Star Wars actress Kelly Marie Tran has opened up about why she quit social media after suffering racialised abuse online and her experiences with racism growing up Asian-American in a stirring essay for The New York Times.
Tran, a Vietnamese-American who plays mechanic-turned-resistance fighter Rose Tico in The Last Jedi , is the first Asian actress to land a major role in the iconic film franchise. A fact that didn't go unnoticed by so-called Star Wars 'fans'. She felt forced to delete her Instagram page earlier this year after suffering months of racial abuse and taunts.
"It wasn’t their words, it’s that I started to believe them," she writes about the abuse.
"Their words seemed to confirm what growing up as a woman and a person of colour already taught me: that I belonged in margins and spaces, valid only as a minor character in their lives and stories."
Tran says the abuse triggered a lifetime of shame she had internalised about her name, skin colour and background after experiences of exclusion. She says she remembers the 'ache' of feeling literally erased by the dominant culture, including her family feeling forced to change their names to conform.
"The same feeling I had when, at 9, I stopped speaking Vietnamese altogether because I was tired of hearing other kids mock me. Or, at 17, when at dinner with my white boyfriend and his family I ordered a meal in perfect English, to the surprise of the waitress, who exclaimed, “Wow, it’s so cute that you have an exchange student!”
"Their words reinforced a narrative I had heard my whole life: that I was 'other', that I didn’t belong, that I wasn’t good enough, simply because I wasn’t like them."
Tran talks about the damage growing up in a mainstream culture that had no room for her in its stories, or reflected her in diminishing ways.
"The same society that taught some people they were heroes, saviours, inheritors of the Manifest Destiny ideal, taught me I existed only in the background of their stories, doing their nails, diagnosing their illnesses, supporting their love interests — and perhaps the most damaging — waiting for them to rescue me."
Tran ends with a powerful rallying cry on the power of changing the stories we tell ourselves to embrace power and self-acceptance.
"I have been lied to. We all have," she said.
"I am not the first person to have grown up this way. This is what it is to grow up as a person of colour in a white-dominated world ... This is the world I grew up in, but not the world I want to leave behind."
Tran's essay is a powerful missive against those who think they can work towards racial harmony without recognising and fully appreciating the pain and hurt those from marginalised backgrounds experience navigating the dominant culture; and the disproportionate abuse people of colour, particularly women, face in the public sphere.
You can't move on to forgiveness and equality without a reckoning of the ways things are wrong, and working towards creating an alternative future that is more equal, diverse, representative and fair.
It is this commitment, Tran ends with, in continuing her work to create change as a high profile artist and actress of a minority background.
"I know the opportunity given to me is rare. I know that I now belong to a small group of privileged people who get to tell stories for a living, stories that are heard and seen and digested by a world that for so long has tasted only one thing. I know how important that is."
"I am not giving up. You might know me as Kelly. I am the first woman of colour to have a leading role in a Star Wars movie. I am the first Asian woman to appear on the cover of Vanity Fair. My real name is Loan. And I am just getting started."