Reflecting on racist provocations: possible non-violent solutions?

I was at the receiving end of two racially driven assaults while I was out on a beautiful, sunny day over the weekend in London. It had been the third occasion this week which something similar happened to me, and of many which I can remember from my adult life. In the wake of anti-Asian hate crimes across the Americas and Europe, the incidents today hit differently.

The first one was from a homeless woman outside a supermarket who yelled racial slurs at me. The second was an old man looking at me as if I was a delicious meal. Both perpetrators were white. What was incredulous about these two occurrences was how little time passed in between, how different in nature the two assaults were, yet both rooted within the same issue. These occurrences highlighted the uniquely twisted nature of racism which East Asian women experience, both the hyper-sexualisation and fetishisation from men and pure discrimination itself.

My Chinese-Canadian roommate, whom I was walking next to, had later told me how on edge she was for the rest of the way back home. She had told me she was ready to give anyone the finger or physically retaliate at anyone who dared to provoke us. At the moment, I was ready to agree with her. But upon second thought, I became more perplexed.

The first incidence provoked a sense of shock and anger within me, yet all I could garner was a half-hearted “f**k you”. The stares I had initially overlooked on the street suddenly became impossible to ignore afterwards. Within 30 minutes after the first incident, we walked by an old white man on crutches who stopped upon seeing us and gave me the most disgustingly perverted grin that generated even more anger in me than the first. Despite all these feelings brewing inside me, I just kept on walking as if nothing had happened. But should I have reacted differently? And how?

As someone who is naturally quite composed and thoughtful, I pride myself in being able to respond to all kinds of situations in a sensible manner; whether this is resolving conflicts with friends or being diplomatic with my colleagues. I don’t believe in reacting to negativity with negativity. But what about when aggression and assault is inflicted upon me in such a way that leaves no room or time for negotiation? Is fighting aggression with aggression the only way out? Not only as someone of East Asian heritage, but as a woman?

I often find myself reflecting in the aftermath of what I should’ve done or could’ve done differently, simply because my tempered nature does not allow me to defend myself in a speedy and aggressive manner. Let me be clear that not all Asians are like me, as my roommate has proven to be exactly the opposite. That I can assure you.

I realise someone with my nature, however, perpetuates this “docile” narrative which East Asians have inherited: this idea that we are avoidant of conflict, soft, incapable of retaliation. This narrative along with many other factors, contribute to this alarming rise in anti-Asian hate crimes in the global North today, especially against East Asian women.

What is even more alarming is that it is no longer just verbal assaults, but it is expanding to physical attacks and even murders. It is both relieving and sad for me express my gratitude that what had happened to me today did not cause me physical harm, but it made me really reflect on my own behaviour and how I should and can react accordingly in the future.

What had happened to me left me with more questions than answers. I wish to pose these questions to the wider community and open up discussions about possible ways to protect each other while minimising the perpetuation of violence and trauma.

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