Why I’ve Stopped Telling People I’m Not Chinese
So a few days before the trip, I emailed my (white) hairdresser frantically: “I know this sounds crazy but can you can make me blonde? I’m traveling next week and I’m worried about being mistaken for Chinese and blamed for the coronavirus.”
My panic was a humbling reminder that I should never be overly confident that I would do the right thing in the face of fear. Sure, wanting to avoid racial profiling is a survival instinct. But survival instincts are often amoral and, if unchecked, can easily turn ugly.
I ended up not dyeing my hair because a sudden allergy attack made it ill advised. Also, it was stupid.
But I shared my anxiety with a half-Chinese-American, half-white friend. What if I get stopped at the airport for extra screening? I asked. She messaged, “Carry around a copy of your books to prove you’re Korean.” (Two of the books I wrote have the word “Korean” in the title.) She added: “I’m serious.”
When I was a kid in late-1970s suburban Chicago, anti-Chinese taunts were a daily occurrence. It was a frequent topic at Korean church — the only place we clapped eyes on other Koreans outside our own homes. Our parents and Sunday school teachers told us that the correct response was, “I’m not Chinese; I’m Korean.” (This didn’t even work, it should be noted: When I informed a mean kindergartner that I was Korean, he responded, “There is no such place.”)
None of us kids were proud of being Korean-American back then. The grown-ups tried to counter this shame by instilling ethnic pride. But despite their good intentions, they invited pride’s ugly sibling: implied permission to step on other people.
For an inarticulate child, maybe “I’m not Chinese” isn’t an especially meaningful retort. But a grown woman should know better.
So what finally brought about my moment of self-reckoning? It was a T-shirt.
Last month, a Chinese-American friend of mine posted on social media about a targeted internet ad that had outraged her. In the wake of Covid-19, some clothing vendor saw a business opportunity: a series of T-shirts with slogans like, “I’m Asian but I’m not Chinese,” “I’m not Chinese, I’m Korean,” “I’m not Chinese, I’m Malaysian,” etc. Her friends’ comments under her post were equally indignant. (So much for predictive algorithms, by the way.)
My first thought was, “I wish we’d had these shirts when I was a kid.”
And then I stopped myself, horrified.
I started bookmarking tweets and news reports of racist incidents. A sample:
An Asian woman pressed an elevator button with her elbow. A man in the elevator asked, “Oh, coronavirus?” She said, “Don’t have it, but trying to be prepared.” As he was leaving the elevator, he said, “Don’t bring that Chink virus here.”
An Asian woman walked into a park and a group of mothers screamed for their kids to get away from her.
A middle-aged Asian woman wearing a mask was going for a walk when a woman screamed at her to get away from her.
A man spat on an Asian man waiting for the subway.
A man spat on an Asian woman walking to her gym.
A woman refused a coffee from a barista because she thought the barista was Chinese. When the Asian man behind her started telling her how irrational that request was, she snarled, “Are you Chinese?” He retorted, “No, but your ugly-ass knockoff purse is.”
I never would have thought that the word “Chink” would have a resurgence in 2020. The word was supposed to be as outdated as those sinister little Chinamen saltshakers I saw in thrift shops. It still thrived among bottom feeders on the internet, but I hadn’t heard it directed at me since I was in my 20s. But now I was encountering that word every time I read about an anti-Asian incident or hearing about its use from friends. I couldn’t process the fact that Americans were hurling that slur at us so openly and with such raw hate. In the past, I had a habit of minimizing anti-Asian racism because it had been drilled into me early on that racism against Asians didn’t exist. Anytime that I raised concerns about a racial comment, I was told that it wasn’t racial. Anytime I brought up an anti-Asian incident, a white person interjected that it was a distraction from the more important issue (and there was always a more important issue). I’ve been conditioned to think my second-class citizenry was low on the scale of oppression and therefore not worth bringing up even though every single Asian-American I know has stories of being emasculated, fetishized, humiliated, underpaid, fired or demoted because of our racial identities.
After President Trump called Covid-19 the “Chinese virus” in March, the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council said more than 650 incidents of discrimination directed against Asian-Americans were reported to a website it helps maintain in one week alone. Even after seeing that number, I wondered if anti-Asian racism would be taken seriously. On Twitter, when the novelist R.O. Kwon talked about the surge, an in-law asked doubtfully, “Is it really happening?” Do the reports have to rise to 1,000 a week? 2,000? How many is enough so that the hate will be seen?
在川普2020年三月把covid-19称为“中国病毒”之后，亚太政策与计划委员会表示，近一周内他们维护的网站就收到了多达650起针对亚裔美国人的歧视事件。然而即使看到这个数字，我也很好奇仇亚行为是否会被严肃对待。在推特上，当韩裔小说家R. O. Kwon提到排亚潮时，一个亲戚充满怀疑地问道，“真的有那么严重吗？” 数字是不是要提高到每周1000起？还是2000起？到底要多严重才能让大家“看到”仇恨的存在？