A while back, I asked Asian folks to share the most offensive thing non-Asians have said to them "romantically," and 150+ people wrote in. What's more, some shared their experiences beyond the dating world. So this time, I asked them to tell me about the anti-Asian microaggressions they've experienced.
And they did not hold back. People shared microaggressions they've faced from colleagues, teachers, classmates, in-laws, and more. Now, if you're unfamiliar with microaggressions, Professor Kevin Nadal summed up, "Microaggressions are defined as the everyday, subtle, intentional — and oftentimes unintentional — interactions or behaviors that communicate some sort of bias toward historically marginalized groups."
So, to make a space and platform for their experiences, ranging from microaggressions to straight-up racism, here are their stories:
1. "I had a not-so-good feeling yesterday when a coworker (who does not know me well) hit the button of the IT floor for me in the elevator. Not all of your Asian coworkers work in IT!"
2. "I was at the mall food court, standing in line at Subway, when I noticed the lady in front of me had intricate acrylic nails. I said, 'Your nails are really pretty.' She looked at her nails, thanked me, and then said, 'Hey! Aren't you one that did them?' I told her no, but she insisted. I've never worked as a nail technician and told her as such, to which she responded, 'That's so weird. You look just like her. It is you!' What started off as a simple compliment turned into me trying to convince her I wasn't her nail tech."
"I don't EVER compliment anyone on their nails anymore."
3. "My dad and I both grew up here in the US. We're Filipino and have typical Boston accents. One person, when meeting us, said to my dad, 'Oh, wow, I didn't expect you to look like that.' He had only ever talked to him on the phone and didn't expect an Asian man to have such an 'American' voice."
4. "I'm of Indian descent, and I was born and raised in the US. Last year, I went to renew my license and opted for the enhanced license, as I was interested in having the border crossing perk. I went into the DMV — application already filled out and approved online — only to have the person helping me ask for my green card and tell me I couldn't apply for an enhanced license. My birth certificate was right in front of her. Even after I told her, no, I am a citizen, she was insistent that I couldn't get an enhanced license and that it wouldn't work in a few years. I was very anxious at this point and just decided to get the real ID instead, which I now regret."
5. "One time, me and my boyfriend, who is also Asian, were traveling to New Orleans. We asked our Uber driver if there are any restaurants he'd recommend, and all he recommended were Asian restaurants."
6. "A guy at my school was speaking Vietnamese. The people listening to him looked at me and asked if I could translate. I told them I'm not that type of Asian; I'm Filipino. Then, one guy said, 'Well, can you speak Filipinese?' I said, 'No, that's not a language,' and told him to fuck off."
7. "At work, we use Teams. It shows a thumbnail photo of you, and your name is below it. On a group call, which included myself and another coworker of Asian descent, one coworker actually said, 'Why are there two pictures of the same person...?' Her voice trailed off as she finally realized there were two different people on the call."
8. "A boy in high school said, 'I really like you, and I would date you, but I don't date Asians.' Thanks, Ethan, hope you're doing horribly."
"I have so many since I grew up and lived in places that were predominately white."
9. "My middle school did the Valentine's Day carnation thing where you could buy carnations to be sent to other people in front of the whole class. In seventh grade, one guy decided to buy a carnation for every girl in our class — except for me. I'm Indian and also happened to be the only non-white person in class. After, he stopped me to say he didn't get me a carnation on purpose because he 'didn't know that Asians dated.'"
—Anushree, North Carolina
10. "One day, when I was at work, my boss got really upset and began loudly complaining in front of the whole staff because there was MSG in a ranch dressing packet she was using. I attempted to start a conversation about the original article that unfairly gave MSG a bad name, but she continued to spew uneducated nonsense, saying things like, 'All I'm saying is MSG doesn't need to be in MY foods. That's completely unnecessary.' She told everyone MSG is proven to cause heart issues and incredibly addictive. When I asked her what research that is based on, she, of course, never read anything about it. She 'just knows.'"
"I'm second-generation Filipino, and food is something I feel most culturally connected to since I have no other Asian family in the states besides my mom. I explained to my boss how that's offensive to many Asian people, and she doubled down. She then asked the others in the room to back her up, including another Asian American woman. Quitting a job never felt so good."
11. "I'm Pakistani American, and one of my teachers basically said I was lucky to have been born and raised in the US because I probably would've been 'married off back home' as a 16-year-old."
12. "This has happened multiple times over the years: I'll be waiting in line at the supermarket, and the cashier will say, 'Hi, how are you?' to the customer ahead of me. When it's my turn, they don't greet me or make eye contact. I'm just an average height Chinese woman. I'm not scary or intimidating. Sometimes, if I greet them, they might say hi back, but other times, they just ignore me. Then, when I'm collecting my bags to go, I'll hear them greet the next person. It's quite hurtful."
13. "'Oh, my neighbors are Indian!' I have brown skin, and it's hard to tell where I am from. When I tell people I am Pakistani, they tell me about their Indian neighbors."
14. "I am Thai. I was adopted as an infant by white parents and have lived on the west coast ever since. The most popular question I get asked is, 'Where are you from?' I usually say, 'Seattle.' Then a follow-up question: 'No, but where are you really from?' One time, my dad and I took my parents' dogs to the dog park, and some white dude blatantly asked me, 'What are you?' As a white man, my dad was incredulous at this and had no idea I dealt with this on a regular basis."
15. "I was in middle school when a classmate told me that I should name my kids by throwing pots and pans down the stairs and then name them based off the sounds, like 'Jing Chong,' etc."
16. "One of the most magical nights of my life, the night my now-husband proposed to me, is tarnished. After the proposal, we had dinner with both families. At the restaurant, I was looking down at my phone with the light glowing on my face. My husband's father then said to me, 'Hold on, I have to take a picture of you 'cause you look like a China Doll.' I was in complete shock."
"My family was pissed. At least my husband and SIL both told him that it was completely inappropriate and to never say that."
17. "I'm Vietnamese-Chinese. On a first date, this one white guy said to me, 'You're dark for an Asian.'"
"I am, in fact, quite pale."
18. "In eighth grade, my English teacher asked me if I was getting an arranged marriage because he'd heard some rumors from other kids. Instead of asking me if I was okay, he went on to say that it was normal in my culture. And he didn't even care to do anything about the rumors."
19. "I went to dinner with my partner, his brother, their dad, and their dad's at-the-time-girlfriend. We were enjoying our meal with some small talk, when his girlfriend, while telling a story, mentioned that the person driving in front of her was an awful driver. She then said, 'She must have been Chinese or something,' looked at me and added, 'No offense.' She and their dad chuckled, while the three of us looked at each other. All I could think to say was, 'Well, I'm not Chinese, so it doesn't really apply?' They chuckled again, and the rest of the night was very awkward. I spent all of it thinking of how to bring it up to them. I never found the right time, and I know I should've just said something right away, but I'm weird with different kinds of confrontation. Maybe I was in shock a little, too."
20. "It's wild how many of the microaggressions I've faced have come from fellow Asians, specifically those from more developed Asian countries. My boss is Korean-British, and he gives me the bulk of the work in the office and has no problem humiliating and threatening to fire me for minor mistakes. Meanwhile, he's very careful talking to my white British colleagues who do not work as much as I do."
"Oh, and somehow they get paid more, too."
21. "I'm Filipino, which means my skin tone is relatively dark, and my last name sounds Spanish. I also live in Arizona, a state with a large Latin American population. Back when I worked retail, I had a satisfied customer look at my name-tag — which only had my first name, Dane — and ask for my last name. When I told him, his response was a very enthusiastic, 'Well, muchas gracias, [my full name], and adios!'"
To learn more about the impact of microaggressions on Asians, check out:
• ‘Death by a Thousand Cuts’: The Impact of Microaggressions on the AAPI Community
• Racial Microaggressions and the Asian American Experience
• Microaggressions are a big deal: How to talk them out and when to walk away