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The White Court

The White Court
a poem by Billy Agustin

Dear Asian Youth,

when i was ten

i learned

how to

swallow myself

“Asians eat dogs.” I blink, confused. The statement doesn’t necessarily bother me. It seemed to make people laugh, in fact. I heard the lilting, teasing cadence of their voices, the giggles that graced their undertones. Surely, they meant no harm, right? Who was I to be someone that ruined that kind of laughter? Nobody likes a person who takes things too seriously, so I laugh through my too-thin glasses and choppy hair. I wring my hands and laugh, belly full of dread. “Yeah, they do.” I tuck away my tupperware, the scent of last night’s chorizo still hanging in the air.

i learned

that i cared

too much


too hard

i wonder

what that means, i

tried to scrub

my skin clean

of dirt


people forget

what i am

i will be your cool asian friend

your straight a-student

your rebel, knife wielding, multi-colored hair

manic pixie dream girl

your quirky bestie

your quiet, eccentric, classmate

hiding behind books

that is what i am supposed to be


easy to swallow


I don’t remember a time where I didn’t want to be white. I idolized the tales of princesses who were blonde and flushed with beauty--girls who had oceans in their eyes and forests within their souls. I stare into the mirror, legs tucked beneath my bottom as I kneel atop the bathroom counter, searching for flecks of gold within my brown eyes. The things that were spoken of in my novels and poems. All I saw reflected back was darkness. Dullness. They will speak of honey-brown, warm tones, and the way that sunlight glances off of them, and I may even see that in my lifetime. Still, life is never as romantic as we make it out to be. I wasn’t even the pretty Asian idols they worshipped. No Fa Mulan or slick, black hair. No smooth, pale skin or softly slanting eyes. I could never be that. When people heard “Asian,” that’s the only thing they thought. Quiet, exotic beauty, not the untameable hair or dark skin I had. So, who was I really? I couldn’t answer that to my own satisfaction. The leaky sink of our bathroom faucet fades to background noise, all too rhythmic. The thought crosses my mind that maybe I am too accustomed to it.

i have evolved

from quiet, bookish elitist

to crass, unabashed jester

i will dance for the white court

asian girls

if not quiet and submissive

can only be subversive

and i do not look

like the asian girls

they talk about

so i joke

we eat dogs and cats

pull back my face

in a harlequin grin

dance and sing

make a mockery of melodious accents

languages that are not even my own



is not so synonymous with progress

I distanced myself from my culture. I remember laughing at the same tired comments again and again. Perhaps it was easier for me because of the disconnect- in all honesty, it wasn’t me who was the butt of the joke. I looked nothing like the nail-salon technicians that I’d imitate. When people murmur “ching chong ching,” they’re not mocking Tagalog. Even my own family is guilty of racist behaviour, pulling their temples back in terrible and caricaturistic fashions to imitate our Eastern brethren. It brings me no solace, and yet I still found myself doing it. Filipinos, for all of their jovial and resilient characteristics, can still be unabashedly cruel. It’s difficult to break from your family, of all people.

but if i

speak too loud

in tongues

and tones


i am thrown aside

unfulfilled plaything

so i think

i fester, i suppress

if i cannot speak

all that is left is thinking

all that is left is the mind

I hated speaking out against racist behaviours. Even if it was my friends or family, I had no constitution for confrontation, and I hated myself even more for being complicit. I hid away behind poems and essays, writings I would never dare say to their faces. I stopped cracking my attempts at humor that were thinly-veiled acts of over-compensation. I stopped laughing at the people who told them. But I never spoke. I didn’t want to fall into an angry activist archetype, and oftentimes my family lived by trying not to mind the tiny cracks. “Be a duck, let things roll off of your back,” my mother would utter, wiping away my tears as a child. Life is easier that way if you ignore all the little things. A little thing could be a microaggression, a stranger calling you a slur, the white girl in your history class muttering gibberish Mandarin when you’re learning about Confucious. It could also be the white kids who speak for you, who look cool and kitschy and socially conscious if they talk about race and intersectionality. But if it’s you, then it’s an “uncomfortable discussion”. I don’t mind allyship, in fact, I commend it. I have no internal resentment towards the white community in the slightest. But I cannot ignore their privilege- if anything, I am deeply jealous. They never seem afraid to speak. There is nothing more wonderful, I think, than full assurance in yourself.

and so,

this jester has become a pierrot!

a quiet, balking mass

unassuming but now saddened

soft balloon head so full

it’ll pop

and one day, a needle comes along to prick the belly

of bloated anger

so swallowed, so withheld

and the mime speaks.

burning at the throat and eyes,

makeup melting off

it is rage incarnate

it is sheer poetry

and so, i vomit

bring back up the alphabet soup drudgery of words unspoken

it is ugly,


i fumble and fall

but i push through.

I feel helpless. It seemed like another score was added to the list of lives lost to a vindictive system. Ahmaud Arbery . George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. More, whose stories were not caught on camera. Shutting off my laptop, I crawl into bed, clutching my stomach. Tears are a weekly occurrence. Some of the only fragments of stability I have left. The world feels like it’s shattered into pieces, and I could do nothing. Such a movement didn’t concern Asians, right? Guilt weighs on my shoulders. Midnight revelations can range from painful to cathartic. This was both: I hated myself for my silence. I hated myself for my complacency- I was no better than those in power who saw deceit and refused to act out against it. I weep into my blankets, heavy with frustration. I bite down on my knuckles. I tire of crying very quickly, so my mind wanders as I train my eyes on the tepid moonlight leaking through the cracks of the curtain. What can I do? I rise, drawing back the drapes. Gentle light floods the room. The night has never seemed more melancholic. My body feels as though it is buzzing. With a furrowed brow, I make an internal promise. I can try. I can listen. A grace that I was never granted. The moon has never seemed brighter.


are more than

chinese restaurant cashiers

and tiny, submissive

immigrant wives

and mastermind

math students

and dragon lady


we are more than the performers

in your jovial court ballet, more than the entertainers for high society

more than the diversity quota

and background characters

we are beyond

your milk-skinned


boundless in color

and belief

when i was sixteen,

i learned

that we are humans

composed of multitudes,

and i have complexities

worthy of hearing.

songs that echo ballads and epics

never again

shall i eat my own words

- Billy

Cover photo source:

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