What #NotYourAsianSidekick Means To Me

At this point, if you haven’t heard of the #NotYourAsianSidekick trend launched by Suey Park, then you’ve clearly been under a rock. The #NotYourAsianSidekick hashtag was launched to provide a space for frustrated Americans to voice their pains and anger when it came to being marginalized, discriminated and misunderstood solely because of their race. It went viral and was widely covered by news sources everywhere.

Followed by that came the #NotYourAsianTigerMom/#NotYourAsianTigerDad hashtags to demonstrate against Amy Chua’s latest racist book The Triple Package: Why Groups Rise and Fall in America that suggests that some races are ethnically more endowed to succeed than others. (Check out Ellen Wu’s amazing Op-Ed piece on Asian Americans and the model minority myth which explains why Chua’s mentality is dangerous.) Chua has since been challenged to a bare fist Kung fu duel by Jie-Song Zhang. Let me be clear about something: Amy Chua and her books do not represent me as an Asian American at all. I refuse to buy Chua’s books because they will only teach me how to hate better.

Then of course, after the hit TV show “How I Met Your Mother” demonstrated some unapologetically racist yellow-face performances through white actors, the #HowIMetYourRacism hashtag began to trend like crazy, eventually forcing the creators to Tweet their apologies (read Kai Ma’s article on why ‘Asian’ is not a costume).

Most recently, Kiriko Kikuchi launched the #DearWhiteBF hashtag to give voice to men and women of color who’ve dated white men and experienced all kinds of insensitivity ranging from the outright to insidious from people who are considered their friends, significant others and allies. Thing is, we all have friends but not all of our friends know what’s up, and it’s hard for us to always just tell them to their face that their insensitivity is bringing us down for a variety of reasons (most people just don’t get it, and they simply hop the defense wagon). Whatever the actual private discussion is behind the curtains is a non-issue here; the point is, this hashtag gives us a release to speak openly about what our friends and significant others have said to us because we are women and men of color. The topic is sensitive because it involves discussing racist encounters we’ve had with significant others. Many people simply said, “Just break up with the guy!” but as anyone who’s been in a relationship before may know, it’s not easy to just break up with someone because he claimed to have been more cultured and experienced given his year-long stay in Korea as an English teacher. How do you address something like that? The point of these hashtags and discussions is to vent, then dialogue with one another—offer advice, support and encouragement because they come from a place of pain, especially because it involves or did involve a loved one.

What I’ve noticed in all of these hashtags is that they all provide a space for individuals of color to openly share their personal experiences which they couldn’t comprehend or process before, and by putting them into words and sharing them with others who’ve felt similarly, they allow for empowerment and encouragement in a sphere of community. Plenty of people misunderstood the point of these discussions and offered their rejections on the internet. I’ve recently tried explaining the #HowIMetYourRacism trend to an Asian-American friend but he completely rejected it, and spewed a bunch of internalized racist nonsense back at me. But it’s not up to me to change anyone else’s minds. It’s up to them. I’ve already done my part by participating. These discussions aren’t about the disagreeing party. The people who want and need these dialogues to happen are already here and listening.

I’ve participated in the conversations mentioned in all of the above because as an immigrant, a woman, a woman of color, an Asian/Asian-American/Korean/Korean-American/American, I can relate and understand, but I also need them.

I’m 26 years old and I’ve only recently begun my journey grappling with who I am in recent years. In 2009, I went to Seoul on a research grant to pursue a study in modern Korean colonial literature to mainly study oppressed Koreans’ psyche during a time of Japanese colonization and Westernization. The study opened me up to a range of theories and stories that were race related but still didn’t release the inner tension I carried, which was a mix of anger, confusion and frustration for not having the words. Here is one reason why I participated in all of the above hashtag conversations: living in New York, I deal with catcalls that are mixed with racism and misogyny daily. I mean DAILY. I don’t mean once a week or once a month—I mean every single day, no matter where I am in the city. I get called “Chi-na,” “Ni-hao,” “Konichiwa”—basically any kind of greeting in Chinese or Japanese, and occasionally just the geographic region plus the word “pussy” added to the end of it. I’ve been grabbed by strange men who say, “Excuse me, can I lick your Asian pussy?” in the streets of Midtown. I get taken aside in my office by colleagues who ask if I know how to use the abacus, or if I know the lyrics to Psy’s “Gangnam Style.” When I call them out on the inappropriateness of their question, the same colleagues defiantly claim they are not racist against Asians because they love Korean food and that they know I’m Korean. (Add any of the aforementioned hashtag here.) By the way, in case you’re wondering, all of the comments mentioned in this paragraph are inappropriate and they are all equally inappropriate. None of the above is any better or worse than the other. They are all wrong. And they all add unwanted baggage to my day. If you think words don’t hurt people, you’re wrong. I never get used to these kinds of harassments both on and off the streets. They are always hurtful.

I’ve since written a book on my experiences dealing with racism both in the U.S. and in Korea. I did it mainly out of frustration: No matter where I was, there was always something off about me to everyone else. I was never completely culturally assimilated enough to be in either country. This was always a tremendous wound for me because it made me perceived as awkward or ignorant around others, and I beat myself up for it constantly (still do). People often assume that I have my shit together; people assume that I am confident simply because I was born this way but they couldn’t be more wrong. I work so hard at being who I am everyday, and I do that mostly by trying my best to evolve into a better person and by rejecting the skin I was in the day before. I do that by listening to what other wounded people have to say. By tuning into the recent hashtags launched to discuss race issues, I gained so much.

What these hashtag trends have been doing for me is giving voice to the concerns I had but couldn’t articulate. Luckily for all of us, there are some amazing people who are organizing and working for the betterment of America as a nation and for the Asian American community. (Check out Suey Park’s article on #NotYourAsianSidekick and the meaning of community).

Many of these people are experienced and educated. Most recently, I tuned into the #NotYourAsianSideKick online forum organized by 18 Million Rising. It was eye-opening and empowering. The women who participated in this panel acknowledged so many of the fears and pains I had growing up as an Asian American woman, and they gave me hope as to what we can do to make tomorrow better. That ability to make tomorrow better is so simple, and one of those ways is simply by participating in hashtags like the above that cry out for justice in our society, by tuning into such forums, by attending a meeting to learn more about what’s going on in our political sphere, and what we can do to improve our current circumstances.

The work I do now producing films and writing books related to Asian American issues is in some ways conscious but mostly I found myself in this place without realizing it until recently: I just end up being drawn to these topics because I have an avid desire to disclose whatever injustices I sense against a part of my own makeup (a woman, an immigrant, an Asian American, a Korean American, a Korean, an American).

I wish for these discussions to continue because I will be tuning in, listening and learning. I’ll be there to share my experiences, listen to what others have to share, and offer encouragement where it is needed. The most important thing about these communities and dialogue is the encouragement. Harassments and other negativity are exactly the reasons why we’re banded together to offer and share some comfort. There’s absolutely no need to add any more negativity or rejection to that pile. We must always progress in both dialogue and in life. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

Check out Gethsemane by Grace Jung, available here.

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