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Overcoming the Invisibility Factor Has Been A Life Long Journey

Learning to Have Grace While You Learn to Readjust Your Lens

Photo Credit: Canva

Overcoming invisibility or outward shock at having a European name attached to a face like mine troubles some people. For the longest time, being invisible was a familiar space for me. After all, as a biracial Asian female, my father’s words of “you have three strikes against you” rang true. Being a biracial Asian female is my space or lot in life. There aren’t that many of us globally.

The other term that hovers in my vocabulary is Third Culture Kid (TCK) or Third Culture Individual (TCI). A person who was either raised or currently living in a culture other than the country of their parent’s nationality or their own country constitutes being Third Culture. TCK’s and TCI’s can move and adjust into cultures easily, and travel and airplanes become second homes to their ethos, upbringing, and lifestyle choices.

More importantly, being biracial offers me very few opportunities of seeing others that look like me, especially in media and literature. As a writer and editor, there is still very little in the literary world that resonates with me. There is a duality and cultural intersection that occurs for all biracials, identifying with two cultures, but the world decides that you’re something else. You end up always being on the fence, toeing the line, and can easily accommodate others in their confusion when need be.

Finding role models and mentors is equally challenging because monoracials don’t understand the struggles of biracials and few biracials speak up. The media is also complicit in erasing and creating an invisible culture of Asians.

Minority invisibility, especially in Asian American and biracial Asian communities, has gone undetected and unnoticed because of over-simplification of issues, downplaying, and ignoring. There is a sense of reverse discrimination and color-blindness that is tethered, if not wrapped tightly within all of this. After all, Asian Americans and descendants of Asian Americans are model minorities, right?

The continual discrimination that many Asian Americans face is often ignored by many. Upheld by media as good workers with manners, and quickly rising socioeconomically, who could doubt this? How did this term even come about?

Characteristics of being a model minority:

• intelligent
• musical genius
• mothers are tiger moms
• works hard without complaints
• polite
• law-abiding
• achieves high level of success
• subservient
• quiet

With the recent uptick in Asian hate crimes, it seems the invisibility factor is no longer an issue. Or is it? To have been invisible but suddenly be in a negative limelight doesn’t erase the invisibility. To suddenly fear for your life because you look a certain way only makes invisibility more attractive, and not in a good way. The shootings and recent anti-Asian crimes only amplified and magnified years and years of historical exclusion, erasure, and invisibility.

For so many years, I have wrestled with the model minority myth, always needing a job but unsure how to know when you’re valued or just a notch for Human Resources to tick off when letting the Labor Board know they are “diverse.” Then one day, it dawned on me. As a biracial Asian woman, I allowed myself to lean into quiet and invisible. My mantra was keep your head down, do the work, and go home. All these years, my father had done his best to empower me to be a strong woman and not be afraid to use my voice, but I had not stepped into that.

Here is how I have been slowly changing my ship around (i.e., learning to use my voice):

• There is no need to yell. Be firm, be polite, but get your point across.

• Reminding myself that I am worth the extra $$ $ in freelance work as a woman of color. I am equally trained and a hard worker.

• When faced with someone who is confused by the fact that they notice my eyes kissing at the corners, but answering to a European name, be gracious.

• Don’t burn bridges. Anger and revenge never get you anywhere. Always take the high road.

• Change the stereotype. Asians are stereotyped as being quiet. Learn to speak up. Use your voice in productive, healthy ways. Don’t be afraid to speak up first.

• Gently remind others that Asians are people of color, and so are biracial Asians.

• When the white male at a meeting thinks the Asian woman is responsible for getting the tea, I gently tell that person that I don’t know how to make tea or coffee. Maybe they would be better at serving themselves.

• Meet my expectations with reflection, grace, and an intention to learn so as not to make mistakes again.

Furthermore, there are things we can all do together.

Suggestions on how to ask questions because you’re curious:

• Instead of asking where someone is from, ask them about their name. Even if it’s me with my Euro-centric name. If asked, I would tell you that my American father named me because my Korean mother didn’t know any American-sounding names, and she wanted me to be safe when we eventually moved to the US.

• Don’t tell a Person of Color (POC) that you have an Asian, Black, Latina(o), or Native American friend. In that very moment when you utter those words, you have just erased the person’s existence who is standing in front of you. It also indicates a sense that I know everything about you because I have a friend who is a POC.

• Ask a person about their history. Learn more about them through their story. Where did they grow up? What was that like?

As Content Creators, understanding that everyone’s voice and story matter is essential. You already know that. If you want to be more inclusive, understand that for many POC, seeing themselves in images, stories, and toys are important. It helps them to feel seen.

Suggestions for being inclusive with your work:

• Use images that portray an Asian, Black, LatinX, Native American, Biracial, native Hawaiian, Alaskan, or Queer.

• If you like eating Asian food, write about it! Don’t be afraid to write about your favorites.

• Understand that war is a predominant factor for many people to leave their native lands and move elsewhere. They strive for the same thing you are — to support their families.

• You’ve probably already heard or read this. Read from writers who are POCs. One person does not make the general voice for that population group.

• When writing about POCs, remember that Asians fit that identity crisis.

• Be intentional to learn from POCs. How do you do that? Find a book club or an activity that would include POCs and listen for a while, encouraging the POCs to speak more.

• All Asians are not created the same. An Indonesian is not an Indian is not a Korean is not a Laotian.

What we can all learn:

The bottom line is learning to be kind to everyone. Recognize everyone is different than the next person. Even in non-POC communities, people are not the same. So, why are there expectations that all Koreans are like all Asians? There are no assumptions that a Swiss is the same as an Italian, is there?

Learn how to say I’m sorry. When a mistake has been made, be the first to apologize. We all make mistakes. We will all say things we don’t mean. Offer your apology first.

The media does not always reflect real life. Although there is a high number of Asians who are high earners in the US, a high proportion lives under the poverty line. NPR notes that Asian Americans are the one population group who are highly educated and the wealthiest of all racial groups in the US but are more impoverished than non-Hispanic whites.

Elevate voices that come from different population groups than your own. When thinking about how your content will reach many, think about the diversity of your message. Is it evergreen content for all backgrounds, races, ethnicities, genders, ages, religions, abilities, and sexual orientations? Understandably, not all content needs to reach all those points. This does not need to be an unachievable or lofty goal. There will be instances where this is not achievable. Women cannot market shaving cream for men. The point is to get to know your audience. What would it look like to hear how someone completely different than you approaches and thinks about productivity? What can you learn from them? What can they learn from you?

One of the best inclusive ads launched was by Dove in 2004. What has made it so successful? It is inclusive of all shapes, sizes, colors, and ages.

How will you move towards inclusivity?

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Nancy Blackman

Nancy Blackman

6X Top Writer. Editor: The Shortform, MIDFORM, CRY Magazine. Owner: Refresh the Soul. Published in “Mixed Korean: Our Stories.” https://www.325kamra.org/buy.

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