Today I got triggered when I learned that my most recent crush is dating a white man. Beforehand, because I have no chill whatsoever, I asked him outright over text if his boyfriend is white. I then texted my best friend “Bri if his boyfriend is white… I may ask for a literal 3 minutes during our [next] phone call for me to scream.”
Lo and behold, my queer person of color sense proved correct and he texted me back saying that yes, his boyfriend is white. On one hand, I could not have cared less, because men are irrelevant to my life and he can date whoever the heck he wants to and I had predicted this outcome with my closest friends anyway. And yet, after I got that text, I fell into such a funk; I felt sad and angry and disappointed all at once. What is making me feel this way? I asked myself while completing my therapy notes and listening to a live performance of BlackPink’s “Whistle” and “Playing with Fire.” I reflected on my feelings on my walk down the streets of Washington D.C. after work and realized the core issue: my past experiences with racial trauma.
This random unfortunately gorgeous, sweet, thoughtful Asian man dating a white guy really does not matter to me much. Yet, when combined with all my past experiences of racial trauma, it sent me into quite a tailspin. When I reflect on past experiences of racial trauma, I mean:
1) seeing a white woman who tone-policed me and micro-aggressed me win a teaching award I also got nominated for
2) having multiple white teachers in high school doubt and dismiss my writing abilities, such as one who said that because I forgot to fill out one question on one form, I “did not know how to read”
3) experiencing my mother, a Vietnamese immigrant, terrorize me for wanting to act more feminine because doing so would disadvantage me in a society that values white male stoicism and masculinity
4) sitting in silence as a white male supervisor yelled at me for gently questioning one of his decisions and telling me my gentle question stemmed from my unresolved issues with white authority figures, even though I have had multiple healthy, supportive, and amazing relationships with other white authority figures
5) witnessing multiple close friends deprioritize my friendships with them after they started dating white men
These examples comprise only a subset of the racial traumas I have experienced. When I thought about these memories on the metro ride back to my city, I actually started to tear up a little. Part of me may have felt sad about my most recent crush and his beautiful eyes fixating on his white boyfriend over me, though I think I more so felt exhausted from the weight of it all. I felt my body sag into my metro seat as I felt the weight of always fighting racism and white supremacy. In that moment on the ride back home, I thought to myself: wow, it would be so much easier if I just threw in the towel and gave up right now.
After letting myself soak in those emotions of self-pity and anguish, I felt strength come back into my body, almost as if Jeni’s had come out with an ice cream flavor called “fuck white supremacy sorbet” and I had eaten three scoops. I thought about Audre Lorde’s iconic quote “If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.” This quote reminded me of the people of color I know who have internalized white supremacy: the ones who tell their students of color to stop expressing their anger at racism, the ones who feel that they have to achieve white metrics of success (e.g., prestigious awards) to matter, the ones who attribute beauty with whiteness and not much else. I thought about this quote and came to a few conclusions.
I’m not a quiet model minority Asian American. I’m not a desperate gay Asian who wants a white gay man’s love or approval. I’m fucking Thomas [LAST NAME REDACTED (lol)] and ya’ll can deal. I validate my own emotions and empower myself to honor the people of color who have come before me, like my grandmother who encouraged my softness, the black feminist writers like Audre Lorde and bell hooks who taught me so much, and my supportive professors of color, like the Asian and Latina professors I met in undergrad who opened my eyes to how much racism influences mental health.
I’m Asian and I’m powerful. I’m gentle and compassionate and furious. This past summer I joined forces with a black woman and confronted the all-white staff at my psychology externship about one of their assessment measures containing a racist item, an item they later removed after years of students complaining about it. I am in the process of preparing my dissertation proposal, a study that examines how Asian Americans can fight internalized white supremacy in regard to body image. I’m dedicated to providing socially just and anti-racist therapy. I’m sure I have a lot to unpack and to learn and I’m not ever gonna quit.
Several months ago, I went to a conference where a queer Asian man told me how he got his heart broken by another queer man of color who left him for a white guy. I tried to make space for this man’s emotions, because I appreciated him and his work. When I compare his experience to mine right now, I feel a sharp distinction, and I feel so grateful for my closest friends, my feminist books, and myself, because I know my self-worth. My self-worth extends way beyond any man who would choose a white guy over me.
For any people of color or black people reading this post, how have you coped with racism and white supremacy? General reactions to this post? I will respond to comments on my latest post tomorrow as it is getting pretty late and I wrote this in a fever pitch, whew. I had another post written to publish tomorrow but I’ll save it for next week. Until then!