cover image Biting the Hand: Growing Up Asian in Black and White America

Biting the Hand: Growing Up Asian in Black and White America

Julia Lee. Holt, $26.99 (256p) ISBN 978-1-25082-467-7

English professor Lee (Our Gang: A Racial History of “The Little Rascals”) dispels the myth of the docile Asian and calls out the absurdities of racial hierarchies in this incisive memoir. Asserting that America’s Black-and-white racial binary renders other cultures invisible, Lee interrogates her Korean American culture and upbringing, the stereotypes foisted upon Asian Americans, and ways to dismantle a destructively entrenched white supremacist ideology. Whiteness, she writes, casts “Asians as perpetual foreigners and the model minority” and “Black people as perpetual criminals and the problem minority.” Meanwhile, beneath the composure of her Korean Americans mother, simmered shame and rage in the form of hwa-byung (“anger/fire disease,” which Lee calls “the curse of being Korean and a woman”) and enforced by chae-myun (a “code of behavior” she describes as “a kind of social armor”). Lee assiduously identifies what constitutes white and Asian America, but her analysis somewhat falters outside of these two spaces; aside from explanations of the 1992 Los Angeles uprising—ignited by the beating of Rodney King by white LAPD cops—and an introduction to the concept of “skinfolk vs. kinfolk,” for instance, Black America is much less defined. Still, Lee’s self-reflective voice and sharp assessment of societal failures yield a revealing and righteously infuriating work. (Apr.)