This Is My Face, Motherfucker

“‘Asians are a challenge to cast because most casting directors feel as though they’re not very expressive,’ the casting director said. ‘They’re very shut down in their emotions.'”

This is quote from the Paste article that set off the #ExpressiveAsian hashtag to go viral. I’ve been sitting on this article for days. I couldn’t calm down long enough to address it coherently. But now I’m meditated out. So.

First, FUCK YOU, MOTHERFUCKER.

Second, I’ve personally been told this. It was 2003. I was in Dijon, France, to complete my last teaching practicum for my teaching degree. One of the white French teachers at the school invited all the visiting student teachers to his house for lunch. While on a scenic walk around his neighborhood after the meal, I recounted, gently, the unfriendliness I’d experienced thus far in Dijon, the invisibility and sometimes annoyance and contempt from the Dijon denizens toward me.

He listened with nods and thoughtful sounds. Then he explained to me, gently, that it wasn’t that the French were racist toward Asians. Rather, they were suspicious of them because the French could not read our faces. We didn’t seem to show our emotions. We weren’t very expressive.

I don’t know what my face looked like to him, but if his conception of emotions wasn’t so mired in whiteness, he would have seen shock and pain and shame. I believed him. I thought there was something wrong with my face. With all Asian faces. That they weren’t expressive, that they were masks. That I was understandably suspicious and deserved suspicion.

I tried to compensate by being overly expressive: being loud, talking loudly, laughing loudly, swearing, swearing loudly, being obnoxious, opening my little eyes, wearing makeup to make my little eyes look bigger, more expressive, wearing more makeup on my mouth, showing more teeth when I smiled or laughed or growled, dying my hair, cutting my hair, growing my hair, wearing louder, shorter, brighter, sexier clothes, wearing all black, wearing what everyone else was wearing, et cetera, et cetera, ad nauseum.

Time passes and choices become habit and habit becomes identity. I no longer know where the racism I swallowed ends and I begin. I don’t know if I am a loud person. I just know I am a loud person who has learned to be quieter in certain spaces. I don’t know if I swear because I’m seeking attention. I just know I swear a lot. I don’t dye my hair any more and I like my hair long. Do I like it because I was told by society that having long hair gets me more attention? I don’t know anymore.

What I know is, I am often invisible in this society. White people, black people, brown people, Native Americans (although there aren’t so many of them around after centuries of slaughter that continues to this day; only 1.6% of the US population) they do not see me. (Asians all see each other even though they are really good at pretending they don’t. Amarite? Mmmhmm.)

It was while trying to calm myself with mindfulness that a metaphor for racial hierarchy came to me.

I, an Asian woman, am a manhole cover. Close your eyes and stay with me. Asians are manhole covers that white people put over holes in the ground, holes into which they put all the black and brown people. We keep a lid on them while white people step over us all day long, pretending and later believing that the holes and the covers don’t exist. Too many Asians think this set up is okay, because at least we aren’t in the sewers, at least we get to see the light of day. As a manhole cover. Black and brown people look up from their dark shitty hole and see Asians as conspirators to white supremacy, helping the white man keep them down. I see the side eyes, the deliberate ignoring I get from black and brown people. It’s real and frequent. I don’t blame them. I blame the people who made that hole, put people in that hole, and slapped me down to cover up their sins.

Asians are, let’s be honest, often willing manhole covers in the infrastructure of systemic racism. So many Asians are complicit. They think, “Thank God we aren’t black or brown or, God forbid, Native American. If we can’t be white, at least we are yellow.” That’s what white supremacy has encouraged Asians to believe. But this con keeps Asians lying there as manhole covers, infrastructure. People don’t notice infrastructure. You’re not supposed to. You’re supposed to take it for granted. It’s no wonder we are invisible. Quiet. Useful. Model minorities.

Imagine yellow people got up one day and decided, no thank you. Fuck that shit. White people start falling into holes. They finally see how fucked up shit is down there. Meanwhile, black and brown people see the open manholes and manage to get out. They see what they’ve been missing at ground level. There’s sunlight and clean air. There’s fresh food and lead free water, buildings that scrape the sky. They see stars and reach for them. They go back to the hole with a ladder and start bringing up their family and friends and anyone else who wants life above ground. White people freak out and call the police. The police try to throw the black and brown people back into the ground, but those manhole covers have gone missing. None of the white police are willing to be manhole covers themselves. They know they’ll get poked and punched and stabbed with whatever is handy, because now there are people down there who know a better life above. The whole racist infrastructure requiring holes and covers falls apart. For a while people go in and out of the holes, some fall back in by accident and then crawl back out. Some come out to take a peek, but, having become so inured to living underground, they can’t endure the fear of the unfamiliar and die six feet under. Eventually, the black, brown, yellow, Native American, and white people decide that navigating the holes is too inconvenient. They pour concrete, filling up that damned space. But not before historians and sociologists and psychologists and archaeologists take pictures and record interviews and collect artifacts. They erect museums to show us life below and above before the manhole covers left the holes exposed. Because you never know with people. Even after all that, they can up and create another above and below space, in space even. It’s good to have reminders.

So much for mindfulness.

My point is this. Perhaps the reason this white casting director thinks Asian faces aren’t expressive is because she hasn’t seen enough of them walking and talking and feeling on screen. Her concepts of emotions are so narrowly defined and dependent upon the emotions’ expressed on white faces that she actually thinks Asians don’t evince emotions on their face. In fact, I would be willing to bet that this white casting director has concluded, privately, of course, not just that we hide our emotions, but that the very absence of emotion on Asian faces is evidence that we don’t experience emotions. Not as much. Not like white people. Not like them white folks who feel deeply and broadly. I mean, just look at their faces in all those movies and TV shows and paintings and magazines, feeling feelings. Look at the monstrously white monolith that is the white experience of humanity. Asians aren’t as human.

Let me tell you something, white casting director. I feel your racist words cut me. I feel nearly homicidal in my rage against your blindness to the yellow face, your dehumanization of me. And now my children, too. I will fight you, bitch. If you think I’m going to lie there like a good little manhole cover being the mute model minority, making sure your stiletto heels and the rest of you don’t fall down that hole your granddaddy made, that you continue to pretend doesn’t exist, you can forget it. I will throw you down there myself. And then my black and brown brothers and sisters can use you as a human step stool to reach my yellow hand which will be extended to help pull them up.

If you ever bothered to see me, you would get all that from looking at my face.

That’s how expressive my face is, motherfucker.

4 thoughts on “This Is My Face, Motherfucker

  1. Welcome back Saveur Days. I’ve missed you and can’t wait to read more. And on the blog, I don’t know if it’s the post partum hormones but I felt very emotional reading your words which so eloquently explained how I felt but couldn’t describe so aptly. Excited for the next post.

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