In defense of quiet Asian American women

It’s okay to be shy

There was an article on The Toast a couple months ago about an AA woman, married to a white man, who was at her husband’s family gathering when a white woman made a racist remark at her. She eloquently discussed her experience, about how as much as she wanted to speak up, in that moment she completely froze. Everyone else at the table was white, and she felt pressured to not cause a scene by calling the woman out. She was also feeling baffled and disappointed that none of the white people there, especially her husband, had stood up for her. So she stayed quiet and said nothing.

I recognized that–she felt like she should stay quiet and not create a conflict, and was generally in shock for several reasons. I have been in that situation. I have felt that way, and lots of other AA women and other WOC have.

Not everyone was empathetic to her, though. I saw numerous internet comments about how “Ugh, I would have yelled at her!” or “AA women need to stop being so subservient!” and other variations about how she should grow a pair. They completely ignored this woman’s experience and complex, conflicting emotions, which all happened within a few seconds. that resulted in her reactions (or, non-action). I also noticed that the people making these comments were almost all other AA women.

Look, I get it. I’m also tired of the stereotypes of how Asian women are meek, quiet, unassertive. You’re afraid actually shy, quiet AA women just enforce the stereotype. But it’s not their fault that these stereotypes exist, and it’s not their responsibility to act inapposite of these notions just to prove to white people that Asian women aren’t all obedient modest mice. It’s the responsibility of the people who hold these preconceived notions to personally analyze and dispel their biases. Stereotypes exist in the minds of the people who hold them, and nothing AA women actually do can dispel these notions from their minds.

Besides, even if they are normally assertive, strong women, it can be very challenging for many people to speak up, especially when you’re at work or with in-laws or otherwise in a setting that puts you under pressure not to cause a scene.

This kind of attitude also smells more than a little like respectability politics, which we all know doesn’t work.

Stereotypes really are not about you, and have nothing to do with how you, as an individual, act. It doesn’t help to blame other AA women for other people holding preconceived notions and stereotypes about us. Blame the media, imperialism, poverty, the patriarchy, or any number of actual causes of the awful stereotypes many westerners hold of us. But let’s not cut each other down.