"How do you react in the face of racism?
I recently did a family session for a neighbor, and the grandma was the coordinator. During the session, her 2-year-old grandson was having a tantrum, making it nearly impossible to capture a good photo without him crying. The grandma explained that he had been in meltdown mode since waking up from his nap, and when I said hello to him, he started crying again.
A few days later, after delivering the photo gallery, I ran into them at the community pool. The grandson cried again when he saw me waving at him. Initially, I didn't think much of it, but later that day, I received a text message from the grandma meant for someone else. The message read, "(the download PIN is) 3036, She was at the pool when we went, XXX (the grandson's name) saw her and cried, Lol. I think he is prejudice against Chinese."
My heart sank, and it felt like reliving high school all over again. Ever since moving from New York City to North Carolina in 2021, I've noticed a stark difference in the Asian community's size here. It's like the humidity that hits you the moment you step out of the airport in Florida. We are often the only Asian individuals in any given room, in a predominantly white community, I've tried to be cautious and blend in, not wanting to attract negative attention to my ethnicity. Yet, it seems no matter how kind I am, racist individuals will always find a reason to look down on me.
I couldn't help but wonder how my fellow Chinese photographers would react to such a text. So, I shared it on XiaoHongShu, a Chinese social media platform, and the response was overwhelming. Some offered support, saying, "Don't let it get to you; I'm sure she didn't mean it that way..." Others appeared angrier than me, stating, "If you don't respond to her, it makes me sad. Stand up for yourself and tell her she must teach her grandson the right way." Some even criticized me, saying, "You chose to live there, so it's your responsibility."
One comment went further, warning that if I didn't stand up for myself, her grandkids would continue to bully my “f-king” kids. These reactions came from my own people, who share the same skin color and language. An attack doesn't always have to come from an enemy; it can come from within your own ranks.
I decided to respond, but I kept it simple, only pointing out that she had sent the message to the wrong person. "Yes, sorry, XXX asked for the code, and I was telling her about XXX crying again. Thanks again for the beautiful pictures." Surprisingly, she continued to ask me to further edit two of the photos in the gallery, as if nothing had happened.
Her apology was only for sending the message to the wrong person, not for the offensive comment she made about me. I sighed, re-edited her photos, and sent them back to her in the most respectful and professional manner. Perhaps I disappointed my countrymen by choosing not to fight back, not even uttering a groan. I opted to remain silent, like the way many of my ancestors have done over the past 5000 years.
I've learned not to stand out too much, as my skin color can attract unfriendly comments and reactions. I've learned to stay low-key, conscious that I never know who might have a gun in their car, especially since I have two kids in my car. Nonetheless, I know that even if I am the most respectful and talented photographer, my Chinese heritage and Asian appearance will always set me apart. I must work harder to prove that I deserve to be here, on this supposedly "land of the free." I have chosen my last name Wang as my business name instead of my legal last name Mongkarach (from my husband) because I am proud of being a Chinese, and I will continue to be.
My reaction to racism is not to fight back, I lick my own wound in my cave because that’s the way I heal, I chose to fight back as water instead of fire. It takes way more energy for me to say anything negative to her, so instead of being like fire and destroy (and inevitably self-destruction because it consumed yourself), I would like to be like water, a drop of water can penetrate any rock with consistency and perseverance. I believe kindness will prevail, love never fails.
I hope my sons find their own ways to deal with this inevitable fight. Even more so, I hope they will never show prejudice on anyone, I hope they know their value and work hard to prove it to the world.