A Conversation About Color

With all the conflict and tension about race, I feel it only necessary to talk about my experience of being Asian. Although it is not at all similar to being black, nor do we have to deal with the level of racism that is directed to being black, being Asian is an enlightening experience into the “colored” world.

My parents are Chinese. They came to America during their twenties. My sister and I were born in California, and so we became Asian Americans.

Like all Asians, my parents cannot express their feelings. Rather than a “good job”, they tell us we can do better. It has been through the exposure to the American people and American schools that we have learned to express our emotions better.

Yet even this “conversation” is strange and surreal to me. Talking about my feelings is something that is almost taboo in Chinese culture, but here I am.

I have never really been conscious of having racism directed towards me. There were a few times in elementary school where some students would yell derogatory slurs my way, but I was too young to understand and fully process what those words meant.

It wasn’t until high school that being Asian truly set in. There are times when I look at my white friends and wonder why I cannot look like them and be normal. The constant taunts that come my way for being an stereotypical Asian who always has her work done and getting good grades on her test is tiring.

I work hard because I want to be successful. Not because I am Asian.

I lower my head because I feel like looking like an Asian, being an Asian is a bad thing. I am the only Asian on my soccer team, as well. It is isolating to be among a group of people – white and hispanic – who are socially accepted and are confident in who they are. They do not have to deal with overprotective parents who still won’t let me have Instagram, and parents who don’t have movie nights with us and tell us how good of a job we did. And while they might have to deal with the difference in cultures – from America to where their parents were born – they are surrounded by people like them who are unafraid to talk with them about this topic.

And, yet, here I am. The only Asian on my soccer team talking about this topic to the internet who will glance over my article and throw it into the trash.

It feels like I am being pulled between two different directions.

I don’t know whether I am Asian or American. When I used to go back to China and visit my relatives every so often, I would feel American among a group of Chinese people. My only extent to speaking fluent Chinese despite taking a language course of Chinese in school is the numbers and ends at having a full-blown conversation. And in America, I feel like I am not American, that I am a Chinese person among a crowd of Americans. I feel like I am a fake American.

With the coronavirus arriving in the United States, there has been an increase in acts of racism against Asian Americans. They are compounded and lumped into a single group that is being wrongly blamed for the virus.

Yet Asian Americans, in reality, are lumped into a single group that barely encompasses the number of cultures and languages within the Asian subcontinent. Indians, Chinese, Koreans, Arabs, and many more different cultures are often overlooked as just being Asian. By doing so, they are forgoing the rich cultural complexities behind each individual.

And, yet, the Asian-American stereotype continues as people with stretched almond eyes, milky complexion, unathletic, extremely smart and bookish. Stereotypes will never go away, but at least we can change the way we look at Asians.

News flash. Not all Asian Americans are Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. And, if you wish to blame the coronavirus on the Chinese, don’t attack an Indian person because you see that they are Asian as well. It’s not only wrong to consider blaming the virus on the Chinese, but it’s wrong to believe that Indians are Chinese as well just because they fall under the Asian category.

In the light of recent events – the coronavirus and the death of George Floyd as well as the subsequent protests that have followed supporting black pride – I have never been so conflicted about my identity. On one side, the president is blaming the Chinese – not all Asians – for the spread of coronavirus. On the other side, the black protests are telling me to stand up and be proud of my race and my skin color.

The truth is, whether I am proud or not, I will always be stereotyped as a Chinese or an Asian. I will always be looked down upon compared to the whites. I will always feel the sense of insecurity that comes with being a Chinese female and living in a white, male America.

It is my choice whether or not I will accept such stereotypes directed at me, and such bias that comes from these stereotypes.

I can safely say I won’t.

And so I support the protestors marching on George Floyd’s behalf because he can’t walk with them right now. I support the celebration of being black – although I am Asian – and I support the celebration of all skin colors and races of being equal to being white. Because, in reality, conversations about race don’t just include blacks and whites. It includes all the colors in between who are looking for a chance to let their culture shine through and break down barriers implemented by stereotypes due to their skin color.

It’s time we had a conversation about color. Not just between blacks and whites, but with all the colors in between.

Lots of love, and let’s talk about color,

Jess

P.S. I would love it if you shared your stories of grappling with your identity due to your race. It would let those like you know that there are people out there who are going through the same things as you.

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