Being Korean in Confusing Time
I looked up those Spas in Atlanta on google. There are many reviewers who boast the experience of “a strong happy ending”, compliment “Korean female hands”, and complain about “nice but greedy Asian workers”. The terrorist claimed he was one of those kinds of customers. The police officer, who proudly owns a “China Virus” t-shirt in his closet in his home, concludes that the suspect suffered sex addiction and ended up having a bad day — not hate crime. The fact that the Atlanta police department allowed this public statement paradoxically shows that it’s not just a tragedy done by an extremely rare psychopath, but the prevalence of stereotypical sexual objectification towards Asian women as well as the white-privileged mind which justifies violence against others for their own problem-solving.
“China Virus” is the hidden key of this tragedy and many other Asian hate crimes we are witnessing these days. It was the catalyst of the racism against Asians that had been subtle, psychological, and mundane. It gave a concrete excuse for racists to act out and for the “model minority” Asians to stop suppressing their anger.
I might have tried to emotionally distance myself from a report like this if it happened a couple of years ago, treating this as some crazy news from a politically conservative and ignorant town. And that it is so far from where I live. I even used to tell my white friends that I want to visit some small rural town somewhere where there are few Asians just to experience what it’s like to feel the racist gaze as if I was talking about Bigfoot in a haunted forest. Days like now where Asians are getting attacked by strangers on the streets of San Francisco on a daily basis, the city where the Asian population is not a minority, I know how naive and blinded I was for saying that.
Behind the naivety, I also see the past-self who faithfully played the model minority and refused to recognize the racism I’ve felt or witnessed in my life. I was never truly free from the stereotype of Asians even when I said I wanted to be successful “as a young talent” not just “for an Asian immigrant”. At work, I satisfied the image of a hardworking and submissive Asian. Among friends, I expected to be seen as “exotic and kind”. The truly bothering thing is, I was stuck in the rhetoric of “you need to be more confident” which had been reinforced by the feedback of my white managers, elevating the white male attitude (so-called the “alpha” personality) as the role model of success in my mind while disliking my own temperaments that were not considered “alpha”. While I wanted to look “kind,” the truth is, I was not kind enough to myself and to other Asians.
I keep hearing this tendency of internalization from my asian friends as well. Even though the impact of racism can be only measured internally by the victim, society told us “nice, obedient, and smart” Asians were “successful enough” that we didn’t have to worry about racism. Not a top priority. We had been under mass hypnotism.
I don’t know yet what actions to take. One thing clear is that I can’t no longer just rely on the success of “Made in Korea” and the recognition of Asian culture for my personal safety and the social voice of Asian people. They have helped for sure, but they are nothing without my own action. I used to believe showing my Asian side or even my true nature reinforces the stereotypes of Asians in non-Asian’s mind. Now I know it is not true. It will rather help show the depth and dynamic of Asian culture and personalities that are not part of the stereotypes. And that the “Asianness” is not some decoration of a Chinese restaurant or a painting on a museum wall, but it is something surprising, diverse, and even something they want to learn for themselves.
Until I know how I can best support Asian communities and express my voice, I would like to hold on to this unfamiliar anger I am experiencing a little longer.