Racist, Offensive, Triggering

By Julie Young

November 6, 2017

Why is it that every time a racist act or gesture is made against an Asian person we feel the need to excuse or give the benefit of the doubt to the transgressor? By we, I mean us – Americans of Asian descent. I continue to be – mind boggled – whenever this happens. I mean, I actually get it but when? When will it stop? When will we feel secure enough as true Americans to react appropriately to racist acts against our community? And by appropriately, I mean angrily.

Exhibit A: On social media, friend recently posted an incident that took place where a racist message was sent to an Asian American person. An astounding number of the comments (seemingly since deleted) under the posting advocated giving the benefit of the doubt to the transgressor. I commented, “Why do Asians feel the need to apologize/excuse racists? Serious question.” My comment garnered some likes but no responses.

Exhibit B: Major league baseball player, Yuli Gurriel, during the World Series makes a racist gesture and uses a racist term toward Yu Darvish a major league baseball player from Japan. The gesture is captured on camera. Many people of Asian descent, and others, are not offended. In fact, Yu Darvish wrote this response:

“No one is perfect.
That includes both you and I.
What he had done today isn’t right, but I believe
we should put our effort into learning rather
than to accuse him. If we can take something
from this, that is a giant step for mankind.

Since we are living in such a wonderful world,
let’s stay positive and move forward instead of
focusing on anger. I’m counting on everyone’s
big love.”

As we all know by now, the MLB punished Gurriel by suspending him for five days NEXT SEASON. I have questions. So many questions.

First, for the MLB. I can’t help but wonder what punishment would have been given if, instead of a universally known to be offensive gesture toward Asians, the “n” word had been used against a Black player. Would the MLB have waited until next season to suspend the user of the racist term? Hopefully, we’ll never know. Regardless, the decision made to put off Gurriel’s suspension until 2018 is highly offensive in and of itself. The message to the millions of Asian and Asian American baseball fans is one that screams of placating. It’s as if the MLB is saying, we know you’re offended so we have to deal with this but your being offended is not enough of a reason to disrupt the World Series so here’s a 5 game suspension in 2018. MLB, you should have done better.

Moving on to Yu Darvish’s response, which has been heralded as a “class act.” Turning the other cheek is always seen as classy. But I believe that our response does not have to be one or the other. We, as a community, should react angrily when we see racism and racist acts, whether against our community or others. There are fewer things than racism that make me angry. And I should hope that would be the norm – for everyone. Yet, Asian Americans, have largely bought this model minority myth and too many of us try our damndest to fit into the stereotype. To perpetuate it. Keep your head down, work hard and take up as little space as possible. That is, don’t bring any attention upon yourself, don’t be heard. So many of us continue to apologize for racists. We suggest that the person’s intent was not to be racist. (Oh really?) We say there was a language barrier, it was lost in translation. We say, he/she is a good person, it was just a joke. But you know what, it’s not funny.

The pulling back of one’s eyes to make fun of an Asian person is universally known as offensive. For me, it is also triggering. Even as an adult when I see the gesture, it immediately brings me back to my childhood, to the way too many times I had other children and adults make the gesture to me. Growing up in a very white suburb, exposed me to this racist gesture often. And every single time, the gesture was accompanied with a racist term, such as chink, gook, china girl. Each time I was on the receiving end of this gesture, my only desire was to disappear. To vanish, to not be seen. As an Asian adoptee in a white world I was so uncomfortable in my own skin, I hated it myself. I did not know that I could and should have been angry in response to these racist acts against me.

It took many years for me to become the proud Asian American woman that I am today. Yet, the pulling back of the eyes gesture triggers me, still. I am one of 200,000 plus or minus Asian adoptees in this country. I know I can’t be alone. So the next time you, my fellow Asians, feel the need to give the benefit of the doubt to a person saying or doing something racist, please remember it’s OK to be angry. You can and should be heard.

Julie Young writes about her experiences as an adopted Korean American woman with a multi-racial family. Julie’s column “Heart and Seoul” is published monthly. She is a recovering attorney turned non-profit executive, writer and producer. Adopted at the age of three from Korea, she grew up in Rochester, New York. She holds a degree in Psychology from Fordham University and a J.D. from Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. She is the Founder of DreamMaker DreamDoer DreamSupporter, inc (3D) a non-profit production company that provides resources, connections and inspiration for creatives. She is also the Founder of The Phenomenal Girls Club, a non-profit organization that fosters learning, leadership and friendship for girls of color. Julie is an adoptive parent group facilitator for All Together Now. She serves as Board Chair for KoreanAmericanStory.org and as an advisory Board member of Nazdeek. She is the mom of twins and lives with her husband and family in Brooklyn.