But You Don’t Look Asian: On Being Entitled to Pain
Fuck Your Mixed-Race Feelings / Fuck Your Mixed-Asian Feelings
I joined a Clubhouse room the day after the shootings in Atlanta. Of the 36 of us, we all had one thing in common, apart from our grief: We identified as part Asian.
As each person approached the mic, they called out a fraction. There were half-Asians. There were quarter-Asians. I think at least one person was an eighth.
There was not a whole Asian in sight.
When I think of all the ways I’ve identified, as half-and-half (half Chinese, half white), as biracial, as mixed, as hapa, as a 混血儿 (mixed blood child), none of these labels feels right.
My mom jokingly called me a “mutt”— many of her jokes are cruel in hindsight.
The grief in the room felt visceral, but each speaker wondered aloud whether they were Asian enough to experience rage, fear, pain. One man brought up his father and his grandfather as proof—they looked Asian, even if he didn’t.
Who deserves to feel the pain of anti-Asian violence? Who deserves to take up space with their rage? Am I allowed to be here? Do I belong?
Being in that room was excruciating, a Russian nesting doll of pain within pain. It didn’t even seem to matter that it was just us—we still had to defer to this idea of not being Asian enough. We each paid homage to the myth of racial wholeness.
In the Netflix fantasy series “Shadow and Bone,” the writers made the character of Alina Starkov (played by Asian and white Actress Jessie Mei Li) mixed race, a departure from the books which do not specify her race. Alina’s mixed-race identity makes her an outcast and outsider—the Other.
However, the very idea of being mixed is impossible without America’s history of white supremacy rooted in anti-Blackness. The halves, quarters and eighths of that Clubhouse room are the legacy of a racist society that was obsessed with fractional Blackness, coining words like mulatto (half), quadroon (quarter), octaroon (eighth) and even hexadecaroon (sixteenth). This preoccupation with racialized calculus stems from the racist notion of “hypodescent,” “the centuries-old ‘one-drop rule’ assigning minority status to mixed-race individuals…”
Without this Black/white binary or one dominant race, the fractional and hybridized slurs against Alina in this fictional world make no sense. There is no racial purity without whiteness. There is no whiteness without anti-Blackness.
Logline: Maribelle is born to a vampire mother and a zombie father. Forced to choose sides, she takes up her righteous axe and becomes the world’s most feared vampire slayer, forced to hunt down and kill her own mother and also part of herself.
As soon as I express my pain about being mixed, it almost immediately tips into something else. I turn mocking and derisive. I want to sneer at the pain, so raw it disgusts me. I want to destroy it. I want to turn it into a joke, a sketch—it’s so predictable, so familiar. Perfect for satire. There go those mixed-race motherfuckers again, talking about how painful it is to never belong anywhere or with anyone. There they go again, sucking the air out of the room.
I call my sister in North Carolina and ask her, “Do you feel pain about being half-white and half-Chinese?”
“Yeah, a little bit here and there. You want to belong in your community, but sometimes little things happen that remind you that you don’t.” She mentions the #StopAsianHate texts that she received from well-meaning friends, the white people who blurt: “You’re my one Asian friend!”
She once told me of a man in the bar who didn’t even pause when he called out, “You’ve got some Asian on you!” while walking past her. She mimes wiping the Asian off her face like a smear of barbeque sauce—oops, I got some Asian on me!
I call my brother. He picks up even though I almost never call him.
“I’m writing this essay,” I say, “And I want to ask you a question.” He says he’s never felt pain about being half-Chinese and half-white, that people have made jokes or comments about it, but he never took them to heart.
A customer at the computer shop where he worked said she’d like to do kung fu between the sheets with him. Because he came from China, the neighborhood kids nicknamed him “Communist.”
We moved from Maine, to Beijing, to North Carolina, but people ignored the Maine part.
No one ever does the, “But where are you really from?” schtick with him, though he knows that’s a thing.
“Do you feel like you look Asian?”
We talk about how on the spectrum of looking Asian, I am the most obvious, then my sister, then my brother—though he clarifies that with her it’s pretty obvious too.
My sister looks more Chinese to Chinese people than I do, even though my eyes and hair are darker, even though she has hazel eyes and freckles. Westerners, on the other hand, often clock me as full Asian, seeing only difference in my face.
“You have a non-Chinese side?” a white guy asks on a dating app when I explain to him where the Chinese side of my family lives. Yes. Yes, I do.
Logline: Two strangers meet on a train and fall in love, drawn together by their shared half breed identity. Born into a dystopian future in which only pure breeds are given full rights, they seek out a scientist to perform a dangerous experiment to merge their two halves into two wholes.
I remember how an older white man once gave me an after hours tour of a TV studio as a favor to his friend, how he told me that he preferred Asian women, then added, “But you don’t look Asian at all.” I felt relief, exhaling a breath that I’d been holding the entire time in that empty studio.
I remember how a crew member cornered me on the bus during a commercial shoot, joking that I should sit on his lap after telling me he visited Southeast Asia frequently.
I post about my dating experiences as a mixed-Asian woman in a Facebook group for mixed people. Most of the comments are supportive and heartfelt, but I’m also chastised and judged.
Fuck your feelings. Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about. You must be so fun at parties.
I read a think-piece by a woman who is Asian and white, like me. It’s not good. I hate it for not being better. When she describes her mixed identity as the eternal conflict between colonizer and colonized, oppressor and oppressed, I want to scream, I want to run into the street screaming and tearing my clothes.
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS PURITY THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS PURITY THERE NO SUCH THING AS PURITY THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS PURITY
Even the word “mixed” is a metaphor implying a process of contamination. In college, I read an obscure narrative poem by Shakespeare called The Rape of Lucrece. In the poem, Lucrece is so overcome by shame after being raped by Tarquin that she commits suicide. In a bizarre scene that I will never forget, her blood splits into two different streams: pure red, representing her innocent virtue, and black, representing the stain of Tarquin’s crime.
The term miscegenation was invented by racists in 1863 to condemn the practice of interracial marriage. It derives from the Latin words miscere (“to mix”) and genus (“kind”).
If I am a mixed blood child, then the ideal of purity is forever out of my reach.
I remember my Chinese cousin joking that he didn’t have “any of that nasty white blood” in him. Not like me.
I do not want to walk into a room and explain to people what I am. I want to be messy and angry and fucked-up and entitled and so loud that no one else can speak. I want to suck all the air out of the fucking room. Colonizer and colonized. Mother and whore.
Logline: In the old west, a Chinese prostitute gives birth to a beautiful blonde baby girl. When the local sheriff shows up to take her daughter away, she goes on a rampage, slaughtering the entire town.
I don’t want to resolve anything. I don’t want to be a cultural ambassador. I don’t want my body to be a bridge between America and China. I don’t want to resolve the tensions of East and West through the curve of my jaw.
Whine, whine, whine, complain, complain, complain—mixed race people and their stupid, beautiful, ugly, terrifying pain. If we all banded together and swelled to five times our natural size, we could smother the entire world.