Sunny Reed: Contestant #4: Shut up and smile


My own children’s Asian features have obscured any hint of my own bleach-white DNA, so I am particularly moved by Sunny Reed’s recollections of growing up Asian-American. I am probably oblivious, with a few anecdotal exceptions, to how my own children were made to feel different, and by implication, less-than. Sunny’s entry is cause for me to re-think the events of my children’s childhoods.

Sunny Reed is a social activist. Here is her submission. Please share it on FB, leave comments, enter the contest yourself, either with personal recollections or an essay, or even a poem that is inspired by our prompt, the link accessible on our home page. Sunny, please put the links to your own projects in the comments section.  Thanks.


Just Shut Up and Smile

by Sunny Reed


Some of us believe that babies start off as beautifully rendered blank slates, empty vessels waiting to be filled by the adults who are supposedly sworn to protect them. The blank slate theory, or tabula rosa for the intellectually curious, has proven to be rightfully controversial – nature and nurture are complicated things.


But something strange happens when a trans-racial person is adopted by white parents and brought into a community built on immutable intolerance; a trans-racial adoptee’s identity, already defined more by survival than love, is marked by fragility. We silently plead for acceptance from people different to us in looks, manners, and customs, only to sometimes discover that we remain perpetual foreigners, even to our families.

My mother held the camera while taking the photo below. Her large blue eyes flashed while joking that my aunt looks like me.

Definitely not Betty Davis eyes

Christmas, circa 198x


On each subsequent visit with my relatives, my mom and dad urged me to “do the Oriental eyes!”

I took to hiding under the table whenever I’d see my aunt.

“You’re no fun anymore,” my father whispered, ignoring me for the rest of the day.


Every afternoon I’d beg the classroom clock to stop, please stop ticking toward 2:15 when it’d be time to line up for the bus ride home. I couldn’t take another day of being tricked into turning around so the strawberry-blonde girl behind me could call me watermelon eyes and flat face.

Finally, I snapped. My sweaty palm met her freckled fair-skinned cheek and the next day I found myself in the principal’s office.

“Everyone gets teased,” the principal said. “Stop being so sensitive.”


We were supposed to be working on our eighth-grade perspective portfolios so our art teacher could hide in the closet. Instead, an overweight redheaded kid hands me a piece of my own green folder with GREEN CARD scrawled on it.

I broke the Schoolyard Code that day – I showed the teacher.

“Oh, that’s not a funny joke,” she said. “Just ignore it.


During college, I stopped by my father’s ice cream stand/grill. Chicken wings were off the menu. I asked him why. He said it was because a fat coon sat at his picnic table and tossed bones over her shoulder into the grass like a pig.

I told him that’s a horrible thing to say.

“It’s my shop,” he said. “You never did learn to keep your mouth shut and smile.”




12 thoughts on “Sunny Reed: Contestant #4: Shut up and smile

  1. Thornton Sully says:

    Please, our success for this contest depends upon reaching an ever-larger circle of readers, new postings, and thoughtful comments on each story. Please use your imagination to see how you can share this link with community forums on Craigslist, FB, community writers’ groups, and your personal email lists. Please join the discussion and help the ripple in the pond widen. Thanks!

    • Sunny J. Reed says:

      I am going to reach out to my local paper about it – some folks do still read it and I will also share with my local library. Do you have a pre-made flyer for this? No big deal if not!


  2. Sunny J. Reed says:

    Folks, thank you for taking time to read my piece.

    My project focuses on transracial adoption and the history of racial complexities in the US. My research goes back forty+ years, tracing the first Korean orphan diaspora (post-Korean War) to my adoption in the early 80s. I examine the racial attitudes up until the 80s/90s, the public’s response, and how things are playing out today.

    I ask: If racism can’t be solved with a transracial person living in the home, what does that say about us as a larger society?

    I offer no solutions, only suggestions.

    You can read more about my work on my site ( I look forward to learning more about all of you!


  3. Lady Pafia Marigold says:

    You write beautifully my dear, presenting us with a photo-book of several of your early life images which intimately & carefully corner in to help us understand. I wish to add that not only in the US, but around the world, in age after age of the past, young ladies & women have been encouraged to “just smile and remain silent”, that “children are to be seen and not heard”. Your story gives us far more, however, in the ugly behaviours in others exposing their racism, immigrant, adoption and stereotyping vulgarities in the guise of unwanted humour. Thank you for sharing yourself. I am truly humbled and appreciative of such a rare gift.

    • Sunny J. Reed says:

      Hi, thank you SO much for your comment. I considered that female version of “smile and be pretty,” and my mom used to excuse my father’s racism, as well as that anti-female attitude, as just “being a product of the 50s.” These excuses are the same type that brushed aside the racist comments I received – they’re a missed opportunity for a larger discussion on real issues, and I think they happen because some people just don’t believe that racism exists. We weren’t even allowed to use the R word in my house. Anyone who did was accused of crying and complaining too much.

      It’s such a complex issue. I am so glad this contest is broaching such a delicate subject.

      Thanks for reading :).


  4. Mirah Riben says:

    Thank you for sharing your painful experiences so beautifully.

    An increasing number of people in the adoption community believe that international is seldom in a child’s best interest and believe that nations which have been on the “sending” end would better serve children in need to end the stigma of adoption within their own borders.

    Mirah Riben, author, THE STORK MARKET: America’s Multi-Billion-Dollar Unregulated Adoption Industry

  5. Kyle Katz says:

    Oh Sunny. You had me at hello. Loved your heart felt story and laughed at the video. The flavor of defiance comes in many assorted spices. Sometimes who we are turns out to be simply the best teachers. Seems you are one of them. Jolly good job! Carry on.

    • Sunny J. Reed says:

      Hi Kyle,

      Thank you for the kind words. I agree – even the worst experiences can be teaching moments when approached with understanding and compassion. Even though I prefer the in-your-face approach (love Thorn’s Joker pic, too), the message is the same: Racism is dangerous, especially when denied.

      Take care!


  6. shawnasbasement says:

    Lovely submission Sunny, and I am so glad that you are sharing your vignette on the experience of being singled out for the differences instead of the commonalities. Thank you for adding your fine pen to this important event.

    • Sunny J. Reed says:

      Thank you SO much for your kind words. I am not as literary as the other talented authors on this site, but I hope my point was made. Whether subtle or overt, racism’s poison seeps into the fabric of an individual’s well-being, that secret place that contains the essence of our personalities. If not attended to, it consumes us; let’s hope this contest helps ebb the flow of hate, if even just a little.


    • Sunny J. Reed says:

      I really appreciate that you took the time to read my work! I have specific goals in mind when I write; namely, to show racism in its raw form, with no embellishment so I can reflect the unsophisticated way in which it was delivered to me.


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