A bitter taste in my mouth

Your Secret Admirer

photo of columnist Geraldine Ang

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This is not a love letter. This is a piece on human disconnection, specifically addressing interminority racial tensions. Because it would be a disservice to the mission of human connection if we ignored these gaps in our society instead of attempting to build new bridges across them.

To the elderly Asian man yelling slurs at the Black kids across the street:

Asian culture has always told me to respect my elders. My own morals tell me to respect those who respect others.

It’s ridiculous how you stand there, eyes and veins bulging out of your head, screaming until   your voice begins to shrivel in on itself, absolutely outraged by someone else’s mere existence. Tài diū liǎn le, as we would say in Mandarin. You have thrown away your reputation, thrown away your entire breathless, reddened face.

But in all sorrowful honesty, even if your expression was extreme, your ideology is nothing new. Interminority racism has always existed in our country, yet another complicated knot in our tangle of a society.

I’ve seen it in my own family, ruining the taste of my mother’s lǔ ròu and gā lí jī at the dinner table.

“I don’t agree with any of Trump’s policies,” my dad says in between savory bites, “but I do think he has the right idea about some things.”

A beancurd bundle of deliciousness remains suspended between my chopsticks. “Like what?” I say.

“Like about immigration. His methods are idiotic, don’t get me wrong, but I do think there needs to be some sort of crackdown on all the laggards flooding in.”

We’re immigrants.”

“We’re different.”

That always seems to be the reasoning. We’re different from them. We’re the “golden model,” the shining example of what a minority group should be like in this country, supposedly more hardworking and well-mannered than the rest, quietly but steadily achieving that illustrious American dream.

Often quietly and steadily complicit in the oppression of other communities.

At least I know I have been, as much as it pains me to admit it. Changing the topic with my father at the dinner table; pretending not to notice my mother’s unnecessary jumpiness around the Latinx handymen peacefully fixing a neighbor’s fence; laughing uncomfortably when my aunts tell me to find myself a nice Asian or white boyfriend.

Asian or white — my family often frustratingly aligns itself with the oppressors. They don’t understand that “model minority” is not a compliment, that it is instead more similar to how someone might coo over a pet, only with a thousand times the condescension and none of the affection. Who’s a good boy? Who’s the good, obedient minority that submits to white superiority?

While the specific stereotypes and microaggressions we face may differ, we still have a lot in common with other minority groups. We’re all attempting to navigate, and eventually dismantle, a system built to keep us down. Doesn’t it then make a lot more sense to stick together?

I’ve known all of this, yet here I am. Writing about it in an article I will never send to my family; I told them that my column was taking a break this week. The irony stings like a blade — I’m perfectly fine with shouting down a stranger using slurs and sharing this opinion with hundreds of other strangers, but not with the people who are closest to me.

Because I don’t want to see my aunts’ sweet smiles tighten with hurt and confusion. The last thing I want is for my mother, who has always done the most for me, to feel like she’s not enough. I hate it when my loud, laughter-filled dinner table lapses into uncomfortable silence. Asian culture has always told me that family is everything, and my own has proven to me that this is true.

But if I really believe in my family, then I must also believe in their ability to learn and to move past ignorance. Passively allowing their bigotry to persist would be an unforgivable insult to my faith in human connection, to my belief that interactions with others are able to foster individual growth. I cannot continue to place my own comfort above the people I love.

Liáng yào kǔ kǒu is an old Chinese proverb meaning good medicine, bitter mouth. Medicine must be forced down if one wants to heal.

So, it’s time to brew medicine. I’ve begun to remind my well-meaning aunts that love will dictate my choice in partners rather than race and ethnicity. My dad has promised to take a look at some of the books on the model minority myth I’ve recommended to him. A careful conversation with my mother about unfounded Eurocentric stereotypes of other minority groups is in order.

And maybe someday, I’ll even build up the courage to show her this piece.

Of course, it’s still a far cry from completely demolishing the interminority racism in my family, much less the interracial conflicts in our society as a whole. White versus minority conversations tend to eclipse those of minority versus minority.

But solely focusing on that first type of conversation would be an oversimplified depiction of racial tensions in our country, once again allowing white opinion to take up too much space. Acknowledgement is an important first step to a more nuanced, more accurate understanding of this social conflict. In order to get better, we must first admit that we are sick.

Geraldine Ang writes the Wednesday column on human connection. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.