My experience with the KKK and White Supremacy – Part 1 (Diary of a Baba)
Posted on February 6, 2018
I often wonder what it will be like when Collin grows up. What will it be like to be Chinese/Vietnamese in the Bay Area? Will he be bullied for being autistic or just being different? I was picked on for being chubby, colorblind, non-athletic, different/awkward, the usual. I was also bullied for being too political or just being Chinese.
In the era of Trumpism, I am surprised (and not surprised) at the re-emergence of the KKK and white nationalism. This was my own experience growing up in the 1980s-90s in the Bay Area, Fremont to be exact.
I actually started writing this during the events in Charlottesville last year and there are 3 parts to the story. Surprisingly, over dinner one night my parents wanted to talk about the KKK and Charlottesville, and of course all the violence that was going on. Also, I should give a trigger warning for racial anti-Chinese epithets and bullying.
Our family came to the US in the 1960s with very little but had a specialized craft of ethnic art and jewelry making. That craft allowed us to “move out” of San Francisco Chinatown to the Sunset District and then eventually to Fremont, a nice suburb in the South Bay. The American Dream. At least that is what we thought.
I asked them if they remembered when we moved in and some people sprayed KKK on our house, car and driveway. They remember. My dad remembered chewing out the police for not “protecting” us. They remember not knowing what the KKK was as new immigrants; they thought it might be the Blacks or the Italians from San Francisco. (Yes a lot right there.) I remember being very confused by this welcoming.
I remember being bullied in San Francisco, most my life actually. I’ve always felt like an underdog. But I didn’t think it was going to get worse in Fremont. This suburb was a like a fairy tale, where we had green grass, a nice home and could leave the doors unlocked. Something though just didn’t add up about the whole place.
“I remember being bullied in San Francisco, most my life actually. I always felt like an underdog. But I didn’t think it was going to get worse in Fremont.”
When I was 15 years old, I went to a (political) summer camp called the Encampment for Citizenship in San Francisco with mostly urban and rural youth of color from across the country. In one of the first activities, I remember drawing a picture of our new home with a vampire/KKK looking person hovering over the suburb. I knew we were not welcomed there but I knew too that most of the poor and working class people in San Francisco didn’t have access to what we had. I became very politicized that summer needless to say, which is another story.
Fast-forward a couple of years, I started to find my place in my high school, Mission San Jose High School. By that time I had eked out a victory as ASB President by less than a dozen votes. Somehow the white boys (mostly from the wrestling and football team) didn’t like the other candidate who was a young white girl with liberal and feminist ideas. She was ahead of our time! These white boys occasionally picked on me but, in this case, they accepted me.
As the new ASB President, I somehow decided to invite my friends from my summer camp for the Black History Month student assembly. Because… why not, right? So we did a Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. Unity Day. Because… again, why not? If your gonna go in, you should go all in.
The assembly was intense. I remember being very nervous. There was talk of Columbus, genocide and slavery. They talked about how everything we were taught was a lie, and, yes, we also sang the Black National Anthem. There were about ten Black youth in our school and we brought about ten Black and Brown youth from Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco.
I remember doing a slide show of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. and the need for unity at the school. I didn’t know it at the time but it was pretty epic.
Shortly after the assembly, I became very popular but for the wrong reason. Somehow this nice Chinese boy they elected as their ASB president was a “radical”.
I remember after P.E. (Physical Education) class, I was at the vending machine and pushed the wrong buttons so couldn’t get my food. There was a long line. Right behind me a hear someone in a snarky loud voice screamed, “We elected a president that can’t see! We elected a slant-eyed chink for president!!” I turned around and said “Shut up!” or something like that in a quivering voice. I don’t remember exactly.
The next thing I remember was this white boy, who was on the wrestling and football team got his crew to throw oranges at me. They kept laughing and taunting me, “Slant eyed chink! Slant eyed chink!” I quickly ducked and looked around because there were people I knew around me and they all turned away. I still remember it pretty vividly to this day. I remember feeling betrayed and resentful. I thought to myself what would Malcolm do?
I’m going to pause this story here until Part 2. The underdog in me didn’t get angry, I got even, as least that is what I thought. I later started a Multicultural Day, an Environmental Day and then to top it off, I became the Homecoming King, another long story.
What I realized later in life is that they thought this nice Chinese boy was going to go along and be the status quo. They didn’t think this in an intentional way; this is what they were taught. The minute I began to use this small slice of freedom and privilege in a divergent way, it was too much for them. it was like an automated visceral response.
My Take away: I didn’t learn much about organizing or collective action but I did learn this. Asians, and especially East Asians, are constantly the tipping point that can either uphold white supremacy or help to tear it down.
“My Take away: I didn’t learn much about organizing or collective action but I did learn this. Asians, and especially East Asians, are constantly the tipping point that can either uphold white supremacy or help to tear it down.”
I remember this day like it was yesterday and have some scars to prove it. Deep in my bones these lessons define me but I had to do a lot of work to not let the anger and rage control me. We all have a story. It might not be about the KKK, but it could be about white supremacy. What are your triggers and traumas that define you and how are you embracing them owning them?
NOTE: I was 14 years old when a lot of this happened. That is nearly 30 years ago. Fremont and Mission San Jose High School is very different. Still a suburb but now very (very) Asian.