During the University of Maryland’s Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, several events and speakers were showcased to celebrate the accomplishments and visibility of the different cultures under the pan-ethnic term of “Asian.” While the events were empowering and meant to symbolize the growing multiculturalism of not only our campus but of our greater society, there were few events included in the lineup of the month to help students of color prepare for what a world of gradual multiculturalism entails and what it still means to carry phenotypes that symbolize otherness and “exoticism.” One of these events that addressed one aspect of that struggle for students of Eastern Asian and Pacific Asian descent was titled “Womyn of Color Empowerment Workshop: Microaggressions.” Microaggressions towards Asian Americans broadly encapsulate trivial, subtle, and daily forms of unintended racism that serve as reminders for that group of people that they are still discriminated against through social norms and means of behavioral expression. Some social scientists have concluded that microaggressions have come to serve as the new “face” of racism because most White Americans do not view microaggressions the same way marginalized and diverse communities do. More and more people are beginning to understand the underlying piercing nature of microaggressions, especially Asian Americans, and this paper will touch on various efforts by those of the Asian American community to combat this new form of racism.
As I hold a body with features that point towards an Asian heritage, I’ve received my fair share of questions of origin. Because I’ve acknowledged that other people and friends who don’t phenotypically represent a White American get asked this question too, I just chose to accept that people would never be able to guess my ethnicity with a glance so it is okay that people constantly ask me what I am. I have never considered this a form of subtle racism, in that people are implying my foreignness, however, over the years I have, too, begun feeling the negative impacts these questions leave me. Because of these lesser known degrees of racism, I was very proud to see a large network such as ABC pick up a show that not only centered around an Asian family, but an Asian American immigrant family. Within this plot, the characters all deal with their fair share of microaggressions in different scenarios and in different capacities. Not only do the viewers see Eddie Huang deal with little comments about his Asian markers, but also with the older characters such as Jessica Huang. Most notably, the first episode showed students at Eddie’s new school making negative remarks about his school lunch meal and Jessica’s new friends are shocked by the “American” name she possesses. Despite the humorous ignorance that are meant to be implied by these comments, Asian Americans are left to deal with how they can refute or avoid those kinds of microaggressions. Like Eddie, I longed for my parents to stop packing my lunch, which came with all the markers of Asianness and foreignness. But growing up, I’ve learned to adopt a more multicultural mindset and rather than being ashamed, I’ve learned to be proud of my cultural background.
Last week, Buzzfeed reporters produced a video featuring Asian Americans responding to various microaggressions that they have encountered. The video didn’t specify which ethnicity each speaker was, however, the video was meant to highlight the unity that ties all these people together. It wasn’t the fact that they all fall under the pan-ethnic band of “Asian,” but it is that they have all witnessed and endured microaggressions all their life. Buzzfeed’s home page reaches more than 130 million unique visitors since last November, according to Forbes, which, to me, quantifies the news and entertainment outlet a big contributor to mass media. While Buzzfeed editors and reporters face many criticisms for their adaptation of online news reporting, a big reason why Buzzfeed has been so successful is its embrace of multiculturalism and production of videos that highlight diverse and ethnic communities that other major news outlets refuse to. I believe that with changing shifts in our society’s demographics, there will be more attention generated toward that development. I think that with the acknowledgment of microaggressions and their sources, people are understanding the true meaning of multiculturalism and its prominence in this country.