Yesterday, I mentioned that I'd pluck some quotes from the book Minor Feelings and add a little bit of my commentary. So, here we are.
CPH defines them as:
the racialized range of emotions that are negative, dysphoric, and therefore untelegenic, built from the sediments of everyday racial experience and the irritant of having one's perception of reality constantly questioned or dismissed
Minor feelings are confusion - "having one's perception of reality constantly questioned" - the experience of being relentlessly gaslit.
When minor feelings are finally externalized, they are interpreted as hostile, ungrateful, jealous, depressing, and belligerent, affects ascribed to racialized behavior that whites consider out of line. Our feelings are overreactions because our lived experiences of structural inequity are not commensurate with their deluded reality.
And when you speak up, you run the risk of inducing white tears.
Gas Lighting is a consistent theme in Asian lives and thus, in the book as well.
This quote hits so hard:
When I hear the phrase “Asians are next in line to be white,” I replace the word “white” with “disappear.” Asians are next in line to disappear. We are reputed to be so accomplished, and so law-abiding, we will disappear into this country’s amnesiac fog. We will not be the power but become absorbed by power, not share the power of whites but be stooges to a white ideology that exploited our ancestors.
Asians are told that we can succeed, but really, success just means to be a pawn.
This country insists that our racial identity is beside the point, that it has nothing to do with being bullied, or passed over for promotion, or cut off every time we talk.
There’s a ton of literature on the self-hating Jew and the self-hating African American, but not enough has been said about the self-hating Asian.
And with that, CPH starts writing some literature on what our self hate looks like:
Your only defense is to be hard on yourself, which becomes compulsive, and therefore a comfort, to peck yourself to death. You don’t like how you look, how you sound. You think your Asian features are undefined, like God started pinching out your features and then abandoned you. You hate that there are so many Asians in the room. Who let in all the Asians? you rant in your head. Instead of solidarity, you feel that you are less than around other Asians, the boundaries of yourself no longer distinct but congealed into a horde.
When I read that paragraph, I could feel every stinging word. When I was younger, I remember looking in the mirror one day and feeling helpless. I suddenly realized that my Chinese face was a problem that could never be solved. Thankfully, all that time shooting hoops in my driveway had tanned my skin, and I didn't quite look as light as all the other Asians. And thank god for that - what could be worse than to be like them?
When Asian stories are told, they're told for a white audience.
our stories have been shaped by the white imagination.
And those imaginations are pretty limited:
Publishers treated the ethnic story as the “single story,” which Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie defines as follows: “Create a single story, show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.”
For example, the work of Jhumpa Lahiri:
For the last twenty years, until recently, Jhumpa Lahiri’s stories were the template of ethnic fiction that supports the fantasy of Asian American immigrants as compliant strivers. The fault lies not in Lahiri herself, who I think is an absorbing storyteller, but in the publishing industry that used to position her books as the “single story” on immigrant life.
Self hate isn't just reserved for yourself and the hordes of Asians at your school. If you've got self hate, there's a good chance you direct that towards your parents as well.
I know I did.
And when CPH writes this, it hit me like a pile of bricks:
As a child, I picked up whatever distrust there was around Asians and animated my father’s absence with it. He often complained that I never took his side. Now, as an adult, I feel protective of him, which is why I was so moved when I read Sharma’s poem about her father. Whatever dignity our fathers have painstakingly built throughout the years is so fragile. I know this because I used to see my father the way other Americans saw him: with suspicion.
CPH's reaction to a video of David Dao - at the time 69 years old - being dragged off a plane, hit home. The airline company had overbooked the flight, and when no one volunteered to step off the flight, the crew voluntold, then dragged Dao away against his will - I guess they happened to pick the stereotypically obedient elderly Asian man entirely at "random":
“Dao reminds me of my father.” It wasn’t just that he was the same age as our fathers. It was also his trim and discreet appearance that made him familiar. His nondescript appearance was as much for camouflage as it was for comfort, cultivated to project a benign and anonymous professionalism. His appearance said: I am not one to take up space nor make a scene.
That is not to say it's all love at home:
No matter how much he worked, he could never save enough. He drank heavily during those years and fought with my mother, who beat my sister and me with a fury intended for my father.
It's impossible to talk about Asian American history without mentioning imperialism. And with Hong, it's personal. This line makes it clear:
I am here because you vivisected my ancestral country in two. In 1945, two fumbling mid-ranking American officers who knew nothing about the country used a National Geographic map as reference to arbitrarily cut a border to make North and South Korea, a division that eventually separated millions of families, including my own grandmother from her family. Later, under the flag of liberation, the United States dropped more bombs and napalm in our tiny country than during the entire Pacific campaign against Japan during World War II. A fascinating little-known fact about the Korean War is that an American surgeon, David Ralph Millard, stationed there to treat burn victims, invented a double-eyelid surgical procedure to make Asian eyes look Western, which he ended up testing on Korean sex workers so they could be more attractive to GIs. Now, it’s the most popular surgical procedure for women in South Korea. My ancestral country is just one small example of the millions of lives and resources you have sucked from the Philippines, Cambodia, Honduras, Mexico, Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, El Salvador, and many, many other nations through your forever wars and transnational capitalism that have mostly enriched shareholders in the States. Don’t talk to me about gratitude.
And, again, to remind the minorities of this country that there are nefarious roots that unite:
Whether our families come from Guatemala, Afghanistan, or South Korea, the immigrants since 1965 have shared histories that extend beyond this nation, to our countries of origin, where our lineage has been decimated by Western imperialism, war, and dictatorships orchestrated or supported by the United States. In our efforts to belong in America, we act grateful, as if we’ve been given a second chance at life. But our shared root is not the opportunity this nation has given us but how the capitalist accumulation of white supremacy has enriched itself off the blood of our countries. We cannot forget this.
The issues that Asian women face in this country are real and severe. Dismissal. Fetishization. Worse.
Theresa Hak Kyung Cha was a poet/photographer/artist who inspired CPH.
In one of her essays, CPH tells the story of Cha's death - of her rape and murder - a case that numbs the mind.
Digging into Cha’s bibliography, I was surprised that no one wrote anything about the crime. If her homicide is mentioned at all, it’s treated as an unpleasant fact, acknowledged in one terse sentence before the scholar rushes off to write about narrative “indeterminacy” in Dictee. More disturbing is that no one admits that Cha was also raped, an omission so stubborn I had to consult court records to confirm that she was also sexually assaulted. Did they not know? Were they skittish? Murder has been desensitized to a crime statistic, but combine it with the word rape and it forces you to confront her body.
CPH later spoke with a friend of Cha's, inquiring about the media silence after Cha's death:
When I asked Flitterman-Lewis why she thought there was no media coverage of Cha’s rape and homicide at the time, she said without hesitation, “She was just another Asian woman. If she were a young white artist from the Upper West Side, it would have been all over the news.”
Dismissal. Fetishization. Worse.
CPH discusses the rather sensitive topic of white tears:
Of course, “white tears” does not refer to all pain but to the particular emotional fragility a white person experiences when they find racial stress so intolerable they become hypersensitive and defensive, focusing the stress back to their own bruised ego.
Inducing them, however, may be dangerous:
In feeling wrong, they feel wronged. In being asked to be made aware of racial oppression, they feel oppressed. While we laugh at white tears, white tears can turn dangerous.
This is quite the conundrum. How do you straddle the line between speaking truth without inducing white tears? This is the challenge of defusing a bomb, and I have no answers.
When CPH talks about Asians becoming "stooges to a white ideology", I felt called out.
It's the Uncle Toms. The "house" Asian. It's a growing phenomenon.
I wonder, to what extent have I propagated a way of life that promotes a racialized hierarchy. To what extent do my actions today still give momentum to such forces?
Towards the end of her book, CPH writes:
“In the future, white supremacy will no longer need white people,” the artist Lorraine O’Grady said in 2018, a prognosis that seemed, at least on the surface, to counter what James Baldwin said fifty years ago, which is that “the white man’s sun has set.” Which is it then? What prediction will hold? As an Asian American, I felt emboldened by Baldwin but haunted and implicated by O’Grady. I heard the ring of truth in her comment, which gave me added urgency to finish this book. Whiteness has already recruited us to become their junior partners in genocidal wars; conscripted us to be antiblack and colorist; to work for, and even head, corporations that scythe off immigrant jobs like heads of wheat.
The book Minor Feelings is far more than a collection of quotes. But I wanted to keep some of them handy such I could reference them in the future. I expect that this page will grow