A few days ago, I wrote an article for Thought Catalog in response to “Anne Gus’” “Asian Women Need to Stop Dating White Men.” Now before you roll your eyes and lament, “Oh lordy, we’ve seen enough of this,” believe me when I say that having written that article and subsequently engaged in its comments, I’m pretty tired of it, too.
But I’m not here to talk about the “Anne Gus” pen name anymore. I don’t even want to debate satire or racism. I want to talk about the response.
This is the first time anything I’ve had published online has provoked commentary. (No, Mum, you didn’t count.) In participating with the comments, I held fulfilling conversations, saw from different perspectives, and had my mind changed. In those moments I felt a warm fuzzy feeling for Thought Catalog and the Internet as a whole, for facilitating that discussion and providing an open space for debate.
Of course, that space is so open that you inevitably encounter those with whom conversation is impossible. (I’m talking about the people who just retort with even more racial slurs, but hey, this is the internet. You can’t stop everyone.) But more frustrating than this, some commenters dismissed my response as “hyper-sensitivity” and “an overreaction”.
The thing is, sometimes when someone disagrees with you, they just tell you to shut up. To this I say — with more cheese than a four-cheese pizza — if you have something important to you, something that you believe in that wants expression, keep talking.
I kept talking and guess what? I’m still talking. One commenter advised me to “take a deep breath… before [I] vent [my] frustrations in an Internet tirade”. Well, fasten your seatbelts, girls and boys, ‘cause I have taken a grand total of zero deep breaths and this tirade is about to get longer!
“Anne Gus'” “satire” produced a colossal knee jerk only because racism is so entrenched in our society. And you’re welcome to belittle that as overreaction. Seriously, be my guest.
Even while recognizing “Gus'” piece to be intended satire, people —including myself — responded as if dealing with a bona fide white supremacist nut job.
This is because the racist language that some people will only ever read onscreen is, for others, a real-life experience. That experience might be verbal abuse from the mouth of a real person. Or perhaps it’s the thought that justifies a racist attack carried out, again, by a real person. Whatever form it takes, a racist lexicon exists and it is acted upon. Those affected by racism recognize in “Anne Gus” a verisimilitude that conflates her fiction and our reality.
To illustrate that reality, take, for example, the Obama birth certificate scandal. Though the controversy started in 2008, its most recent coverage was just last year. What does it say about the (un)ease with which the United States negotiates a multicultural, multiracial society, when its people question whether their own president is truly American? And meanwhile across the pond, what of rebellion votes cast in favor of the extreme-right British National Party? It is surely a worrying state of affairs when the racists are the lesser of two evils.
This is the wider situation in which we respond to racism. Some feel that situation more strongly than others, it’s true. I am one of them and “Gus’” article offended me. It also offended many more.
To designate our reaction as “hyper-sensitivity” diminishes and dismisses it. If you really think that offence should be dismissed, your opinion is valid, you are entitled to it, let’s agree to disagree.
But before that, I challenge you to apply your claims to real life. I want to watch where you draw the line.
If I’m overreacting when racism is channelled through a fictional mouthpiece that nevertheless represents actual views, and which I do not find funny in the slightest, when is my reaction deemed reasonable?
Where I go to university, I can’t walk to Sainsbury’s without being offered a punt tour. I can’t get to lectures without being offered a city tour. I’m Chinese and therefore must be here on holiday. God forbid I should actually live and study here! Can I react then?
A fellow student, upon discovering I was Chinese, proceeded to make “slant eyes” at me. He seemed confused when I didn’t laugh along, and only continued to slant his eyes downwards. “Like Japanese people.” Bear in mind we’d only just met. But was I ignorant not to find it funny?
How about when I’m almost refused entry to university grounds because “no tourists allowed”? Forget that a huge proportion of holidaymakers here are European. My Caucasian friends barely have to flash student ID and they’re through the gate. Meanwhile, I’m just too blatantly foreign.
And is it okay that strangers have sidled up in clubs to greet me with “nihao” and “konnichiwa”? Neither Mandarin nor Japanese is my native tongue. You’d have a better chance asking if I fell from heaven, mate. Though perhaps playing on what you presume to be someone’s race is an acceptable way of making a sexual advance?
Last but far from least, as a teenager, it wasn’t uncommon to walk home to racist catcalls. To experience a plain catcall is bad enough, but when you’re 12 and a group of white men are shouting at you from across the street calling attention not only to your gender but also to your race, it’s terrifying. I felt unsafe and I felt threatened. Except I was overreacting, right?
I guess I have to be passed over for a job, beaten to a pulp, subject to material violence, and disadvantaged before I’m allowed to even bat an eyelid.
Like I say, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. And that includes everyone who has ever been offended by something you considered insignificant. Don’t be so quick to dismiss emotive response as “hyper-sensitivity.” Why not talk to that person and try to understand why your reactions differ? And consider how much worse it would be if no one reacted and we were all just happy as Larry with what goes on. Is that what you want?