Paranoia

The past couple of months has been a blur. On the surface life is the same. I still go to work every day. I still see my friends. I still put off doing laundry. But of course overhanging everything, constantly in the back of my head and floating near the top of my subconscious, is fear. There’s so much I’m afraid of with the new administration and what it will bring. But one of my biggest fears, which has already been coming true, is the emboldening of white America’s behavior towards POC.

Long before November, for most of my time in America, I was aware of the hostility against people like me–a refusal to acknowledge me, my presence, my words, denying my humanity. How they considered it a compliment to say to me, “Oh, I didn’t expect you to be [something positive and not stereotypically Asian]” or “you’re not really Asian, you’re basically white.” There had been a spate of Asians being pushed onto the subway tracks here in NY, and I had been careful to stay away from the edge of the platform for months.

However the hostility has grown to be more explicit and cutting. People who believe that they had been unfairly forced to suppress views, until now, are emboldened to say things to me. Complete strangers, like the MTA bus driver on election day who demanded to know who I was voting for, then went on a tirade about Hillary Clinton. I was the only passenger on a long, nonstop 20-minute ride to Queens. I quickly de-escalated the conversation, and he moved on to calling a woman, cursing her out and dropping a bunch of F bombs, and then hanging up with “Goodbye, ma.”But for a full five minutes, I was afraid he would pull over the bus and attack me. He easily could have. I’ve since taken a krav maga defense class, and I imagine how I would defend against various random men I see on the street.

And the election wasn’t even over yet. Now, it’s official, he’s been sworn in. Immediately the whitehouse.gov page changed, singing the praise of fossil fuels and how the priority is now protecting the police over civil rights. “America first, America first!” I watched some of the swearing-in ceremony, with declarations of triumph and cut-aways to the almost exclusively white attendees cheering. I imagined the conversations they would be having amongst themselves, about putting uppity POC in their place, wrenching jobs back from immigrants.

All this to say I’m really afraid and paranoid. Yes, he could kill us all with a nuclear holocaust, but I’m also afraid of what other Americans will do to me. What they now feel they have permission to do.

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Nobody thinks they’re racist

A few days ago I talked for a while about racism with a white man, because I couldn’t figure out how to extricate myself from the conversation. If you have tips on how to do so gracefully, please advise.

Early on he alluded to how he isn’t racist because “I guess because I wasn’t raised that way.”

Well yeah, duh. No one thinks they were raised racist. Just like no one thinks they’re sexist, it’s just that women are too emotional to lead! And they’re not homophobic, they just don’t want to see gay men being so flamboyant.

I’m not saying this guy is actually racist. I don’t know. I think racism’s kind of a spectrum though–I don’t think this guy would advocate for banning Muslims or anything. However, I’m pretty sure he’s ignorant of his own preconceived notions and prejudices. I know I had to learn that I had my own prejudices, that I still have to deal with at some level (and funnily, I think Asians are more willing to admit they might have some weird views because being racist isn’t such a terrible thing–open hatred of dark people is somewhat widely accepted in Asia). I’m not proud of it, but that is how it is. I’m not sure if that makes me racist. Maybe. But I try to stay conscious and it’s surprising how often I have to check my own preconceived notions.

A lot of white people seem to think they don’t need to go through this exercise. They think they can just say “Oh I’m not racist!” and poof, that’s it. They’re not racist. It’s very lazy. Yet another white privilege, I guess. But saying something repeatedly doesn’t make it true. Most people, especially white people, just never had to think about how they might have some whack notions. They need to.

 

 

 

 

 

(White) Humans of New York

I used to follow Humans of New York on Facebook. I quickly noticed a trend. Most of the photos seemed to fall into three broad categories: (1) successful white men “reflecting” on their privilege while lamenting their lost youth/dreams, (2) jolly black guys in Port Authority, and (3) adorable children, often of color. I realized the only brown/yellow people allowed on the page were the small ones–cute children to add a little bit of unthreatening ethnic flavor. A minimal, safe amount, without all those weird smelly hang-ups.

After I noticed this trend it wasn’t fun anymore so I stopped following. I still get it shoved in my face when people on my feed like the posts or I hear about the books. Oh, look at the little boy wearing traditional brown people garb! How cute! Except if a grown brown man were wearing the same thing, people would be yelling terrorist! and giving him dirty looks on the subway. Meanwhile, the white men expound on their life stories (a lot like these) and wax poetic.

Colored people are only allowed on HONY if they’re completely unthreatening to its white male creator and mostly white consumers. This is done by portraying black guys as magical negroes or only having child versions of colored people on–children can’t be suicide bombers or steal your jobs. They’re cute and innocent!

I haven’t looked at any of those posts in a while so maybe I’m wrong. Or maybe things have changed. But to me, it was yet another thing that emphasized how America does not view people of color as full human beings, to borrow the phrase from Americana. It’s demeaning and offensive of the HONY creator to assume POC don’t have stories to tell, to assume the yellow/brown people don’t speak English, and to deny us our humanity.

Being white enough for work

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Appropro Asian office woman, no exotic accessories or other ethnic indications. Except her face and identity but w/e

A friend recently told me a story of an acquaintance who had asked her for a restaurant recommendation for a lunch with her supervisor. (We’re all Asian women) My friend recommended a very good, popular Asian-fusion type place, and the acquaintance apparently responded, “But isn’t that TOO Asian?”

POC are constantly pressured to minimize their cultural identities for white people’s comfort when they are in white spaces, which includes most workplaces. For Asian people that means you can’t bring smelly lunches, or never speak your own language to assure white people you’re not making fun of them. A great number of Asian people even change their names to use generically white sounding ones so white people don’t have to deal with their ethnic name.

We have to erase so much that is central to who we are as individuals, just so everybody can pretend we’re not actually different from each other. Except, POC are still expected to pretend to be interested in the things their white coworkers are into. Biking. Bikram Yoga. Trying to save animals that are practically extinct anyway. But I wouldn’t dream of bringing up the Korean movies I like or try to discuss Chinese New Year. White coworkers aren’t interested, and they just don’t care.

It’s because don’t know how to take an interest in or even pretend to be interested in anything that’s not already in their own sphere, because they’ve never had to think outside their own frame of mind. It doesn’t even occur to them that I wouldn’t be interested in their likes–one of them recently asked me if I had joined other coworkers on a 50 mile bike ride. I’ve never, ever discussed biking at work, just smiled and nodded while others talked about it. And yet, they assume that means I’m into biking just as much as they are.

My small protest is writing passive aggressive messages to my coworkers in various Asian languages while stuck in boring meetings. But it’s really starting to take a toll on me, pretending to be someone I’m not. It’s very isolating.

 

How racism stopped me from even dreaming

I love, love movies. I’ve been obsessed with stories and storytelling since I was a baby. My mom made me learn how to read when I was three because she got tired of me begging her to read to me. She hired me a reading tutor, I learned, and I have no memory of my parents reading to me.

Through childhood and adolescence I devoured stories and later, movies–I remember watching the Little Mermaid over and over at age five or so. I’ve been in love with all sorts of movies my whole life. They’re a refuge, and an escape.

You might think I would have wanted to go into filmmaking or some other field that involves storytelling–writing, etc. I do kind of the opposite (I’m a lawyer). In my dissatisfaction with work I’ve been mulling over why I didn’t think about pursuing that field, or something else more creative. I skirted around it–in college I took a film class (boring as hell), an acting class (Alexander technique, ugh), and an animation class (that was fun). It was just out of a liberal arts interest, though, and I went on to major in biology. I’m a lawyer now.

I’ve realized one big reason is that I never saw anyone who looked like me in those roles. I’d watch DVD commentaries narrated by the white male lead and the white male director, where they would riff for two hours on how beautiful the female actors looked. The names in the credits were overwhelmingly white, and mostly male. How could I envision myself becoming like one of these men, when I knew most of them would rather pretend I don’t exist, unless they wanted to have sex with me?

Relatedly, the white male controlled world of filmmaking etc has a perspective that refuses to try to see or understand anything beyond its preconceived notions or perspective. They could, with effort–they’ve just never had to do it, because every story is about them. If a story is somehow not focused on them, it doesn’t matter and they refuse to see it. I don’t matter to them, my stories don’t matter to them, and they don’t care about anything I have to say. How could I get a movie made? My movie made? “My movie.” It’s impossible to even imagine.

So that’s what it is. How could it happen? How could I make them see me as someone whose story matters? You could say all that’s holding me back is fear, or that I have nothing to lose by trying. I feel like I do have things to lose–my time, my energy, hope, continued degradation and dehumanization and rejection of the idea that I could present anything that matters. All the potential pain.

Who knows, maybe I’ll one day have enough time and energy and money to invest into this. But it saddens me that I never even had the chance to think about this and waste some time in my 20s trying. It didn’t even occur to me to try. I wish I could have.

 

My beef with Maison Kitsuné

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Maison Kitsuné is a French brand designed by Gildas Loaëc and Masaya Kuroki. Loaëc is straight up French, and Kuroki moved from Japan to France aged 12, according to this article. Thus, I assume he has a somewhat limited understanding of Japanese culture and perceptions due to that. Earlier this year Kitsuné faced controversy when its visuals for an upcoming collection featured the Japanese military flag, which is considered by many to be a symbol of Japanese imperialism and aggression. For the uninformed, the Japanese military in the mid-1900s invaded, colonized and committed heinous acts of violence throughout much of Asia, most of which the Japanese government has refused to apologize for or even recognize happened. Therefore a symbol of that military is extremely offensive to many. The brand apologized, but its other actions over the years I’ve followed it reveal how blind the creators are to cultural sensitivities and biases.

For instance, I noticed over the years that almost 100% of the models they used were white. They finally used Asian models recently to advertise their shoes, though it looks more like a shoe fetish porno:

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As opposed to most of their other models, who were styled like this:

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The overexposed shots of the Asian shoe models are reminescent of the photography of Terry Richardson, known for sexually exploiting his models. As opposed to the white models, who get to be fully clothed and are styled like, you know, models you want to look like, instead of creepy shots of Asian sex trafficking victims.

Asian people, especially women, already face enough challenge getting society to view them as full individual human beings. Asian women are often viewed as mere sex objects, usable and disposable toys–the French, especially, have a history of colonization of large parts of Asia. These models look exposed, vulnerable, and exploitable. They probably were in order to get these shots–who in their right minds would participate in creating such images?

Lastly, a recent collection by Kitsuné featured their mascot fox (kitsune means fox in Japanese) wearing a cap with the South Korean flag. Huh? Why? What made these designers, with no ostensible cultural connection to Korea, think it would be okay to use for their own profit the flag of a people that the Japanese, their stated inspiration, oppressed and mutilated for decades? Were the pandering to Korean customers? They were not amused, based on what I saw on Kitsuné’s Instagram comments. Did they think the flag pattern was just fun and pretty?

 

 

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The fox’s cap has the South Korean flag

 

I don’t think they ever officially apologized for this. But it really demonstrates how people who have no understanding of a foreign culture should be extremely cautious about handling that culture, especially if they do it in the public sphere and absolutely mandatorily (is that a word?) if they seek to profit from the use. I personally think they have zero justification for using the Korean flag for their own profit, considering the brand’s stated Japanese inspiration/roots.

It really pains me seeing Asian models and other assets of Korean culture be exploited like this. It’s additionally painful because one of the perpetrators is himself of Asian descent. I don’t flatly expect cultural sensitivity from Asian people who grow up abroad. But it still hurts a bit more.

 

What do Asians look like?

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Tao Okamoto, model/Japanese person

The easiest way to learn what white people think about Asian people by talking to racist white people. I was recently talking to a white woman about Asian models, and I mentioned that I thought the Japanese model Tao Okamoto was very beautiful. When I showed her a picture of Tao, the woman said, “Well, she looks more white than Asian.”

What?

This woman apparently held a preconceived notion that Asians are all slitty-eyed (thus ugly), and when she saw a beautiful Asian person with large eyes (whether large eyes are a requirement for beauty is beside the point), her mind apparently resolved that internal contradiction by deciding that this Asian person was only pretty because she looked white. She then had the audacity to say to me, an Asian person, that Tao didn’t look Asian, implying that her “whiteness” was the only reason she was both Asian and beautiful.

Tao is Asian. She’s from Chiba, Japan. As far as I know her ethnicity is fully Japanese. If a Japanese person looks a certain way, then that particular feature is one present in Japanese people. Besides, plenty plenty plenty Japanese people (and Koreans, and Thai, and Nepalese, etc…you get the point) have large eyes. I do, too. I have giant Bambi eyes with long eyelashes, and there are tons of Asian girls who look like me.

The same white woman, at another point while discussing a mutual friend, a tall, broad-shouldered man of Chinese descent, said “well, he’s taller than most Asians.” I mentioned to her that he had characteristic Han Chinese features–tall and sturdily built. She maintained that he was just an exception–Asian men are short and small! All of them on the entire continent! Just like black people have wide noses! At this point I gave up. I can’t fix stupid.

 

The politics of Asian beauty is complicated. A lot of Asians undeniably spend a lot of time and effort trying to look white, and pine over features like blond hair and blue eyes. However, large eyes and whatever other features Tao has are features that do naturally occur in East Asian people, and are not rare. It’s frustrating that many white people have a set notion of what Asian people look like, based on what they believe we look like. It’s not just a superficial thing–it’s one of the many ways that white people justify how “All Asians look alike, I can’t tell them apart” and other dehumanizing of Asians and POC. It’s not just about insisting nonwhite races can also be beautiful–which is an important recognition as well–it’s also about recognizing that Asians and POC have individual and varied features, and each of us is a full human being and shouldn’t be grouped into one massive group of 4 billion.

So white people, please stop thinking we all look the same. We never have, it’s your closed minds that tell you we do.