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We have a right to our feelings, and to deny them is to surrender our power to apathy.

Jennifer Li
Mar 19, 2021 @ 5:03 pm
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Credit: APU GOMES / Getty Images

The world we live in shapes how we view ourselves—and how others view us. But what happens when there's a mismatch between cultural narratives and individual identities? In our monthly series The Blend, writers from multicultural backgrounds discuss the moment that made them think differently about these dominant narratives—and how that affects their lives.

Dear Asian American girls,

It's been a pretty bad year for us. Asian Americans have been the scapegoats of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, there have been rising anti-Asian harassments and attacks, and just this week, a white man shot and killed six Asian American women in Atlanta. Frankly, I'm so sick and angry about it. I'm sick of carrying sunglasses in my bag in case I need to hide my monolids. I'm angry about all of the racist jokes about the "China Virus," "happy endings," and "Kung-Fu 'ginas." Most of all, I'm furious over the diminishing and damaging narrative and messages being spun about the March 16th shooting.

Local law enforcement has dismissed the shooter's actions as being the result of "a really bad day for him," but "a bad day" does not begin to capture the breadth of horror Long unleashed upon Xiao-Jie Tan, Dao-You Feng, Soon-Chung Park, Soon-Cha Kim, Young-Ae Yue, Hyeon-Jeong Grant, their families, and their communities. They have also told us that the shooter is "struggling" with sex addiction, meant to drum up the empathy you have been taught to constantly have.

But my beloved Asian American girls, do not be drawn into this trap of having grace for this killer. Do not second-guess the validity of your feelings and diminish your experience, as we have all been pressured to do. Do not feel guilty for your anger at someone struggling with an addiction problem. It doesn't excuse what the shooter did, and it never should.

Asian American girls, you cannot imagine my rage when the shooter said his targeting of these Asian establishments (located roughly 30 miles apart with numerous strip clubs and adult entertainment establishments within that distance) was not racially motivated, only a misguided attempt to eliminate these "temptations."

To fetishize us into reductive fantasies and to claim that this attack was not about racism is gaslighting.

After all, Asian American women have a very long history of being hypersexualized within the American narrative—we need to look no further than to films and books like Full Metal Jacket and The Good Earth to see hurtful stereotypes of us as submissive, or as eager prostitutes, or as villainously evil dragon ladies ready to "love you long time" and use all our perverse sexual arts of the East to tempt good, upright men into ungodly debauchery. Anyone who says that this fetishization was not a factor in the shooting is attempting to deny our reality, to make us question our ideas and feelings. 

Asian American girls, you have a right to feel angry in the light of this gaslighting. You have a right to feel angry at how the victims, like so many others, were objectified and fetishized. Asian American women are people, not just abstract sexual fantasies. You have a right to your feelings and to your ideas, and no one can take that away from you.

Time and time again, Asian American experiences and voices have been diminished and ignored. Asian American elders and children have been horrifically harassed and attacked for years, yet their stories were only largely acknowledged by mainstream media just last month. But to acknowledge this racism is seen as wrong in the eyes of so many. Due to the Model Minority myth, we are told that good Asians are quiet, hard-working, and don't make trouble. When we experience racism, we learn to quietly smile and move on.

And it's not just the mainstream world that sends us these minimizing and misogynistic messages. There's a good chance your conservative Asian immigrant parents are telling you to stop wasting your energy on such news. Maybe they're saying that bad things happen to bad people—if those women were college-educated and found better jobs instead of working in seedy massage parlors, they wouldn't have been killed. Or maybe you're being told that the shooting was just a crazy one-off incident, that there will always be crazy and immoral people that you can't control.

I've heard that rhetoric a lot, too. Asian culture is steeped in the virtue of sacrifice—the more you silently endure, suffer, and ultimately endure without complaint, the greater the payoff. To complain is akin to asking for a handout, making a scene, asking to be coddled and spoiled.

So instead, we spend so much of our lives suppressing our emotions and our anger, doing our best to adhere to the silent, sober dignity that is expected of us. 

But Asian American girls, it's our responsibility now to fight against these stereotypes by standing together and demanding that these women are not forgotten. I need you to remember that you are not spoiled or undignified in having emotions. You are entitled to them. Anger is natural. Anger is healthy. Anger can be righteous. And in the case of the shooting, to hold law enforcement accountable for their behavior is not asking for a free handout—it is your basic right as an American.

When the world does not tell our side of the story and empathizes with a misogynistic and racist sex addict, we receive the message that our stories and emotions are not important. But my beloved Asian American girls, we have a right to our rage. We have a right to our feelings, and to deny them is to surrender our power to apathy. When we are angry, though, we make noise and make space—in other words, we challenge the white patriarchy that tells us that we are too insignificant to pay attention to because of our race and our gender.

But, as we know, we are not insignificant. We are not forgettable. We are flesh and blood and nerve and memory. Our stories are important. Our voices are precious. And there has never been a better and more important time in history to fight for us all to be heard.