Biting the Hand: Growing Up Asian in Black and White America (Hardcover)
Julia Lee is angry. And she has questions.
What does it mean to be Asian in America? What does it look like to be an ally or an accomplice? How can we shatter the structures of white supremacy that fuel racial stratification?
When Julia was fifteen, her hometown went up in smoke during the 1992 Los Angeles riots. The daughter of Korean immigrant store owners in a predominantly Black neighborhood, Julia was taught to be grateful for the privilege afforded to her. However, the acquittal of four white police officers in the beating of Rodney King, following the murder of Latasha Harlins by a Korean shopkeeper, forced Julia to question her racial identity and complicity. She was neither Black nor white. So who was she?
This question would follow Julia for years to come, resurfacing as she traded in her tumultuous childhood for the white upper echelon of elite academia. It was only when she began a PhD in English that she found answers—not through studying Victorian literature, as Julia had planned, but rather in the brilliant prose of writers like James Baldwin and Toni Morrison. Their works gave Julia the vocabulary and, more important, the permission to critically examine her own tortured position as an Asian American, setting off a powerful journey of racial reckoning, atonement, and self-discovery.
With prose by turns scathing and heart-wrenching, Julia lays bare the complex disorientation and shame that stem from this country’s imposed racial hierarchy. And she argues that Asian Americans must work toward lasting social change alongside Black and brown communities in order to combat the scarcity culture of white supremacy through abundance and joy. In this passionate, no-holds-barred memoir, Julia interrogates her own experiences of marginality and resistance, and ultimately asks what may be the biggest question of all—what can we do?
About the Author
Julia Lee is a Korean American writer, scholar, and teacher. She is the author of Our Gang: A Racial History of “The Little Rascals” and The American Slave Narrative and the Victorian Novel, as well as the novel By the Book, which was published under the pen name Julia Sonneborn. She is an associate professor of English at Loyola Marymount University, where she teaches African American and Caribbean literature. She lives with her family in Los Angeles.
“Lee’s memoir ultimately enacts a powerful apostasy…It is a beautiful incantation for the ongoing project of Asian American identity, a matter of infinite becoming, ever in transformation.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“Biting the Hand—vivid, powerful, and empathetic—grapples with the story of how ‘America’ got made, is made, and will be made. The harshness of this story is often forgotten or misused. This book reminds us of some of its complicated truth.”
—Jamaica Kincaid, author of A Small Place
“Her prose is, by turns, incendiary, scabrously funny, and melancholic, without ever stooping to self-pity…Through her own refusals—of false dichotomies, cruelly optimistic fantasies, and the logics of white supremacy—Lee finds redemption.”
—The Boston Globe
“An awe-inspiring memoir that traces Julia Lee’s search for her place in America. Lee sheds light on nuances of the Asian American experience that will ring familiar to anyone who has ever struggled to know where they stand. This book is a must-read for anyone looking to gain a deeper understanding of Korean Han, the Asian American experience, and the power of resilience.”
—David Chang, founder of Momofuku
“Biting the Hand messed me up, and I love it. The book was able to circle and ultimately pounce on something I’ve been afraid to write through for years. Julia Lee has really written a lush treatise on the politics of expectation. It’s phenomenal.”
—Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy
“Hopeful, honest, and bitterly funny, Julia Lee offers a captivating story of teaching and learning, listening and speaking out, how we distinguish who we’re supposed to be from who we might become.”
—Hua Hsu, author of Stay True
“A brilliant, fearless, vulnerable examination of our shared journey navigating racial caste structures in America. This is the book of my heart that wasn’t my story to tell, so I’m elated that Lee cracked open her heart for us to travel with her.”
—Kimberly Jones, author of How We Can Win
“A memoir that brims with wit, intelligence, vulnerability, and delicious rage, Biting the Hand is the fiery manifesto of an ‘angry little Asian girl’ that delivers on so many levels. A perfect distillation of scholarship, lived experience, and revolutionary call for the liberation of all peoples.”
—Phuc Tran, author of Sigh, Gone
“[Biting the Hand] consistently glimmers with humor, vulnerability, idealistic clarity, and, as promised, incandescent rage. Lee’s honest, compassionate analysis of her past mistakes leaves readers plenty of space to address their own. A lively, wise, and immensely insightful memoir about Asian America's relationship with Whiteness.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“[Julia Lee] seamlessly blends her own experiences with piercing discussions of identity and racial stratification, serving up conclusions likely to challenge readers across the ideological spectrum…Biting the Hand is an exceptional account of an evolving understanding of power and privilege, offering readers insightful new ways to examine their world.”
—BookPage (starred review)
“[Julia Lee] dispels the myth of the docile Asian and calls out the absurdities of racial hierarchies in this incisive memoir…Lee’s self-reflective voice and sharp assessment of societal failures yield a revealing and righteously infuriating work.”
“[A] clear-sighted memoir humming with justified anger…[Lee] untangles the complexities of existing outside the Black/white racial binary that has long defined American society, powerfully calling on anyone who has felt invisible to aid in the dismantling of the existing power structure.”