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Asian Heritage Month And Internalized Racism

Updated: May 10, 2023

It's Asian Heritage Month. I thought we'd kick things off with destigmatizing the sharing of internalized racism. And who better to talk about, than Oscar winner Michelle Yeoh.

Back in 1997, I was a 10 year old kid when I watched James Bond film “Tomorrow Never Dies” that featured Michelle Yeoh.

I still remember watching the film in the theatre. Instead of being happy to see positive representation of Asian women in films, I felt…embarrassed.

The reason for my embarrassment was because I didn’t feel that Michelle Yeoh was good enough to be in a Bond film for one and only one reason…because she was Asian.

This, my friends, is how I experienced internalized racism. And I know I’m not the only one.

Imagine, generations of Asian immigrants, feeling like they aren’t good enough simply because of their race/ethnicity. How does that affect the way we…interact with the world? The dreams and aspirations we imagine for ourselves? Or even just the way we sit in an interview with white interviewers?

And how does internalized racism affect the way we think about and treat our fellow Asian community members?

Like many of us, I’ve put in my time to unlearn my internalized racism. But even now, there are still moments of lingering emotions and nagging insecurities that are related to my internalized racism.

I really don’t know if we can completely get rid of it. And how do we even know that its influence on us is completely gone?

Instead of trying to definitively get rid of our internalized racism, I am more of a proponent of building a habit of being self-reflective, to help us understand our daily moment-to-moment experience.

By focusing on reflection rather than riddance of internalized racism, it has the benefit of us being less critical of ourselves. Our reflection can help us understand how structural oppressions has affected us, which helps decrease our shame and self-blame.

This all leads back to my love of journaling to help us reflect. You can read more about here and here.

I wanted to share this story about Michelle Yeoh, so we can destigmatize the sharing of our daily experiences of internalized racism. Sometimes, we’re so used to it we don’t even recognize it. And a lot of times, it is just the little everyday thoughts and emotions we experience that feels almost too small to even seem relevant.

But they are relevant. It affects the way we think and feel about ourselves. And the better we get at noticing our internalized racism, the more we are able to slowly shift the way we think and feel about ourselves.

Fast forward this this year, 2023. As I watched Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan receive their Oscars, I felt my eyes well up and tears stream down my face, reminiscent of the tears I had shed while watching Everything Every All At Once. As I think back to the 10 year old me, I see how far I have come in my journey of healing.

As always, thanks for tuning in. If you found this helpful, share with your peeps. You can also get my free Asian Survival Guide.

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Harry Au

Therapy for Asians

MSW, RSW | he/him

I help Asians go from feeling trapped to becoming self-liberated.

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