One night about a week ago, I decided on a whim to go to Wegmans. It was late, but I didn’t know when I would have time to shop for groceries. After exiting the parking lot, with my bags of spoils in the trunk of my car, I turned on the radio to listen to one of those adult contemporary hit stations. Not my usual jam, but it did the job. As I sang along passionately (albeit very off-key) to some ballad or other, I saw, in the rear-view mirror, flashing blue and red lights.
Oh shitttttt, I thought to myself. Was I speeding? Or maybe I was swerving a little and he thought I was drunk? Perhaps he saw me gesturing wildly with my hands and assumed I was insane?
Then it hit me.
Ohhh, my headlights aren’t on. Immediately I turned them on, but the damage was done. I pulled over on the side of the road, put the gear to park and started tapping nervously on my steering wheel.
The officer took his sweet time to walk to my car door, and informed me that yes indeed, I was driving without my headlights on. I gave him my license and he went back to his car. Within five minutes, he returned and handed back the license, then told me in a jovial tone that he would let me off with a warning but in the future I should remember to have my lights on at night.
My first emotion was obviously relief. Thank goodness I didn’t get a ticket. My money should be reserved for useful things like grocery shopping at 10 p.m. and buying McDonald’s fries!
But my second thought was, I wonder how that exchange would have gone if I didn’t look like, well, me? Maybe the officer is a fair person all-around, but maybe not. Would he have been as cordial as he was with me if I weren’t a tiny, Asian girl, and instead a 6-feet-tall Black man or woman? Would he have felt threatened? Would he have shot me while I was reaching for my license and registration?
Those have been the thoughts ruminating in my head recently, as we mourn the loss of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling and as we remember Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland and countless other Black Americans.
I don’t think that just because I’m a woman of color, I am obligated to talk about race-related issues. Why can’t white people be forced to discuss race? They’re the ones who colonized half the world.
But I sometimes forget that not all minorities experience racism the same way and we have different struggles. As a Chinese woman, I’ve been called a ‘chink,’ I commonly see sexualized and stereotypical images of Asian women on the screen and I have to live with the fact that America calls itself a cultural melting pot yet once barred Chinese people from entering its shores.
And as a minority, it can be exhausting to talk about race. It is frustrating to hear people deny that racism still exists in 2016 or that reverse racism against white people is a problem. It is frustrating to experience discrimination firsthand, but then be told that my experiences are invalid, that I’m overreacting or too focused on race.
But as an Asian American, I do not have to deal with police brutality. I’ve never had to worry about wearing a hoodie in public and being seen as a gangster or a thug. I’ve never had people feel threatened by me for just walking around. I don’t ever have to panic that even if I comply with orders, I can still be killed.
I wouldn’t have to worry that if I reach in my pocket to retrieve my ID, a police officer would assume I was grabbing for my gun and shoot me multiple times. I wouldn’t have to fear that other police officers would leave me to die of my injuries while consoling the officer who had shot me instead.
My headlight “incident” goes to show that if I were to ever find myself at a police station for some reason, it would be highly likely that I would be treated to a cup of warm coffee, a jacket draped over my shoulders and an officer calling me “sweetie” to console me.
And that’s why as an Asian-American woman, I feel like I need to discuss the recent shootings. I am still privileged in a way that black people in the United States are not, even if I am also a minority.
To not acknowledge that privilege, to turn a blind eye to what’s happening in the world, to act that because I am a fellow person of color I get a free pass on discussing racial matters, is to do what many white people do and be ignorant. It means I am not acknowledging that there is a deep-rooted issue in our justice system and our society in general, where Latinx, black and dark-skinned individuals, especially those in LGBTQ communities, are unfairly targeted for their appearances and identities.
If it seems I’m sharing this opinion too late (and I probably am), it’s because I’ve held out on discussing this issue on the blog on purpose. I thought it was a strange platform to talk about police brutality, but then I realized, it’s actually not. This is a place where I share my thoughts on hip-hop and rap, genres created and dominated by African Americans. And I love hip-hop and R&B, and I love rap. It gives me joy to dissect Kendrick lyrics, to talk to anyone who will listen about the genius of Kanye West and to discuss underrated artists such as Vince Staples and Kali Uchis.
But the songs I listen to often talk about very, very real things: America’s anti-blackness, the degradation of black women, the history of this country being built on slave labor. What kind of person would I be if I listened and
rapped mumbled along to these songs, yet refuse to acknowledge it when the contents of these tracks manifest themselves in real life?
It would mean I am the type of person who only cares about black people when they’re entertaining me, but when they are suffering and need support, it is no longer convenient for me. It would mean I benefit from blackness while giving nothing back to it. It would mean that while I lambaste Iggy Azalea for exploiting slavery in her lyrics while ignoring black issues, I am stooping to her level.
Sure, I am a woman of color, but that is not a valid excuse. “I suffer from racism too” is not a valid excuse. Asian Americans who face discrimination can still contribute to anti-blackness. We do it by making black jokes, touting #AllLivesMatter instead of #BlackLivesMatter and by refusing to discuss race. As Asians, we can still contribute to ignorance toward black issues in the United States. I know I’ve done things in the past, and may unknowingly continue to do things, that contribute to it.
But as Asians, we can do our part to support #BlackLivesMatter and raise awareness of police brutality and anti-blackness in this country. We can start conversations in our families about race and discrimination toward black people. We can donate to funds supporting the family of victims of senseless, race-fueled shootings. We can educate ourselves about so-called “black on black” crime, #AllLivesMatter and privilege. We can apologize and correct ourselves when we say or do hurtful things. We can do better.
https://lettersforblacklives.com: How to explain #BlackLivesMatter to parents, relatives from different cultures
Blacklivesmatter.com: Find out info about how to donate, where your local branch is, etc.
P.S. Although I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who reads my own blog (typical), but if you’re here: 1) Thanks! 2) Let me know of links or things I can add to be more inclusive!