发表时间: 2020-05-19 15:00:24
Why I’ve Stopped Telling People I’m Not Chinese.
When confronted with racism toward anyone, our instinct should be indignation, not deflection.
By Euny Hong，15 March 2020, NYT.
Ms. Hong is a journalist and author.
Mid-February, when the world was starting to go pear-shaped, I had to travel to an area where I’d previously experienced anti-Asian sentiment. So a few days before the trip, I emailed my (white) hairdresser frantically: “I know this sounds crazy but can you can make me blonde? I’m traveling next week and I’m worried about being mistaken for Chinese and blamed for the coronavirus.”
Let’s skip the ridiculousness of the idea for a second to focus on the important bit: Why had I worded my request so offensively? I could have just said I was worried about xenophobia. Why was I throwing people of Chinese descent under the bus? It’s like that old joke about the two people running away from a bear: You don’t have to outrun the bear, you just have to outrun the other guy. Except in this case: You don’t have to deal with racism; you just have to make people racist at someone else.
My panic was a humbling reminder that I should never be overly confident that I would do the right thing in the face of fear. Sure, wanting to avoid racial profiling is a survival instinct. But survival instincts are often amoral and, if unchecked, can easily turn ugly.
I ended up not dyeing my hair because a sudden allergy attack made it ill advised. Also, it was stupid.
But I shared my anxiety with a half-Chinese-American, half-white friend. What if I get stopped at the airport for extra screening? I asked. She messaged, “Carry around a copy of your books to prove you’re Korean.” (Two of the books I wrote have the word “Korean” in the title.) She added: “I’m serious.”
I messaged “LOL,” dismissed her idea for about 10 minutes … and then put copies of my books in my carry-on bag.
What was my plan? To run up to someone hurling epithets and say, “Hey I think we can all agree this Covid stuff is all China’s fault, but good news, I’m Korean! You know, the ones who brought you BTS? So we’re good, right?”
This impulse isn’t exactly new, even if the pandemic has brought out its most sinister form. I’ve been doing it since I was a child. Worse, I was taught to do it.
When I was a kid in late-1970s suburban Chicago, anti-Chinese taunts were a daily occurrence. It was a frequent topic at Korean church — the only place we clapped eyes on other Koreans outside our own homes. Our parents and Sunday school teachers told us that the correct response was, “I’m not Chinese; I’m Korean.” (This didn’t even work, it should be noted: When I informed a mean kindergartner that I was Korean, he responded, “There is no such place.”)
None of us kids were proud of being Korean-American back then. The grown-ups tried to counter this shame by instilling ethnic pride. But despite their good intentions, they invited pride’s ugly sibling: implied permission to step on other people.
For an inarticulate child, maybe “I’m not Chinese” isn’t an especially meaningful retort. But a grown woman should know better.
So what finally brought about my moment of self-reckoning? It was a T-shirt.
Last month, a Chinese-American friend of mine posted on social media about a targeted internet ad that had outraged her. In the wake of Covid-19, some clothing vendor saw a business opportunity: a series of T-shirts with slogans like, “I’m Asian but I’m not Chinese,” “I’m not Chinese, I’m Korean,” “I’m not Chinese, I’m Malaysian,” etc. Her friends’ comments under her post were equally indignant. (So much for predictive algorithms, by the way.)
My first thought was, “I wish we’d had these shirts when I was a kid.”
And then I stopped myself, horrified.
By way of context — not justification — Asians have been siccing people on other Asians for ages. In World War II-era America, some Asian-owned businesses posted signs in their windows specifying that they were not Japanese. I have even met a few Asians of that generation who currently believe that it made political sense for Franklin D. Roosevelt to put Japanese-Americans in internment camps. Just the Japanese.
Which is not to say that mislabeling isn’t dangerous; it can even be deadly. In Highland Park, Mich., in 1982, there was an incident that all Asian-Americans of a certain age remember vividly: A Chinese-American named Vincent Chin was murdered in a strip club by two white autoworkers who assumed he was Japanese — one of the people who, they believed, had destroyed the American auto industry.
It was a tragic case of mistaken identity. But to respond to that horrific incident with “Vincent Chin wasn’t even Japanese!” is to create a dangerous distraction from the core issue: It is never OK to attack anyone based on their race.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve bristled at the Asian-American label. I found it frustratingly meaningless, lumping together diverse groups under one heading in a way that promoted precisely the kind of generalizations we want to prevent. “You all look the same,” or, “I bet you love Excel and bad driving.”
But what I’ve come to realize over the past few weeks is that even if I don’t identify with that designation and find it overly broad, like it or not, it shapes how people see me. The only path forward for any of us requires a united front.
If someone says, “You Chinese are killing us,” I am in that moment Chinese. Whether I give the other person a piece of my mind or not — awkward, perhaps, from six feet away — my instinct should be indignation, not deflection. Because one of many lessons I’ve learned from the pandemic and its consequences is that focusing on being misidentified by a xenophobe is nothing better than trying to negotiate a more accurate insult.