- Cathy Park Hong
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There was no reason for me to be depressed. But anytime I was happy, the fear of an awful catastrophe would follow, so I made myself feel awful to preempt the catastrophe’s hitting.
There’s a ton of literature on the self-hating Jew and the self-hating African American, but not enough has been said about the self-hating Asian. Racial self-hatred is seeing yourself the way the whites see you, which turns you into your own worst enemy. Your only defense is to be hard on yourself, which becomes compulsive, and therefore a comfort, to peck yourself to death.
I was so privileged I was acquiring the most useless graduate degree imaginable.
Patiently educating a clueless white person about race is draining. It takes all your powers of persuasion. Because it’s more than a chat about race. It’s ontological. It’s like explaining to a person why you exist, or why you feel pain, or why your reality is distinct from their reality. Except it’s even trickier than that. Because the person has all of Western history, politics, literature, and mass culture on their side, proving that you don’t exist.
If there was a time machine, only whites would be able to go back in time in this country. Most everyone else would get enslaved, slain, maimed, or chased after by feral children.
We were in the car, with my mother, driving to Cleveland. They wanted to go to a Korean restaurant. Since this was before Yelp, my father searched for a “Kim” in the Yellow Pages and called that random person up and asked for restaurant suggestions. The person was excited to hear from another Korean and offered to show us around.
I’d held no strong opinions about Michigan before, but after the state went to Trump, clear lines were drawn. I was in enemy territory.
Literature supposedly bridges cultural divides, an axiom that rang false once I understood the inequities of the publishing industry.
Minor feelings occur when American optimism is enforced upon you, which contradicts your own racialized reality, thereby creating a static of cognitive dissonance. You are told, “Things are so much better,” while you think, Things are the same. You are told, “Asian Americans are so successful,” while you feel like a failure. This optimism sets up false expectations that increase these feelings of dysphoria. A 2017 study found that the ideology of America as a fair meritocracy led to more self-doubt and behavioral problems among low-income black and brown sixth graders because, as one teacher said, “they blame themselves for problems they can’t control.”
The scholar Kathryn Bond Stockton writes about how the queer child “grows sideways,” because queer life often defies the linear chronology of marriage and children. Stockton also describes children of color as growing sideways, since their youth is likewise outside the model of the enshrined white child.
America’s disgraceful history of barring immigrants based on nationality began with the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, which expanded to the Immigration Act of 1917 that banned everyone from Asia and the Pacific Islands. Finally, in 1924, using the ugly science of eugenics as their defense, the U.S. government expanded the restriction to every country except for a slim quota of Western and Northern Europeans.
Most white Americans can only understand racial trauma as a spectacle. Right after Trump’s election, the media reported on the uptick in hate crimes, tending to focus on the obvious heretical displays of hate: the white high school students parading down the hallways wearing Confederate flag capes and the graffitied swastikas. What’s harder to report is not the incident itself but the stress of its anticipation. The white reign of terror can be invisible and cumulative, chipping away at one’s worth until there’s nothing left but self-loathing.
I HAD A SPECIAL, ALMOST EROTIC, relationship with my stationery when I was young. I collected stationery items the way other kids collect dolls or action figures.