Last year, Anti-Racism Daily featured an article about the appropriation of mahjong by a white women owned business in Texas. After reading the article, I broke down.
I had never thought about cultural appropriation and the harm it does to BIPOC. It hit especially hard as I have many layers of family stories involving mahjong. I wrote my thoughts, reaction and feelings in a blog post and shared it on Facebook.
My friend who is Black shared it on her profile and then one of her friends who is a POC commented that she was perplexed by my reaction. She was confused at how I was just “awakening” to the impact of racism.
While anti-Asian sentiments have existed throughout history and since the late 1800s in the US when the first larger groups of Chinese men came over to build the railroads, racism was never spoken about in my house growing up. It was not mentioned in my conversations with my immigrant elders or part of the lessons they passed onto me.
I have had the privilege of being in conversations with Black Americans who shared how racism was a big part of their family conversations. It was something they learned very early on, around the age of three, and was constantly part of their dialogue growing up.
As I reflect, I realize that Black Americans’ survival in this country was dependent on those conversations as much as Asian Americans’ survival was dependent on the lack of those conversations. Keeping quiet, following the rules and hitting the bamboo ceiling kept us safe, whereas learning how to act when stopped by a cop, what to do when someone calls you the “N” word, and how to wear or not wear a hoodie keeps Black kids and their families safe.
However, with the pandemic and the drastic increase in Asian hate crimes, Asians are talking about race, telling stories and fighting back much more broadly than before because our survival needs have changed. Part of it is generational, part of it is cultural and part of it is the zeitgeist.
All humans need air, food, water and shelter to survive. After that, our requirements for survival vary an infinite number of ways. The better we can understand that survival doesn’t look the same for everyone, the better we will be able to help others navigate this world and come together.