“You’re so sweet and reserved. Asians have the best manners. I wish my daughter turned out like you.” During my time working in a customer service role in NOVA, this statement literally became that one special lyric off a broken record. At one point, I thought to myself jokingly how convenient it would be to customers if I just made a t-shirt that read “I’m booked. Reserved Asian.” I’m sure that pun would have been understood by many. But then I had a startling realization: I was also perpetuating the stereotype by not speaking up. I had resigned myself to passively push through each day. What’s even worse is that customers have good intentions when they told me this. It comes from a marginalizing sentiment which is conveyed with feelings of respect, admiration, patronization, and humor.
How can we bring awareness to the table of feminism for people of color and different races? In the realm of general feminism, gender is often heralded and considered in the context it’s placed in. Race and class are sometimes intentionally or unintentionally ignored. The Huffington Post clip on YouTube defines feminism that ignores “intersectionality” to be called”white feminism.” What is intersectionality you might ask? Notable civil rights activist and founder of intersectionality Kimberle Crenshaw defines intersectionality as a mixture of several policies and institutional structures that make certain identities the vehicle for vulnerability. It is also seems ideally suited to the task of exploring how categories of race, class and gender are intertwined and mutually constitutive.
When I was first introduced to the idea of “intersectionality,” I was thrilled to see that cultural differences in race and class would be a consideration. The experiences that an Asian-American go through cannot be entirely normalized within the context of white feminism. The way I experience misogyny might not be the way an African-American or Caucasian experiences it. The same can be said for an African-American as seen widely in our history. As Leslie McCall from the Chicago Journals pointed out, white feminists’ often use women and gender as unitary and homogeneous categories reflecting the common essence of all women.
I’ll end with a quote from Suey Park: “Nobody will GIVE us a space. We need to MAKE a space to use our voices, build community, and be heard.”