comic am i taking up too much space featuring asian girl

Reactions to the Atlanta Shootings 2021 as an Asian woman living in America


*Originally posted on my previous personal blog (bylydiac)

This is a heavy topic that I have a lot of thoughts about, but no articulate words to put it all together. Having lived in the United States for most of my adult life, and been in an American education system most of my life, mass shootings are sadly…quite common. Only in the U.S. do we hear news of how a random person (usually a man, and often also white) had shot up some place, be it a grocery store or school or church. And when my friends (mostly immigrant kids) and I hear about this, our first reactions are typically “That’s terrible” then we move on, like our brains have been desensitized and we’re all kind of used to it.

But when I react that way, I try to stop myself and think “wait a second…” how can it be this normalized? How can I be reacting so “normally” after a senseless mass shooting? The fact that it is easier to get a gun in the U.S. than to afford healthcare, mental health care, higher education and I don’t know, many things… is senseless to me. I don’t have the words to explain it, but just lots of feelings.

I did not first hear about the Atlanta shooting through a news source, but rather through my social media feed. I follow a lot of Asian women content creators and quickly one by one were posts about the shooting. Mainly just reactions of rage, sadness, and exhaustion. I then quickly checked the news and saw what had happened. 8 shot dead across the Atlantla area in spas, 6 were Asian women, the suspect a 21-year old white man, and how he had did it because these spas were a “temptation”.

My first reaction normalized this event. Like, oh… another mass shooting. This is America. Sigh. Then I went to bed feeling sad. Then the next day there were more reactions on social media, especially in the circles I’m in because I follow a lot of Asian American platforms. I remember not thinking too much about it besides reading other people’s reactions, and really feeling not good. Like I could not function at work that day, and just spent a lot of time lying on the ground.

Many thoughts entered and left my mind… such as – wow I guess I am not safe in America as an Asian woman. Then simultaneously thinking “wait I already knew that” while also thinking “no I did not know that, I thought I could exist in this country safely” then also thinking to myself “wow how naive of you to ever have that thought in the first place”. The thought spanned into “but so much of the Asian community is anti-black, and have not been there for other marginalized communities, so do we deserve this?” (Of course NOT). To thoughts like “wait but black people have it worse, so we don’t get to take up space” but also recognizing “the grief in the Asian community is real. This is real, right?”

I was essentially gaslighting myself all day. Wanting to feel grief, but catching myself telling me I don’t deserve to feel sad. Because I’m a privileged Asian woman living a comfortable life in a metropolitan city in the U.S., not part of the demographic that was targeted for the shooting. Then realizing how dangerous that thought is because I keep putting myself down. Then as I tune into social media, I recognized that I am not alone in feeling this way.

So I turned these mixed feelings into a short illustration which I am sharing below –

Drawing the above illustrations was something I did on impulse, because I knew I wanted to try to dig deeper into my thoughts, but I couldn’t do it purely in my head. Putting it on (digital) paper, I was surprised, actually helped me verbalize my feelings pretty well.

When I started writing the line of “silent suffering” and how as an Asian woman, it is easy to be invisible, to blend in (which the model minority myth facilitates), but equivalently, it’s like we are disappearing.

It became clear during that day, that I had been gaslighting myself, but also facilitating my own disappearance and invisibility in society. It’s what I am most easily accepted as in society, someone who sticks to herself, keeps her head down, doesn’t rock the boat, doesn’t make the fuss. Very much the harmful model minority myth that continues to cause friction among people of color communities in a white supremacist world. Because those in power can point to the “model minorities” and blame the other minorities why can’t they be like the “model minorities”?

I realized that I was invisibilizing myself as I was processing what happened. I was erasing myself. And as I drew above, erasing myself was erasing the experiences of the victims who died senseless deaths. Erasing myself is to erase not only the other Asian women in this country, but also in the world. It is to erase the feelings of anyone marginalized in society. It was my internalized racism doing this to me. The part of me that has internalized white supremacy as normal, and was self-inflicting on myself, putting myself down, shoving myself back under to stay silent.

I shared the above illustrations on my Instagram account and it got quite a lot of shares and likes. I was genuinely surprised because I had hastily put it together. It means that others resonated and could relate to this feeling. I am not alone in these feelings.

It’s not just anti-Asian hate crime on the rise in this country, anti-blackness, Islamophobia, xenophobia, runs rampant and always has. I don’t believe it’s going anywhere because it’s very much the foundation this country was built on.

The next illustration I drew was just about “taking up space”. It was on my mind why I and other *insert marginalized identity here* person I knew would put themselves down so much or feel guilty for speaking up or over speaking.

Throughout school, college, work, I have seen that most white straight cis men have had no issues speaking up, or speaking a lot in conversations. I often found myself cringing at how much they were speaking, imagining I was in their shoes speaking that much.

It dawned on me that it is probably the case that those who are asking everyday “Am I taking up too much space” are only asked by the people who are hyper self conscious about taking up space, meaning they are also the people who don’t take a lot of space because they are used to NOT taking up space.

I know this feeling. I have to try really hard to speak up in discussions and meetings, to assert my opinion, to say more than a sentence or finish my thought. That’s because I have conventionally always been scared or felt guilty about even taking up a little bit of space. What made me this way? Why am I like this? Why does guilt follow me everywhere I go? Why does guilt follow me for purely existing?

Only a few weeks post-Atlanta shooting, I just know that I have felt a renewed sense of awareness around my own internalized racism. And how I need to combat the self that wants to stay invisible, quiet, and not take up space because it’s easier. Because who’s going to notice anyway?

As we can see in the case of the shooting and the various hate crimes in recent times and in history, staying invisible, quiet and the “model minority” does NOT protect us. This country operates on a whim of its own, and does whatever the hell it wants. If a white man with a gun happens to have a bad day, it doesn’t matter if your head is down working hard or if you’ve never done a crime or offended anyone – if you’re a person of color, you’re a little less than human, you’re a “temptation”, and your life is worthless.

So I will not be silent. I will not be invisible. I will not erase myself. I will not gaslight myself. I will not disappear. I will try to keep fighting my urge to disappear, because I deserve it, people of color in this country deserve it. Marginalized people around the world deserve it.

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