Shame. It was seeping into every pore of my body. A sticky, oily, layer that sat on my skin. It was only visible when someone knew what to look for, but only really something I felt. When I think back to my early days of high school, I almost can’t believe how blind to internalized racism I was. P.S. I have never said these confessions publically and it’s still a source of embarrassment for me, so please, hear me out. This confession is not about white people, and it’s not about people of color but about self identity. My journey with my Self and my relationship to the Self began early on in the 5th grade with seemingly harmless comments thrown my way.
Wow Sue! You’re so pretty, for an Asian
Sue you’re such a cute little Asian
You’re my little Asian friend
Before this, I hadn’t really thought about what I was, how I looked, and how I wasn’t white. I was always a little confused why there was a distinct need to add the fact that I was asian into those “compliments.” amongst my small group of korean girl friends. I remember we would look through photos of other girls we thought were hot or perfect and awe at how many white friends she had.
Oh, she’s one of those girls
Damn look at all her white friends
She must be popular
You see, to me, having friends and being popular for an asian girl meant having friends that were white. And just like other high school kids, popularity was important for me no matter how much I acted like I didn’t care. If other people loved and accepted me wouldn’t I then be able to love and accept myself? I wanted desperately to be seen apart from the “asian crowd.” I wanted to be that “token” asian girl that was accepted by everyone. I remember trying hard not to be grouped with other asians in my school and not to mention my asian girl friends- who were my best friends- to any of my white peers. I wanted more photos taken at parties with my white friends and less with my Asian friends.
Trust me, I’m not like… a real Asian.
Honestly, don’t know anything about being Korean
No I can’t speak the language
Ew, yeah, Korean food is so gross
As I write this now, I can feel the shame and embarrassment. I feel it too, now, but in a different way. I began to realize how weird and wrong it was for me to think this way when I noticed my Asian friends also trying hard to impress white people. They would pretend they didn’t know korean like me. They would untag themselves in photos with their korean friends. They would dumb themselves down. The guys would say dumb shit like “I only date white girls” and the girls would say equally as dumb shit like “I only want to date a white guy” as if that alone would cure them of their asian-ness. As if ignoring or looking down at others that shared the same “problem” would somehow change the way people treated us or how we felt about ourselves. The realization of the shame I felt began with simple questions.
Why do I care to impress white people so much?
Why do we all want to date white guys?
Why do I lie to them?
Why do I feel so uncomfortable with myself?
Why do I have to act stupid in front of everyone?
Why do I have to say I’m really not that Asian?
Why am I not angry about this?
Why are we so ashamed?
Why am I so ashamed?
There are so many factors to why I was so ashamed of being born Asian. Most of them were so subtle and ingrained that I really did have to take the time and look at myself and really try to understand why I felt so much like an outsider and why I hated myself so much. I think that progress starts with asking even the simplest of questions and answering them honestly and asking ourselves if we can accept the answers, or do something about it.
Talk to me! Let’s have a conversation about it!