A week had passed since the Atlanta spa shootings. Like many other Wednesdays, I had a quick break and decided to address my ice cream craving by heading to J.P. Licks. A nice lady and her son kept an eye on Milo for me while I went in to get my double scoop of coffee cookies ‘n cream and Bailey’s chocolate chip cheesecake… because why not? It’s been a rough week.
I settled down at a table outside while Milo sat behind me like the doggy rock star he is. A few minutes later, I noticed a man standing in front of the store and he struck up a conversation about Milo, as strangers often do. He is older and seemed to have a kind face hidden behind his mask and white beard. If you put him in a red suit, he would have made a credible Santa Claus. I sensed that he was probably lonely and just wanted to pet the dog.
I, on the other hand, just wanted to get back to my ice cream. It was my only break on a full day and there were only five minutes left before I had to start walking back to my office. I told him honestly that Milo is kind of shy and does better with women than men. Usually, I let people try to approach Milo and let the dog decide if he wants to interact with them, but instead I smiled, bid this man a good day, then turned my body and intention back to myself.
I recognize that on a different day, I probably would have made time for this person. But it was only a week after Atlanta, when one of his people murdered six of mine. It’s difficult for me to look at or interact with strangers who look like him right now.
My emotional reserves are exhausted because something has made me cry every single day since the shooting in Atlanta: a friend’s Facebook post, a podcast, a song, a poem, even the GoFundMe for two orphans who raised $2.8 million when they only asked for $20,000 to cover their mother’s funeral expenses. What little I have left is earmarked for my loved ones and patients. I will not — should not — feel guilty about guarding my boundaries.
I am sorry that it has come to this: that I passed up an opportunity to connect, to celebrate our shared humanity through a common love for dogs because on that day, I could not see past his gender and the color of his skin.
Structural racism crystalized into this moment for me. Racism by its nature is lazy, willfully ignorant, and almost comically reductive. It flattens individuals — actually, entire cultures and civilizations too — into a cardboard cutout of distilled fears and resentments.
In that moment, on that day, this man represented white supremacy, patriarchy, misogyny, violence, and sexual assault… just as in the past year, Asians were made to represent a virus that caused a global pandemic and assigned to carry the blame for all the suffering that came with it.
It feels like Asians are just the next sheet of target practice paper in America’s shooting range. The hatred had already cycled through Mexicans, Muslims, Native Americans, people from “shithole countries”, and of course, it never really stops for the black community. It was simply our turn to be shot at amongst the tired, poor, huddled masses who washed up on America’s shores, yearning to be free.
All this should not have come as a surprise. The many voices I came across in the past week repeatedly mention the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the Asian Exclusion Act of 1924, the Japanese internment camps in the 1940s, and (this one is new to me) the 1875 Page Act, which banned the immigration of Chinese women because they were — we were — perceived as “immoral”.
I think of the many wonderful Asian American women in my life. Most of us are acupuncturists, therapists, nurses, and doctors working in jobs that involve taking care of people (most of them white), often at the expense of time away from our own families and at a cost to our own health. Filipino nurses made up 30% of nurses who died of coronavirus in the US, even though they represent only 4% of nurses worldwide.
To be reminded this week that female Asian bodies are also objectified, dehumanized, fetishized, and can now even be murdered for existing… is a betrayal that hurts deeper than anything I have felt in a long time.
I was surprised by my reaction to the shootings in Atlanta. I cycled through sorrow and anger all week. It was deeply unsettling how I moved through the world like a glass sculpture riddled with cracks, shattering at the slightest bump. My heart broke and mended several times. And still I rage. And still I grieve.
I read, listened, asked questions, and wrote more in my journal than I ever have in a while. I even posted something on Facebook and chose to set the privacy to “public”, as the introvert in me recoils at the possible attention and the terrifying thought of losing my protective cloak of relative anonymity.
We have to find our voices and tell our stories. For once, we are not invisible. And it’s so obvious now that our invisibility never protected us.