A contribution to International Blog Against Racism Week
I read Sarah Dessen's Just Listen
a few weeks ago, and while the title is about listening, the book is about the heroine learning to voice her feelings and her opinions, even when they may cause anger or disapproval. I was incredibly involved with Annabel's feelings and her constant silence, largely because I see so much of myself in her. It's gotten much easier for me to speak out about topics that involve me only on a personal level, but that's not what I wanted to talk about in this post.
I wanted to talk about why I'm trying to blog about race more, especially since both attempts to talk about race in my LJ have received quite a few comments to the effect that bringing up the topics of race and racism encroaches upon the attempt to be colorblind.( Collapse )
Most of my pre-college years were spent in Taiwan, where I didn't particularly have to think about racism, except on a more theoretical level. Of course, part of why I didn't have to think about racism was because I was Chinese, not an aboriginal inhabitant of Taiwan. Another part was because up until Chen Shuei-Bien was elected, I could live with my head in the clouds with regard to politics — the KMT was in power and the Taiwanese national movement wasn't as prominent as it is now. I was in the majority; I could afford not to worry.
The one thing I do remember from Taiwan was when my AP history teacher (white American) asked my class if we would continue and socialize with other Asians when we went to college, since most of us had gotten into colleges in America.
Most of the people in my class said yes, they would probably be joining Asian associations or clubs. I said no. My teacher argued that we should try to get a more diverse experience, and at the time, I agreed with him.
When I went to college, I did what I said. I had several screaming fights with my mom and my dad about not joining the Chinese association. I thought I was being anti-racist. In the end, because I didn't make a deliberate effort to try and befriend people of other races, the majority of my friends ended up being white.
This could be because of my college, which was much less diverse than most. And I know many people who claim to have lots of friends of other races. But I remember coffeeandink
telling me that it's very common for people to overestimate the number of people of color or women in a room, so I wonder. The very fact that I do wonder is telling in and of itself.
I remember comments on why all the Asian people self-segregated and sat at their own table. I remember the one regularly racially-integrated table being called derogatory names. The comments about the racially-integrated table were because they frequently left dirty dishes at the table, but I still wonder if there was disguised vitriol. I wonder this because there were so many comments around me about people who were "overly sensitive" about racism or sexism, so much routine mockery of editorials in the college paper on the harmful experiences of Sikh students being called "Osama bin Laden" in shopping malls, mockery of petitions to Abercrombie and Fitch about their "Wong Brothers Laundry Service -- Two Wongs Can Make it White" t-shirt.
I remember being uncomfortable about being asked to sign the petition to Abercrombie and Fitch, because I didn't want to be one of those Asians who were militant and oversensitive and all up in arms about their Asian-ness.
I remember one person commenting to me, "Why are you so concerned with being Chinese? Why don't you just become American?" I didn't know how to respond at the time, but my question now is, "Why is being Chinese somehow antithetical to being American?" I'm sure it could be argued that since I was coming from Taiwan, it was different, but on the other hand... the constant touting of America as a melting pot shouldn't mean that cultural differences are melted away, that assimilation into the main culture is taken for granted.
When I was with my friends and they criticized the Asians who always sat together, I felt like the "good" Asian. The "good" Asian wouldn't self-segregate, would agree that racism didn't exist, would not talk about being Asian "all the time," would not talk about racism, would not constantly remind people that she was Asian. In short, the good Asian was the Asian who acted white.
I played this role throughout college, and even though no one explicitly told me so, I learned that talking about things I found racist or offensive was passe. I learned that talking too much about being Asian would mean that I would be thought of as Asian (not necessarily a problem) and only as Asian (definitely a problem). I learned that not talking about being Asian would mean that people would assume that my silence meant agreement, particularly when discussion turned toward "those other" Asians.
I'm reminded of the post rilina
made, in which she quotes Yamada Mitsuye as saying, "I had supposed that I was practicing passive resistance while being stereotyped, but it was so passive no one noticed I was resisting; it was so much my expected role that it ultimately rendered me invisible."
I had thought that being an Asian who wasn't sitting at the Asian table was a statement of colorblindness, a statement against self-segregation, a statement against racism. But I found that not only did people not notice that I was protesting, they assumed my complicity in white privilege. They assumed that because I was sitting there while they made remarks about other Asians, I agreed. In my silence, I gave up my voice and let it be used to support arguments that I didn't believe in.
No one ever made me do this. No one had to. My complicity in white privilege was so assumed that no one ever had to point it out or voice it, and my guess is, if I had ever tried to point it out, I would have been one of those oversensitive people who "cry racism at the drop of a hat." The ironic thing is, I didn't see why anyone would ever want to "cry racism at the drop of a hat." I had seen time and again that calling something racist would bring on so many personal attacks on being "oversensitive," "militant," "just like those femi-nazis," or "having no sense of humor," even when people criticized something as blatant as the Abercrombie and Fitch shirt.
In my experience, people don't "cry racism at the drop of a hat" because it spawns LJ discussions of 200+ comments, the tail end of which become increasingly vicious. People don't "cry racism at the drop of a hat" because it means other people will automatically write them off as Angry People of Color or People with Lots of White Liberal Guilt. People don't "cry racism at the drop of a hat" because the thought of confronting the thorny issues of race and racism in America in a public forum, in a casual conversation, in class, at work, anywhere is too touchy, makes people too uncomfortable.
More specifically, I don't "cry racism at the drop of a hat" because I am used to being ignored when I do. Just in the past few days, when I've mentioned racism in PotC 2 in real life, people have either completely ignored the fact that I've said it, or the same old arguments come out. I didn't post about racism because posting meant dealing with flame wars, no matter how carefully worded the post was. I didn't talk about racism because doing so meant losing the small amount of privilege that I did get to enjoy as an Asian who didn't sit at the Asian table.
I didn't realize until recently that this small gain, bought by silence, was no gain at all.
That's why I'm speaking out now; that's why I've been blogging about this with increasing frequency. It's because too often in my life, silence has been construed as consent. There have been too many instances in which I've let a racist comment or remark pass without challenging. There have been too many times I've come out of a movie wondering, "Why are all the protagonists white, and why do all the supporting roles with people of color play to stereotype?"
Speaking out is painful. In the past few years, when I spoke out against racism, it was fueled by rage and pain. I would run out of words; I would be incoherent with anger when my friends told me I was taking it too seriously. My friends wouldn't understand why I was personally insulted by their decision to not think about racism. In the end, it felt like a slap against me, because racism is a force that has been in my life ever since I've moved here and will continue to be a force in my life for as long as I'm a minority. It is, of course, a force in everyone's life, but some people can ignore it. So when my friends told me that they didn't think about racism, I heard, "I don't have to care about something that affects you and doesn't affect me." I heard, "I don't care about something that hurts you." I heard, "I don't care about you or your experiences if they inconvenience me."
Just in the past two months, speaking out has been painful. Comments to my posts saying that I am racist for speaking about racism hurt. Comments saying that people see Asians as white hurt. Comments saying that I am exaggerating my experiences for sympathy, that I am being too serious, that I am making things up, all these hurt. Speaking out is painful, but silence is worse.
Silence costs too much for me.
I'm sure just blogging or speaking out can be seen as a pat gesture, as preaching to the choir, as something you only do once to feel good about yourself and continue to ignore the other 51 weeks of the year.
First, I'd like to say: I feel alone when I speak out. I felt awkward when I started counting minorities at WisCon, because I didn't want to be one of the three Asians there. I felt alone every time I counted and no one else did. The worst part is, I didn't even realize how alone I felt, how much it felt like just my problem, until coffeeandink
pointed out that people could have counted with me. I felt alone posting about mentioning the race divide in the comments to the cultural appropriation debate, I felt alone posting about race in PotC 2, especially when the storm of comments started to come in.
But I found out that even if I felt like I were posting alone, in the end, I wasn't. There were other people I could talk to about racism; there were other people blogging about it.
And so, why I don't think Intl. Blog Against Racism Week is a mere gesture:
- If someone else in my social group had spoken out about these things, I would have said something as well. Or, at least, I hope I would have. It's difficult to be the first person to break the silence, particularly when you're criticizing something many people are enjoying. But there were enough comments in the PotC2 post and the cultural appropriation posts saying that seeing people speak out made a difference and helped them feel less afraid to speak out that I think just speaking out is helpful. You can't fix anything until you acknowledge that it's broken in the first place.
- Given that fandom is generally seen as a liberal haven, talking about racism can very much be seen as preaching to the choir. I thought it was preaching to the choir until the Great Cultural Appropriation Debate of DOOM, and this was further cemented by the PotC 2 thing. I remember most discussions of race in the Whedonverse getting flame-y in a way that discussions on feminism didn't. I hope I'm wrong. I hope my experiences aren't the norm.
- My other plea is for participants to blog against racism or to speak out against racism not just today, not just this week, but every day. I say this with the caveat that sometimes it's too tiring to do. Sometimes you need to rest, to not be embroiled in conflict all the time. But the point is, racism still exists, and because we all have a race (or two, or many) that we can identify with, it affects all of us. And I do mean all. Black, white, Asian, Hispanic, Native American, interracial — all voices help. The more people there are speaking out against racism, the less the burden on one specific person. More importantly, it means more voices against all injustice, because speaking out should encompass speaking out against classism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, and ableism as well.
Most of all, I want to say to those of you speaking out: you're not alone.