Please welcome our fifth guest post, from AmasianV!
In the aftermath of SciAm’s recent snafu handling of DNLee’s post, in which she recounted her interaction with an editor who called her an “urban whore,” Sci asked me to guest blog for a series of posts aimed at getting more diverse voices heard. Diversity? Voices? That’s my bag yo. Let me in on this. I’ll have plenty to say, I thought to myself. So I jumped at the opportunity.
When I sat down to start writing though, nothing came to me. So, I thought about it. And thought about it some more. And still nothing. Frustrated, I shut my laptop and went to bed.
The next morning I woke up and realized my error. I was looking for experiences that were as bad as what DNLee went through. I pegged the threshold to someone else’s life and experience, diminishing my own and normalizing it into the background. Let’s face it, no matter how you slice it different offenses, slurs, etc. carry different weight and different histories.
Truth is, during my time in science as a research technician, graduate student, and blogger, I’ve never been called anything so blatantly offensive as a “whore.” For one, there’s just no male equivalent. Even then, I’ve never been called “ch!nk” or any of the other derogatory Asian slurs that have been hurled at me outside the confines of science. But that doesn’t mean I’ve never felt “othered.” By people in power, no less.
Several years ago, I was pushing a noisy cart loaded up with glassware and bottles of solutions down the hall of my building. The wheels were uneven, causing the cart to rumble and shake. The sound of glass clinking bounced off the barren walls and reverberated down the hallway. Soon enough, a professor’s head popped out of an office to determine the source of the commotion. The professor glanced at me, then the cart, and then back at me.
“Hey you, pushing the rickshaw. Can you keep it down?”
It took me a moment to process what was said. Rickshaws are pulled not pushed, I thought. I had half-a-mind to make wise and tell the professor that Vietnamese people don’t pull rickshaws, we pedal xích lô’s (cyclos). But the mild-mannered, “don’t make waves,” Accommodasian in me took over. That part of me raised by my parents to respect my elders and authority kicked in. It’s only a joke, I told myself. I smiled, let out an audible “Ha,” and kept trucking.
(Figure 1: These be rickshaws. Source)
(Figure 2: This here is a xích lô. Source)
Another time, I overheard a professor say, “I only train one Chinese postdoc or one Japanese postdoc at a time.” The rationale for this one-Asian quota? “They don’t get along.” I remember having the urge to press for more, but I gave the professor the benefit of the doubt. I reminded myself that many Asian countries after all have spotty, if not outright antagonistic, histories with each other. Maybe there was some “personal experience” truth to that rationale. (This of course ended up being total bs excuse-making on my part. I recently peeped this professor’s CV and noted a glaring absence of Asian-sounding names.)
I’ve never shared these experiences with anyone before. Nor have I addressed them with the professors involved. Why not? Because they never really affected me much at the time, so why make a big deal out of nothing?
Accommodasian. Don’t make waves yo.
However, the more I think about it, particularly in light of recent events, the more these episodes stick out in my mind. Now I’m left to wonder, am I being taken seriously as a scientist? Being compared to a peasant pulling a rickshaw certainly doesn’t reflect favorably. And what about the next interview I have (or when I’m denied one)? Will I suspect an unspoken Asian quota? Trust me, I’d much rather not have these thoughts creeping into my brain, instilling doubt, and nibbling at my confidence, but I really can’t stop them.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment in all of this though, is that I’ve never said anything until now. Yes, part of it was certainly the Accommodasian in me. But I can’t say that the power dynamic itself wasn’t an obstacle to speaking up either. Who knows? Maybe if I had addressed these situations earlier it would give pause to a professor about to make a demeaning joke. Or reexamine one-Asian training policies. Or, on a larger scale, contribute to an environment that says, “Calling a person a whore is just not acceptable.”
I should have spoken up sooner.
Make a few waves.
*For those of us who can. Not everyone is in a position to.
@AmasianV is a recent biology Ph.D. When he's not wrangling fruit flies in the lab, he's blogging about science at Amasian Science (http://amasianv.WordPress.com) and about life as a scientist at Wandering Third Instar (http://scientopia.org/blogs/amasianv/).