𝐂𝐨𝐧𝐭𝐞𝐧𝐭 𝐖𝐚𝐫𝐧𝐢𝐧𝐠: 𝐚𝐧𝐭𝐢-𝐀𝐬𝐢𝐚𝐧 𝐫𝐚𝐜𝐢𝐬𝐦, 𝐯𝐢𝐨𝐥𝐞𝐧𝐜𝐞, 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐫𝐚𝐜𝐢𝐚𝐥 𝐬𝐥𝐮𝐫𝐬.
The first time I was called a “Chink” was in the third grade.
I was the new kid in class and I had pissed off the class bully by knocking over a castle they were building out of blocks during recess.
He demanded that I kneel in front of him and his buddies and apologize again, and then he said:
“Because you’re a chink.”
I said no, of course, angry at the insult. It was a new word to me, but it was said in such a way that I knew instantaneously what it meant.
His friend pushed me, and we got into a tussle that led all of us being sent to the school counsellor.
When I told her what happened, she said that the bully wasn’t right for calling me a bad name, but that fighting was always wrong and I should have just ignored them.
“Sticks and stones will break your bones, but words can never hurt you!” She called out as I got up to leave her office.
Sticks and Stones
Even in the third grade, I wasn’t sure if she was right. But over the years, there’s never been a lack of people who have tried using it to hurt me.
I’ve had it yelled at me while walking down the streets.
I’ve had it cursed at me at an intersection wherein I didn’t turn left quickly enough for his liking. (Specifically, he called me a “noob chink”, which I thought was hilarious.)
Once, I heard it drunkenly yelled out at a bar, in what I’m sure was a well-informed and rational debate about local real estate prices.
When one of the guys caught sight of me looking over, he nervously said to the loudmouth, “you mean foreign investors.”
I shook my head. No, he didn’t.
But I also knew the other words. Alongside “Chink”, I’ve been called “that Oriental”, “Ching Chong”, and “Token Asian guy” —the last one by a self-professed civil rights lawyer from New York.
For the most part, I shrug it off. I might have a quick word if it’s a friend, but strangers were rare enough that I didn’t bother giving it attention.
Sticks and Stones, right?
The Model Minority Myth
Asian-Americans and Asian-Canadians often don’t get taken seriously when we talk about discrimination, because of the concept of “the Model Minority”: a myth that has long been used to describe Asians or other races as being different, or better, than other minorities, because of higher education rates and white collar work.
And as a result, most of the racism I’ve experienced are suddenly labeled as “casual”. The kind of racism that often ends with a “You should take it as a compliment!”
(Pro-tip: If you need to tell someone they should take something as a compliment, it’s not a compliment.)
It’s statements like “Wow, you’re tall… for an Asian.” (At 6'4, I’m also tall for a Canadian, but funny no one ever mentions that.)
It’s jokes about knowing kung fu, loving math, eating dogs, or having slanted eyes, that ends with “it’s just a joke, bro, stop being so sensitive.”
Or when I’m with my sister and a guy comes up and says “NI HAO!” or “Y’know, I’ve got a thing for Asian girls” to her, then gets offended when she doesn’t respond positively. (For some reason, I just can’t imagine the same person saying “Jambo”, Swahili for Hello, to a black person.)
I usually don’t make a thing of it, because the Model Minority part of me has been conditioned to accept the counterarguments with a sigh: it’s a compliment. It’s just being friendly. It’s just a preference. It’s not a diminishment of her identity down to a single, overtly-sexualized feature that’s actually more about submissiveness than race.
The silent agreement of the Model Minority myth is simple: Work hard, keep your head down, laugh it off. In exchange, we’ll reward you with acceptance. Accept this, and we’ll accept you.
The silent agreement of the Model Minority myth is simple: Work hard, keep your head down, laugh it off. In exchange, we’ll reward you with acceptance.
But we’re never actually accepted, fully. When you’re a model minority, and you speak out against “casual” racism, the conditionality of that acceptance becomes very real as you’re flooded with defensiveness and debate.
When someone post about Asian discrimination, often their social network develops very strong opinions on why they shouldn’t be offended: the fetishization of Asian women is just a sexual preference! (until they no longer fit the submissive, exotic identity, then you’re the Dragon Lady.) The “China Virus” is a historically-accurate designation! (Weird then that Anti-British hate hasn’t been on the rise since the “UK Virus”.) Hollywood Whitewashing is just the result of insufficient casting options! (Really, Hallmark?)
At this point, we’re not even expecting sentiments of support anymore, or at the very least, further questions seeking to understanding the sentiment. Instead, the comments turn defensive. And under every statement is the same subtle implication:
You’re the model minorities. The honorary whites. You haven’t suffered enough, so calm down, at least you’re not… (insert other minority group here).
Your systemic racism with the head tax, yellow peril, Chinese exclusion act, Japanese Internment Camps (now the PNE), or Tydings-McDuffie Act, are ancient history. Sexual trafficking and exploitation doesn’t exist anymore, and isn’t it true that Asians are rich?
And this is where the race wars start. Not against systemic issues and lack of representation, but mentions of: “Asians are just as racist towards other Asians!”, or “You know many of the attacks on Asian people are perpetrated by black people?”
Yes, because the Model Minority myth is designed to pitch the minorities against each other. Then comes the gaslighting: “Sensitive”
Ever notice how that’s always the line of defence? It’s not that THEY’RE sensitive to being called out, but that YOU’RE oversensitive for not accepting it. It’s just words, after all.
Sticks and stones will break your bones, but words can never hurt you.
So for a long time, I stayed quiet. Kept my head down and shrugged — it’s not my fight.
Then, the pandemic hit.
And suddenly, the words turned to sticks and stones. Because that’s what words do: they empower the sticks and the stones.
Because that’s what words do: they empower the sticks and the stones.
Between March to December of 2020, there were over 2800 Anti-Asian hate crimes reported in the US:
Then the stories from my own community started showing up. In Vancouver alone, hate crimes targeting Asians went up 878%.
- A Korean friend of mine was blocked by a man who told her she shouldn’t get onto the skytrain because she has the China-virus.
- A Chinese friend of mine was followed two blocks to her home by a man who incessantly coughed behind her.
And as for myself, I would once again hear that word, coughed at me as I walked out of a grocery store:
“Go back to your country, Chink.”
This is my country. This is where I’m from. I’m occupying the same indigenous you do. And when I bring up the story with my friends, many of them point out that I’m not even Chinese (my lineage is Taiwanese) and thus undeserved. And I would remind them that it would have been undeserved regardless of their nationality, and regardless of the fact that they’re not related to me.
Because that old man who was pushed down and stomped on, matters to me, even if he’s not my grandfather.
That woman with a grandchild who was sprayed with hand sanitizer on the subway, matter to me, even if she’s not my mother.
That girl who is spat on, threatened, or raped because it seems like she’ll keep quiet, matters to me, even if she’s not my sister.
The more we keep our head down, the more permission we implicitly give for racism to grow.
The more we keep our head down, the more “casual” racism is normalized into insults, into hate, into violence.
An I’m done with keeping my head down.
[𝐒𝐨 𝐰𝐡𝐞𝐫𝐞 𝐝𝐨 𝐰𝐞 𝐠𝐨 𝐟𝐫𝐨𝐦 𝐡𝐞𝐫𝐞?]
The Anti-Asian hate trend isn’t the core of the problem, it’s the tip of the iceberg to years of gaslighting, comparison, and racial division. It leads us to believe that the reason Asians don’t fight back is because they’re privileged, even if, for some of us, it’s because we’re afraid. The sooner we can dispel the Model Minority myth, the sooner we can heal as a society.
If you’ve read this far, I’m making two assumptions about you:
1 You aren’t a racist. But, you “see the issue on both sides” and have been mentally drafting a long response as to why it’s still not that big of a deal. Why I’m oversensitive and hypocritical and that there are bigger problems to deal with.
To you, I want to say I have empathy. I KNOW it can feel accusatory when a finger is pointed at white supremacy. But relax, the finger isn’t being pointed at you. It’s being pointed at the system behind you.
And I know how it feels judged for the actions or beliefs of someone else, just because of your race. I know that feeling VERY well. As a matter of fact, even as an Asian person, I’ve previously judged other Asians for speaking out, and it took me stopping, and listening, and seeing to change my views.
Relax, my friend. We’re just asking a little bit of empathy and to hear what your friends are experiencing. It’s an invitation to listen. Curiosity before defensiveness.
2 You aren’t a racist. You read through this piece and share a vision that being more inclusive of one group does not mean being exclusive of another. You know that a desire for progress isn’t a threat to your heritage and that being asked to reconsider my identity isn’t a demand to destroy yours. You didn’t hear a battlecry of competitive victimization, but an invitation to join the voices asking for a change.
To you, I want to say thank you. I see your efforts, and I appreciate your support. I appreciate it when you speak up when a friend makes a “casually” racist joke. I appreciate it when you correct someone when they use the word “chink”, “oriental”, or “Chinaman”. I appreciate you lending your voice, because the reality is, ours is not enough sometimes, and the same sentiment from me doesn’t go as far as it does coming from you.
So thank you for reading, and thank you for understanding.
What Can You Do:
1. If you resonated with the ideas in this article, please share it with your friends and community. Tag me if you want.
2. When you hear “casual racism”, please say something. Even a “hey, Oriental is not something we say anymore, unless it’s about a vase” is huge. You might get some defensiveness, but don’t worry, just tell them to stop being so sensitive.
3. Join us. This weekend, I’ve been invited to speak at a Rally against Anti Asian hate and I’d love to see you. Sunday, May 2nd, at noon at the Chinese cultural centre (https://www.movementforasianlives.org). Or if you’re not from Vancouver, see if there’s a rally or group around you. We need your voice.
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