Saturday, July 18, 2009

adversely affect the identities of non-white people all over the world

This is a guest post for swpd by fromthetropics, who writes about herself, "I am mixed cultured, and always feel in-between -- both here and there, but neither fully here nor there."




I am, technically, “Asian.” I grew up mostly in Asia, but I went to international schools (with a North American-based system) for most of my life. This meant that I grew up thinking I was American or Westernized. I spoke English as my first language. I grew up feeling the subtle and not-so-subtle arrogance of Westerners (English speakers in particular) and of other expats (e.g. Japanese) in general towards the locals, and I didn't like it. But that dislike for the arrogance of others did not exempt me from thinking that I'm better than other Asians who don't speak English (which means that I carried internalized racism).

This was an ugly attitude.

My mother dealt with it at one point by threatening to pull me out of school, since that's what school was doing to me -- a lesson I am forever grateful for. But while her threat went a long way in making me more aware that I should avoid using English or the Westernized aspects of myself to take the upper hand while relating to others (because Asians can often feel intimidated when faced with this kind of attitude), somewhere inside I still felt as though white people/Westerners were better. (Quite ridiculous of me, huh.)

This means that somewhere deep inside, I still think that those who are less Westernized than me are not as good as me, even though I don't act on this, and even though I try to act the opposite way.

A while back, a comment from an ex-student hinted that I may still harbor this attitude, and that it comes out unintentionally, and subtly. This student, who is also Asian, said to me, 'I was standing next to John (white, not real name) just now. and you said Hi to him but you didn't say Hi to me. You didn't notice I was there. It's because he's white isn't it?'

I think I might have responded by denying that I only noticed John because he was white, and explaining that John is physically much bigger, that he was closer to me as they passed me by in the hallway, and that he's just generally more talkative and loud, and hence noticeable.

All of this was indeed very true. But it made me think that just maybe, racism was also a factor. Now I think it was a factor, and I don't like having that inside me. It's ugly and damaging to myself.

So one way that internalized racism manifests itself is in a simple 'lack of interest' in people who we deem as 'uncool' or not interesting enough to talk to, simply on the basis of their racial, ethnic or cultural origin. (And I'd even include class, gender, etc.) I'm in the midst of unlearning this attitude myself.

Recently, I also learned that one of the most damaging parts of all this is that deep inside, I seem to believe that I'm not as good as Caucasians. (I don't consciously believe this, of course! No way!) I knew that these thoughts weren't good, but until recently, I didn't know that internalized racism can actually hurt you inside. It makes sense, though, since it basically means that you think negatively of yourself, and that can bring about all sorts of symptoms.

I've experienced the effects of this attitude in a lack of self-confidence when faced with white Australians who harbor stereotypes or prejudices (even those who are very nice otherwise. Yes, I'm of the camp that believes most of us, white or poc. . . even the nice ones, harbor some prejudice or another towards others). I succumb to their stereotypes and turn into a quiet, docile Asian in their presence, even though I don't want to. (Maybe that's why Chuck, an swpd commenter, thinks that Asians are “quiet.”)

Sometimes I stumble with my words. Or when white people do put on a bad attitude with me, I don't know how to stand up to it. I think it's because in a racial way, I don't know who I am or what I'm worth.

It's different with the rest of my family (all of whom did not grow up with white people, as I did). They're pretty sure of who they are and do not in any way think of Asians as any less than Caucasians. So if it's necessary, they can stand up to it. If it's not necessary, they may keep quiet, but white racism doesn't seem to affect them as deeply. (Well, at least that's how I see it. And of course, personality might play a part in this too.)

The process of unlearning all of this, for me, also calls for an understanding of systemic racism, and finding the words and ways to deal with it. Living in Australia has made me very angry at the subtleness of racism. In the past, I didn't dare mention the 'r' word outside our home. As my friend says, one of white Australia's national pastimes is to talk about how multicultural and tolerant they are. This self-congratulatory talk basically hushes up anyone who thinks otherwise. I often think that the situation in Canada is way better, and even the US is still better (but then again, I’ve never lived in the US). At least quite a number of people talk about it in North America. And at least (based on my impression), there are more people there who aren't that great at hiding their racial prejudices, making them easier to point out.

And then one day, I came across a white lecturer who said out loud that (institutionalized) racism is still an issue in Australia and that we need to do more about it. I gasped. She used the ‘r’ word. I was shocked, thinking the white audience in the room were gonna stage a walkout. They didn't. That's when I realized that it's okay to talk about it. Then I came across Homi Bhabha, Fanon, Peggy McIntosh, etc. For the first time my experience (systemic & internalized racism) were put into words.

But I was still a novice at it. I had a fallout with a close white friend of mine because I didn't know how to talk about racism. I also had a racist encounter with a couple of people who kept pushing my buttons till I lost it, while they just kept smirking and didn't take me seriously. I wonder if it's a common white tendency to push a POC's buttons while staying calm themselves, so that in the end the POC is made to look emotional and over-reactive (and a little bit 'coo coo')? I suppose it's like trying to pick a fight, but getting the other person to punch first. Or perhaps it's the POC's fault for not being able to handle the situation wisely? Probably both, huh?

These incidents impacted me deeply, particularly the fallout with my friend. Reading swpd is helping me get over this saga. Helping me understand what happened, and digesting it. It's amazing how those incidents contained so many of the themes raised in swpd and other blogs.

I think white privilege works on a global scale because in much of Asia you can get instant celebrity-like status if you're white, thanks to the aftereffects of colonialism. As POCs, it's our responsibility to stop acting as though someone is better because they're white. It does no one any good.

It’s important for both whites and POCs to acknowledge our own prejudices and unlearn racism, whether it’s towards others or ourselves. For myself, learning to know my worth (‘race’ wise) without turning bitter is the first step.

42 comments:

  1. As my friend says, one of white Australia's national pastimes is to talk about how multicultural and tolerant they are. This self-congratulatory talk basically hushes up anyone who thinks otherwise.

    You could just as easily be describing Canada here, in my experience. There's still a hell of a lot of racism, it's just very quiet. (Although with that said, prejudice against Middle Eastern people seems to be becoming socially acceptable, and a lot of people aren't afraid to express anti-Middle Eastern sentiment publicly. Also please note that when I say "anti-Middle Eastern" sentiment, that's different than anti-Islamic sentiment - arguing against Sharia law, for example, doesn't make one anti-Middle Eastern; arguing that immigration from Middle Eastern countries should be restricted because "all those people do is oppress women" does. And this is of course ignoring the fact that Middle Eastern doesn't always equal Muslim and vice-versa, which is a point a lot of people don't seem to understand up here.) And meanwhile we pat ourselves on the back for what a multicultural society we are, and how we're so much better than the U.S. because we believe in diversity rather than assimilation.

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  2. It’s important for both whites and POCs to acknowledge our own prejudices and unlearn racism, whether it’s towards others or ourselves. For myself, learning to know my worth (‘race’ wise) without turning bitter is the first step.

    You're absolutely right--we often let our prejudices blind us. In order to change the world, people must learn that the first step is to change yourself.

    What you described as "Australia being multicultural and tolerant" to some degree also applies in the U.S. I have many friends from different countries and they always point this out to me about the U.S., but I tell them we're just still a little subtle when it comes to racism and sexism. We have this picture perfect view of a melting pot, but yet if it's so, I'm always left wondering why do I rarely see not too many POCs win at the academy awards? Why aren't there more representations of POC in film and tv to show the diversity? I know that sometimes it's not always about race, but no one can ever seem to answer these questions.

    I have a friend from Spain and he said that in his country that the people act as if "racism" is non-existent, while at least here in the US people talk openly about race. It's good that a dialogue has opened and we still have a long way to go, but at least some progress is being made. Before I felt that we swept it under the rug. I'm in my late twenties, have a college and a Master's degree and I'm also a writer. My wish is for people to look at me as a human first and skin color second.

    I know it might sound naive on my part, but I wonder if people's prejudices stem from not having enough exposure to other cultures?

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  3. Thank you for an interesting read. There is nowhere in the world where institutionalised racism does not exist, but generally "white" people are less able to understand this.

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  4. Hey I have encountered various versions of what you speak. Firstly, I do not speak to people who don't speak to me. Since I'm the only african american in my department, it renders me both highly visible and invisable at the same time. Visable for obvious reasons but invisable for not so obvious ones. We have a new technical person in the office who fixes our computers. He's very young and nice but he never seems to say hello to me but always seems to have a very lengthy, gregarious conversation with others. Now this could be because he's a guy and more comfortable speaking with men, could be bec he's shy, or it could be that he would not think we had anything in common bec he's a white man from Conneticut and I'm a black woman from NYC. Who knows, but it has left with a feeling of indifference toward him.(Maybe I have an unconcious need to be acknowledged bec I know black people have a history of being ignored.)

    I also sometimes use my very blonde friend to gain access and acceptance to places I may or may not feel comfortable going to alone. I know this bad but I do it secretively. For example, in Manhattan there are a number of restaurants that are reasonably priced but look so intimadating that I never go in. Like going into the Gucci store (something that I've never done) when I normmally shop at the Gap. Maybe it's the wait staff or the other diners but sometimes you feel unwelcomed; whether it's real or imagined, it limits you and I use my poor unsuspecting blonde friend as a passport to such places.

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  5. I've never commented before, and I'm still not sure what to say, but I felt that I had to comment to let you know how deeply close to my heart this was. At many points, it felt rather like the sentiments were being torn straight from my bleeding heart and being given form on the page.

    My metamorphosis from demure Asian doll to witty star student to sex kittenish tease, often within the space of a single day, has begun to make me question: how much of it is truly varying aspects of my personality and how much is me reshaping myself for public consumption? How much of my sexuality is not mine, but theirs, a direct reaction to their festishization of the sway of my hips, the slant of my eyes, the curve of my lips? And how much will my future relationships be poisoned by my inability to disentangle my romantic inclinations with my subconscious sociopolitical beliefs of white as desirable?

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  6. What you call institutionalized racism i call liberalism. They do exist and, in the subconscious of (mainly) liberals, they go hand in hand.

    Why is it worse amongst liberals? They like to use their "embracing of multiculturalism" and questioning of whiteness as a way to say they're not racist. But they give white nationalists a run for their money in terms of racism.

    For example:
    Rosie O'Donnell and Miley Cyrus for their mockings of Asians. And both of them are liberals; especially Rosie.

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  7. Speaking of white supremacy being a global phenomenon, one of my friends currently in India, Diepiriye Kuku, recently wrote about the amazing amounts of discrimination he faced there as a Black American:

    "India is Racist and Happy About It"
    http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?250317

    "We The Discriminated"
    http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?250314

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  8. thepov, you've clearly got some learning to do about what institutionalized racism is.

    For starters, I recommend this, and this.

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  9. @Liriel
    Thanks for sharing. I know of others who also end up fulfilling people’s expectations when they get shoved into a ‘stereotype box’. Or, how often do we hear this story: A kid grows up being constantly told she’s a failure. Chances are she’ll grow up to be a failure and fulfill those expectations.

    And here's something I left out because it felt too personal to share publicly like this, but I'll share it anyway.

    I don't doubt that I truly love the white guy I was with. And it is only natural as someone who has been so heavily influenced by ‘Western’ culture to feel that I could relate best to a Western guy (albeit someone who spoke an Asian language and was of a migrant background – yes, I made sure of that! :p ). But it did bother me that him being white and seemingly having free access to the ‘white world’ made me feel more comfortable, safe, so to speak. (Similar to what Moviegirl said, though that was by no means my intention when I decided to go out with the white guy.)

    It bothers me that I don’t yet feel fully comfortable or safe among white ppl without the help of a white guy. Or the help of a guy of any other color who is more Westernized than I am, since even as a POC the more white you act, the more white privilege you enjoy.

    This got me thinking – Perhaps ‘white (guy) as desirable’ is not entirely about us seeing ‘white’ as ideal. Maybe it’s also about the desire for ‘protection’? Sort of like having the guy act as a buffer between us and racism. Though this is probably just an illusion and at some point it’s not gonna be enough. So we’re gonna have to learn to stand up to it ourselves.

    Ebony said: Why aren't there more representations of POC in film and tv to show the diversity?

    Yeah. On tv Australia is pretty much all white and the US is white with some blacks, and one or two asians who can’t speak English right. But then you look at the top 12 in Australian idol (where your ethnicity seems to matter less) and suddenly Australia looks so diverse. Or even that Anoop guy on American idol – when was the last time we saw a South Asian American on tv other than idol? What’s with the gap in diversity?

    Robin said: You could just as easily be describing Canada here

    hmmm, okay, maybe I just happened to live in the nicer part of town then.

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  10. @fromthetropics: I should probably specify that my personal experience is from a fairly white-dominated part of Toronto, and various areas of Vancouver (one of which was white, one of which was heavily immigrant). The rest of it is from media representations and articles that I've read about the growing conflicts over immigration. So while I think that what I'm saying is fairly accurate (since Vancouver and Toronto two of the three largest, most diverse, and most metropolitan of Canada's cities, so it makes sense that the racial attitudes elsewhere would be even worse) for the rest of Canada, I probably should make it clear that Canada IS a very large place and my urban personal experiences don't necessarily reflect on everywhere else.

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  11. I'm not a regular reader, but I do find swpd very thought provoking, and I drop in occasionally to read.

    I live in Guam, an unincorporated territory of the US, have lived here my entire life, and there is an interesting difference from life in the mainland United States: whites are a minority. I am a half white, half Asian female, not Chamorro, and so am an "outsider" in some senses, though local by definition. I've grown up being surrounded by a racially diverse population on an island that was a matriarchal society that was colonized by the Spanish (about 300 years), the Americans (1898-WWII), the Japanese (about 3 years), and the Americans again (1945-present). There is also an undercurrent of racism against white people that has affected my view of myself. There is a common stereotype here of the military servicemen who get drunk and act rude (i.e., like assholes), and I've had white male friends say that they have been discriminated against; treated as if they are drunk white soldiers from somewhere else. In a what would be considered odd to white people reversal of roles, a teacher in the Guam Public School System is currently suing the school system, saying that she was discriminated against for being white.

    http://www.guampdn.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090716/NEWS01/907160311&template=printart

    And of course it goes both ways, for instance some white people that come to Guam bring a negative view with them, and though many do not, and love being here, there are a few who do come out here and complain very loudly about how much it sucks because it's not like the US, which naturally does NOTHING to endear them to locals. Many locals, funny enough, seem to regard the US as a somewhat-foreign country, perhaps because Guam is a US colony that is much closer to Asia than to North America, or even Hawaii?

    So it's strange going to the mainland US and being treated as if I can't speak English properly because of my Guamanian accent, or hearing stories from friends about people saying things like, "Oh, you've only been here 2 months? But you speak English so well!" because they're not white and they can't possibly have been educated under American curricula. And what's funny is that the "docile Asian" stereotype that you fall into sounds familiar to me too. When I go to the States or am talking to white people, I sometimes get intimidated, as if I am somehow intellectually inferior. It doesn't help when I'm treated with disdain because of how I talk (I don't have a heavy accent or anything that renders my English incomprehensible, mind you). Sometimes it's just insecurity or imagined disdain, and sometimes it's not. But the truth is that I do have racist tendencies that are slightly different from the white "norm" because of where I grew up and where my parents are from and what I watched on TV or read in books and saw around me. The teachers at my daycare were Filipina, my friends and teachers at school are Chamorro, Japanese, Filipino, Micronesian, English, New Zealander, Australian, American, white, black, Chinese, etc. I still freak out when I'm in an airport surrounded by white people because it's such an uncommon sight, I guess you could call it culture/color shock or something. Seeing African Americans is uncommon, for that matter, so the Black/White dichotomy of race I see on TV and read about in blogs, including this one, doesn't quite translate to Guam.

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  12. I have always viewed racism as an international problem. One that is not easily dismantled because it is deeply rooted within each culture of the world.

    Combating personal racism is a life long effort. At least it has been for me. I grew up during the movement eras in America. There is an image of this nation that will forever be negative. It is not the image that I act upon. But, it still exists within my childhood and pre-teen memories.

    Working towards growing past those negative attitudes requires opening up your mind and yourself towards different people and challenging your personal attitudes about race.

    That is often easier said than done. I have found over the years that there is always the residue to racism within me. Even though I come from a diverse family. There are times when the actions of others is racist from my perspective. But, I also firmly believe that no entire group of people should be labeled due to the actions of one portion of that group.

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  13. @ LaSmartOne

    I've heard similar stories from black travelers all over the world.

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  14. Trust me it is not only Australians (and possibly Canadians) who have a self-congratulatory attitude to their supposed multiculturalism; the United Kingdom does as well. A country in which so many organisations including the police force, NHS (health service) have been proven to be institutionally racist. A horrible country full of patronizing, class obsessed xenophobes. If you think Australia, Canada or the US has problems come check the UK out. At the end of the day you guys elected a BLACK president; say what you will, that is so major on many levels. Trust me there will not be a black UK leader for at least a 100 years and you need to understand that I am being very optimistic.

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  15. @Robin - I lived in downtown Toronto, possibly the most diverse part of the country...

    Robin also said: I wonder if people's prejudices stem from not having enough exposure to other cultures?

    Yes and no, imo. e.g. If you grow up with friends from other cultures, then there’s a higher chance of learning that they’re just as human as yourself, and thus rendering stereotypes of that culture useless. Even better if you learn to see things from their point of view.

    But if you have ppl from other cultures around you and never really make a connection with them (interaction is superficial), then it will actually create/reinforce prejudices.

    Btw, there seems to be quite a few readers with mixed backgrounds. Here’s something I stumbled across that might be of interest to some: www.tckid.com/group

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  16. "I wonder if it's a common white tendency to push a POC's buttons while staying calm themselves, so that in the end the POC is made to look emotional and over-reactive (and a little bit 'coo coo')? I suppose it's like trying to pick a fight, but getting the other person to punch first."

    Well, having experienced this same behaviour from my manager at work, I can relate with this. She would say the most provocative things especially when it was just her and I in her office, knowing there was no evidence to prove what she had said.

    One day she was shouting at me at work (this woman shouts on a number of people and is very aggressive) and I told her heatedly that just because she was a Manager it didn't give her the right to shout on people because I could shout too. Of course she was taken aback by this because I had never been anything other than too nice to her.

    We had a number of incidents where she bullies staff. One Asian guy was off sick from work for 5/6 months, another had a grievance against her, to no avail. I had a grievance against her but yet she is allowed to get away with these things because she is White.

    Now, before I left that organisation, I am glad I was able to tell her some of the things I felt about her...unprofessional and the worst place I had ever worked.

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  17. Even though you'll disagree I understand what institutionalized racism is all about.

    But do you understand who is behind these "institutions"? I doubt you would've shown protest if i mentioned the word conservative.

    BTW, Hollywood, as a whole, are one of the biggest systems of institutionalized racism.

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  18. thepov, are you saying the dreaded "liberals" are "behind" society's institutions? Such as the judicial system? The health care system? and so on?

    Evidence, please. Tell me how it could be that liberals are behind racist, classist systems like the two above. I'd also like some evidence that those who are "behind" Hollywood, and make millions and even billions from it, are politically "liberal" (as opposed to socially liberal), that they actually support political candidates who argue, for instance, that American institutions in general are racist, classist, sexist, and so on, and that government intervention could counter that. I imagine that, like many other wealthy "conservatives," they're all for "low taxes" and low restraints of other forms on their accumulated wealth, and on their abilities to exploit others in pursuit of more wealth.

    As for Hollywood's products, its movies in particular, those are generally liberal in some ways, and fundamentally conservative in others. And here's one thing we might agree on -- they're also, often, racist. On the other hand, we might disagree on just how they're racist.

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  19. Robin also said: I wonder if people's prejudices stem from not having enough exposure to other cultures?

    Actually, Ebony said that. :)

    @Robin - I lived in downtown Toronto, possibly the most diverse part of the country...

    Ah. I live at Yonge and Eglinton, which will tell you everything you need to know. *sigh* I love the safety of the area, but there's very little obvious diversity, and a whole lot of middle-class and upper-middle-class white people.

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  20. Ebony

    "Why aren't there more representations of POC"

    or

    "Why do white people consider themselves real americans"

    or

    "Why is being White see as neutral"

    or even some of

    "Why are white people resentful of
    AffirmAction and Multicuturism"

    Do you really want to know? Because there is are basic economic and social reason that I hate having to always re-explain.

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  21. I had almost the exact experiences as the author, except in a South Asian context.

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  22. “Actually, Ebony said that. :)”  oops.

    @Chuck. Spare us the re-explanation, please. (When I said I love your long posts elsewhere, i was being sarcastic.)

    You know, initially I found you somewhat annoying (not to mention incomprehensible at times). But now you’re starting to seem kinda cute in the baby ‘why is the sky blue?...but I don’t want it to blue...’ kind of way...Yes, I’ve just infantilized you ;)

    Firstly, just because it makes economic sense, it doesn't make it right.

    Secondly, all of which you wrote above often don't actually make much economic sense either. e.g. Tim Wise's argument on working class (un)solidarity. Or notice how many people all over the world watched the McCain-Obama election with great interest just because one POC was involved. They were able to relate to it, hence they were interested (not that many of them could vote).

    People get interested in things when they can relate to it. That's why I read swpd. So imagine if Hollywood decided to make all the movies set in New York actually reflect the demographics there a bit more – it’ll probably sell more. E.g. If Gray’s anatomy had an all white cast – would it get as many viewers?

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  23. fromthetropics,

    I have similar experiences to you, except I'm Asian and I was born and raised in a Western country. It may be even worse if you are in a Western country, since here, the Asians who speak ESL are "foreigners", but where you are, the Asians who speak ESL are the "locals". So not only do they not speak English well, but they also don't speak English well in an English-speaking country.

    In my schools, there were more Asians than whites, yet I've participated in discriminating against Asians who spoke ESL, deriding and avoiding them so that I, as a Canadian-born Asian, am not mistaken as one of "them", a foreigner. Similarly, I've been the recipient of anti-Asian racism from other Canadian-born Asians, because they had an English name and I didn't. This stuff started in Grade 1 or Grade 2 and continued.

    I think what you are talking about is English language privilege, although that's not all it's about. I used to think I was superior too, but now I recognize, when conscious about it, that it's society that gives a higher status to those who speak English, and English language privilege is also something that is worldwide.

    You realize that you may have ignored your Asian friend because he was Asian, but have you also experienced other third-culture or Westernized Asians mistakenly assuming that you are a local Asian because of your race, and then ignoring you?

    This got me thinking – Perhaps ‘white (guy) as desirable’ is not entirely about us seeing ‘white’ as ideal. Maybe it’s also about the desire for ‘protection’? Sort of like having the guy act as a buffer between us and racism. Though this is probably just an illusion and at some point it’s not gonna be enough. So we’re gonna have to learn to stand up to it ourselves.

    If you get into a relationship thinking that your man will protect you, you also have some internalized sexism that you need to deal with. ;)

    I know Asian women who are in relationships with white men, and they have to deal with their husbands'/boyfriends' white privilege and white racism. One of them is an anti-racist Asian woman with a socially conscious white husband, but she always ends up having to educate him about his (subconcious) racism and white privilege. For example, he doesn't see why it's not a good idea for their mixed child to attend a mostly all-white school.

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  24. As for turning docile and quiet in front of white people, you (other Asians here) should also realize that it's not just about you conforming to a stereotype in a neutral environment. White people also unconsciously play their roles as white people by taking up space, and assuming that the Asian cannot take the leadership role in the conversation.

    Perhaps a white person who is normally quiet in a group of whites is less quiet when there is one Asian in the mix.

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  25. As my friend says, one of white Australia's national pastimes is to talk about how multicultural and tolerant they are. This self-congratulatory talk basically hushes up anyone who thinks otherwise. I often think that the situation in Canada is way better, and even the US is still better (but then again, I’ve never lived in the US).

    One of Canada's national pastimes is to talk about how multicultural and tolerant we are, too! After all, Canada invented multiculturalism as a national policy, which was adopted by Australia, and not yet adopted by the United States. "We" are a mosaic or salad bowl of multiculturalism, while "they" (Americans) are a melting pot of assimilation. Multiculturalism is part of our Canadian identity, which is defined in opposition to the United States.

    At least quite a number of people talk about it in North America. And at least (based on my impression), there are more people there who aren't that great at hiding their racial prejudices, making them easier to point out.

    What do you mean? Do you mean that Canadians are not that great at hiding their racial prejudices compared to Australians? When I think of Australia, I think of the Cronulla riots. What do you think of when you think of Canada's racism?

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  26. "I wonder if it's a common white tendency to push a POC's buttons while staying calm themselves, so that in the end the POC is made to look emotional and over-reactive (and a little bit 'coo coo')? I suppose it's like trying to pick a fight, but getting the other person to punch first."

    This is one remnant from grade school that I so hoped would disappear as I entered adulthood. I'm usually pretty reserved, but once my fuse is lit, the person who decided to set me off gets burned -- always. As far as I'm concerned, they deserve it, and to date, I've never been fired for my responses, which are never loud and cantankerous, but always effective. Usually these provocations occur in workplace environments, which are already tense because 80 percent of corporations in my estimation need a serious psychological overhaul.

    I've told my POC friends that we need to practice how to diffuse these situations by turning that person's words back on them and, if necessary, using them for "capital" that can be taken to HR or a friendly lawyer at any time. Now, you don't have to tell them that, but your actions can give the impression that you're not joking and the behavior needs to cease. I had this happen with a coworker recently, and though I'm sure I'm called all sorts of unholy names behind my back, our workgroup is getting more done since my confrontation with him about some blatantly racist behavior he's demonstrated under the guise of "joking." Jokes my ass.

    What you write here confirms to me, once again, that in many situations POC need to develop a sense of entitlement -- not the pernicious kind to which we're all exposed, but the kind that simply says, "I'm worthy." It's profoundly hard to do, but as the writer said, there are some our families, social circles, etc., who have. We should pay closer attention to that and, separately, understand that picking our battles doesn't mean we're weak or inferior. Sometimes, it's just part of the game. Looking at Judge Sotomayor "take it" from those sanctimonious, unreconstructed GOP blowhards is hard, but at the of the day, she will soon be "Justice Sotomayor."

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  27. There isn't a single country on earth that is post racial. We have all learned to rank bodies according to constructed values and in the process, POC end up devaluing our very existence.
    I did want to say that when that person goaded you into losing your temper, your anger was righteous. Anger is as much a legitimate emotion as happiness; we have only been taught as POC that an expression of it is a sign of our backwardness. Only whiteness is allowed the privilege of anger without critique. Men like Bill O'Reilly regularly foam at the mouth on international television and how often do you hear his anger understood as a reflection of his race or his capabilities? What we need to do is step outside of the construction of color that has been created by whiteness of POC; the only ones that benefit when we internalize such negative ideas is whiteness.

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  28. Thank you so much for this very insightful post. Bravo.

    Racism is insidious. It’s like a virus that once planted in your head, lies there dormant. You don’t even realize it’s there, then bang, a weak moment, you become aware that it’s infected you and you’re turning it inward. You’re self-concious. It affects your confidence, ties your tongue, tinges your perspectives. What can I say? I am grateful for this poignant, honest post and saw some of my own experience in it, as a POC. An African American psychologist I knew once said that racism was a mental health issue. It is. The whole racial hierarchy thing is a poisonous meme that even though things have changed, it still lurks there and we still have to beat it back. It’s most pernicious effect is when it gets inside of us and we doubt ourselves.

    Thank you for sharing this.

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  29. Sorry! Grammar! A correction to my post. Its (racism's) most pernicious effect is when it gets inside of you.

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  30. Restructure, you left me laughing at myself. Talk about a restructuring of internalized ‘isms’.

    “have you also experienced other third-culture or Westernized Asians mistakenly assuming that you are a local Asian because of your race, and then ignoring you?”

    Of course. A Japanese guy was talking to my Greek friend (who dyed her long hair blond) asking her to teach him English. English is her second or third language. It’s my first. But I was invisible standing next to her. I didn’t mind it too much, except towards the end I got a bit annoyed that my friend was enjoying the attention too much and forgot I was there. (Like I said, instant celebrity status.)

    “If you get into a relationship thinking that your man will protect you, you also have some internalized sexism that you need to deal with. ;)”

    Point taken. Lesson learnt. Thank you.

    “One of them is an anti-racist Asian woman with a socially conscious white husband, but she always ends up having to educate him about his (subconcious) racism and white privilege.”

    yes, Yes, YES. It takes him 2 seconds to say something stupidly silly. It takes me a split second to get a gut reaction telling me something is not right with what he believes, and several days or weeks to deconstruct it and dish it back to him past his subconscious sexism, subconscious racism, misplaced moral relativism, and I’m-so-open-minded-already-ism, before it finally clicks for him (when it does click, and then there are those that don't click).

    “White people also unconsciously play their roles as white people by taking up space, and assuming that the Asian cannot take the leadership role in the conversation.”

    Hmmm, I see. So either way, we need to not let either of us (both the asian and the white person involved) act according to white stereotypes of asians? I do remember a big burly, hairy Aussie guy with a quiet personality say that when he goes to pubs, people see his big build and expect him to be this macho-macho guy that he’s not. But he finds that he involuntarily starts acting macho-macho according to their expectations, and it’s hard not to.

    There are studies about how stereotypes become self-fulfilling prophecies. Check google books for “Psychology of Stereotyping” by David J. Schneider, just two pages: 216-217. Pretty intriguing.

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  31. …And okay, okay. The attempt at comparing Canada, US and Australia was a silly idea. My bad. It’s starting to look like a competition about who’s country is the most racist. Doesn’t sound healthy. And I’m the culprit who started it. Apologies everyone. Case closed?

    @Chuck – I should rephrase what I said, “initially I found you somewhat annoying” to “initially I found your posts somewhat annoying,” since it wouldn’t be fair to say that about someone I haven’t met ;)

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  32. great post. i'm glad your stuff was featured here.

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  33. I'm a normally silent reader of SWPD, but I guess this struck a chord with me because it seems to make such sense when I put myself into the picture. Please forgive the length of my post. I'm rather long-winded.

    I'm not a diplomat's kid. My mom and I lived in the poorest of many south Florida neighborhoods (about 22 different ones before I was 18) with Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics in varying combinations. I attended 5 different elementary schools. One was a predominantly Hispanic school (mostly Cuban), another was a predominantly Black school. In fact, I was bussed there because I was white. The other schools were either almost racially "balanced".

    I say this in hindsight because as a child I didn't notice. My mother never made a peep about the difference between me and the other kids. She never asked me how it felt, what I thought, etc. She let me formulate my ideas for myself. She never once told me "we're all the same on the inside," or any other candy-coated phrase.

    I only notice now, looking back, my white privilege. Looking back, my teachers would praise me highly in front of the other students, while not making much of a fuss over other kids. I was selected to be the lead in a play at school Goldilocks - because of my whiteness and seemingly automatic fit. I always felt like the teacher's favorite.

    The times I felt "different" were only when Whites would ask me why I hung out with so many Blacks and "Spanish people". I felt inferior as hell around people who looked more like me than my own friends. I felt funny not even knowing who Kurt Cobain was when my White classmates cried over his death - yet I could school you on the difference between East Coast and West Coast rap.

    I feel like most people didn't look at me from the outside, unless they were White and slightly prejudiced. My friends' parents might initially get wide-eyed when I stepped into their homes for the first time, but as soon as they saw that I was a part of or highly interested in their culture, it was like my color was erased to them too.

    I'll be honest in saying that I grew up having more Black friends, being more immersed in Black culture, and all together feeling like Blacks were "my people" than any other group I grew up with. And that might look good on one hand - big deal, I will probably never racial profile a Black person. But on the other hand, there was an obvious negation of knowing something about being White. I actually had to study up on that and immerse myself in that culture as well.

    I also am able to see the ways in which I have and can fall into stereotypical White roles and doing the "Stuff White People Do". I have to say that after reading the tanning post here that I will never stick my arm out and compare skintone again. But on a positive note, I have and always will slather my POC friends' children down with sunblock before letting them off into the pool/beach.

    Anyway, for fromthetropics - your study can, indeed, take place in many places in America as well, with kids who've barely or never left the country. I'm living proof, and I'm certain that I'm not alone. But when you are willing to immerse yourself in someone else's world and learn all you can about it, you are much quicker at recognizing stereotypes and relating to them, then committing to not perpetuate them.

    All right, I'll shut up now. Thanks for the floor :)

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  34. Victoria, interesting stuff. And you sound ‘third cultured’ alright, assuming the term means being both here and there, but neither fully here nor there. Or being ‘inbetween’.

    There are many others like you. Some call them ‘domestic TCKs’ (since we homo sapiens are so awesome at making labels!) But not that it’s supposed to define you or anything. It’s just a way to put a name to our experiences and understand it (and help us google it too).

    So there’s that ‘inbetween’ feeling. Or sometimes the feeling that what you look on the outside doesn’t match what you feel you can relate to best on the inside. Then there’s the moving around so much that you keep having to make new friends and figure out how to ‘fit in’ every time the cultural context changes. From this some develop the ability switch cultural gears like a chameleon depending on who they’re with (cultural chameleon). In fact, a lot of people from minority groups do this on a daily basis. Act one way with people of their own ethnicity, and act another with those from the dominant group (and get exasperated when our parents don’t know how to do this!)

    “I felt inferior as hell around people who looked more like me than my own friends.”

    Yeah, many who grow up overseas end up hanging out more with the migrants than ‘their own people’ because though they look the part, they are actually, in effect, ‘(hidden) immigrants’.

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  35. This is hard for me to read because you speak of my life. I am African; I was born in Africa and was raised partly in Nigeria, partly in England, partly in America. The self-doubt, anger, frustration, and ultimately, great privilege of being part of two very different cultures...all of it fits very well with my experiences.

    We are insiders on both sides because we know both sides, but then we are outsiders to both too. It has been hard finding a space in which I feel fully at home. Ultimately, I have held on to my Nigerian identity and have cultivated that because it is most meaningful to me.

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  36. From the tropics

    "You know, initially I found you"

    And yet, oddly, I am not offended. If that's a privileged, maybe its something you should try to get yourself.

    "Firstly, just because it makes economic sense..."

    True, but it suggests it's not racist in any meaningful sense. People like status. It doesn't matter how you get
    it, if you have it they will like it. A lot of rap artist from the 90's gained quite a bit of status by playing off of/ endorsing thug themes --. JFK's family got its wealth through crime. If you want to discuss how different groups got their bling bling, we can. But you are conflating issues here.

    If the idea here is that ancestors of white people stole POC money and now have status. So POC united are pissed. Then, Ok, those ancestors also jump started the modern world -- creating modern science, most of the technology,
    and of course much of the liberal morality which you are so in love with. So if you want to talk in these terms, you give me a thank you and I will apologize.

    "Secondly, all of which you wrote above often don't actually make much economic sense"

    It doesn't make sense that there are not a lot of Chinese actors in the Us? So if tomorrow 200m Han magically appeared, by next week we should be crying discrimination if they don't make up 50% of the Hollywood actors.

    "Hollywood decided to make all the movies set in New York actually reflect"

    People also make things they related to. That is why Hollywood has so many Jewish movies. So
    instead of getting mad at the jews for not making Chinese movies, the solution is for ABCs to get their
    own studio. If you feeling a little short there, you can either cut others down or make yourself longer. Only those incapable of the later do the former.

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  37. @Kemi - Glad it spoke to you. (Btw, I briefly checked out your site. Beautiful writing. I like your self-intro.)

    @Chuck - "And yet, oddly, I am not offended."

    Maybe because I put a smiley face at the end in my attempt to not hurt your feelings?

    "If the idea here is that ancestors of white people stole POC money and now have status. So POC united are pissed. Then, Ok,"

    Have you not heard of Social Darwinism? Yes, the white ancestors stole POC money, land, lives (to kill), people (for labor), and women (for you know what), and hence now have status. But in the process they created this social hierarchy (which they said was medically proven) based on the skin color that you are BORN with. And we are now living in the aftermath of that deeply ingrained belief in both whites and pocs. e.g. Eurasian actors/models sell like hotcakes in Asia. And even those who are fully Asian, but know how to 'act white' are considered cool.

    "So if tomorrow 200m Han magically appeared, by next week we should be crying discrimination if they don't make up 50% of the Hollywood actors."

    Of course not. DUH. We're not stupid, irrational, illogical beings as you seem to be suggesting with that comment.

    "So instead of getting mad at the jews for not making Chinese movies, the solution is for ABCs to get their own studio."

    Sooo, are you concurring that Hollywood don't like having the Chinese in Hollywood? Is that why ABCs need to make their own studio?

    Btw, how come you haven't addressed a single point in my original post? Is it because you can find nothing to tear down using your Economics 101?

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  38. @Kemi - Glad it spoke to you. (Btw, I briefly checked out your site. Beautiful writing. I like your self-intro.)

    Thank you for visiting me and thank you for your compliments. I like your writing too, and I appreciate your bravery and openness in speaking on this topic.

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  39. Chuck-

    First I was going to respond to you. Then I decide to ignore you. Then I decided I would just address one thing that you said, because I think fromthetropics said pretty much what I was thinking except for this part:


    Ok, those ancestors also jump started the modern world -- creating modern science, most of the technology,
    and of course much of the liberal morality which you are so in love with.
    LOLOLOLOLOLOL!!!!!!!!!! That is such an inaccurate portrayal of history it's not even funny. Actually, I lie, it's hilarious. Whites are sooo not responsible for jump-starting the modern world. Europe was really, really far behind most other civilizations for a long time, until that wonderful colonialism began. You ever heard of ancient Egypt? The first to come up with a written language, indoor plumbing, and oh, the technology to build those great pyramids? And China also had paper, GUNPOWDER, and you know that little mathematical discovery called the decimal point? How about West Africans using iron to make weapons when Europeans were still using bows and arrows? You're right though, white people are responsibility for everything good that's happened in the entire world as we know it. Thanks for setting us straight. And thank you for bringing us primitive peoples into civilization!

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  40. I feel this post really speaks to my experience even though I grew up in Canada. I've experienced racism from other asians who think they are more "Canadian" than me and have also looked down on "FOBS."
    Thankfully, I have become more aware of my self-internalized racism, which I too believe does nothing for anything.

    About white people pushing POC buttons,
    Enough with the bullshit about being ironic or satirizing. It's not amusing.
    I stormed out of a conversation with friends and this blatantly racist white guy, though he would deny it, who basically pointing to a person in the cafeteria, "That guy looks like an Alien, oh wait its because he's black."
    Later, a mutual acquintaince of ours said he was worried that I was offended. NO FUCKING DUH who wouldn't be?

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  41. @fromthetropics:

    Thanks for the TCK link (with regards to my TRA comment) :). I think it’s great that you are a third culture kid who is engaging in anti-racism dialogue and applying it to your own upbringing. I have been bothered for a while regarding the lack of PoC focused research on TCKs, so your post was a refreshing read.

    You know what's interesting is that most International Schools are fiercely proud of their multi-racial/cultural education, yet, so many of the TCKs I have met who are also PoCs (and who grew up in PoC majority countries), have struggled through internalized racism at some point (they often seem to come face-to-face with their beliefs only after moving to the West). This is an issue that, I think, is not discussed enough within the Global Nomad community. Many of us analyze and confront a number of unique privileges that come along with our type of childhood - however, white privilege is pretty much ignored (at least from what I have experienced). It needs to be acknowledged that a white TCK's experience within International Schools is rather different from a PoC's. The fact that countless people view whites as superior DESPITE having grown up in PoC countries and attending schools that supposedly encourage an inclusive world-view, is a testament to how insidious and entrenched racism and white supremacy is.

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