I meant to write about something entirely different this week, but I really can’t do that song and dance today. After watching news about the murder of eight people in Atlanta, including six Asian women, I discovered that I had been clenching my fists so tightly that I was bleeding from a cut in my palm caused by my pinky nail. I thought I probably needed to work through some things, and here we are.
Fact is, I don’t feel like doing my little “Amazing Thailand” routine about how awesome Thai food is right now. I’m sure I’ll get over that real soon, since I have a cookbook coming out. But right now, I’m just going to let myself be angry.
I didn’t think I would be this incensed over the news. I thought that I was insulated from it, because I had taken the advice of all of those people years ago who told me to “go back to your own country” (spoiler alert: I did!). But the fact is that hate crimes against Asian Americans rocketed by almost 150 percent last year, according to California State University’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, and that trend doesn’t seem to be abating anytime soon. In actuality, we saw that curve rise daily, stoked by people who needed a reliable scapegoat in order to deflect attention away from their own incompetence in fighting the pandemic. We saw politicians cast themselves as “freedom fighters” against masks and vaccines while in reality attempting to take away the freedoms of minorities. I might have left, but my fellow Asian-Americans are still sticking it out at home.
Of course, there is context around it: “economic insecurity”, driven by the COVID-19 pandemic. And although everyone around the world is feeling some of that insecurity, including yours truly, only a few places are really making that insecurity be known by knocking doddering old men to the ground and shooting women at their places of work. And before people say hey, #notallamericancities, well, yes, this stuff is happening on both coasts as well, don’t you worry.
The truth is, this was always a very real possibility. When people say “model minority” as a compliment, everyone takes it to mean “hardworking” and “self-reliant” and all that other stuff that Asian-Americans tell themselves. (Why else would so many Asian-Americans be diehard Republicans?) What “model minority” really means, though, is a pat on the head for “eating all the shit that gets doled out to you on a daily basis.” It means that any racist microaggressions, like “Where do you REALLY come from?”, “gentle” racist jokes on driving, getting elbowed out of the way by bigger people who pretend not to see you, are all met with almost no repercussions. What is the worst that could happen if you call someone a “filthy Asian” or make “slanty” eye faces at them? (Please google “Ronaldo slanty eye Korea” and see what else you come up with.) You hurt some people’s feelings? You end up on a Youtube video? You can always fight that by saying that you won’t be cowed by the “woke police”, or that you don’t like being “politically correct”, or that old chestnut, “fake news”, a phrase that my own 11-year-old son tries to use to get out of trouble. The assumption on the other side is that these aren’t real people you are insulting or belittling. They’ll just scurry back to wherever they were before you saw them; there are so many of them, billions in China! And they all look alike. Everybody knows that.
When there are no repercussions, it’s ridiculously easy for that kind of abuse to escalate, especially when the victims are treated as a faceless monolith. This was brought vividly home to me today, when I got angry. Atlanta police officer Jay Baker said the man who — allegedly! — killed eight people was having a “bad day”. This makes me hope that Jay Baker never has a bad day.
I also hope the (alleged!) Atlanta shooter of eight people feels better today. Please, guys, send your thoughts and prayers to this dude with the face like a steamed baozi bun that split at the bottom and started drooling out barbecued pork filling, because he had a bad day. Be nice to these guys! It’s all on us to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.
The only way that Asians can really “rise up”, realistically, is to show their solidarity through their wallets. After all, what else have you been working so hard for, if not this? If there are businesses that support people who put you in danger, whether through their words or through their actions, why give them money? If people ask you for money (and views), only to turn around and incite violence against you, why would you help them?
Of course, I can be called “hysterical” and resorting to “racist cliche stereotypes” when recounting my own feelings and even experiences. It’s happened to me before. There’s nothing I can do about that, of course. What I can say is: