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‘Minor Feelings’ Reckons With Asian American Consciousness in a Major Way

by May Huang

(This article was previously published by Real Change and has been reprinted with permission.)


On the cover of Cathy Park Hong’s Minor Feelings, aptly subtitled “An Asian American Reckoning,” flames dance around the uppercase title of the book. An arresting design, the cover art suggests danger, drama, and daring — three elements that are unapologetically present in this essential interrogation on race and writing.

Minor Feelings is a collection of seven essays that explore a question of rising importance: What place do Asian Americans occupy in America? On the one hand, Asians are often called the model minority, considered “next in line to be white.” Asians as a whole are more economically privileged than other minority groups in the U.S. and are often high-achieving students and employees. But events in recent history, from the 1992 LA riots that took place in K-town to the 2017 incident where the Vietnamese doctor David Dao was forcibly dragged off a United Airlines flight, suggest that Asians are more likely in line to “disappear” — to assimilate to or be swallowed up by the very system of capitalism that exploits them. Asian Americans, who have even been told that they don’t “count” as minorities anymore, are still often made to feel inadequate — if not by others, then by themselves.

“Not enough has been said about the self-hating Asian,” writes Hong. This self-hatred, which foments when Asians see themselves through the lens of white people, is among the “minor feelings” discussed in the book, along with emotions such as ingratitude, hostility, and jealousy. The term describes the “cognitive dissonance” that Asian Americans feel when they are gaslighted by American optimism, as well as the negative emotions they are “accused of having” when they confront their racialized reality. Reading the book, I felt seen; I wouldn’t be surprised if many AAPI readers realized that “minor feelings” is a term we have been hoping to come across for a long time.

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