Even Progressives Don’t Understand Anti-Asian Racism. Here’s What You Need to Know.

California ChangeLawyers
9 min readApr 1, 2021
Kimski chef Won Kim created this graffiti art in response to the #StopAsianHate campaign.

I was so excited to be starting my first year in college. I remember walking into the university bookstore to buy what I needed for my classes. I walked up to the cashier, laid out my items, and saw the total on the register add up and up and up. I had never spent so much money on books before.

As I was getting rung up, the cashier and I started some casual small talk. I said that I was from one hour away in Massachusetts. I shared how nervous I was to be beginning classes in just a few days. Midway through our conversation, the cashier, a white woman, paused and cheerfully proclaimed, “You have no accent at all! How long have you been here?”

I said, “What do you mean?”

“How long have you been in the United States?”

I replied, “Oh, I was born here.”

“Really? That makes sense now. I was wondering why you speak English so clearly.”

With no hesitation, I enthusiastically responded, “Thanks!” The cashier finished packing my bags. I walked out the front door.

At the time, I didn’t exactly know what to make about her comment. Muddling my way through discomfort and surprise, I took her remarks as compliments. She probably meant them as compliments too, as though speaking with a non-white ethnic accent were a speech impediment.

Looking back, I now understand that my response was borne out of an instinct to minimize my racial difference. It was probably a survival tactic.

Later in my first fall semester, my Vietnamese American friend had the message, “Go home, Gook” written on her bathroom mirror. The Asian American community leapt to her defense, organizing speak-outs and op-eds in the school newspaper.

I deeply internalized these experiences. I never had a friend victimized because of their race. I had never been to a demonstration before. I watched and learned from Asian Americans and other students of color how to strategize. I read books like The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston and Strangers from a Different Shore by Ronald Takaki. Eventually, my journey seeking knowledge and community bloomed into a passion for racial justice. My racial consciousness…

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