Advocacy,  blog

To be a Woman of Color in America is to be Constantly Gaslighted

To be a woman of color in America is to be constantly gaslighted about your experience

The first time a man hit on me and told me I was exotic, I laughed. It was at a bar in St. Louis where he decided to colonize the booth my friends and I were sitting at and tell me he thought I was “beautiful and exotic looking” before asking me where I was from. I thought to myself, what an idiot, there are literally billions of us, and laughed it off with my friends as we left to find another table.

But as I continue to navigate my 20s, I realize the extent to which my race is intertwined with how I am sexualized by men, particularly white men.

As an Indian American woman, I can only speak to my own personal experience, but I know that given the deep rooted structural nature of racism and sexism in this country that there are many experiences like my own. I also believe that every woman in America has experienced sexism and every person of color in America has experienced racism, and every woman of color has experienced its intersection.

The Racism that You Internalize Starts Young

Maybe it was being embarrassed when your parents spoke to you in another language in front of your friends because you didn’t want to be seen as different. Maybe it was the feeling of being one of few girls of color in the school you grew up with and trying to figure out if there were ways to be more “white” so that boys would like you.

Maybe it was being asked your entire adolescence by your peers and friends why you “don’t wear a dot on your forehead” and “why do you worship cows”.  Maybe it was being made to feel ashamed of your culture, constantly.

The sexism you internalize starts young too.

Maybe it was constantly having your voice drowned out in STEM classes from middle school to college. Or maybe it was the time you were told you should be in charge of cleaning up the lab because “women are just better at that stuff”. Maybe it is the way you hold your keys like a claw when you have to walk home at night. Maybe it’s being scared to reject a man at a bar because you know he might get angry. Maybe it is the continuous verbiage from the patriarchy that femininity and competence cannot coexist.

So, what do you do? You try to be as masculine in your attire and presentation so that your abilities cannot be questioned. You try to hide your culture as much as you can so that you’re not seen as “other”.  

And before you know it, you are made to believe that your gender and your race are a handicap and are subtly convinced that you should try to embody a white man.

But strangely enough, the same white patriarchy that has made you feel that your femininity and your race are a weakness, are the same that sexualize and fetishize you.

I remember the first time a man called me exotic. But then it happened again, and again, and again. And the first time I said something back the response I got was “I meant it as a compliment. Cause I’ve never been with an Indian girl before”.

And the racism and sexism don’t stop. The louder you shout the more your voice is drowned out.  

“Indian girls are into kinky stuff”

“He has a thing for brown girls”

“I’ve never met an Indian girl I liked before you”

“You’re so exotic”

“Asian girls are into freaky stuff”

Women of color in America face this constantly and being fetishized and made to feel like we should be grateful for the attention is part of the experience. We are told that our existence is less than unless we are providing something for a man. We are “overreacting” or just “didn’t get the joke” when we call it out. Because conditioning us to normalize the racism we face is the best form of oppression. It is why I, until now, laughed about men telling me I was “exotic”.

Racism Rooted in History (like it always is)

Asian and Asian-American women have been associated with stereotypes that link them to sex work, being submissive and are treated like a commodity. These perceptions of being exotic and hypersexual are rooted in history.

The Page Act 1975 is one of the earliest examples, preventing Asian women from immigrating under the suggestion that they are prostitutes. This of course is followed with a long history of anti-Asian racism from the Chinese Exclusion act a few years later, Japanese Internment Camps, the Murder of Vincent Chen to the rise in Anti-Asian hate crimes we have seen in the last four years under Trump.

Sexualize Us Unwilling, Fetishize us, Gaslight Us, Kill Us

The shooting in Atlanta on March 16th 2021, where six Asian women were killed, grabbed national attention for an issue that has existed for a long time.

The shooter and police describing this as a sexual addiction ties back to America’s history of fetishizing Asian women. It continues the narrative that women of color are taught that their existence is to serve as a commodity. It continues to show our country’s racism where a white man can murder 8 people and be alive in the custody of a police department who said “he was having a bad day” and a black man can be murdered by that same police for using a suspicious 20 dollar bill. It ties back to our gun problem and our mental health issues. But the most flagrant issues are those of race and sex.

And we, strong, and courageous women of color, have been taught for centuries that keeping our head down is the best thing to do.    

But we’re done. We are speaking up. We are fighting back. The amount of tweets, articles, stories that Asian women have been sharing is inspiring, so let’s push for permanent change. Lets #StopAsianHate and work towards dismantling the system of sexism, racism and oppression we all live in.

As an Indian-American woman, I can only speak to my own personal experience, but I know that given the deep routed structural nature of racism and sexism in this country that there are many experiences like my own.

And I believe that every woman in America has experienced sexism, every person of color in America has experienced racism and every woman of color has experienced its intersection.

The racism always starts early.

Maybe it was being embarrassed when your parents spoke to you in another language in front of your friends because you didn’t want to be seen as different. Maybe it was the feeling of being one of few girls of color in the school you grew up at and trying to figure out if there were ways to be more “white” so that boys would like you.

Maybe it was being asked your entire adolescence by your peers and friends why you “don’t wear a dot on your forehead” and “why do you worship cows”.  Maybe it was being made to feel ashamed of your culture, constantly.

The sexism starts early, too.

But the intersection of those two?

Like how of course, the model minority Indian girl, was good at math and of course she was the only junior girl to take AP physics. But at the same time, my voice was drowned out in upper level STEM classes because there was no way I was “as smart as the guys because they get it instinctually”

But it wasn’t until I went to college that I learned how Asian women are sexualized and fetishized, especially by white men. And that, until now, it has never been talked about.

The first time a man called me exotic

The first time a man hit on me at a bar and told me I was “exotic” I was taken aback. I thought to myself there are a billion of us. What an idiot.

And I laughed it off with my friends.

Then it happened again, and again. And the first time I said something back the response I got was “I meant it as a compliment. Cause I’ve never been with an Indian girl before”.

But the racism and sexism kept coming.

“Indian girls are into kinky stuff”

“He has a thing for brown girls”

“I’ve never met an Indian girl I liked before you”

“You’re so exotic”

“Asian girls are into freaky stuff”

Women of color in America face this constantly and being fetishized and made to feel like we should be grateful for the attention is part of the experience. We are told we are “overreacting” or just “didn’t get the joke” when we call it out. Because conditioning us to normalize the racism we face is the best form of oppression. It is why I, until now, laughed about men telling me I was “exotic”.

Racism Rooted in History (like it always is)

Asian and Asian-American women have been associated with stereotypes that link them to sex work, being submissive and they are treated like a commodity. These perceptions of being exotic and hypersexual are rooted in history.

The Page Act 1975 is one of the earliest examples that prevented Asian women from immigrating to the U.S. under the suggestion that they are prostitutes. This of course is followed with a long history of anti-Asian racism from the Chinese Exclusion act a few years later, Japanese Internment Camps, the Murder of Vincent Chen to the rise in Anti-Asian hate crimes we have seen in the last four years under Trump.

Sexualize us unwilling, fetishize us, gaslight us, kill us

The shooting in Atlanta on March 16th 2021, where 6 Asian women were killed grabbed national attention for an issue that has existed for a long time.

The shooter and police describing this as a sexual addiction ties back to America’s history of fetishizing Asian women. It ties to our racism problem where a white man can murder 8 people and be alive in the custody of a police department who said “he was having a bad day” and a black man can be murdered by that same police for using a suspicious 20 dollar bill. It ties back to our gun problem and our mental health issues. But the most flagrant issues are those of race and sex.

Issues where someone’s existence is seen as a threat and we have been taught for centuries that keeping our head down is the best thing to do.   

But we’re done. We are speaking up. We are fighting back. The amount of tweets, articles, stories, that Asian women have been sharing is inspiring. So let’s push for permanent change. Lets #StopAsianHate and work towards dismantling the system of sexism, racism and oppression we all live in.

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