45 pages 1 hour read

Cathy Park Hong

Minor Feelings: a Reckoning on Race and the Asian Condition

Nonfiction | Autobiography / Memoir | Adult | Published in 2020

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

Minor Feelings: a Reckoning on Race and the Asian Condition is an essay collection published in 2020 by the Korean American poet and academic Cathy Park Hong. Across seven autobiographical essays, Hong explores numerous facets of the Asian American experience in the United States, touching on structural racism, cultural appropriation, and media depictions of Asian Americans. The book received the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography and was longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence.

Summary

In the first essay, “United,” Hong paints a picture of Asian Americans’ “vague purgatorial status” in the popular imagination, in which they are neither “white enough nor black enough; distrusted by African Americans, ignored by whites, unless we’re being used by whites to keep the black man down” (9).

In the second essay, “Stand Up,” Hong explains her struggles to find a poetic voice. She finds that the white modernist ambition to erase identity altogether and speak for “the everyman” eludes her when her race marks her out as different from everyone else in the room. Thus, she takes inspiration from standup comedians, such as African American Richard Pryor, and strives to find a form that will speak to multiple audiences while keeping her race and identity at the forefront.

The third essay, “The End of White Innocence,” examines the topic of white innocence. Hong argues that since the 1965 removal of immigration bans, which prevented non-Europeans from living in the United States, whites have engaged in the process of cultural denial. In doing so they have attempted to absolve themselves of the weight of historical responsibility.

Hong’s fourth essay, “Bad English,” examines the nature of her “broken English” and how it has been influenced by the other non-white communities she encountered in Koreatown. She addresses the uncomfortable truth that Koreans in her community were racist against those from other non-white backgrounds.

In the fifth and sixth essays, “An Education” and “Portrait of an Artist,” Hong examines what it means to be an Asian American female artist. She explores the significance of the artist collective she formed at Oberlin College in the 1990s with two other Asian girls. She also analyzes the work and brutal demise of the Korean American artist Theresa Hak Kyung Cha. In both these cases, the Asian American woman artist’s presence must contend with erasure and disappearance. Hong examines the tension between an artist’s biography and her work, and judges that too much biographical silence on the part of Asian female artists and the curators of their work contributes to racist perceptions of Asians as unfeeling “robots” (124).

In her final essay, “The Indebted,” Hong explores the sense of indebtedness that emigrating Asians feel towards America and the subsequent indebted feeling of first-generation children to their parents for their sacrifices. Such a feeling contributes to Asian compliance with the American capitalist system that keeps other non-white groups down. Hong proposes that instead of feeling indebted, Asians should remember the atrocities perpetrated by America in their native lands, and should adopt an attitude of ingratitude to the current racial hierarchy in order to bring about justice for all.

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