As an Asian woman living in the States in an era where race and gender are increasingly becoming the subject of much discussion, I often find myself navigating the unsettling currents of racism and sexism. These currents become even more treacherous when racism and sexism decide to join forces and haunt me in ways that I did not think would be possible.
I do wonder if my inability to address confrontation, of any kind, is a result of my upbringing, my culture, or my DNA. I certainly remember my parents telling me to go to my room with my sister when 'grown-ups' came to visit, because children were not allowed in grown up conversations. Yet I also remember my mother telling me I could become anything I wanted without the help of a man; and that I should speak up if I wanted things. The constant and unconscious head bowing we Asians somehow manage to incorporate in the menial details of our everyday life definitely has an effect on how we think of ourselves vis-a-vis the other and how we choose to remain 'respectful' and not confrontational. What may have once started as a physical demonstration of a value (that of respect and reverence) has now the reverse effect, where the corporeal performance serves as a guide to learn and relearn, and show what we are told are our core values. So yes, most of us would smile and nod politely when a stranger tells us that one of their best friends is Korean (or Chinese/Vietnamese/Cambodian/Japanese, etc). However, to describe Asia as the land of the calm that would make Confucius proud is laughable in every way. Anyone that has stood on the busy Gangnam streets of Seoul at 10pm on a weekday would immediately notice the vomit, the haphazard drinking groups pouring out of bars to head to karaoke, the deafening shoutings, the unconscious drunken bodies sprawled here and there, and the occasional arguments; all of which has nothing to do with respectfulness. Or is it simply me? Just like my introverted character, maybe this is just a part of who I am. I would rather keep quiet and rant about it to a friend later than stand up and speak up my mind. 'Talk talk' used to be my parents' 'favorite' thing to tell me when I was learning English as a shy teenager. Maybe I'm simply shy by nature, and maybe it's OK that I do not correct every single 'micro aggression' that is addressed to me and my fellow Asian women.
But somehow it doesn't seem OK. Or rather, it doesn't seem OK anymore. In this age of #Metoo and of Crazy Rich Asians, my silence has become complicit to the perpetuation of stereotypes and prejudices and funny 'Asian jokes'. Maybe, in a truly innocent and naive way, White People cannot understand what racism looks like when imposed on Asians, because they have been focusing too much of that energy on Black People. Maybe, by laughing along with the racist joke as told by White People, we have somehow given them the OK, that we are here to please, and please only. And if that means laughing at our expense, so be it. Maybe, in our deepest desire to be seen as the model immigrants and the easygoing friends, we completely forgot that there is a price to pay, and that price is racism.
So yes, when somebody tells me 'Oh my best friend is Korean', I want to throw up the gallon of sarcasm I have been gulping all my life and shout back 'No way! Me too! What are the coincidences?'. When somebody imitates the well-known 'Asian girl wave and giggling', maybe I shouldn't show them 'how it is done the right way' and instead give them an eye roll that would make them go look for my eyeballs in the back of my head. Yes, maybe, I have a right to tell someone I have not met, that saying 'being complimented by an Asian that he has mad searching skills is like receiving the Nobel Peace Prize' is plainly racist, period (although there are other problems with that sentence).
Is it unfair that I get to make Asian jokes, comment on the ridiculousness of Asian girl giggles and their mortal fear of the sun, and whine about how I don't see myself dating an Asian man? Maybe. But you don't spend the rest of the day wondering whether that joke was appropriate, whether by letting you get away with it, I have betrayed and let down my 'people'. You don't have to find another Asian friend to rant about the stupid stereotypes we had to face yet again today. You don't have to wonder whether this guy talked to me because he thought I was interesting, or simply because he thought I would be one of those submissive Asian girls with black hair and porcelain skin. You don't have to question your life choices and how your actions represent your race. You get to laugh at that stupid, racist joke; brush it off, and go on about your day. You get to see yourself as an individual and not as an unofficial spokesperson of your race and gender.
So yeah, maybe it's not that unfair I have all these 'privileges'. And maybe it's time I claim them as mine, and mine only.