Sunday night, I, along with every Chinese-American student at Yale, received a “Statement Regarding the Past Week” from the Chinese American Students Association.
The email asks that we stand in solidarity with women of color because as part of the model minority, we “often … forget the fact that our status as a privileged minority group … does come at the expense of fellow people of color.” And as a result of “benefitting” from the current social fabric of this campus, “we as Asian-Americans are complicit in the oppression of those communities, especially when we remain silent on issues that disproportionately affect [other] communities.” Our role as supportive allies is not to verbalize our own story because we must “take care to not intrude upon [others’] spaces or overshadow their roles in this movement.” These claims echo sentiments that are all too common on this campus.
I am labeled as part of this “model minority,” and as a result I’ve never felt perfect enough to fit my race. When I tell my peers that I am a History of Art major, they usually react with a raised eyebrow, a look of confusion or an “Oh, really?” that emanates judgment. Because I would rather spend an hour analyzing a Rothko or Brancusi than solving derivatives or chemical reactions, I’ve been told “I can’t possibly be Asian,” and that “even my major proves I’m whitewashed.” Am I “privileged” to have my race predetermine my interests? The model-minority stereotype comes at the expense of people who don’t fit the mold.
Yet although I don’t fit the mold, many see me as just another Asian girl. Not even a week into my freshman year, an upperclassman approached me thinking I was his Korean friend at the Pierson freshman barbeque. Since then I’ve lost count of how many times my peers have confused me for another Asian woman.
The past few days, I’ve been told that I can’t possibly understand because I am not a certain race. It’s true that I will never experience the same oppression as women of other minority groups, but I do know what it feels like to be an Asian-American woman on this campus where my body is hypersexualized for no reason other than my race. My freshman year, a Caucasian male told me he had “a thing” for Asian girls as he aggressively tried to pin me against the wall of a fraternity. Last year, an African-American male told me I was pretty for an Asian woman and that he would know because he’s been with a lot of them. Women on this campus have told me that I’m perfect for their male friends who have Asian fetishes. They say that I’m lucky guys have “yellow fever” because they’ll be interested in me.
My “passive” response to injustices is not the product of collusion. I have never and will never condone racism. My silence is a defense mechanism. I have learned to never let people who hurt me see my weakness, to always keep my head down and to only depend on myself. When people marginalize me, I’m told to prove them wrong and gain their respect through hard work and success, not discussions or emotional reactions.
My experiences with racism, although different than those of other minorities, leave similar scars. For real change to happen no racism can be tolerated, and that means listening to every person’s story.
I do not stand in solidarity with fellow women of color because I’m part of a “model minority,” or because I’m “privileged” or because I’m “complicit” in oppression. Asian-American women should stand in solidarity because we know what it means to be marginalized and limited by our race and gender. This movement for a safer, more accepting campus is every woman of color’s fight, and every woman of color should be involved in the conversation. I stand in solidarity because I don’t want my daughters and granddaughters to know what it feels like to have their interests and their worth defined by their race. They are not just an object for fetishes and quotas, and neither am I. I stand in solidarity because I refuse to stand on the sidelines any longer.
Natalie Sheng is a junior in Pierson College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .