Health and Fitness

What It’s Like to Be Black and Asian in America

Checking the Field

First grade. I’m 6 years previous, taking my first standardized take a look at at Shepherd Elementary College in Washington, D.C. Subsequent to “Race,” I examine “Black.” At 6, I already know what they give thought to me. What they give thought to us. I see the white colleges after we drive throughout Rock Creek Park to play towards them in basketball—with their glowing hallways, their fancy, shiny gyms with the varsity mascot printed on the half-court line, smiling up at us, taunting us, making us really feel small.

At our college on the Black facet of the Park, we play basketball within the tiny auditorium, with duct tape on the ground for strains, plastic hoops wheeled in from the basement, and a ceiling so low you may’t even shoot a three-pointer with out a chunk of the ceiling falling down on you. Our mother and father have to indicate up and yell on the college board for basic items: to get AC or warmth within the school rooms, to cease the slime oozing down the classroom partitions. We’ve got to fundraise for provides for the academics, for musical devices, for brand new uniforms, for brand new something.

This is similar 12 months my class wins the “I Love Life” music competitors— a citywide competitors created as a result of Black youngsters in D.C.—youngsters our age—are already planning their funerals, designing tribute T-shirts, not anticipating to reside lengthy sufficient to develop up in a metropolis that’s attempting to kill them. We follow which forks to make use of for the flamboyant awards banquet, we dress up, we get up on that stage in our Sunday greatest, we sing with all our hearts: “I like life, I wish to reside!”

At 6 years previous, I already know what they anticipate of me. I do know the longer term they’ve written for me. I see how the world thinks of us, how they deal with us—what they provide us versus what they provide them. Who they prioritize, who they overlook. I see the strains drawn round my life, the strains carved via my metropolis, the strains going again centuries that form my world, that inform me I’m not good, I’m not valued, I don’t matter.

However I do know these strains usually are not mine, have been by no means mine. And regardless of every part the world tells me about myself each single day, at 6 years previous, I do know that I’m good.

So, I choose up my No. 2 pencil, and I examine “Black.” To show them improper.


Second grade. I’m 7 years previous. My mother is available in to inform my class about being Japanese. She bakes butter mochi, teaches us origami, passes across the Rafu Shimpo. As my classmates flip via the newspaper, a photograph catches their eye. I take a look at what my classmates are pointing at: Caricatured Asian faces, slanted eyes, phrases in pretend Asian font: Wong Brothers Laundry—Two Wongs could make it white emblazoned on Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirts.

My mother tells us Asian folks face racism, similar to Black folks. She factors on the photos, asks us, Does that seem like me? No, my class says, shaking their heads.

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I stare on the Asian faces on these shirts. They give the impression of being nothing like my mother; they appear nothing like me. I’m the one Asian child in my class, and generally I hear my classmates make ching chong Chinaman speak, or see them pull their eyes like that, or name our volunteer chess trainer Mr. Tsunami when his title is definitely Minami, or make enjoyable of the “smelly” musubi my mother packs in my lunch. I stare at these Abercrombie shirts, and it makes me really feel the identical means I really feel when my classmates try this stuff: like one thing is improper with me, like one thing is improper with my mother. And lonely, actual lonely, like I wish to go cover, like I wish to disappear.

When my mother is finished, she asks if now we have any questions.

My classmate Stephen raises his hand. Ms. Matsuda, why do white folks hate us a lot?

A classroom filled with Black second graders stares again at my Asian mother, ready for a solution, as my mother searches for phrases.

We’re younger, however we already know.

The First Time

Seventh grade. I’m 13 years previous. Driving the chartered metropolis bus that carries us Black youngsters throughout the park to our center college on the white facet of town. On the way in which to highschool, this drunk white man will get on the bus, belligerent, indignant, yelling. He calls us all of the N-word, tells us we’re all going to hell. The boys in the back of the bus get up, pushing ahead, able to battle. I’m sizzling, I’m shaking, my coronary heart is pounding. I see the hate in his eyes, the way in which he appears to be like at us, like we’re animals.

The bus driver manages to kick him off, and we journey the remainder of the way in which to highschool in silence. We stroll via the cops and steel detectors on the entrance. We eat lunch within the cafeteria, the place the Black youngsters sit on one facet of the pillars, and the white youngsters on the opposite. We sit in fourth-period Algebra 1, the place there are solely 4 of us, the place the white youngsters who stroll to highschool as a substitute of using a bus make enjoyable of our names and name us ghetto after they assume we’re not listening, the place we’re all the time attempting to show them improper.

That day, I am going house and inform my mother concerning the white man on the bus. I sit there within the kitchen whereas she calls town bus firm and experiences the incident, getting increasingly labored up. I take a look at my mother. She is indignant. She is damage. However that man on the bus, he was speaking to me. He was calling me that. Not her. She is damage, however she will not be hurting like I’m. Sitting there within the kitchen, all of the sudden, I really feel the hole between us. The methods wherein she is secure and I’m not. And I understand, she can not shield me. I sit there within the kitchen, with the load of all this. I’m nonetheless shaking.


Freshman 12 months of highschool. I’m 14 years previous. We’ve got simply moved to Honolulu, the place my mother is from, the place I’m one in all two half-Black youngsters in my class. Just about everybody else is Asian or Pacific Islander, and despite the fact that I’m half-Asian, I really feel so totally different right here. My classmates hand around in cliques: the Japanese, the Filipinos, the Polynesians. I don’t know the place I slot in. The women in my class touch upon my butt, inform me my physique reminds them of Nicki Minaj. I do know it’s a praise, nevertheless it feels bizarre. I miss Black folks.

Someday, this Asian child in my class comes to highschool sporting a T-shirt lined in cartoon animals sporting chains and grills, using in a lowrider, consuming fried hen. Once I see him on the lockers that morning sporting the shirt, my abdomen drops. I stare on the T-shirt, on the twisted reflection staring again at me . . . and I do know that shirt is speaking about me. About us. That is what they consider us. That is how they see us. Like that white man on the bus. Like we’re animals.

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I wish to tear that shirt proper off him and rip it to shreds. I wish to scream. However I don’t say something. I simply stroll proper by, attempt not to have a look at him at school, avert my eyes after we move by within the hallway, take a look at the ground once I see him within the cafeteria.

I steal glances on the different half-Black child in my class. I ponder if he sees the shirt, if it hurts him prefer it hurts me. I wish to ask him, I wish to attain out, however I can’t discover the phrases. We transfer round one another silently within the tiny world of our college, an invisible line tying us to one another, holding the identical weight. However we by no means speak concerning the shirt, by no means speak about how lonely we’re. How a lot we want one another.

The child in my class wears the shirt to highschool once more. And once more. And once more. Each time he wears it, I don’t know what to do. I take into consideration what I’d say, plan all of it out in my head. A pair occasions, I virtually say one thing. However once I see him on the lockers within the morning the following time he wears it, I can’t do it—I simply move by like nothing’s improper. Each time, I hate myself for not saying something. I really feel like my silence is permission, like my silence one way or the other makes it OK for him to put on that shirt. Like that is my fault.

He retains sporting the shirt. I by no means say something.

Only a Phrase

Senior 12 months. I’m 18 years previous. There’s this child in my class who gained’t cease saying the N-word. Someday, I can’t maintain it in anymore—one thing breaks open inside me, and I am going off on him. I inform him concerning the historical past of that phrase, inform him how a lot it hurts me.

You may’t say that, I say.

It’s only a phrase, he retains saying.

It’s only a phrase.

It’s only a phrase.

He by no means apologizes.

The evening of commencement, we do a senior class lock-in at a lodge in Waikiki. We’re on this large banquet corridor, and so they make us do that train the place we go round in a circle and hug each individual in our class. I’m dreading attending to him. I don’t wish to hug him, I don’t need him to the touch me. Then he’s in entrance of me, stepping into for the hug, then his arms are round me, and hastily I’m sobbing, I’m shaking, it’s all popping out, and it looks like a dream and a nightmare, after which it’s over.

Ten years later, I nonetheless have goals about it, I nonetheless get up shaking.


My first week at Harvard, the Asian American Affiliation reveals up at my dorm room. They give the impression of being down at their checklist, then again up at my face, confused.

Is your roommate house? they are saying, scanning the room behind me.

We’re in search of Kimiko.

I’m Kimiko, I say.

Oh, they are saying. They stare at me. At my brown face, my curly hair, unable to course of.

I take their invitation; I shut the door. I by no means present as much as a gathering.


One month later, an anti–affirmative motion op-ed printed within the Harvard Crimson blows up on campus. Immediately, all over the place we go, individuals are speaking about us—within the eating corridor, within the dorms, in school rooms and lecture halls—debating whether or not we need to be right here, saying we acquired in simply because we’re Black. My Black classmates are speaking about their SAT scores and AP lessons, attempting to defend our presence on this campus, attempting to battle off the sickening feeling that we aren’t wished right here.

Again in my dorm room, I’m the one one. Firstly of the 12 months, earlier than the affirmative motion article blew up, I’d hang around with my three Asian roommates rather a lot. However now I take shelter within the Black neighborhood on campus, sit on the Black desk within the eating corridor, the place I do know everyone seems to be feeling the very same means I’m feeling proper now. We’re below assault, and that is the one place I really feel secure. I fear that my Asian roommates are speaking about me too, saying the identical issues because the white youngsters once I’m not round, agreeing with that article that stated I shouldn’t be right here. I do know everybody on campus thinks they need to be right here, by no means questions whether or not they acquired in on benefit. There’s an unstated assumption on campus: their faces belong right here, mine doesn’t. And nothing—not my Japanese title, or my SAT scores, or my grades—will change that.

That is the second I understand: Yeah, I’m half-Asian—however when Black individuals are attacked, my Asianness doesn’t shield me. I can’t cover. I can’t select. On this second, I’m Black.


I’m in my first job, sitting behind the automotive, on the way in which to the Ladies’s March. My white lady boss, who’s sitting subsequent to me, casually drops the N-word. My different boss, a half-Asian, half-white lady, doesn’t say something. Nobody says something, and the dialog strikes on. I sit there shaking, however nobody sees. I wish to say one thing, I wish to scream, however my voice is gone. On the subsequent truck cease, I lock myself in a rest room stall and cry. I don’t wish to get again in that automotive.

A pair years later, I’m in one other job, sitting in a room filled with Black folks. Somebody says a joke, and the phrase hits me. Jap. They known as my grandpa that after they locked his household up behind barbed wire at Coronary heart Mountain throughout World Battle II. My cousin’s highschool baseball coach known as him that a couple of years in the past, and he stop baseball.

Nobody says something, and the dialog strikes on. I sit there shaking, however nobody sees. I wish to say one thing, I wish to scream, however my voice is gone.


You would like you might pitch your physique into the area of the nonnegotiable

That is the physique that claims NO

I cannot transfer

I cannot bend my guidelines

I cannot let this occur

However you might be swallowing your scream once more

And all of the sudden you’re the individual

Who has made it OK to say this

Who has made this an OK factor to say

However it isn’t OK

And your physique is aware of this

However it’s too busy negotiating its presence

So that you could keep right here


I’m 27 years previous. I’m sitting in the lounge, surrounded by Black folks. The information is enjoying. On the tv, President Joe Biden is signing a invoice, surrounded by smiling Asian folks. However the folks on this front room aren’t smiling. They’re saying, They acquired it so quick. They’re saying, We are able to’t even get an anti-lynching invoice.

The underlying sentiment: they’ll by no means try this for us.

I really feel a lot directly. I find out about Vincent Chin. I do know concerning the Chinese language massacres within the late 1800s. I find out about my cousin who was attacked on the road in New York final 12 months within the wave of anti-Asian hate crimes through the pandemic.

I do know all this and but—

They acquired it so quick.

I additionally know quick is relative. As a result of every part is sluggish for us. As a result of it’s been 400 years, and we’re nonetheless ready, all the time ready—for a rustic that may by no means shield us.

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I take a look at the Asian folks on the TV, smiling and cheering. However sitting right here on this room filled with Black folks, within the physique that I reside in, I don’t really feel like a part of it. I really feel responsible, each for not feeling totally in a position to be part of within the celebration of this second that must be my proper as an Asian American—and for getting one thing that everybody else on this room has but to have.

As a result of I’m additionally feeling what everybody else on this room is feeling. The ache of being forgotten, the betrayal of all the time being final, the information that America won’t ever move a hate crime regulation for us. As a result of America itself is committing the hate crimes; America itself is killing us.

Then, on the information, they play leaked footage of cops beating a Black man to demise in Louisiana.

I stare down on the flooring. I can’t watch.

I don’t really feel like celebrating.

What Are You?

I’m Japanese

I am going to Bon dances each summer time, I understand how to prepare dinner all of the New 12 months’s meals, I eat natto, I wash my rice till the water runs clear, I take my footwear off on the door, I by no means present up with out omiyage, I by no means take the final piece, I maintain again, I apologize continually, I say no no no once I wish to say sure, I say sure once I ought to most likely say no

I’m Black

I stroll right into a retailer

and nobody greets me

I stroll right into a restaurant

and nobody serves me

I stroll right into a neighborhood

and everybody stares



There’s a line, and I do know which facet of it I fall on

It’s by no means straight down the center

I’m by no means simply an Asian woman

Sure, I’m Asian, however I’ll all the time be Black.

“On Being Black and Asian in America” Copyright © 2022 by Kimiko Matsuda-Lawrence. From the guide MY LIFE: Rising Up Asian in America edited by CAPE, the Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Leisure to be printed by Atria Books/MTV Books, an Imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Printed by permission.

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