It’s been 20 years since I was about the same age and head space as this intern who wrote How America tells me and other Asian American men we’re not attractive in the Seattle Times. It’s been 150 years since the Page Act and the Chinese Exclusion Act gave into White American fears over “undesirable” Asian bodies invading their space. America, has nothing changed? Maybe if critical race theory had been introduced sooner we’d have nicer things by now.
I’m particularly sad to think 20 years have gone by and it’s like we just pressed rewind. But I also got the hint at his age this would happen. Some elementary school students touring our college campus mouthed off something racist and looked at us like they were at the zoo when they saw three Asian American guys just sitting at a table having a meeting. They were supposedly the next generation of enlightened ‘non-racist’ whites in the liberal Bay Area. It’s 20 years later now. I wonder where they’re working.
You will die many lifetimes over waiting for white people to change. So quit trying. And don’t be sad about it. No doubt you’ve probably been told, “The most important thing is to work on yourself.” That is true. It’s the right thing. It’s the absolute end point. But I know and you know it’s completely unsatisfying and missing something when that’s all you say to an Asian American guy in their early 20s.
Here’s what I wish someone had told me at that age:
- When you look back on pictures of yourself, you’re going to be surprised at how good you looked.
- Embrace getting rejected at a higher rate than every other racial and ethnic group. You will save time, money, energy, conflict and trifling conversation.
- Allow the rejections to be a natural invisible hand filtering the shocking array of life decisions you may not know how to make in your early twenties. Let it scuttle you back and forth down experimental paths quicker to find your niche.
- Don’t fight the rejection by ‘trying to prove it wrong’. You’ll be distracted from your destined path.
- You are in charge of your glow up and have the power to change the narrative of what’s desirable in the universe.
- The world changes its tastes and style faster than you think. Or if you follow this advice you can immediately change your world to one with different tastes and styles.
So yes, America tells you a lot of things. Not all of them kind. But you also have been gifted with a structure where you’re not tyrannized for speaking back. Don’t wait for it to tell you a different message about whether you’re attractive. You tell it. No, you tell them how you look. That’s the way it works.