Conversations That Galvanize Change - AAPI Month Edition
Updated: May 5
I was at a coffee shop in Brooklyn, Bed-Stuy, and this random older White man - a Baby Boomer; was toting a half-Asian baby girl wearing a Fendi dress and, with purpose, walked toward me. He started his sentence with, “Hi…can I ask you something?” The whole circumstance it was just a given he was about to say something about me being Asian. Living in New York City has made me realize many people have not met Californian Asians. During my time here, I’ve noticed that I’ve received more discriminatory comments on my ethnicity than in California, where there are tons of Asian-American-identifying communities. Therefore, this is not the first time I’ve had to enlighten the ignorant population with my perspective and my first-generation story.
"I could see that his ignorance was just a form of genuine curiosity."
"My wife is Japanese," he proceeded, genuinely looking to make a connection. "But you're obviously, like, Chinese...but have you faced discrimination as an Asian woman?” This was ironically ignorant, given that he was noticeably asking if I’ve ever faced discrimination while simultaneously discriminating against me by assuming my ethnicity. East Asian representation is more prominent in society, and they often overpower other Asian countries. Speaking on behalf of the AAPI community, we strongly dislike when people assume all Asians are Chinese and that all Asian ethnicities resemble one another. People don't even know that Asian countries aren't even fond of one another and that colorism exists. Light-skinned Asians discriminate against dark-skinned Asians. At this moment, I could see that his ignorance was just a form of genuine curiosity. I was ecstatic to educate this man because I am the perfect person to have discussions around cultural identity. I kept thinking to myself, “This man doesn't know who he just picked a conversation with,” then I realized he actually asked the right person.
"When I moved to Brooklyn, I experienced two years of racial and sexist discrimination that I’ve never faced compared to my 26 years in California....People have sexualized and fetishized me, people have made fun of my Taiwanese last name, and grown men have yelled ‘ching chong’ at me on two different occasions."
He elaborated that his Asian-identifying wife blew up earlier that week and exploded with rage expressing how she was exhausted from the discrimination she had faced being an Asian woman. He asked me for advice on how to understand her with the help of my perspective. First, I let him know that there is discrimination amongst Asian communities, which determines why we do not like to be grouped as “Chinese” just because they are the media-dominant group. Then, without hesitation, I validated his wife’s experience. “I grew up in the Bay Area, San Francisco, where first-generation stories and cultural competency is normalized. I went to a predominantly Hispanic middle school and was teased for my Asian features, but it was always in a joking manner since they were my friends, so I never took offense to it. I never faced real discrimination until I moved out of the Bay. When I moved to Brooklyn, I experienced two years of racial and sexist discrimination that I’ve never faced compared to my 26 years in California.” He curiously asked what type of discrimination was targeted at me. I explained, “People have sexualized and fetishized me, people have made fun of my Taiwanese last name, and grown men have yelled ‘ching chong’ at me on two different occasions.” He was also really adamant about asking about the ethnicities of the people who discriminated against me. I did not feel comfortable telling him because I didn't want to reinforce his unconscious biases. Given what little knowledge he already has about ethnic minority groups, he would most likely have racial biases against those groups of people if I told him.
I then told him that his wife’s outcry was probably a mini protest indicating that she’s reached her limit and yearns for him to understand her better, given that he is someone who embodies the benefits of White privilege. “Being an Asian woman means we are silenced, we are passive, and we get overworked in hopes that we’ll never speak up. And your wife has had enough. I think it’s vital that you listen to her without judgment because it’s her story, and it’s something you have never experienced.” It was honestly appalling to hear that his wife has never spoken out about these social injustices knowing that she’s been married to this White man for so long. This story made me feel bad for the wife and left me wondering what it’s like to have a child with someone who doesn’t know a significant portion of your socioeconomic-related struggles for him to ask a stranger at a coffee shop about Asian heritage clarifications.
"I think it’s important that you use your White privilege in understanding this perspective because your voice matters more than you know."
He then asked if I think women are treated equally to men in this generation because the women at his banking firm believe they no longer have to continue fighting for equal rights. Emphasis on banking firm, where those who are well off work. I then laughed and said, “That’s probably because you work with White women. Women will always be a part of the historically oppressed group, given that our society is founded on patriarchal laws. We live in a male dominant society; women are always living in fear and are sexualized, therefore making them inferior to men. I think it’s important that you use your White privilege in understanding this perspective because your voice matters more than you know. People almost always listen to and trust White people."
Since we were on the topic of White privilege, I absolutely needed to educate him further. I expressed that it's not about "working hard" that gets you to your success. Statistically, ethnic minorities work twice as hard as their white counterparts to receive job offers, interviews, promotions, etc. The fact that the White women at his firm feel like they've reached equality and can take a break while the rest of us are fighting for our lives in this economic downfall is beyond disheartening. It’s crazy to think this older man can finally question socioeconomic disparities because his wife decided to speak out.
As the conversation ended, he said he knew he had asked the right person to pick a discussion with because of my nails and mental health sticker on my laptop. That was a strange comment, but he was right. I'm thankful this extended conversation took place because I will always take the time to share what my cultural identity means to me and my perspective of life through an empathetic lens.
For more DEI related news and resources, check out the @diversityactionalliance on Instagram. I'm a DEI Marketing and Communications Manager at this non-profit, and I engage with historically oppressed populations to connect them to equity-building resources.