When I was in 5th grade I was getting on the bus to head to school.
As I took my seat, a white boy sitting in the seat in front of me called me a stupid chink as I walked by. My cousin, without hesitation, turned around and punched him in the face.
Later that day, after a trip to the principal’s office that resulted in my cousin getting suspended for defending me, I asked him why he punched that boy. He looked at me flabbergasted. He explained that he called me a disgusting name and deserved what he got. As a 5th grade, American born Asian-American, I had no idea what this meant, what anti-Asian racism was, or why I should be offended. I had never heard the word before; I didn’t understand then what I do now.
I was born and raised in a small suburban town in North Carolina, and I have a southern twang to prove it. Growing up, I never really noticed that I was one of probably 10 Asian people in my class of over 300.
It had been drilled in my head from an early age that anti-Asian racism didn’t really exist. Any time I questioned someone’s racial remark, it was often minimized by saying that it wasn’t meant to be racist, that it was masking the “more important issue”, or that I had taken it the wrong way. I had been conditioned to think that anti-Asian racism is a mere figment of my imagination.
It wasn’t very apparent to me at the time that I was any different than my friends…until middle school.
In 7th grade, the first and only time I asked a white boy I had a crush on to be my boyfriend, he matter-of-factly responded with, ‘I can’t because you’re Asian and my parents wouldn’t like that.’
It was like a light clicked in my head that there was something different about me than the people I was surrounded with. I was embarrassed, confused, and angry. I didn’t understand why that was justifiable or how that was an issue. My accent was the same; my socioeconomic level was the same; my parents owned a business. I had the same brown hair and brown eyes as some of my friends, but something was different that I never noticed- my heritage and my skin color. Racism became real for the first time.
As an Asian-American woman I know systemic racism is very real. And I also know that dismantling racism for all ethnic backgrounds starts with the black community now.
Fast-forward 20 years: I am in an interracial marriage to a wonderful white man and have two beautiful kids.
There have been times we have been the only interracial marriage in the room, times when I’ve been the only non-white person, or times when I can feel people’s eyes on us when we walk down the street.
There are people who stare when I talk because they’re genuinely shocked by my southern accent when it’s obvious they expected a different type of accent.
There are times when I’ve had to explain to my sweet husband that maybe we didn’t get the best service because we’re an interracial couple in the South.
It has been a normal conversation in our household about how we will teach the boys that they are both white and Asian. We’ve discussed how we will teach them traditions of both heritages, how we will explain to them that the color of their skin doesn’t define their worth, or how it might be different than Daddy’s but it’s still beautiful. It is a normal conversation about how we will talk to them the first time someone makes a racist remark to them, knowing that one day it will happen. It breaks my heart to think that these are conversations that we have to have AND will have with our kids one day.
We should not have to think about these things but we do. Because we are still living in a world that looks at our skin color and our differences and sees us as less than. Systemic racism is still very real in this country, and the protests are a way to address this and (hopefully) bring change to our communities.
‘It’s less about violence or burning crosses than it is about everyday decisions made by people who may not even think of themselves as racist. As sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva has said, ‘The main problem nowadays is not the folks with the hoods, but the folks dressed in suits.’ -Ben & Jerry’s blog post, “Systemic Racism is Real.”
2020 has been an impactful year for racism all around.
With the anti-Asian slurs stemming from the Coronavirus and its origin in Asia to the recent systemic racism conversation surrounding George Floyd’s death and the Black Lives Matter protests, minority parents have a lot on their plate. The recent protests around Black Lives Matter and the conversation it’s stirred up about the uneducated, hard-to-see racism that we know as systemic racism has been eye-opening. We have all been guilty of it even without trying, and the buck should stop here.
Three of my brothers are police officers, and my husband is in the military. But regardless of where you stand, the bottom line is we’re all fighting for the same thing: freedom.
Both sides are fighting for freedom and equality, something that everyone is entitled to. Police put their lives on the line every day for our safety and freedom, while our black friends and family are standing up and fighting for their own personal rights and freedoms. While my stories of anti-Asian racism are real, it is incomparable and minuscule to what our black brothers and sisters have had to deal with their entire lives.
We all acknowledge that other races also have struggles, but we also understand that what the black community has been dealing with is pivotal. All races, fueled by the racism they have experienced, should be standing alongside our black brothers and sisters, fighting for their rights, and fighting to end racism.
In order for all lives to matter, black lives have to matter. And this part of the conversation has been missing for too long.
If you would like more information on racism and how you can help, here are a few places to start: