Face-ing Racism


I was walking across the parking lot at a Schnucks when a minivan rolled by, three little rosy-cheeked blonde girls in the back. “THERE’S AN ASIAN RIGHT THERE!” exclaimed one, and the entire back seat erupted in giggles.

I have never wanted to flip off a child in my life.

I had to grip my clutch in order to stop myself.

I could feel heat rising from my stomach to my throat, and as I walked throughout the store, I wanted to rip my face off, a mask that didn’t belong, a mask that made me all too conspicuous. I fight all day for the right to be visible, and in that moment, I wanted nothing more than to be invisible. I whisper an exacerbated prayer, pleading aloud to my brown dusty dirty hairy haggard God-friend, “Jesus, help me.”

[Interlude – I encounter a nice white person who asks me, “How are you?” And I automatically answer a cheery, “Fine, thanks!”]

Later, I retreated indoors, looked outside at the hostile world, and munched on a swirl of vanilla yogurt, blackberry jam, and granola (#whitegirlfood), blinking back hot tears, a lump of han (Korean – embodied rage arising from accumulated oppression, esp colonial) in my throat. All week, I have been called, “Christine.” I don’t know who Christine is– I can only imagine that this is the other Asian who works at the same place.

I thought about the time when a client asked, “Has anyone ever laughed at you? Because you’re short and Asian?” And laughed and laughed and laughed long after I told them that this was not funny. “Eddie Murphy makes fun of Asians, I think it’s hilarious,” they explained, laughing some more. “I don’t really think that’s funny,” I said, anger boiling in my veins.

[Interlude, I rejoin a group of people. I am all smiles.]

I remember the time when I am sitting around a campfire, a group of white colleagues laughing about how Asians are terrible drivers and I look like a geisha for fanning a fire, and they think they are so postracial, laughing at the irony and absurdity of these jokes. I am reminded that I am an outsider, I don’t belong and can never belong, and these are my “friends.” I smile a fake smile until my face feels like it’s going to fall off and I get up and walk away.

[Interlude, a friend asks if I’m okay, and says they’ve always thought that I was confident and self-assured. My mind says, “Confidence and self-assurance have nothing to do with my tolerance for racism,” but my mouth smiles and says, “I have my moments.”]

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