2021年2月12日，纽约市唐人街，居民和官员在观看中国农历新年传统舞蹈表演。照片:Spencer Platt/Getty Images
“我只想问你一个问题。你为什么把房子漆成这么难看的颜色? 对这个社区来说很碍眼。你们没品位吗?” 我妈妈很困惑：这是谁呀? 啥颜色? 后来她认出是我们的老邻居。她回忆说，他是一名医生。我记得他曾对我爸爸大吼大叫，说我爸不常修剪草坪，也没有把落叶妥善袋装好。就像来自蒙特克莱尔的卡伦一样，种族主义只是被伪装成了对邻居的过度关注。
“更加困惑了，为什么有人会对房子的颜色这么生气? ” 她说。
这种具破坏性的模范少数族裔神话表明，亚洲人实际上在这个国家有相当好的收入，尤其是与其他族裔相比，并引发了一种亚裔普遍成功的看法 (事实上，亚洲人的收入差距最大，贫困率最高 )。这也暗示，通过高等教育和努力工作，你可以吞咽种族主义苦果。美国白人到底对亚裔美国人的偏见有多深，我一直在可耻地含糊其辞，这也让白人霸权获得了它本不应该得到的“无罪推定 ”。我一直觉得，我应该对我所拥有的心存感激，但我真正拥有的是一种不安、恐慌的感觉，我应该更早、更多地说出自己的想法。
作为一名美容业的编辑，我每天都会收到数百封来自业界的公关人员的电子邮件，询问我对他们客户和各种话题的看法。问我是否愿意去采访一个名人化妆师，谈谈如何创造“最热门的美容潮流”——倾斜的“狐狸眼”? 是否有兴趣试试“空手道药剂师” 里的刮痧工具? 是否愿意去参观数十家试图“提升” 和 “现代化” 这种美容体验的中医药初创企业中的任何一家（几乎所有这些企业的创始人和从业者都不是亚洲人）？ 是否有时间发一封电子邮件把他们从某一个等级升到麻将级的排名?
定义美国反亚裔历史，这事可能不会发生。但反亚裔的种族主义和亚洲人只属于亚洲的观念至少从19世纪就存在了，当时对“黄祸” 的恐惧催生了一项只允许白人移民的政策。自此次疫情开始，反亚洲种族主义一直在急剧上升。今年3月，加州国会女议员朱棣文(Judy Chu) 估计，每天有100起反亚裔仇恨犯罪发生。
我的亚洲朋友群里的每个人都知道或者曾经有人因为他们与“功夫流感”（“kung flu”）的“关联” 而在今年被口头或人身攻击过。今年1月，美国各地发生了残暴的尤其是针对亚裔长者的仇恨犯罪，其中包括84岁被推搡致死的泰国男子Vicha Ratanapakdee。华人集中的皇后区的一家地方报纸报道，纽约警察局的数据显示，针对亚裔美国人的仇恨犯罪增加了190%(亚裔美国人成为纽约市第三大最受攻击的种族群体，仅次于非洲裔和犹太裔)。农历新年是亚洲文化中最快乐的一天。春节前夕，奥克兰的唐人街在两周内报告了多达20起袭击事件。这些只是报道过的。许多长者出于对回应的恐惧而吞下苦果，或者认为向警方报告犯罪毫无意义。金大中(Daniel Dae Kim) 等名人悬赏2.5万美元，希望找出袭击一名老年亚裔男子的凶手，但呼吁加强监管只能是让亚裔社区和黑人社区变得互相仇视。就在该事件发生的那个周末，亚洲的Twitter、Instagram和我的小组群聊变成了一个无休止的、可怕的反馈循环，里面都是相同的链接和人们的各种反应。
Swallowing Our Bitterness
Once, as a child riding in the back seat of the family station wagon, I told my mom that someone was following us. I’d seen spy movies on TV; I thought it would be fun to evade some imaginary bad guys. But she reacted with real fear, urging me to lie horizontal so that I couldn’t be seen. It wasn’t until the garage door closed behind us that she allowed me to sit up. My cheeks were hot from where I’d pressed them against the car’s upholstery, and I was sweaty from the guilt of making her feel so afraid.
Not long ago, I was talking with her about the rise of Asian American racism in the U.S., and she told me why she had been so fearful that day in the car.
Like so many Asian American immigrants, my parents left behind everyone and everything they knew in Taiwan to build a better life for my brother and me. One of their biggest dreams was home ownership. They bought their first house in New Jersey, and they decided to paint the siding red and white. Compared to the other black-and-white and brown-and-white colonials in the drive, it was an unusual color choice, but my mom has always loved red. It’s also very auspicious in Chinese culture.
After living there for a few years, we moved to a bigger, beige-colored house in a different neighborhood. One day, before my mom could close the garage door, an angry man got out of his car, stalked up the driveway, and got in her face. “I just have a question for you. Why would you paint the house such a terrible color? It’s an eyesore for the neighborhood. Don’t you guys have any taste?” My mom was confused. Who was this person? What color? Then she recognized him as our old neighbor. He was a doctor, she recalled. I remember him yelling at my dad for not mowing the lawn often enough or properly bagging fall leaves. Much like the Karen from Montclair, it was racism packaged as excessive neighborly concern.
We just didn’t know that sort of harassment existed at the time. This man had tracked down our new address to confront my mom in the middle of the workday, at a time he knew she would be alone. He repeatedly asked her the same questions, growing more frustrated and agitated, as she avoided his eyes and didn’t answer. She shakily went inside.
“Were you scared?” I asked my mom.
“More confused,” she said. “Why would someone be so angry about a house color?”
More recently, I’ve understood her confusion. Being Asian American has always been a bewildering and complicated experience. You move to a new country and think you’ll be treated like an American, but what you really want is to be treated like you’re white, which isn’t possible.
There is a common Chinese saying of 吃苦 (chīkǔ). It translates literally to “eat bitterness,” to swallow our pain and suffering and endure it. We persevere and we don’t complain, and it is seen as a virtue: Work hard for things that people can’t take away from you. In a study of ethnically diverse cancer patients, they found that Asian Americans reported the lowest pain scores. My mom would not have seen the terrifying incident with our old neighbor as something to tell us about. Sharing it would have meant she was complaining. He used words. He didn’t cause her physical harm. He didn’t even use a racial slur. So, maybe it really wasn’t that bad.
I’ve recently realized that I’ve continued to define my experience as an Asian person living in America as “not so bad.” I don’t have issues finding my foundation shade at Sephora. Potential employers don’t discriminate against my hair texture for a job. Pew Research indicates that in the U.S., Asians are the overall highest-earning racial and ethnic group. More than half of Asians have at least a Bachelor’s degree.
The damaging model-minority myth suggests that Asians actually have it pretty good in this country, especially compared to everyone else, and propels a perception of universal success (in reality, Asians have the largest income gap with one of the highest poverty rates). It also implies that with higher education and hard work, you can chīkǔ racism. I’ve been shamefully ambiguous as to how prejudiced white America is to Asian Americans, giving white supremacy the “benefit of the doubt” it did not deserve. I’ve been constantly made to feel like I should be grateful for what I have, but what I really have is an uneasy, panicky feeling that I should have spoken up for more and sooner.
Every day as a beauty editor, I receive hundreds of email pitches from publicists asking me for thoughts on their clients and topics. Would I want to interview a celebrity makeup artist on how to create the “hottest beauty trend” — the slanted “fox eye”? Would I be interested in trying out a gua sha tool from “Karate Apothecary”? Would I want to visit any one of the dozens of Chinese-medicine start-ups, almost all of which feature non-Asian founders and practitioners, trying to “elevate” and “modernize” the experience? Do I have the time to send an email ranking them from a scale of one to Mahjong Line?
I can remember so many situations like these that, at the time, felt too nebulous to call out as 100 percent racist or problematic. When the murder of George Floyd occurred in May 2020, I felt sadness and rage for the Black community. I knew that being an ally meant not using their tragedy and pain to center my own narrative. Internally, I wondered if America had the capacity to care about more than one race at a time. The consensus in my group chats is that no one cares about Asian Americans.
Given America’s history with anti-Asianness, it probably doesn’t. Anti-Asian racism and the sense that Asians belong only in Asia have existed since at least the 1800s, when the fear of “yellow peril” created a whites-only immigration policy. Since the pandemic began, anti-Asian racism has been on a sharp rise. In March, California congresswoman Judy Chu estimated that 100 anti-Asian hate crimes were being committed every day.
Every single person in my Asian friend group either knows or was someone who was verbally or physically attacked this year for their “connection” to the “kung flu.” Then in January, brutal hate crimes occurred across the U.S., specifically targeting the Asian elderly, including Vicha Ratanapakdee, an 84-year-old Thai man, who died from being shoved. A local newspaper in Chinese-centric Queens reported on NYPD data showing that there has been a 1,900 percent increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans in NYC (making Asian Americans the city’s third most-targeted racial group, following African Americans and Jewish Americans). Leading up to Lunar New Year, the happiest day in Asian culture, Oakland’s Chinatown reported up to 20 assaults in two weeks. And these were just the reported ones. Many elders chīkǔ out of a fear of repercussion or the belief that it’s pointless to report crimes to the police. Celebrities like Daniel Dae Kim offered a $25,000 reward for the perpetrator attacking an elderly Asian man to be found, but calling for more policing is only a way for the Asian and Black communities to turn against each other. The same weekend that it happened, Asian Twitter and Instagram and my group chats became an endless, horrifying feedback loop of the same links and reactions.
I thought that everyone would be talking about it at work the next day. No one was, apart from the Asian Slack employee-resource group. After a concerted effort on social media to tag prominent Asian American journalists, a small handful of outlets covered the crimes as news. It was also Super Bowl weekend, and in America, that football game is always deemed more newsworthy than a person of color being beaten and murdered.
Even now, the community is relying on a handful of influencers to raise awareness of the crimes. Every morning, I wake up to more news of an attack of another Asian parent or grandparent. My friends are terrified for their parents to venture out in the community. They text them asking them to be careful and to stay at home. They plead on social media to be heard and reshared, and call for allies. The next generation of Asian Americans use their American boldness and perfect English accents to speak out on social media for their family members.
You might look at what’s happening to the Asian American community now and think it’s about crimes of opportunity or a failure of our mental-health system, not race-fueled crime. You might look at my mother’s story and think it was over a house color, but it wasn’t. It’s easy for racism to exist in our country when it is so insidious and has had years to hide under the excuses of power and outsiderism, or even misogyny and taste. My old neighbor did not like “something” about my family — in this case, a house color — and he felt entitled to target a young Asian American woman when she was at her most vulnerable to express his emotions. He knew he had the power. He never wanted an apology. He wanted an easy outlet for his rage. It was about exhibiting dominance in a society that rewards whiteness.
There’s a pattern with these attacks on Asian American elders: People target those whom they perceive as weak, as outlets for their rage and entitlement. Usually and sadly, this often means women. It can only end when people change the power dynamic by speaking out and not backing down. With the rise of Asian American hate crimes, I’m no longer confused about who I am. I am Asian, as well as American, and swallowing the bitterness of racism shouldn’t be something that I have to bear. America and Americans should do better.