Updated: May 28
Dear Asian Youth,
I won’t lie—when an email informed me I wouldn’t be going back to school for the rest of the year, I was bummed. My friends and I all shared the mindset of “COVID-19 will blow over soon.” We saw Covid as an addition to our spring break, not a month long pandemic. Unfortunately, I would spend the rest of my junior year in Texas “hanging out” with my friends through virtual calls. As a teenager, I am constantly plugged into an electronic device, but translating all components of your life digitally is exhausting, to put it simply.
I am a shy person by nature, but being isolated without a daily form of socialization stresses me out. You could cherry-pick who you chose to communicate with, and your “real friends” would reveal themselves to you. That classmate that you sat with every day became a stranger and your friend group dynamic changes as well. There’s one person I’ve known for several years; I’ll give her the alias Al. I met her years ago when I first arrived at my current school. She was the first person I befriended. We came from separate realms, but together we created a whole image. Confrontation and discord scared me, so her confidence drew me in. I appreciated her outspokenness because the concept was foreign and enchanting for me. Now, I admire and hate her for it.
Once I was sitting at home bored and sending off a new text every second (as someone struck with isolation does), I remember talking to a mutual friend, and Al came up. She asked me, “Ella, when will you stop making excuses for Al?” I didn’t understand what she meant. I had allowed Al’s more unsavory actions to slide because as a friend I shouldn’t judge, right? I hated rocking the boat. Even worse, arguments made my stomach lurch. It’s embarrassing, but I used to turn away from injustices to keep the peace.
This summer I was asked to participate as a student leader for a non-black POC affinity program for a Black Lives Matter alliance group. I was shaken awake to social injustices (that I should’ve been more in tune with before), and a match of passion was lit. I wanted the event to have high attendance, so naturally, I invited Al to sign up. She texted back, “Hmm, I’m not sure if that’s my thing.” I thought: fighting for human rights wasn’t her thing? Seeking justice for people of color wasn’t her thing? Per usual, I just said, “oh okay,” and swiped out of the chat. This was the first time I realized my ignorance of her passiveness.
However, it wasn’t the last. Now, I take responsibility for being complicit and silent in the face of her insensitive behavior. That’s why I am writing this. I want to tell you that you shouldn’t be afraid to speak out against aggression pointed at you. I think it’s ingrained in Asian children that we should be obedient to powerful people. I’m tired of hearing things like, “guys don’t like Asian girls.” The glaring question is: are they truly your friends if they jab at you like that? My friend group is all Asian except for Al, but somehow she still held influence over me.
“Allies are people who stand up in your absence.” Someone used this definition of allyship in a zoom event I had attended. I spent my life being a “yes, ma’am” person because of the head-down mentality instilled within me. But I’m retaking my voice now. I’m not trying to expose or attack Al in this piece; I want to show an example of someone who isn’t a true friend. Faith in oneself is already difficult to find without being tease. I don’t believe “microaggressions” exist because they are truly full-fledged hostilities. I won’t stand for anybody invalidating mine or my friends’ experiences as Asian women; oppression has already followed us for so long. Too long. Toxicity was apparent to my eyes, I just chose to ignore it. There’s no time to look back.
The beauty of writing is it gives you a voice when oral expressions fail you (for me, at least). I idolized Al’s direct personality because I lacked it. Virtual learning forced me to confront the flashing red warnings and sirens I had long disregarded. I think that being alone with myself reawakened thoughts I pushed away. My ignorance stemmed from my desire to assimilate and be liked by others. When someone feeds you veiled negative thoughts constantly, it tends to dig its way into your subconscious. My desire to cling onto my friendship with Al previously outweighed my desire to speak out. I want to tell Asian youth to prioritize themselves and cut out harmful friends, as hard as it is. Just because someone says they are an ally doesn’t mean that they truly are.
- Ella Ip