notion of being so small that I become invisible; however, our voices are often muted, with our pleas to pay attention to anti-Asian racism falling on deaf ears and our problems trivialized to something that must be compared unfavorably to other BIPOC's plights. (Our struggles are linked and are also incomparable, other than the shared goal of dismantling the white supremacist patriarchy.)
There's analyses that often try to abstract away notions of either race, class, or gender in order to isolate a specific axis, when intersectionality is less about adding identity and class issues up, but more about acknowledging the often nuanced intersections that come into play in each community that lay on several axes of identity, so that we can better identify the issues.
The reason why I bring this up is because there are some analyses that cut Asian men out of the equation simply because we are men, without acknowledging things like the Page Act, the Chinese Exclusion Act, and other forms of gendered, racist, and classist violence that only make sense when you have gender, race, and class intersecting and intermingling with each other. The fact of the matter is that there are issues that are broad across the AAPI community and aren’t easily split into “men generally have it easier than women because of the patriarchy” - it is true to an extent, but it quickly breaks down due to long-lasting stereotypes that stem from actual racist/sexist laws.
Basically, especially if you are white, listen to your AAPI friends, including the men, but in this case, especially the women. Listen to BIPOCs in general. We all have different specific experiences that are borne out of our particular circumstances.
Lately, I’ve subconsciously tried to make sure that I’m safe at all times and that I’m not betraying my Asian features to people passing me by on the street. I am a smoker, so I have to take my mask down to smoke, but I now find myself covering my face as much as possible with my hands or turning away from people without even thinking about it. I moved to NYC so I don’t have to answer for my ethnicity or race, since we’re all from somewhere and we all have different backgrounds and contexts and stories and foods and interests and all the things that add up to our fleshed out humanity in these dense communities across the entire city. I moved here to express my humanity and be the entirety of my being and the nuances of everything.
It is utterly heartbreaking that I feel I have to be a little more careful when I step out of the house, in a city that finally pronounces my very Western name correctly.