How Microaggressions Influence Me: Tales from a Chinese-American Youth in the 21st Century | TeenInk

How Microaggressions Influence Me: Tales from a Chinese-American Youth in the 21st Century

October 9, 2019
By maddie244 BRONZE, Los Altos, California
maddie244 BRONZE, Los Altos, California
2 articles 0 photos 0 comments

During a paper airplane contest at a vacation hotel in Mexico, a ten-year-old Chinese-American spectator watches intently as a hotel staff member announces that he’s going to count in Chinese before the contestants throw their airplanes. “Chin, chan, boo,” he says, clearly amused with himself. The shocked girl tries and fails to understand why this decidedly non-Asian man thinks he has the right to disrespect her culture. With her mother’s encouragement, she starts to write the hotel an email telling her perspective. Her fingers, filled with rage, rapidly tap on the screen as she replays the event in her memory.

Fast-forward to summer, two years later. The girl attends a theatre camp. She sits outside, chatting away with other kids in her session. One of them says to her, “You’re Chinese, right?” She hesitantly answers yes. The kid (who is white) looks at her weirdly, then responds, “No offense, but you don’t seem Chinese, ‘cause you’re so talkative.” Offended and rendered speechless, she gawks at him. I’m pretty sure that the only qualifier for ‘acting Chinese’ is actually being Chinese, she thinks. But a voice in the back of her mind wonders if that’s true. 

The girl enters seventh grade at Bullis Charter School. About halfway through the school year, a group of Asian kids in her class start jokingly promoting Asian stereotypes. They speak in a “foreign” Asian accent; punctuate their sentences with the phrases “herro”, “Buddha”, and “ching chong”; and imitate strict Asian parents by saying things like “if you get B-plus, I disown you”. The girl tells one of the kids that those jokes are racist, to which he responds, “Making fun of your own race isn’t racist.” She is taken aback. That doesn’t seem right, she thinks. But no one else seems to agree, so she lets it go.

These instances of little comments and actions against minorities are called microaggressions. Writer Ijeoma Oluo defines microaggressions as “small daily insults and indignities perpetrated against marginalized or oppressed people because of their affiliation with that marginalized or oppressed group” (169). Microaggressions further separate minorities from what society perceives as normal; according to Robert Montenegro, Ph.D., microaggressions “[reinforce] the differences in power and privilege, [which] perpetuates racism and discrimination.” One example of a microaggression is the one mentioned in the last story: mocking foreign accents. Terry Nguyen writes that making fun of immigrants’ accents and labeling them as “foreigners” that do not belong encourages them to hide their heritage to fit in. Additionally, microaggressions can be detrimental to minorities’ mental health. Many studies show that they “lead to elevated levels of depression and trauma among minorities,” reports Dr. Gina Torino. It may be hard for non-minorities to recognize them, but they are all around us. Ignoring microaggressions contribute further to discriminatory views.

The microaggressions mentioned in the second and third paragraphs are the result of the “model minority myth”, which is an aggregate of stereotypes about Asian Americans that illustrate them as “a model to which other racial minorities should aspire” (Chris Fuchs, NBC News). Asian-American parents are supposed to be strict and harsh, and their kids obedient. The model minority myth places Asian-Americans in a box; they have to be quiet, serious, successful, hardworking intellectuals, and they are a disappointment if they don’t meet those standards. The model minority myth is ever-present in today’s society; dispelling these myths will make a more welcoming environment for Asian-Americans.

Finally, let us address the person in paragraph three who dismisses his microaggressions because he is making fun of his own race. Actually, you are still showing racism if you make fun of your own race; you are still making fun of a race. According to Taking Action Against Racism in the Media, internalized racism is “the personal conscious or subconscious acceptance of the dominant society’s racist views, stereotypes and biases of one’s ethnic group”. When we internalize racism, we “develop ideas, beliefs, actions, and behaviors that support or collude with [it]”, as said by Donna Bivens. And just like microaggressions, internalized racism has negative effects on minorities. Asian Identity from Medium.com states that internalized racism can cause feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, and shame in the race that is being discriminated against. 

So what do we do? How can we help minorities feel valued and seen, instead of ignored and discriminated against? The first step is to educate yourself. Even if you’re a person of color, that does not exempt you from being racist. Read up on some different manifestations of racism and how to recognize them. Then, when you see them out in the real world, stand up! Kindly but factually tell the person how their actions may hurt others. You will be contributing to a more inclusive environment in which all kinds of people will benefit. We need to recognize these microaggressions against minorities and speak out against them. Then, and only then, can we make progress towards a society where race isn’t an excuse to slap stereotypes and labels on people, but something to celebrate and be proud of. 



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