From the Varsity, March 1970
I am yellow. Please don’t ever forget that. I’m talking to you, my feminist friends. But sometimes I am silent because you don’t see my yellow skin.
I don’t quite understand your outrage when women are portrayed as beautiful. Asian women have never been goddesses. Barbie dolls and Charlie’s Angels were the notions of beauty I grew up with. The first time I saw a beautiful Asian woman on the video screen, I felt proud that not all that is desirable is white, blonde and big breasted.
Why don’t more women of colour join the feminist movement? I am here, yet I don’t feel as if I belong. I think of those aunties in Chinatown bending over hot irons, straining their backs carrying bundles of sweatshirts, when you are disgusted with birth control methods that are only 97 percent foolproof. I know women in abusive relationships who cannot leave because they don’t speak enough English to use services and I hear you correct men on gender-specific language.
Black, brown, red and yellow women aren’t in your movement because they don’t give a damn whether female professors make $60,000 when men make $70,000. They are too busy working for $5 an hour because their black, brown, red and yellow husbands do not make enough for their families to get by.
Besides, we have to drive grandmother to the doctor. She is scared to take the bus because once a bus driver kept yelling things at her she didn’t understand. She cried as she walked home and now equates riding the bus with being humiliated and feeling ignorant.
Do you realize that the women’s studies courses you are so adamantly fighting for in fact marginalize my people? Works of coloured feminists are peripheral in the program. “We didn’t have time this year. They may be added on next year,” I was told. Tokenism is no substitute for recognizing that not all women are white.
I cannot ever share the deep sense of indignation at sexual inequality with you, my white friends. My rage is divided. It erupts just as fiercely when I am mistreated by people who look at my skin colour. But don’t ever feel sorry for me, my friends. For I laugh at jokes in three languages and know of cultures better than any textbook you can read. My culture is the source of my pride; racism is the problem of your people.
“Oh, you poor, oppressed coloured women,” you say to us; the white woman’s burden. You come to my people and say, “Listen to me and I will unbind your deformed feet.” But when you unwrap the bandages, do you know that you also throw out my childhood heroines? You take away my Taoist warrior women and replace them with a white, middle-class housewife named Betty Friedan. Did you even know we have ancient Chinese goddesses and heroines? Betty is your mother. Don’t take mine away.
My feminist friends, I admire you for the work you have done. But please don’t ask me or my sisters to join you in improving your conditions. We have our own goals to attain.
My good friends, I hope you are not upset I have never told you this before. I don’t know how to tell you to stop treating me as if I am white. I don’t want to be a token Asian. I don’t want honourary white status. By treating me as an equal, you are denying that I suffer from racial oppression.
“What can I do then?” you ask. Find out what it feels like to be a woman of colour. Help us in our struggle—not to attain the privileges of men; many of us can’t even look that far. Help us in gaining privileges that you, white middle class women, take for granted.