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RESPONSE TO ATLANTA

Wendy Zhang, Guest Writer
Originally published June 11, 2021


Photography by Dia Dipasupil, courtesy of Getty Images

Photography by Dia Dipasupil, courtesy of Getty Images

To be frank, I didn’t want to be sitting here writing this. I have my Running Start finals next week. I have a Japanese test to study for. But I can’t think straight—this is the first time all week I’ve allowed myself to think about what has happened, about the eight people who are gone, the six Asian women, murdered. I’m a half-Asian woman. The murderer had “a bad day” – that’s pathetic. 

In Seattle, in Ballard, I feel okay generally, kinda. Until the pandemic I didn’t think about all the racism and sexism I had encountered at school and within the community that I had just internalized and moved on from. 

“All yellows are the same”

“You’re crazy woman!”

“Haha! That could’ve been you with the selfie sticks”

“Ching ching chong chong hahahaha!”

“Do you like to eat dogs, you crazy bitch?”

I let it slide, but not anymore. 

First, not all Asians are “yellow”; Asians are not a monolith. Even within Asian countries appearances differ, languages and accents vary; cultures are not identical throughout a massive continent. Skin color, genetic makeup, religious affiliation, immigration history and countless other factors make Asian Americans all different. But an attack on one of us is reason enough for all of us to respond. Throughout American history Asian Americans have been generalized into one category, despite our diversity, and Asian women have been fetishized with scant, really no, attention paid to differences among us.  

“You’re crazy, woman!” is an actual thing a real classmate often said to me. To me, it felt both misogynistic and racist. And yet, this boy would, like the shooter in Atlanta, probably say that his comment was neither. It was both, though, and this wasn’t an isolated thing. For example, this boy’s friends made and shared in a group chat a meme about the size of my butt, a meme this boy laughed at. When I fought back against the sexism like this, I was asked “If I ate dogs.” I’m allowed to be mad. I’m allowed. I am a woman, but I’m not crazy. 

Misogyny and sexism isn’t always so blatant, and it’s everywhere in our school culture. Like a lot of victims of racism and misogyny, I sometimes have gone along with the majority prejudice. Once, a classmate and I were sitting in a gold Lexus as we drove by Kerry Park, a group of Asian tourists poured out of a tour bus holding selfie-sticks. Seeing them, I said “Wow, that could have been me if I’d stayed in China.” 

“Yeah I’m so glad it isn’t you holding those,” laughed my classmate. We continued driving. But all I could think about with the selfie-stick sitting in the drawer at my dad’s house. We had used it on Lunar New Year to take a selfie. I shouldn’t have said that. My comment itself was racist. I had turned on those who looked like me, blinded by geographic distance and my desperate desire to fit in with some of my friends. I’m sorry, that wasn’t okay. 

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To fit in, to not stick out, I lost my voice as an Asian American woman.

The thing is, just because it’s “a joke” doesn’t mean I think about it less; just because I laughed in the moment doesn’t mean what you said was funny or wasn’t racist and/or misogynist. I was scared to speak up then, in that group, where I was the only person of color. I was scared of what would happen: would I be socially expelled? Would I be hit? Would I have more slurs thrown at my face? I was scared of my friends, classmates, and teachers who let this all happen without interfering or commenting. I felt isolated when no one said anything—I just sat there, holding guilt and fear. 

Why didn’t you speak up earlier, I am asked. The truth is, I was scared. I was hiding behind the model minority myth, the predominantly white friend group I had built, behind a wall of “I don’t care.” I ignored all the little microaggressions, sexist comments, minor dehumanization, gaslighting, belittling and silence. To fit in, to not stick out, I lost my voice as an Asian American woman. 

Our school culture of tolerating “mild” racism and misogyny silences all women and especially women of color. It fosters an environment in which racism and misogyny are not only tolerated but accepted, and minorities and women fear speaking out. I’d be lying if I said that the fact that I’m a senior, leaving soon for college, didn’t give me the strength to finally speak directly to my peers about racial issues and sexism within our community. But it does. 

If we want to prevent hate crimes like the brutal murders recently in Atlanta and the recent attack in Seattle’s International District, we need to start addressing it here and now. Ballard needs to stop pretending it’s a utopian community: it’s not. Swastikas are made from desks in classrooms, sexism and racism follow women of color everywhere. 

 Support local Asian-run businesses. Educate yourself on the Asian American experience through movies, books, music, stories. And, one of the most critical steps to supporting the Ballard Asian community, the women at Ballard and all POC here: take a stand and speak up when something is wrong. Do not stay silent when your peers are called racist slurs and sexist names. Small performative actions are not enough, one post on Instagram is not enough. It’s time to do better and take action. 

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