Hey guys, another part of the reason I have been away for so long is because of the racism I’ve experienced in the past few months. I write about it now because, it’s part of my journey as someone that wants to work for and with people of color, as a person that is interested in immigrants rights, and as a person of color. It’s important to me because it’s part of the reason I keep reading, keep working, keep trying to support people of color.
I find it challenging to write about the racism I experience because as an Asian woman, I know I have privilege. I acknowledge that privilege, but I am also learning that my experiences are valid. There is no competition when it comes to discrimination. That being said, I share my experiences here with the hopes that someone will feel like they can my relate to my experience in a positive way- that someone who experiences racist micro aggressions recognizes that their experience is valid.
For the past two years, I fell off from some of my friends. I didn’t respond to their texts, I flaked on plans, I was in a bad place emotionally and the only person I would see was my boyfriend (I know, that makes me a REALLY bad friend). Because of that, most of the people I saw were my boyfriend’s friends and their girlfriends. For context, I have a proudly Brooklyn-Italian boyfriend. He’s quite the cutie and is slightly embarrassed by his Brooklyn-Italian accent. I never want him to feel ashamed for being him because quite frankly, I think he’s amazing and here’s a little more about us so I can stop gushing over him here. He does the work, he reads the articles I send, he speaks up when I freeze, he asks questions, he actively tries to learn and have real conversations about race and class with people in his life that are not as exposed as he is. He is my ally.
When we were in high school, we had the privilege to be surrounded by an incredibly intelligent and diverse group of friends. We’re still friends with a lot of them but they’re off doing big kid things being engineers, athletes, lawyers, doctors, and scientists in different cities and some in different countries. In college and more recently, we’ve been surrounded by more white friends in Brooklyn. It took a long time for me to be comfortable in all-white spaces. From childhood, I’m used to those spaces being hostile toward me or toward my parents. Last summer, I felt like I was in a place where I was happy and comfortable around my boyfriends’ friends and their girlfriends and that was the exact moment things turned to shit.
One girlfriend complained about the table of Asian people I befriended. She complained about her boyfriend being by that table and told me and my boyfriend “I don’t like those Asians.” TO ME. To be fair, she isn’t very bright and once included me when she said “We’re all white here” to which I raised my voice and said “HI NOT ME, NOT WHITE” Am I fucking invisible?
That same weekend, another girlfriend complained about the number of black people that were staying in the same hotel as us. She said it smelled like black people.. to which my boyfriend asked “what is that even supposed to smell like?!” She and her boyfriend laughed as they continued to suggest that we should find a different hotel next time. My boyfriend and I felt like we were sinking into our mattress as we were both shocked and outnumbered in that moment. We froze. We didn’t know what to do. Were these really our friends saying these things?
A few months later on Halloween, we were out with that group of friends again and I went to the bathroom with two of the girls from the group. They had told me to wait for them so we could all go back to our table together. We all got out of the stalls at the same time and I was washing my hands in the sink next to theirs. As I smiled to them in the mirror, I noticed they didn’t look at me. They didn’t notice me.. They didn’t realize I was standing right next to them. So I took my time. Dried off my hands. When I walked out of the bathroom, I saw my boyfriend waiting outside and the girls frantically running back. “Sorry! We thought you had left already!” Bitch, no you didn’t. You didn’t even look for me. You didn’t even see me standing right next to you and smiling.
Needless to say, I no longer consider them my friends. But in that moment, I was so hurt. I had considered them my friends. It took me a long time to get there, but yeah they were friends. I suddenly felt othered, like my existence depended on my boyfriend. Awful things were going through my head: That’s really what they think of people of color? How could they talk about black people like they’re not people? These people are doctors and teachers.. what kind of micro aggressions are they inflicting on their students and patients? What then does that make me? Am I only a person to them because of my relationship with my boyfriend? If these people don’t value me as a person then why am I here? Do I say something? No, I’ll just be gaslit. I’ll be the angry woman of color. Am I a bad ally/person of color/feminist/person for not saying anything? Probably. I don’t know. I freeze every time.
There have been more experiences, more racism, but these are the ones I can write about in the most detail. The combination of both blatant racism and racist micro aggressions impacted my mental health in awful ways. I felt so awful.
In January, I went away for a month. I went to the Philippines(the motherland) and Japan with a very short stopover in Korea(like 5 hours lol). Being home in the motherland for that long with my family for so long, being surrounded by unconditional love, being surrounded by people who look like me, sound like me, eat like me… It’s rejuvenating. It grounded me in the love I have for myself and for my family. It grounded me in a rich culture and a great people. The Philippines has its issues, but what place or people don’t? I don’t know what changed while I was there, but something did. I came back to New York feeling strong and new.
When I got back, I KonMari’d (Marie Kondo? Tidying up? You should read it. You should watch it) my social media. I unfollowed, muted, or blocked everyone that doesn’t spark some fucking joy. I started setting boundaries for myself. Gone are the days were I would doubt my self worth for a bunch of people whose life experiences are limited to people and places that are just like them.
I have spent the past few months reconnecting with my friends. My beautiful friends that are composed of women, queer folk, and people of color. I have spent the past few months searching for more work and volunteer opportunities to support people of color. I’ll be interviewing women of color for this new fellowship season(only women of color applied and I’m not mad).
There have been more racist, more blatant experiences lately, but they don’t hurt as much. I’m walking away when I should. I’m working the courage to speak up. I’m working up the courage and the knowledge so that when I finally burst, my voice will not shake. I’ll be confident in what I have learned and firm in what I believe in.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you. I realize that as a woman of color, I’ll experience worse in the future as I continue to pursue a career in law. I can hope that won’t be true, but I’d rather be prepared for when it is.