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  • Writer's pictureJamie Liew

A lot of minor feelings lately

The last few weeks have been at best, busy, at its worst, emotional and challenging. Following the killings in Atlanta, I found myself reacting with many others on twitter, trying to show solidarity with anti-racism discussions and pointing to the intersectional reasons why this was not just a random killing. I was invited by the Conversation to expand my thoughts on how the incident is not just about misogyny and race but also about the perceived immigration status or foreign identity imposed on the women, as well as their perceived line of work, sex work. This piece led to requests for media interviews, and after one, I started to receive harassing and offensive emails from strangers gaslighting my feelings and my scholarship. I reversed course and cancelled a media interview for the first time in my life. In the isolation of the pandemic, I felt inundated with racist and offensive thoughts and didn't want to invite more. But as I was watching conversations unfold, I entered the fray again, reminding myself of the privilege I have in helping to deconstruct what has been happening during the COVID-19 pandemic when it comes to Asian racism, with migrant essential workers, and to show solidarity with other racialized communities who face more urgent and dangerous situations. It felt like a duty to amplify the work of grassroots organizations like Butterfly, SWAN, Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, Migrant Rights Network.

I did my first Instagram Live interview and did not realize how raw the reactions and comments would be as they crossed my screen while I was talking. I got emotional at one point when I was asked if Atlanta was really a racist incident. As I was explaining that we have to listen to the communities most affected, to acknowledge how they perceive the events, to understand the fear they have for themselves and their loved ones, to grapple with how we do not feel safe, I saw racist and offensive comments cross the screen. It was jarring to be asked the question, "Is it racist?" when right before the eyes of viewers, the racist comments may not have swayed them.

This brings me to the book you see below. In a pandemic, there is less opportunity to meet a friend, walk into a friendly colleague's office, to run into a sympathetic ear. So many people wrote me messages and it was telling to me that the community that reached out to me, many were people who are part of communities that they themselves experience some form of oppression. Others were persons who work closely with those communities. I am so grateful for those who reached out.

But in the isolation of the pandemic, so much of what I was experiencing was gaslighting - that I was wrong that this was racism, that I was making a big deal out of nothing.

I turned to Cathy Park Hong's book, Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning. I know this sounds strange, but this book comforted me in ways that no one could.

I bought this book when it first came out and tried several times to sit down to read it. I couldn't get past the first few pages. This was not because it was not well written or accurate or compelling. It was because it hit close to home to me in a way that was triggering. It felt like uninvited pain or the retelling of a story I didn't want to hear again.

The last few weeks drove me to pick up the book not only because I wanted to centre my thinking and responses publicly with good scholarship and thinking but because I needed to hear that I was not wrong, or that I am imagining all of this. I devoured the book in a day and half.

I dog-eared countless pages reading this book and I can't recommend it enough.

Like Park Hong, I thought of my dad when I watched the viral video of David Dao dragged off a United Airlines flight in 2017. I think of my parents and elders every time I see an Asian person attacked in North America.

Most of all, I felt seen when she used Sianne Ngai's term "minor feelings" to talk about how, "Our feelings are overreactions because our lived experiences of structural inequity are not commensurate with their deluded reality." I feel seen when Park Hong talks about brushing her daughter's hair and having flashbacks to your own childhood, but not in a good way. I relate to her experience watching your own parents being debased like a child in a racist encounter and wonder if my children will remember me that way.

Like Park Hong, I am in the mix, commenting publicly because I'm still reckoning with where we stand in the white supremacist hierarchy. Many of us think race has no bearing on our lives. I am choosing to think about it like Park Hong despite all the shame Park Hong reminds me is all around me and my community. I'm all too cognizant of how shame, as Park Hong writes, can lead to productive self-scrutiny but also contempt.

So for now, I just want to recommend this book to you. This blog post does not do it justice. The book is an intricate, smart, dark but funny memoir about Asian American identity. It brought me a surprising amount of comfort at a time where doubt poked at me from aggressive messages from complete strangers.

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