My social media is flooded with somber, angry and desperate posts condemning racism against Asian people. I’ve seen a lot of tweets and stories ordering action along the lines of: “White folks: check in on your Asian friends.” As well-meaning as that may be, it makes me laugh. I picture myself looking in a mirror and asking, Are you okay?
I am white. I am also Asian. Technically, I am half and half, but there’s no clear line down the middle. Sometimes I am given a fork at a Chinese restaurant without being asked, sometimes I am called the c-word (no, not the misogynist slur, the racist one—isn’t language fun?) by men who probably own that red baseball cap. For the record, I’m Japanese, not Chinese—but that hardly matters to folks who think that having a bad day is an excuse for murdering eight people.
Any mixed race person will tell you that one of the joys of our existence is an extended, lifelong identity crisis. Beyond not knowing what ethnicity to select on surveys or official documents (“Other?” That’s so me!), it’s confusing socially. People tell you that you are evidence that racism is over (Thanks, Michelle and Brian!) or “compliment” you on being Ethnic LiteTM. Yes, folks, I’m sorry to say it, but the reason that you think mixed race people are eternal beauties is probably because you think we’re just the right amount of exotic to be interesting, but not threatening. When you hear “You’re so beautiful, where are you from?” enough, you stop hearing the compliment—it’s the indication that you don’t belong that feels loud.
It’s a complicated place to be, especially in Vancouver. Visiting Playland always makes me think about Japanese internment (which is really not the vibe that Playland is going for). I think about how Japanese people (relatives of mine included) were forced out of their homes and held in livestock stables or farms in the interior simply for being Japanese Canadian. And I think about how white people (relatives of mine probably also included) either directly did that violent act of displacing, or stood by and watched it happen. And, of course, the land belongs to neither group—it was stolen from Indigenous people. Again, it’s complicated.
I am a very privileged individual. I often pass as white (watch out, white folks, I'm spying on you) and grew up in a loving household with economic security. I am cisgendered, able-bodied and a practicing heterosexual. I went to university (though I did get a Bachelor of Fine Arts so joke's on you, Mom and Dad). I am not an immigrant or a refugee or a sex worker. When I suck at parallel parking, folks probably don't think it's because I'm Asian. They think it's because I'm a girl. There's some intersectional comedy for ya.
I feel heartbroken for the families of Soon Chung Park, Suncha Kim, Yong Ae Yue, Hyun Jung Grant, Xiaojie Tan, Delaina Ashley Yaun, Daoyou Feng, and Paul Andre Michels**. I feel outraged at the racially-motivated hate crimes in Vancouver that have gone up 700% since the pandemic. I also feel a good, hefty helping of White Guilt (wash that down with some Ethnic LiteTM). Being on the internet exhausts me, but unplugging feels irresponsible.
All of this is to say: Yes, check in on your Asian friends. Check in on your mixed race Asian friends. I haven’t even mentioned folks that are Black and Asian—if anyone has felt absolutely destroyed by global events in the past year, it’s them. But we should all be checking in on ourselves, too. Depending on who you are, checking in on yourself might be checking your privilege. It could be redistributing some of your finances. It could also be making your mental health a priority. I urge everyone to consider the actions (big or small) we can take, because nothing feels worse than doing nothing. Here are a few ideas:
- Donate to organizations that support Asian people and sex workers (SWAN Vancouver is a good place to start)
- Support local Asian-owned businesses
- Learn how to pronounce Asian names (here’s an excellent Twitter thread that starts with Chinese, and there’s lots of tips for other Asian languages in the comments)
- Call out (or call in) your friends, family, and other folks in your life when they say something racist
And for my Asian/mixed race friends: join a Facebook group. I cannot tell you how much laughter and solace Subtle Asian Traits and Subtle Mixed Traits has brought me in these trying times. Eat your favourite Asian foods. Tell your Asian family you love them. Celebrate your Asian-ness (Asianosity?) in the ways you know how. Don’t forget how much joy there is in our community.
It’s easy to feel helpless. It’s hard to feel helpful. But just like racism isn’t just giant public acts of violence, anti-racism isn’t just giant public acts of kindness. I think it stands to reason that microcompassions should be just as effective as microaggressions are—the work we all do matters.
In the great words of one Sandra Oh, it’s an honour just to be Asian. It’s also a privilege to be white. I am both, and it’s confusing. Being anti-racist is not.
**The names of the victims of the shooting in Atlanta have been misposted and misprinted a lot (there's that racism again!)—this is the spelling that I believe to be correct via news stories and Twitter. If any new corrections arise I will edit them!