Sunday, November 3, 2013

we need to change the culture.

I could bore you with a lede about how social media has made it easier to be mean to one another on the internet, but instead I'll jump straight to the point, because the point is there's no way to lead into this tweet I received on Friday:


There were so many things I wanted to respond with, but ultimately I held back from responding at all. What surprised me about this response was my reaction to it: I was genuinely hurt.

Which is weird, because trolls are nothing new. Mean tweets have become part of my daily work life, particularly when I write or tweet about issues such as marriage equality or women's reproductive rights. At some point a few months ago, a well-known conservative pundit began following me and blasted my articles to her followers, who all jumped on me and the network that employed me. None of that really bothers me, though, because I don't care to feed the trolls. That's not how I choose to use Twitter. 

But a few weeks ago, I had already received a tweet that also attacked me for my ethnicity and requested that I "go back" to where I came from since I "hate freedom." I responded that I was born and raised in America, and that was that. 

So why, when @Fire_BenMaller tweeted at me, was I upset? One look at his Twitter profile and timeline told me a lot about the kind of person he was online, so there was nothing to be upset about--he was a 100% troll who wasn't worth anyone's time, and I had already decided I wasn't going to engage. 

Perhaps it was the same reason I was upset over this news item about a cheesesteak shop in Philadelphia that changed its name after 64 years to eliminate the racial slur from its name. "You make me sick," said one resident and patron--which I found appalling. This name had come about because the founder, a non-Chinese man, had "almond shaped eyes," and so his classmates called him "Chink."

It's upsetting because what can you say in response to a racial slur that is protected by others who don't understand the offensive connotation behind the language they're using? That's when you realize that perhaps there needs to be a larger conversation so the possibility of a culture shift is in sight; and yet...where is that conversation in the mainstream media? Who's talking about the anti-Asian statements still pervading society?

Take these Halloween "costumes," for example: three men dressed as the fake Asiana pilots KTVU had erroneously reported on air. Not only was it in poor taste to turn a tragedy into a joke (where three people died, and nearly 200 were injured), it was also taking something deeply offensive to the Asian community and making a mockery of it. What gives anyone the right to do that?

And what about this "yellow make-up cream," packaged and sold with a person in yellowface on the front. Why not a photo of someone dressed as Tweety Bird or a banana or a thing that is yellow? The message is the same to those who chose to wear blackface for Halloween: melanin is not a costume.

I keep looking for the larger conversation about the pockets of anti-Asian language and actions that exist in America, but I think the answer is that it's time for the AAPI community to start the conversation in a more public way. We could all do with stepping out of the echo chambers we've grown comfortable in and start talking.