Patiently educating a clueless white person about race is draining. It takes all your powers of persuasion. Because it’s more than a chat about race. It’s ontological. It’s like explaining to a person why you exist, or why you feel pain, or why your reality is distinct from their reality. Except it’s even trickier than that. Because the person has all of Western history, politics, literature, and mass culture on their side, proving that you don’t exist.Excerpt from Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong
Despite the subtitle of “Asian American Reckoning,” Minor Feelings feels so descriptive of this moment. In one essay of this collection, Cathy Park Hong examines the LA riots following Rodney King’s beating, and the crossfire between Black and Korean communities back in 1992. She upholds the idea that if you want to understand those riots, you have to believe multiple truths; that Koreans had been both beneficiaries and victims of the white supremacy that sparked the fire. White supremacy had recruited them to be “junior partners in genocidal wars; conscripted us to be anti-Black and colorist.” But that conscription is its own yoke. You can go one step up on the ladder, but any more and we’ll put you in your place. The “model minority” status does not save you from harm.
I’ve seen a couple Asian American reviewers disappointed that they felt they didn’t see themselves in this book. Cathy Park Hong’s life wasn’t recognizable as their experience. But I think that just goes to prove one of her points: Asian American is a newer term because it lacks any real meaning. It’s hard to speak in universalities when the community is not a monolith.
I’d do Cathy Park Hong a disservice by summarizing any more of her elegantly formed arguments. So I’ll conclude by saying, as a poet, she artfully dismantles everything from the boxes Asian American creators are shoved in, dispels the model minority myth, reckons with the complicated relationships families develop after immigrating, laments the silence that meets anti-Asian violence and more. This is a collection you could return to again and again, and you’d reveal new layers, new truths with each visit
Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong Read on audio, narrated by the author